Contrary to conventional expectations of a 22 year old male trying to carve out a future of any sort, I spend an immense amount of time thinking about writing. A disproportionate amount for sure. It’s one of the few things that have the power to keep me up at night – relationships, money, an uncomfortable mattress and yes, writing.
My chief thoughts of writing deal with what makes true quality. Is it like a song where that one unexpected turn in a melody catches you and makes you go ‘woah’? Is there just something about us that just makes us appreciate good technique? Or is it as simple as we only think it’s good if we care about it? I haven’t come up with anything conclusive.
The twist is an interesting point because it is an indictment of the quality of the story. There’s an onus on the narrator to provide that jolt you get from a movie. If there’s no turn where you can drop in that clincher, the story was crap and that’s that. Not every story can be great, but you would hope you could hit good on a bad day. If even that is unattainable, then it’s back to the drawing board. The idea needs to be reconceived or scrapped. It happens.
Style is what makes me really scratch my head.
Quality writing in a digital age seems to be one of the most vacuous measuring sticks I can try to break down. On one hand there’s the internet standard of short, sassy pieces that drive page views, shares, etc. that are largely unsatisfying to put together from a writer’s perspective. Then there are the longer pieces which are celebrated because they are filled with hyperbole. Over the top phrasing and imagery are hailed as “great writing” because they are a departure from the former. It doesn’t matter what the piece is about, just make it 1,200 words, format it in huge paragraphs and use some abstract imagery and a few David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes and you’re rolling. The lemmings will call it “great” because they skimmed the piece, had a vague idea at what you were getting at and the part where you analogized the birds you fed in the park three weeks ago to your topic really hit them. Woo freaking hoo you’re awesome just keep churning out that crap and you’ll hit 500 twitter followers in no time.
I also have a hard time believing that people only like what they “care about” because, more often than not, you can convince someone what they should care about. If you can parlay something as mundane as shoelaces into an interesting slant, you can get someone to read it and you can get them to care. That’s not so much a skill as it is creativity.
So the question becomes how to best exploit the medium. You can go punchy, hunting for the obvious laughs, trying to tighten up those quips as much as possible. Or you can go long and over the top, long for the sake of the long form and work on your superfluity and wait for the “wow, great piece” compliments to roll in.
This troubles me.
I can’t get on board with the snappy page view approach and I’ve tried. I can do it, but liking it is another story. There’s nothing that I find particularly enjoyable about the format beyond trying to find ways to out-sass myself. It gets repetitive and formulaic. The long form approach is certainly much more compelling, but living and dying by it is another story. If you can consistently churn out 1,500 words in this online environment on what, we may presume, is similar subject matter, you’re full of it. You have no grasp of brevity or concision and you like reading your own words too much. Writing becomes an exercise in self-satisfaction at that point which is no fun for anybody.
I realize this has devolved into an aimless tear down of writing and that wasn’t my intention when I began typing away here, it’s just an honest appraisal as I see it. There are hallmarks of good writing of course and these are points to work on.
The ones I find particularly important:
- Use your own voice
- Don’t be wishy washy
- Cut your sentences off when they need to be cut
- Honesty is the best policy
- Don’t be afraid to convey what you are like; readers getting to know you is a good thing
- Constantly work on the above
Not a master list but you’re bound to get somewhere.
At the end of the day, content will yield skill at some point, it’s the concerted effort to improve which will make good writing persist online. I’m discouraged by the dichotomy which appears to be developing in the online medium, but if that’s how it goes, so be it. It’s up to the individual to improve.
Create your content, make it better, hold your follow through.
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