Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Writing in the online world has mostly been defined by brevity. Digital editors have ingrained in their editorial approach a belief that everyone—everyone
—has a short attention span or doesn't care to look at the same Web page for very long. But there's plenty of evidence that this belief is changing, and changing radically. Long-form content could be the new way of the Web.
Also, two articles explore the conflicting relationship between social media and the old ideal of the reclusive writer, The Economist
rolls out a new caption contest, and more.
Online word counts:
This is a thoughtful post from Nieman Lab on a newly endangered species created by the shift from print to digital: the newspaper sports columnist. Used to be that columnists were the stars of the sports section, providing insight and entertainment on the most salient issues in the industry in about 800 words. The surprising thing in the change is not that news organizations are moving away from the columnist. It's what they're moving to. Long, investigative or highly analytical pieces are the content drivers for sports coverage on the Internet. However, 800 words won't usually cut it anymore. This from the medium everyone has long believed (rightly) to be the place where people get bored after 200 words. Sites like Longreads
were created as niche venues for people who like the magazine form of writing. But now—at least for The New York Times sports section
—long form is used to keep readers coming back. Which raises the question: If you're a writer or editor for an online magazine or blog, do you take this trend seriously, and consider "long" pieces being 2,000 instead of 800 words?
Is being reclusive still an option?
Peter Orner explores in The Millions
whether, in the age of social media, it's still possible to achieve the romantic ideal (for some) of being a reclusive writer. Writers—like everyone else—are expected to promote their lives and work via Twitter. If they don't, Orner recalls learning at an industry panel, writers are DOA. Orner is writing from the perspective of a novelist, so the career of, say, an agency copywriter may not depend so heavily on tweets. However, Orner takes a fresh, though not positive, approach to social media that is very much in contrast to seeing it as a tool to enhance one's writing skills:
"I’ve come to see social media as a skill like anything else. Some are talented at it; others, less so. I’m a mediocre interior decorator also. Nor can I cook, change the oil, or dance."
Here then is the debate, if one even exists: Social media—writing practice venue or the new gardening?
Twitter is writing in public:
Thomas Beller examines the relationship between reclusive writing and Twitter in a different way. He's writing a book on a famous recluse, J.D. Salinger, who would probably never take to the social network, he explains. Beller writes that Salinger treated privacy and secrecy in writing as a virtue, and that Twitter is antithetical to that. It is technology that makes private thoughts public—thoughts that would have always remained private before, at least until a book was released.
Beller concedes that many past writers would probably be very good at Twitter with its built-in form and rhythm, but there are good reasons why some writers might struggle with it: "Some writers achieve their effect through an accumulation, or make sense via sentences that are, by themselves, on the far edge of making sense."
Writing as discovery:
Some of the best writing you'll do probably occurs after you hit the backspace key or "select all, delete." That's at least the mindset of Robert Graves, who said, "There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting." Novelist Craig Nova takes this point further, writing that when you look at a story from a different perspective, a new way of writing it will emerge. Self-editing is difficult, though, and you might not realize that a line doesn't work until you know how others will interpret it. In that case, is it better to go with your gut and rely on a good editor?
[RELATED: Learn the "Four Cs" that are crucial to your internal writing at our one-day workshop in Chicago.]A new caption contest:
Before there was Twitter, the way to test your wit and writing skill in a short number of characters was The New Yorker
's caption contest. Now, The Economist
has its slightly more interactive answer to that. Each week, they'll be drawing a cartoon, and readers will supply and submit their version with talk and thought bubbles. You'll be able to page through submissions from others, and like The New Yorker, vote for one of the finalists chosen by editors. It could be good writing practice, and because its The Economist
, it will test your knowledge of world affairs. Maybe you could win something, too.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago and is the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.