BEN WHITE is making excellent creative use of his Twitter stream as a writer.
For those not familiar with the social media site, on Twitter.com posts are restricted to 140 characters.
At first only knowing him as @midnightstories, I enjoyed the mystery being unveiled with each new post. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know more about the creator and his process. Ben kindly agreed to an interview, and I’m delighted to share his responses with you. Thanks, Ben!
Twiction is twitter + fiction.
There are other names. Arjun Basu (@arjunbasu) calls them “Twisters,” and I’ve heard tweetfic, twitterfic, and more broadly, nanofiction.
I write nanofiction (short-form twiction), where each tweet is (supposed to be) a standalone story. Other writers write serialized twiction with each tweet being just a part of a larger arc.
I think the second type often doesn’t take advantage of Twitter, especially when authors just copy-and-paste a short story sentence by sentence—these aren’t written for the medium, and it really shows.
– Why midnight?
I’ve always been a bit of a night-owl, and all of the easy names (@twiction, @twitterfiction, etc.) were already taken. Midnight Stories has this ring to it, like those introspective moments you have lying in bed before you fall asleep.
I only decided to actually post exactly at 12 a.m. after my first week. It’s a little kitschy and probably difficult for people who don’t make an active effort to read my stories (sorry!), but I do like the regular, scheduled aspect of it.
Editor’s note: I’m way to heck snoozin’ by that hour, but I find the twiction very accessible. I simply catch up on it the next morning—or read several day’s worth if I’ve been taking a break from Twitter. They’re so more-ish, it’s hard to read just one.
– How (or why) did you get started on Twitter? Have you always posted twiction, or did that come later?
I actually started writing twiction as my first activity on Twitter (I got the idea from an article I read on Ars Technica). I made a New Year’s resolution—the first that I’ve ever followed—to write more, to create more.
I dusted off my domain name, wrote a New Year’s manifesto, and then a week later, started writing twiction. I wanted to write every day, and this was the perfect avenue: a pseudo-diary in fiction, full of characters and story ideas that I could share with other people.
For me, it was the perfect way to overcome the inertia that keeps us consuming every day instead of creating.
– Please provide a range of twiction samples and share some behind-the-scenes tidbits with us.
Bean bag chairs and solo cups, they drown in each other like so many rounds of Beirut and think: no matter, the morning is so far away.
I wrote this just a few days ago. It’s a scandalous college-style story of people acting in the moment, regardless of the context or consequences.
For me, some of these snapshot stories are the most lyrical and can leave the strongest impression (despite being light on plot). With so few characters, I can usually only focus on a single element.
When my father became a crab, it was hard to find him. He made quick clicks on the tile—but on the carpet, I accidentally crushed him.
I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy. This is a magical realism style piece (a pretty common style for @midnightstories); a sort of homage to an incredible early 20th century Polish writer, Bruno Schulz, whose story “Father’s Last Escape” also involves a father-crab figure.
The use of symbols allows a simple object or scenario to be part of a much bigger story than it would be on the surface.
Dear Ben: I’m happy. I can’t even remember what your body feels like. I don’t remember our times together, and you never cross my mind.
I’ve written almost 100 bits of nanofiction, and the medium has given me the opportunity to try different forms and styles.
Peppered through are bits of silly science fiction, stories inspired by the news and medical school, as well as odd forms like newspaper ads (like the famous Hemingway six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”). This one is a letter to someone coincidentally named Ben from a former lover who is trying (and apparently failing) to move on after their separation.
– What other kinds of writing do you enjoy?
A little bit of everything. I kept a blog in college called Oh Harvard that was sort of my one-ranting-man editorial board about the school. It was really my first time writing in an extended way, developing a voice and a platform. It whet my appetite.
Since then, I’ve written all lengths of short (these days, very short) fiction, as well as personal essays and more academic writing. Looking back, some of it I still think is interesting. Some of it is probably indecipherable.
– Do you (or have you ever) suffered from fear of writing/writer’s block? If yes, what solutions have worked for you?
The biggest fear I’ve had is losing perspective over quality, of not knowing the value of my own work. This is for me—as I’m sure it is for many people—directly tied to the reactions we receive from others.
In that way, Twitter has been a wonderful way to reach a new audience, an audience with supportive readers that offer real-time feedback. When people like a story, I’ll receive at replies and re-tweets. It’s really wonderful. Rejection letters don’t do the same job.
Writing is in most ways a solitary activity, but at the same time, it’s an effort to make a connection to other people through words. If you don’t feel that connection, it sometimes feels like talking to a wall. My solution has been two-fold:
1) Write, and if one thing loses stream, pick another. It’s not your job to separate the wheat from the chaff the moment your fingers hit the keys.
2) Talk. The internet is a community where readers and writers are arranged in one beautiful, homogeneous mess full of ideas and dialogue. Enjoy it and—at least for me—the words start pouring out.
My tweets are the tiniest stories, but they’ve done disproportionate things for my creative drive. Sometimes the act of doing anything is enough, and the self-imposed requirement to post a new story every day demands that I write something. Inertia is our biggest enemy.