greg's blog

The Birth of the Tweeter?

Must the birth of the tweeter come at the cost of the death of the Author?

A bit of a silly question, perhaps. But I opened a twitter account a few weeks ago (here)…and then I immediately froze up. Sort of. I mean, what does one do with a twitter account? Listen, retweet, join conversations, and so on. I know. It’s not that complicated.

But the thing is, twitter feels completely counter to my writing process. Generally, the only way I ever get words on the page is by giving myself permission to write complete and utter crap, secure in the knowledge that no one will ever see it until I’ve had a chance to revise. It’s all about crap and craft. Crap first, then craft. But then here comes twitter. No editing, 140 characters, and once a tweet’s been posted, the only options are to leave it or delete it. I mean, sure, I could compulsively draft and re-craft my 140 characters before posting. That would be my default. But that seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Not to mention counter to the ethos of the form.

I suppose I’m still coming to terms with this, but the more I think about it, the more I think Barthes would love twitter. The whole throw-it-straight-into-the-aether of it. The lack of ability to edit, the endless stream of text, the necessary letting go of the (myth of the) Author in order to let the writing itself take over. Like a first draft, but right out there in public.

I’ll admit it. To me, that’s kind of terrifying. But perhaps I need to learn to (re)embrace that. Not just for twitter, but for writing in general. It’s what I teach my students, after all.

Along with the “write crap then fix it” dictum, I almost always teach “The Death of the Author.” Because in a workshop, it’s important to be able to separate oneself from the work, to realize that critiquing a text is not critiquing the person who wrote that text. Likewise, if a writer can’t—at least to some extent—relinquish her (or his) Authority over a text, it can be awfully hard to hear or learn from those critiques.

So then. Perhaps it’s time for me to (re)embrace the crap. Because while playing the role of Author can be fun, it’s also a trick of sorts. And playing that role while trying to actually write new material can be paralyzing. (An Author isn’t someone who writes “crap,” after all. Or such is the myth.) While on the other hand, being a writer—what Barthes would call a scriptor—may require precisely the opposite, a letting go of that sense of Authority over the text.

I dunno. Maybe that’s not a Universal thing. (Most things aren’t.) But it’s the only way I’ve ever been able to trick myself into getting words on the page.

So in that spirit of letting go of the Authorly ego, here’s an unflattering photo of me reading in front of a wall of dildos at Venus Envy in Ottawa.

(To be clear, I mean it’s an unflattering picture of me. Venus Envy’s display looks great.)

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for me to go write some crap.