Is the Art of Writing Dying?

Is the Art of Writing Dying

Have you ever been told that you had an innate ability that you never pursued and regretted it?

I remember my school teacher telling me that I had a talent for writing and was able to craft a good story.  But I ignored her gentle advice to follow it further. I either was too young and foolish or I didn’t believe her. Maybe both. For a long time that promise and purpose lay dormant.

It was a time of inkwells, quill pens and cursive writing. That era has long gone.

Often at the end of the school day the fingers were stained and the smell of ink was pervasive. Many times the shirt and uniform were marked by classroom pranks that involved thrown pens, tipped inkwells and flying objects. Mum must have wondered whether we were writing with the ink or swimming in it!

My mother was passionate about learning, spelling and the bright future that a good education promised. She made sure that I learned to write neatly and English homework was closely monitored and encouraged. As she was a stay at home mum we were always welcomed after walking home from school with a snack (often with freshly squeezed orange juice) and nudged to the desk to study.

It was nature with a lot of loving nurture.

A discovery

It was 40 years later I rediscovered a love for writing that had lain dormant. It happened when I started this blog. That surprised me.

My first articles were stilted, stuttering but authentic. The words were wrangled and grammar was not perfect. Often the grammar police turned up, not to offer support but cast stones and laugh quietly. It’s not just the schoolyard that is cruel but the social web has it’s own quota of mockers and academic bullies.

I was told to hire a proofreader before hitting publish, but the web publishing world demands content and sometimes hitting publish is required. I learned that “done is better than perfect

Many clapped from the sidelines. I was encouraged to continue.

What worked?

From day one the writing was “conversational”. In a world that is escaping the formal from fashion to dining, the removal of the shackles of “proper” writing made it more fun. The academic purists didn’t have the monopoly on the art of writing anymore. I had discovered a new worldwide playpen.

I pressed on and after watching, reading and learning from distinguished and professional writers the craft became a little more polished. Books like Stephen King’s “On Writing ” provided insights. Other authors were observed including Stephen Pressfield and his book “The War of Art” and “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath.

I even learnt from car journalists of “Top Gear” fame. It is often 90% story and 10% car review that is narrated with mocking irreverence. Jeremy Clarkson is sometimes improper but you can’t accuse him of being boring.

These lessons included the application of some basic writing principles of rhythm, the rule of three and minimizing adverbs amongst others. Following these discoveries I stumbled upon structure, sub-titles and discovered “my voice“. This includes elements that display the unique you. Those “voice” building blocks start with showing your personality and humour and also exposing your imperfections and being willing to be vulnerable.

The next step

As the journey continued I was gaining in confidence and self published my first book “Blogging the Smart Way – How to Create and Market a Killer Blog with Social Media” in 2012. This required more learning as I juggled maintaining the blog and other commitments.

It meant writing an outline, discipline and teaching myself to publish on Amazon. That wasn’t all!

It also included:

  1. The big idea – Title to the book, which encapsulates the big idea.
  2. The contents – In other words the chapter headings.
  3. Design – This includes the cover, the internal design
  4. Formatting – Taking the book contents from a Word format to Mobi for Amazon, ePub for Apple ibooks or PDF format for selling on your own blog.
  5. Setting up the selling platform – This includes selling it on Amazon, Apple (or other online publishers) or on your own blog or website.
  6. Marketing your ebook – Now this means that you need to learn about digital marketing. This includes building an email list, optimizing for search engines and social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter.

It was worth it. Even if it was just from the self satisfaction of completion.

Is the web killing the craft of writing?

I have often heard over the last few years as the social web has emerged that technology and the world wide web will be the death of the craft of writing. People will stop writing and just tweet selfies and load photos onto Instagram. That they will just record YouTube videos and the written word will shrivel and wither away.

Traditional media companies and publishers have watched the rise of Kindle and Buzzfeed and also predicted the demise of quality journalism. Yes, there is some dumbing down online but that has also been part of the printed media for generations.

But writing isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s just evolving.

Writing for the web requires better use of subtitles, bullet points and numbering. The time poor nature of modern life means that simple and short are often needed to be implemented. The access to a global market in real time and the democratization of publishing are also providing opportunities for people who want to publish.

No longer do you have to beg permission from a publisher. Just write and publish it to Amazon!

There is one other thing. New technology is providing new tools for writers that makes them more efficient from the writing, right through to the publishing and marketing.

The new tools for writers

The pencil and pen was the tool of choice when you had no other options but today we have the computer, the tablet and even the smart phone. The keyboard has replaced the pen for many.

There are other tools like Scrivener and on top of that there is online training to help you learn these tools faster.

What about you?

Have you discovered writing because of the social web? Did blogging open up your eyes and mind to the power of the published online world?

Look forward to hearing more about your discoveries and insights in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  • m_young

    Well, whatever you are doing is clearly working. I always find your posts easy to read, enlightening and informational. I like the statement, “But writing isn’t going away anytime isoon, it’s just evolving” and that is the trick, to keep up with that change. In terms of the internet, though, I tend to think more in terms of revolution than evolution – it implies a more rapid pace of change.

    Once again, a very well written piece. I look forward to the next installment.

    Kind Regards,
    Michael

    • Thanks Michael. It is indeed a revolution!

    • John

      My apologies if this is the wrong place to comment on this.

      I’m not able to comment on your actual posts, because I was banned by RawStory for using the phrase ‘lynch mob’.

      I applaud your attempts to bring reason to that discussion.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the notification about this interesting piece!
    I could very well relate it some of the areas mentioned in this post and I thought it will be a beneficial one if posted it here at kingged. thus this share here. yes, I just re submitted it here at Kingged.com the Internet Marketing Social Website.

    Thanks for the relevant internal links you provided.
    What a tremendous changes taken place in these period, computer key boards replaced pen pencil and paper!!

    Now the latest technology is all over in high speed and the old way of writing is indeed a rare phenomenon.

    You very well presented all those in this post
    Thanks for sharing this informative piece

    Best Regards

    ~ Ann

    Hey Jeff I shared this post at kingged.com the Internet Marketing Social Website the content curation site, and I up-voted it and posted this comment there,
    Thanks again for sharing this valuable and informative post.
    Best Regards
    ~ Ann

  • Amen Jeff! There has never been a better time for us writers! I don’t have a huge audience, but I have an absolute passion for writing. Even without a huge audience, the last four months I’ve been writing for the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Mind Body Green, Business Insider and a few more places.

    If you love to write there are opportunities all around you if you go after them. What’s surprised me is how accessible these opportunities are. Good content goes a long way!

    • You are so right Kimanzi! The opportunities are now global.

  • Craig Badings

    Jeff, good piece. I think the art of good storytelling is often lost in the constant content production frenzy. It’s why I coined the term ‘The Slow Content Movement’ which effectively calls for three things:

    1. Quality – content should be driven by quality not quantity. This entails the appropriate planning, time and research

    2. Relevance – content should deliver value, meaning and relevance for the audience (try do so by addressing their issues, challenges or offer insights to trends impacting their business)

    3. New – content should offer a novel point of view and in so doing, shift an audience away from their preconceived ideas convincing them to think or act differently

  • Kelvin Scoon

    I would like your permission to share this on my blog.
    I could relate to htis blog. I too am from the inkwell era, a caring stay at home Mom, dedicated teachers with a passion for proper English, including the rules of Grammar, and insistence on good writing. I am forever grateful to them.

    • Hey Kelvin Happy for you to share it on your blog 🙂
      PS: I loved what my Mum did for me!

  • Great article Jeff. This topic comes up often in the bookstore where I work. Many patrons are afraid that books and bookstores will disappear, and perhaps one day they will. I think printed books will eventually go the way of the stone tablet, or parchment scroll. But what will never disappear will be story. I think the internet and technology only open new methods of telling stories. I also think that the written word has options for story telling that can’t be replicated by purely visual media. Anyway, thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • Thanks Melissa. For me the next chapter is learning more about the art of storytelling.

  • Sam Collett

    Great stuff, Jeff.

    My longest blog posts have been my most popular (c. 2,000 words+).

    Today, is auspicious for me – I have just written my longest blog post ever: 3101 words!

    My love of writing isn’t dying- so I’m hoping others love of reading isn’t dying!!!

  • Hi Jeff,

    Excellent article! Couldn’t agree more – I work with a lot of young people fresh from college and the lack of skilled writing is a little scary!

    I think that the ease with which writers can intersperse video and pictures with the written word is a huge plus – a picture does paint a thousand words, but some well thought out copy, working in harmony, makes a much better story.

    Andy

    • Thanks Andy…Yes, the art of mixing media that carries the message is a new and excitinfg development. 🙂

  • Thanks for the comments and the opportunities for authors and storytellers has never been greater but yes you also need to learn how to market your writing

  • Thanks Mark. The principles remain but there is change. Sometimes the old rules and paradigms need to be broken or bent!

  • Yash Babar

    This is a coincidence. I just wrote a post on writing online and how it deviates from conventional literary wisdom. In expression of agreement to your piece here’s mine.http://potsoupforthesoul.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/the-n-ways-to-be-painfully-interesting/

  • Pat Pughe-Parry

    I too remember the days of inkpots and quill pens and the added trauma of being left handed. I was also crippled by shyness and too afraid to let my imagination run riot. It is only as I approach my 60th birthday am I really coming into my own and yes the web has turned on that tap. I too wrote an article this weekend about writing my novel and the stop start nature of it. http://iamtrishpp.com/writing-my-novel/

    People complain about how we communicate these days. Imagine if we all still wrote as Shakespeare did?

    Thanks for another inspiring article Jeff.

    • Thanks Pat for sharing your story, I am seeing a lot of younger bloggers that are discovering the joy of writing online. Same skill, just a different platform

  • Ante

    I enjoy your “conversational” writing and also agree with you that “there is some dumbing down online”. Unfortunately that is the price we pay for the freedom to publish anything online.

    I don’t think that art of writing is dying, but I think that, because of shifting realities, the rhythm of writing needs to change. No longer can a writer indulge in descriptions that are pages long, no matter how well written. Today, people just don’t have the time or inclination to read them.

    To grab attention, writing must be fast paced and educational and, as you point out, the web requires better use of subtitles, bullet points and numbering in order to deliver the message in a simple and concise manner.

    The objective of the written word is to transplant the idea from the writer’s mind into the reader’s mind in the shortest and most entertaining way.

    I see in one of the comments that you are interested in the art of storytelling. I highly recommend the book: Writing Fiction by Barnaby Conrad. It is the best I have read on the subject.

  • Clevie

    Hi Jeff, I’m a fan on Twitter
    I’m a writer – been published in some books – based on my experiences, values and human interest. It’s changed. Or seems to have done so. Our readers are more interested in narcissistic and self-serving issues than what you can share with them about almost any subject. Or they label articles before they read the whole thing – especially if it is a faith-based, cultural or political subject. You ‘have a bias, believe in superstition, and family is so done with’. If you write about technology newbies, lives of Hollywood stars or scandals in the news – you will perk up some interest. IMHO I see writers ‘specializing’ their work, ie, write for a faith mag, or write your blog with a focused subject. Diversity is a good thing but it creates additional critics for a writer.

  • Deb Coman

    I love this, Jeff. I see that though it’s repurposed (the “worldwide playpen” likes do-overs!) the message is timeless. I agree that “writing isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s just evolving.” In fact, I love the challenge to help others get their message out with more brevity, clarity and impact thanks to the short-attention span perpetuated with online information barrage. I really enjoyed this article and found it validating and encouraging. So glad to have found it through your Tweet.