SANJA ČANAK – RAIČ, Twitter Writer: Writing for Yourself – Literature in 280 Characters

It is redundant to talk about social media as the thing of the future and as one of the possibilities of expressing oneself, or engaging in media activities, simply because they happened a long time ago. They are a way of life today

Naturally, the question of language is essentially a question of identity, but when it comes to creative writing, the attitude that the writer can only express themselves in their own language, seems to me to be a narrow-handed, over-stretched,19th century-like concept of identifying the linguistic standard expressed through literary canons and the ideas of the nation. On the last day of June, which coincided with the International Social Media Day (yes, there is such thing which has been celebrated for 10 years now), we talked with Sanja Čanak-Raič, a novelist, a translator, a public relations expert and a very active Twitter user. Despite the fact that Twitter, as a medium, gained planetary popularity thanks to the explosive development of mobile platforms over the past decade, it is still not the favourite choice among social media users in Croatia. We became even more intrigued when we learned that Sanja published solely poetry and prose on Twitter, and that in only six months since joining Twitter, she has managed to gain a respectable number of followers, considering that she lives in Croatia.

You have professional ties to the media and public relations with the latter being a profession where writing, which has to be exact and informative, is one of the basic prerequisites for doing a PR job. How did you get into literature? Why did you choose social media?

I have been writing my whole life, so you can say that writing is my profession, or rather writing in general, that is expressing thoughts and formulating them in words and sentences. I studied the beautiful French and Spanish literature, and at that time, I was also doing professional writing so during my early days in journalism, I sensed and learned the difference between “writing” (for myself) and writing (for others). The quotation marks serve as a visible distinction of the position in relation to the object. I wrote mostly shorter forms – stories, and some of them have been published. Professional writing, in my case, is one of the main tools of my profession of a translator and/or a PR executive. The nature of the business always dictated that I wrote (no quotation marks) “for others” who chose the topic, the form of expression, and the canon of reporting, especially if the writing was related to politics.

I understood very early on that when it comes to literature and engaging in literature at the author and creative level, with writing solely as an intimate option, passion could either disappear or be smothered by the reality of life or my profession, or maybe survive in the personal sphere of an individual. In practice, the word „survive“ meant to become a hobby, an alternative to real professional writing and writing for one’s own enjoyment. That is and always will be a personal choice. Regarding the use of social media for literary purposes, I advocate that we can’t talk about them as the thing of the future and as one of the possibilities of expressing oneself, or engaging in media activities, simply because they happened a long time ago. This is not even a topic to consider for Millennials, because they live through social media which they use to express themselves in a completely authentic way. We just joined the overall trend.

Why did you pick Twitter over other social media like the popular and omnipresent Facebook, for instance?

Simply because it seemed to me to be the best platform for what I wanted to say or write. A large number of users came to Twitter after being satiated with Facebook and other complicated and tedious social media that have a bunch of useless options, where you are being bothered by people you know or don’t know, and by quizzes, tests, ads … Things are far simpler on Twitter and apart from basic posting and following, there are no other options. Twitter is still a minor in terms of age, while Facebook is a few years short of „legal age“. Instagram is only 9 years old. All of this means that the convergence is still going on, or better to say, the coexistence of classic and new media. Contrary to the expectations and pessimistic forecasts about old media disappearing, the opposite happened – the new media created new opportunities for the classic media. After all, you are interviewing me for a classic medium, which is surviving and developing with the help of new media platforms, aren’t you? Professionally speaking, new media have just improved the existing techniques and gave birth to new platforms, but my work, especially in the context of writing, remained the same – collecting, processing and distributing information, or rather using letters, words and sentences shaped by the writing techniques. Of course, when I speak about the professional side, I am talking about the earlier mentioned no-quotationmarks-writing-for-others. While I was doing this, social media came to me spontaneously, in response to the new media practice of contemporaneity, most often in the form of extensions of classic information forms that I have been using all my life.

But you are also writing for others because your every post is public…

Of course, I write for others too. Writing for yourself is a contradiction at its core providing we are not talking about notes, reminders or “to do lists”. The most intimate diaries are written for others, not necessarily for the same generation and contemporaries, but at least for progeny or someone from the unknown future. Art for art’s sake simply does not exist in literature because everything that is written, regardless of how real it is, finds its way to the readers. Writing is shaping thoughts with a medium as a go-between. Media always entails communication and you have to have at least two people to have communication – the sender and the recipient of the message. In this context, writing for myself is meaningless if there is no medium as a go-between, which then automatically becomes writing for others as well. Generically speaking, humans are creatures of communication, and they communicate in countless ways thus shaping themselves and their surroundings. The entire nature and the world that surround us are communicating – starting with our cells all the way to our DNA molecules. The determinant that is homo communication is special. What makes it distinct from other parts of nature is that this kind of communication is creative. Makeup, tattoos and hairstyles are also a form of communication, just as writing is one of the tools of creative expression. So, communicating is in human nature. This is how things technically are. We simply must communicate. This is given. However, it is even more important to honestly ask ourselves – „Do I have something to say?“, „Is it going to be interesting for others too?“, and „Am I coherent enough to convey my thoughts and feelings?“. If the answer is „yes“ to all these questions than writing makes sense for others too.

You tweet in English, you are professionally bound to the French language, while Croatian is your mother tongue. How do you navigate in this triangle?

I hope quite well. Both professionally and personally, and in terms of the medium that is language, my life has always been bi-, tri-, quadri- or multilingual. It’s just the way it is and I never knew anything differently, nor did I want to. Honestly, I never gave this much thought because learning and using languages came spontaneously to me because the language I choose to speak on a daily basis is probably a reflection of my character and/or my personality. Naturally, the question of language is essentially a question of identity, but when it comes to creative writing, the attitude that the writer can only express themselves in their own language, seems to me to be a narrow-handed, over-stretched,19th century-like concept of identifying the linguistic standard expressed through literary canons and the ideas of the nation. Proust sounds fine in all languages and is understood the same by the Chinese, the French or the Norwegians alike, although the French language that Proust used is something vastly different from the contemporary French. That’s the rule of thumb for any good literature. In order to illustrate this, I would just like to mention a contemporary Danish writer, Alen Mešković, who originates from Croatia, as an example. Mešković says that a writer doesn’t use language to write, but writes with their whole being. It really is like that because by shaping your own thoughts into sentences, you are trying to run a certain emotion or thought rhythm through the filter of language, and this is especially true of poetry. In doing so, it is totally irrelevant which language you use, if the reader or the listener of your utterance feels the same. To make this happen you have to think and feel in the language in which you are writing. In that context, translating is also a very creative job because it allows the transmission of thoughts and feelings, which is far from the mere technique. In any language, you can express yourself in this or that way, but pinpointing a true expression of emotion is very difficult. After all, in addition to English, I also tweet in French and Spanish, depending on the theme and the current inspiration. True, I rarely write in Croatian.

Twitter is not really the favourite social medium in Croatia. Some say that Facebook dominates and some that it stagnates, at least considering the number of users. On the other hand, Instagram is experiencing a huge expansion but the communication there is solely done through photographs and hashtags. Who exactly is your audience?

In my work, I use solely those social media that have the most widespread reach. On the other hand, for personal things, I first tried Instagram which I still use to this day. However, I quickly realized that Instagram is limited only to visual communication. I also use Viber and WhatsApp for everyday things. I missed using and arranging words and putting them on paper that is also available to others. Instagram is fine but I’m not a painter or a photographer or a videographer. Words are my creative tools. Twitter, in all its limitations (only 280 characters), is still relatively unpopular in Croatia, maybe because of the said limitations. It seemed a good choice to me, though. After registering, I had my own Twitter profile and the address and I wrote the first tweet in the blank field provided for that. Choosing the English language to do so was a logical step because computers are the same all over the world. If I had tweeted in Croatian, my Twitter would have been quite a lonely place. In just a couple of months, I amassed thousands of followers, that is, those who follow me and who read my statuses, and 12,000 likes or positive reactions to my posts. The numbers change from day to day, but the trend is still upward. Such feedback, which is simply unparalleled in classic media, i.e. if I published a book of poetry in a couple of hundred copies, coupled with the fact that I have achieved such a reach with about 2,500 posts, of which only about 350 are my original work while the rest are reactions to comments and the like, shows that my readers do exist and that Twitter is just a platform that helped my work to reach them. I am a proud „member“ of #WritingCommunity, a diverse writing society that includes the greats such as Stephen King and Paulo Coelho, poetry bards, publicists, publishers, authors with several books under their belt, and many other, endlessly talented and imaginative anonymous individuals. Interactive communication and exchange of experiences are also extremely useful for my creative maturation. Last but not least, tweeting is fun and inspirational and it could become the stepping stone to writing something that is much longer. I already have plans but they are not the topic of this interview, are they?


Is 280 characters a form that is too limiting?

In terms of terminology, Twitter fiction or Twitter prose or Twitterature was coined from the words Twitter and literature. These are texts that are tweeted in the specific and predefined form consisting of 280 characters which possess a literary/artistic quality. I mostly post #vss365 (very short story) on a daily basis. It is freestyle prose or poetry on a given theme. The reputable members of #WritingCommunity provide the keyword of the day that serves as the basis or inspiration for your daily tweet. The writer who chooses the “prompt word” has a month-long mandate. In the world of literature, the volume and the length are not essential to assessing the quality. In addition, Twitterature can consist of a single tweet which is then coupled with an illustration (my personal favourite), or a series of tweets which together make up an author’s body of work, while, at the same time, each segment is shaped in accordance with the rules and capabilities of this social medium.

One thought on “SANJA ČANAK – RAIČ, Twitter Writer: Writing for Yourself – Literature in 280 Characters

  1. This is the most comprehensive article I’ve ever read about the workings and significance of Twitter as a genre. My sincere thanks and praise to Ms. Canak-Raic for taking on this difficult subject and bringing a wonderful clarity of thought. I am a follower of hers on Twitter and her poetic tweets and images are some of the best presented. Thank you Diplomacy and Commerce for posting this fabulous article!

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