I am a writer.
It used to embarrass me to say that because it comes across as so utterly pretentious. Anybody who’s published a poem on Poetry.com can call themselves a writer, which pretty much dilutes the word. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself a writer in the last few years, partially because I’ve published nationally and some of my stories and poems have appeared in journals. But the more basic reason that I feel comfortable using the ‘W’ term for myself is because I work damn hard at it.
I edit. I edit like a
motherfucker professional. Not a single post goes up on this site that hasn’t been read and re-read and edited for typos and grammatically confusing phrases and then rewritten again to make sure that it isn’t all just one big rambling mess. If an article goes up and I spot a typo after the fact, I pretty much can’t do anything until I’ve fixed it. And that’s just for blog posts. You can’t imagine how much time I spend on short stories and the longer pieces I work on. I’ve been editing a completed novel for years. It’s been finished, I’ve submitted it to agents (no interest found), and yet still I return to it in hopes of improvement.
Editing is only one part of being a writer. A very, very, very important part of it, but still not the whole shebang. A writer should also care for craftsmanship, the interplay of words and sounds. One needn’t look far to see that very little of what is written online has been crafted in any manner. Even if we’re ignoring the gibberish that gets posted in the name of SEO and Google analytics, publication on the internet is largely about filling space. Websites don’t employ writers, they employ content creators.
CONTENT IS KING(?)
“Content Creator” is this era’s greatest Orwellian euphemism, presenting the mindless sputum of the half-literate as ‘content’ and declaring the banging of one’s head against a keyboard as ‘creativity.’ Internet content is, by various definitions, valuable, even when it only exists to point the reader to the work of a superior thinker or artist. Unfortunately, the chained up monkeys who type this stuff, while still unable to reproduce Shakespeare, have learned how to market their smeared shit so effectively that we all stop and look.
A great many articles published online contain barely 100 words worth of original content all in reference to someone else’s video, photographs or article, copied whole cloth from another website or news source. So content-less has content creation become that the only real purpose of any creator is to slap up an attention-grabbing headline to bring in the hits. With headlines like “This Video Will Change Your Mind About Everything” and a screenshot strategically frozen to reveal cleavage (yes, Upworthy, I see what you’re doing), sites get your clicks and your shares, spreading their empty content like the mental herpes it truly is.
A content creator might push back and say, “You’re just bitter because you’ve failed as a writer.” To which I say, yeah, probably. But what is a writer if not someone who has failed at everything else in life.
WRITERS WRITE RIGHT
I am not criticizing the Internet. I have no qualms saying that the World Wide Web is the greatest scientific achievement in all of human history. Yes, even beating sliced bread. Counter to common belief, I don’t think the Internet is making us worse people, or even less social. The Internet didn’t turn us into assholes, we already were assholes (slavery, anyone?). This tool is transformative and quite often magnificent in the way that it brings together ideas, cultures, experiences and, most importantly, people. Blaming the Internet for our shortcomings as a species is like blaming the automobile for car crashes. In a certain light, it’s vaguely true, but it’s obviously missing the larger picture.
I know a lot of writers personally. Some I like and some I don’t, while some like me and most… tolerate me. Most of the writers I have known over the years have, at some point or another, stopped writing. At least, in a serious way. They may toss out a poem here or there, or loosely maintain a blog. Many of these writers have attempted to get their writing published and found out the hard way, like I have, that it is really, really hard to get published in this age, especially if you’re not writing erotic fan-fiction based on someone else’s creation.
It’s… disheartening. I’m not saying it was ever easy to be a writer, but I don’t think anyone would dispute that this is the hardest age for a writer to find a faithful audience and make a living by it. The Internet is, somewhat, to blame for that. The other party at fault is us, the writers. We have grown to accept the truism that no one will pay us for our writing, like we’re all part of one global internship and our bosses are waiting for their coffee. I’m not saying this isn’t true, just that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course no one’s going to pay for what they’re getting for free. Remember what your mama said about buying the cow? Yep, we’re all sluts.
This is truly a shame because nobody has changed and shaped history more than writers. Great ideas and revolutionary movements spread through the written word. As much as Twitter gets a bad name for its 140-character limit and seemingly frivolous content, it actually serves a tremendous function because it helps spread messages. It lets us share the word.
Writing has value. Content doesn’t.
EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!
We’re a headline culture, so it’s no wonder that we believe all human knowledge can be reduced to a series of bulletpoints for easy consumption. The epidemic of scientific illiteracy that has created the Anti-Vaxxers, the Climate Change Deniers and the Intelligent Design Movement is largely based on these various groups believing that if they read a couple of headlines, a Wikipedia article and a science study abstract, they’re suddenly as informed as a person who has devoted their life to the field. You can’t reduce hundreds of years of research into an afternoon and then call yourself an expert.
The more reductive we become, the harder it is to convey anything meaningful. Even the flashy content creators are shoving extra information into their headlines (“#16 Will Blow You Away” “#3 Will Literally Get You Pregnant” “#10 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) because the fire-hose torrent of hyperbole is losing its ability to draw eyes. Everybody is screaming with ALL CAPS that what they have to show you is worth your 5-second attention span, and in reality almost none of it is.
Which is why it’s time for writers to fight back.
Don’t give in to the easy pull of content creation. Don’t aim for the lowest common denominator. Don’t over-hype your work with misleading, exclamation-filled headlines. Be a writer. Craft your words with care, edit them to perfection, and if the world doesn’t care, do it again. And again, and again. The world doesn’t owe you an audience. As a writer, though, you owe it to yourself and to your work to actually give a damn about the quality of your writing. The word will remain long after all the content has been banished to the unlit alleyways of internet obscurity.
So what are you? Content Creator, or Writer?