Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Being a Modern Writer

Rob Parnell

Does anyone actually read articles anymore?

I'm not sure.

I know from my own experience that when I'm surfing the Net, I generally don't sit and read articles all the way through.

For most of us the purpose of surfing is get information quickly. And reading off a screen can be tiring. So we tend to skim.

Surfing is actually a good word for it. We rarely dive in and explore the sea of information available. We ride the surface of it, soaking in the spray, barely getting our feet wet...

Okay, enough of this metaphor!

Scientists have proven that we don't actually read words anyway. What we do is recognize phrases - collections of words - that create mental images in our minds. It's those images that we use to absorb the information we need.

Not the words at all.

Hence the need for quick bites of info - the way news is reported nowadays, in pulses designed to hook us, but rarely do. Mainly because those pulses are so effective, we don't feel the need to dig deeper.

I guess this is one of the challenges we face as writers for the modern world.

Sorry to burst your bubble but all those sites that advertize for article writers aren't in the least bit interested in your writing. The reason for their existence is the advertizing revenue created by all the Google ads that surround them.

It's always been this way in fact. All those glossy magazines in the supermarket only exist because large corporate companies pay to have their ads in them. Almost never can a magazine survive on the strength of its editorial - or the quality of its writing.

It's worth remembering this when writing for publication. That commercial considerations are fundamental to any kind of success.

Writers may be principled and concerned about more important issues than money - but we are perhaps the only ones.

Book publishers play this game with writers.

They pretend they're interested in good writing. They may even delude themselves into believing it, but it's not true - just ask the marketing department.

The bottom line is sales. And if a crap writer sells more books than a good one, the crap writer is king.

We visited a book shop in town yesterday where this phenomenon was self evident. The shelves were full of so called bestsellers - Harry Potter, Dan Brown, Twilight, The Secret and all their spin-offs - and that was about it.

Sure there were other authors and lots of celebrity and TV related books, a section for sport and cooking - but there was no real sense of the literary in the shop. It existed to make money - and as a result was largely empty. We talked to the staff about this - and they confirmed that declining sales for books had resulted in the sketchy fare available in their shop - a well known chain too.

I have a feeling that this diminishing regard for the written word is a trend that will continue. But as I've said before, even if the demand for good writing apparently falters, there is still a great need for writers.

Because without writers there are no ideas. No stories. No movies. No news. No media. No computer games. No Internet. Nothing.

It's almost as if there's a deliberate attempt to hide writing in plain sight. The media is a largely visual medium these days. Everything moves - has momentum and color and impact created by lights dancing in front of our eyes. But this is an illusion, because the media is built on the written word, translated into images for consumption.

Even the bites of information created for the Net I talked about earlier, play along with this notion. Headlines are visuals - and it's worth bearing this in mind when you write them.

I recently read an interview with James Patterson about his books. His chapters are short and there's a lot of white space in his books as a result. The interviewer mentioned this and James smiled and said this was deliberate - to draw in the new breed of reluctant readers that populate this planet. Too many words, you see, and we switch off.

A Neilson poll once revealed that only 5% of book buyers actually finish the books they buy. As an avid reader - someone who couldn't possibly NOT finish a book I'd started, I found this fact alarming - and left me wondering why they bought them at all!

They must have liked the covers. And who said people shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Probably a writer, not a publisher or a consumer, that's for sure.

It's kind of ironic that I'm writing an article about people not reading articles.

And if you've reached this point you can pat yourself on the back for being one of the tiny percentage of people that will ever get this far.

But hey, someone out there must be reading things all the way through!

Maybe it's just me and you.

Keep Writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write
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