Internet skills vs. writing skills
One of the lines that struck me most in this chapter came in Module 1: “Understanding how to utilize the internet will become as important to upcoming Travel Writers as knowing how to write.”
While I definitely don’t disagree with this assessment, I think it could come as quite a shock to, say, a professionally trained writer with little expertise in online media.
I’m curious whether people are worried about this trend. Does shifting focus onto the medium take away from the message? Is the craft of writing going to suffer?
I’m definitely not an expert, but I don’t think the craft will suffer. At different points in history the medium has changed- writers and editors had to learn to work printing presses, new-fangled typewriters, etc. The medium is always changing, but good writing is good writing.
I agree with Michelle; I don’t think the craft will suffer just because the medium changes. There are always exceptional writers and mediocre writers, and that’s always been the case.
I do think, though, that Hal has a great point about the shock that some print based writers might be feeling regarding what they could view as the incursion and dominance of digital media. This issue comes up frequently on Twitter’s #editorchat and #journchat, as well as other forums about writing and media. There are some folks who will never feel comfortable with this medium, and that’s okay. There’s still a place for them.
That being said, I think the most powerful benefits that digitized writing offers both writers and readers alike are the accessibility, reach, and longevity of an article or piece of writing online when compared to a hard copy magazine. The articles on Matador are accessible 24/7, presumably forever. To get an old copy of a magazine article… well, how do you do *that* anymore?
This sounds bad, I know. The more familiar I’ve become with internet writing, the more my writing is geared for the market from the outset. I feel it’s changing my voice because I’m getting better at editing myself as I go.
This hasn’t applied to my fiction.
I wonder if it’s good or bad for my writing, though.
Kate–definitely know what you mean there. There’s a part of me that thinks that the best writing comes out of the urge or necessity to write it, whether it’s publishable/marketable or not. And while I think the discipline of having to ensure your writing is appealing to a target audience is important, sometimes I think the really good, difficult, creative writing gets lost in making sure a piece is marketable before you even sit down to write it.
Writers and creators always respond with the medium of their time…ours, for better or worse, is the internet…I take keeping the craft alive and adapting to the split second fickle nature of the internet as a welcome challenge.
this very forum is a testament to the powerful tools we have at our disposal…
Regardless, there is no tech solution or social site that will give anyone talent and dedication…gotta learn that the ol fashion way!
Josh- Love your spirit!
There’s still a place for the travel writing that goes in our journals. For the travel writing that gets published between the pages of a real book. And here, online, too.
I’m a big believer in the “there’s a place and room for everybody” school of thought.
Iyer could still make it, Tim.
Rolf Potts has managed to do quite well in both worlds, and I suspect that it is largely due to the time he spends/has spent both reading literature and staying tuned to what is happening online and about him in society.
In order to sustain my interest in a travel book or extended article, the author’s writing should reflect the kind of depth that comes from not only extensive physical travel experience, but from the imaginative experience and sense of historical or cultural context which is developed by reading others who have come before us or are our contemporaries. Good travel writers are usually good writers, period. Rolf’s “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There” offers an interesting experiment, as he not only compiled stories he had written to go online, but he provided a commentary on each which demonstrated the many angles he has dared to take. As a result, the book–as a sum total of his stories and commentaries–is more interesting to me than any one individual piece.
Shorter pieces can function just as well in print as online, though there are many–myself included–who have about a 1,500 to 2,500 word limit in terms of what I can read online before my eyes tire, so there are that practical considerations when writing for each medium. Kindle is another discussion…
By the way, in my experience as editor there are definitely two distinct directions the Web has taken travel writing.
1) Those who use their blogs to practice and develop their writing skills, making full use of its infinite resources.
2) Those who have become so self-indulgent in their writing that they do not seem to have bothered to have read anyone else (save perhaps a few fellow bloggers), and their stories therefore tend to be cliches…
I hope that the first category will win out in the long run.
Greg, you make a great point about the two different kinds of writers we see on the Web.
Personally, I don’t think the craft of writing will suffer, but as others have noted here it will change as it has in the past. It’s not just the medium of online writing. I think you need to always keep in mind who your audience is and make adjustments with that in mind as well.
Great perspective Greg. Recently I’ve been reading a new wave of writers and writing that seems to take your #2 category–the self indulgent–and push it to these totally absurd extremes. These folks, like Tao Lin, have taken a certain branch of literature (Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis) and applied a kind of internet remix to it. Much of the writing and blogging is like a feedback loop–sitting around blogging about sitting around and blogging. I don’t know what it says about youth, hipster ‘culture’ (the audience which seems to respond to this kind of writing), writing, the internet, or anything else, but here are a couple thoughts:
1. Sitting around on the computer / internet writing about sitting around on the computer / internet couldn’t exist without the internet.
2. ‘Good’ writing, to me anyway, always conveys the author’s reality as closely as possible, and as bizarre as it may sound, especially to those of us who grew up in a pre-blog era, some of the super self-indulgent writing (not all) does, I believe, convey these writers’ realities.
Hello Julie. Nice to meet you virtually.
Hello David, very good points. I would just respond with one word: “transsubjective.”
I won’t respond here at length and will email, as I think that it would get to [(travel)editing] philosophies, and I think that would throw this forum for discussion off-base. My parents were both profs of lit, and I studied lit through grad school in Paris, so I cannot be brief…
Tremendous forum you have going here within a very well thought out context! Bravo to you and your community!
I think internet skills are separate to writing skills although some cross over does benefit your writing for the internet.
I personally just write what I want, and let my website do the internet thing; not the content I’ve written (with the exception I may break up longer pieces into 2 or more posts rather then all on one page). The meta stuff, link url and title tag get ‘internet thoughts’, but I don’t edit my writing to include lots of key words that will be picked up by a search engine, that in my opinion makes the work less organic and I’m not willing to sacfice the integrity of my pieces to get a bit higher in Google, as good writing will go above everything else if it deserves it anyway.