Stephen King is on Twitter … and at a loss for words

December 10, 2013

Stephen King has been on Twitter for all of four days, and he seems — oddly! — at a loss for words.

The prolific novelist, who has penned something like 29 million words in his lifetime, has managed only four little missives thus far: two on the launch of his account (“no longer a virgin. Be gentle!”) and two on things he is reading and watching (Benjamin Percy’s “Red Moon,” and the French zombie drama “The Returned”). That lack of output hasn’t stopped @StephenKing from running up nearly 190,000 followers within its first days online and earning hundreds of retweets and replies to every little dribble of thought he allows out.

 

This is, intriguingly, a paradox that many novelists have found themselves in before; Thomas Beller, the essayist and author of “The Sleep-Over Artist,” (and, it must be said, a pretty regular tweeter himself), posited in the New Yorker last June that Twitter — with its insistence we “think in public” — alternately paralyzes and empowers writers, who are so accustomed to the privacy of their own brains:

I sometimes wonder how the great writers of the past would handle the Twitter predicament. Would they ignore it or engage and go down the rabbit hole?…

Writing on Twitter brings the energy of a début to every phrase. You could say it imbues writing with a sense of performance, though writing has always involved performance in the sense of performance anxiety. The question for the writer who is leaving multiple pages crumpled on the floor—literally or figuratively—is for whom is that line, or paragraph, unsatisfactory? Who is the appraiser of one’s own unpublished, or even unwritten, work?

Of course, many writers have gotten over it. A few weeks into her Twitter career, the tireless Joyce Carol Oates wrote the whole thing off as “an interesting experience” that she planned to discontinue; 14 months later, she’s still serving her wacky, occasionally beautiful observations on everything from her cat to the last movie she saw. Salman Rushdie likewise dipped a toe into the Twitter waters “with some trepidation” — “don’t know how long I’ll stay … we shall see,” he followed up. Rushdie is now, per The Telegraph, one of the most prolific writers on Twitter.

One steadfast literary hold-out against social media’s seductive pull? Jonathan Franzen, technophobe extraordinaire, who has panned tweeting writers as one of the great horrors of the modern world. Maybe that could be fodder for King’s next novel … when he gets the hang of this whole Twitter thing.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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