TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Oh, man. I wish I could say that I did train myself to write in so many ways. I think what happens instead is that — first of all, I’m a very curious person. I’m in these spaces anyway. I am an internet person for better or for worse, right? I came of age as a public person and like live journal, right? Like, I have followed the development of these spaces just like any other person, I think, of my generation, though. That’s just kind of where. That’s where we were hanging out.

And when I’m in a space, this predates being a sociologist or an academic. When I’m in a space, I’m very much a one step, in one step removed kind of person. I’m watching the thing I’m participating in, can’t turn that off. It’s just what I am and who I am. And so it makes sense for me that if I’m on Twitter, I’m also thinking about Twitter, right? I’m thinking about, why are all these people here? What’s the audience looking? What’s that about? And so that comes out in the things that I’m interested in. So that’s one thing.

I think training myself to write to that audience — understanding it is one thing, to be fair. Understanding everything as a genre is another thing, and there was a moment when I realized this is just like learning how to write the five paragraph essay, right, as opposed to a long form piece of creative nonfiction. Every medium has a genre, and some of that, cracking some of it really is just fun for me.

It’s like, OK. Let me see if I can do this. I can’t do them all, to be fair. There are definitely some genres, especially ones that lean more visual, because I’m a textual kind of girl. And I just don’t get like visual and editing, but some of it is just fun for me to see if I can remix the genre. First of all, can I capture it? And then can I remix it a little? Can I make an essay you have like the freewheeling feeling of Twitter? Can I surprise an audience that thought they were showing up for like a first person essay with a little bit of empirical thinking? Can I just sort of surprise people? That’s part of the fun for me.

Tressie McMillan Cottom on writing and …