Digital Culture

The Writer’s Mind: On Tao Lin’s Twitter

DMwrM_pUQAAMyx1.jpgSamantha Hurley

In The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes asserts that the figure of the author should be completely detached from the works that they create. I propose that Tao Lin’s Twitter account offers the complete antithesis to Barthes’ claims. Tao Lin is an American novelist, poet, essayist, artist, and avid tweeter who meticulously documents his writing process in front of his 30K Twitter followers. The millennial author’s Twitter account acts like a digital office space: tweets about writing ideas, changes in direction and pictures of dogs litter, his feed like Post-It notes scattered around a desk.

In 2015, Lin tweeted: “I’m tweeting every book that I read as a reply to this tweet from now on.” Since then, he has documented every book that he has read for his followers to see; from Plato to 9/11 conspiracy theories to rereads of his own books. Lin also tweets an extensive list of essays he has printed and intends to read every few weeks – concerning topics like the effects of an atomic bomb explosion on corn seeds, and female contraception. Lin’s transparency about his own influences and interests offers his followers a rarely seen insight to the everyday workings of a professional writer. Lin’s writing, like all writing, is an amalgamation of his influences and inspirations.

Tao Lin is currently writing a book and has been intermittently updating his followers with off-cuttings from the writing process. Every few weeks, Lin tweets a long list of disjointed “words/fragments/sentences” that have been discarded from his drafts: “physical” … “her side remained untold” … “the” … “cannabis.” Again, Lin offers a rare insight to the process of professional writing and editing. His openness about the instability of his own work helps to break down ideas about books as pure and perfectly formed products.

cfad4510-8759-0134-18da-060e3e89e053In what could be his most post-ironic move yet, Lin published a book of his own tweets in 2015 in collaboration with American poet Mira Gonzalez. Selected Tweets presents the writers’ tweets like a collection of poetry and proposes the radical notion that tweets are literature. The publication of Selected Tweets can help readers to think about the relationship between literature and social media in the 21st century – with Tao Lin simultaneously using his Twitter account to write his books and writing books using his Twitter account.

Whether or not Tao Lin’s use of Twitter is truly revolutionising and democratising the way that we see view literature as consumers remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a refreshing break from corporate-run literary Twitter accounts and authors constantly urging followers to ‘buy my book!’

Follow Tao Lin on Twitter: tao_lin

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