I Know Why the Blue Bird Tweets

Written By: SHAWN HANSEN - Jan• 08•11

I’m going to declare this here and now, and I’m going to do it in caps so it reverberates to the ends of the Earth: TWITTER CHANGED MY LIFE.

A few years ago, I mocked the people who were all wrapped up in tweeting and follower counting and saying everything in 140 characters or fewer.

Then I read this article in The Sydney Morning Herald about the Japanese phenomenon known as keitai shousetsu (mobile phone novels), and how they “have become a publishing phenomenon in Japan, turning middle-of-the-road publishing houses into major concerns and making their authors a small fortune in the process.”

There are a whole slew of other jaw-dropping revelations in this piece, most notably that the 300,000 sales of a new translation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov were trounced by the 420,000 sales of one of these keitai shousetsu, and (drum roll, please) that’s hard cover sales, folks.

The article caused me to sit up and reconsider the whole Twitter thing, so off I flew to check things out.

Initially, I found nothing but garbage: tweets about meals and bodily functions and stuff less interesting than cleaned-up dust bunnies; however, after a bit of poking around, I found some writers—some real writers—and they had information to share.

These writers are an active bunch and tweet solid leads on contests and publishing opportunities. Many of them write stories and poems to tweet, and the stuff they’re posting is good. In fact, it’s so good, mainstream publishers have (and continue to) purchase the very best tweets to include in Twitter anthologies. (I know because I’ve sold a few.)

These sales are not the life-changing experience of which I speak. What I am talking about is how one must go about writing a Twitter story. It requires the turning of one’s thought process on its side to reimagine “story” in a whole new way—and that’s what changed my life.

Why? Well, one of the keys to good writing is the degree to which an author is able to engage a reader—this isn’t anything new, and lots of how-to books spend oodles of time discussing how to accomplish this, but the fastest learning tool I’ve ever found is carried on the wings of that little blue Twitter bird.

Telling a successful story in 140 characters or fewer forces one to engage the reader.

Here’s an example: we all know what a jack-in-the-box is, right? But how much do you care about them? What impression do they leave on you?

What if I engage you by allowing you to finish the story?

His store vandalized, the toymaker cleaned in earnest. Stuffing a torn clown doll into an empty tin box, an idea jumped out at him.

Here’s another one:

“Who’s Caligula?” the ballerina asked. “He’s the emperor, daughter.” Unaware of her fate, the ballerina danced among the toppled heads.

I write at least one Twitter-length story every day, and I’ve done it for over two years now. The practice does a lot of things for me, but being forced to let the reader participate in what I imagine is by far the greatest benefit.

Unlike Japan, the United States is not likely to embrace full-length novels released in tweet-sized bites, nor are the majority of US authors going to copy the Japanese keitai shousetsu-ists by setting aside their laptops in favor of thumb-punching their works on the keypads of their cellular phones; however, it turns out Twitter is more than just a time waster.

In fact, here are three leads for you. The first two do not require you have a Twitter account—they simply embrace the power and popularity of the Twitter story. The third does: it’s a call for submissions to a Twitter-zine. All of these are free opportunities, so what are you waiting for?

Happy Tweeting!

Oh, and feel free to follow me: I’m @Shawn_Writes.


  1. NYC Midnight “Tweet Me A Story” Contest – 1st Round: Thursday, January 13th from 4 PM until 8:59 PM. Registration Deadline: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 (It’s free to enter, and money is awarded.) Click for more details.
  2. The Gotham Writers’ Workshop “What’s the Buzz(Word)” Contest- Entry Deadline: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 9 PM. (There’s no registration required, and it’s free to enter. The prize is publication and a 10-week writing course.) Click for more details.


  1. 7×20 is an online magazine using Twitter as its publishing platform, for readers at home and on mobile devices. Submissions are open.

Shawn Hansen is a Web designer, a marketing consultant, and an author.

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