by Garret Castle
The amount I write varies from week to week. Despite my attempts to form a routine, my writing is still left to necessity and whim. But there is one consistent means of writing in my life: social media. The scope of my social media usage is primarily limited to Reddit and occasionally Twitter. While there are times when the discussions I get involved in make me regret writing the original post or comment, I have found that social media has been a positive boon to my writing and has helped me grow as a writer. While social media can be used to reinforce unhealthy habits, I believe it helps promote literacy more than it hinders it.
It is hard to gauge how much I write on a weekly basis, but according to weekly updates from Grammarly, I wrote around 30,000-50,000 words a week during my breaks and 80,000-200,000 words a week during a semester. The primary place I have Grammarly enabled is on my web browser, and I do most of my personal and academic writing in word documents that I will sometimes copy into Grammarly when editing a final draft. This means that the majority of what Grammarly checks are the posts I write into the text boxes on Reddit and sparsely Twitter, which averages around 40,000 words a week, and 40,000 words is no minuscule amount.
Given the frustrations social media can cause, I have wondered if I am wasting my time writing these posts on Reddit when I could put that time towards other, more meaningful, writing. After all, 40,000 words are equivalent to a small novel, so if I did not post on social media, I could write a novel a week! Well, probably not. There is some validity to spending less time writing on social media to write other things instead, but the kind of writing I engage in on social media is quite different from creative and academic writing.
When I am on social media, I am not sitting down to write but rather to browse and converse which often leads to writing. This makes it more accessible and easier to pick up than other forms of writing. If I had five minutes, that is plenty of time to open Reddit and respond to any replies or check the recent posts, but five minutes may not even be enough time for me to get in the headspace for a story or paper and it would feel too rushed to make any meaningful progress. If I were to cut out social media, instead of spending my time writing other things, I would likely end up writing significantly less overall.
For individuals who do not write as much in their free time or for work, social media likely makes up a sizable portion of their engagement with writing. This is important since while it is easy to brush off the types of writing on social media as insubstantial and trivial, it is still a means to practice and refine writing, particularly rhetorical writing through its use of conversation and debate. As a result, the style of writing I use in places like Reddit is a completely different genre from the creative fiction or academic essays I write outside of social media. However, while each genre of writing has its own expectations and conventions, the skills learned in one can often carry over to others. Even if it may not seem like it, the discussions, and even the arguments, on social media improve how you converse and articulate when writing, which is a skill with a wide range of benefits including in professional and academic situations. For an example of this, the style of writing used in this editorial is based more on my experience from the style of writing I use for discussions on social media than my academic and creative styles.
Another way writing on social media differs from other forms of writing is that the writing is often short and complete. One of my fiction stories can be as long as one to two dozen of my posts on Reddit, if not more. This difference in length changes how the writer interacts with the writing with each comment being a complete piece with a beginning and end. This can lead to posts following a similar structure as previous posts, giving the writer more time to practice and revise each part of the process through repetition than in longer-form works.
Shorter, similar posts like these are how I noticed habits about my writing, such as certain words and phrases I gravitate towards in those recurring situations. Once I became aware of my tendency for these words, I started to find them everywhere in my work, even my fiction pieces, and I have since made a mental note to be aware of how much I am using them. Without my frequent use of social media, I doubt I would have discovered these habits to be able to curtail them where they can be more problematic.
I have mostly discussed social media generally and only used Reddit as an example, but Twitter does provide its own unique challenges for writing. The character limit on each tweet has a profound impact on the writing of that platform. Sometimes I have found it aggravating to try to contain my thoughts in a single tweet, but it also challenges me as a writer to strip down my thoughts to their most concise and refined form that keeps all the needed substance with none of the fluff. Even if users do not consciously make the effort to revise their replies to a more concise form to fit the tweet, which is something that occurs naturally due to the platform's limitations.
I am sure there are more ways social media impacts the way we write and communicate than just the ones I have discussed. But while they may not all be positive, it can be too easy to look at social media broadly and just see the bad parts while missing the small, more subtle benefits. One of the biggest detriments to writing is not writing at all so even if that is just a Reddit post or a tweet, it is still a means to engage with and experience writing. At the end of the day, writing is writing, no matter where it is.