Writing is work. Good writing is hard work. Writing requires you look at life as you would look at a jumbled-up Rubik’s cube. Six sided, you flip it around, look top and bottom, make a few mental moves to see what impact those moves might have on the sides you can’t see, and then, you can commit to the act of solving the cube (or not, in my case).
As content creators, writers play with a cube as well. Every good writer has a voice – a unique style of expression which resonates with enough people to generate pageviews. Pageviews. Readers click on a story. The ‘click’ registers on a server, somewhere. This tells the search engines how popular that piece is so that advertisers can be lured in to help pay some of the bills. The cubic trick is how to maintain one’s voice; ingratiate, irritate, and generate enough quality writing to pay the bills, add to a meaningful online community, and maintain one’s integrity.
Several members of the Dads Roundtable and I had a conversation on the need to balance our appreciation for the well-crafted sentence versus the need to make a buck.
Dads Roundtable co-founder Brandon Duncan said, “We’re constantly striving to gain readers, find things that “work” in this space, and grow. You may have even gotten frustrated a time or two when you didn’t get a comment or tons of shares. I’ve been there. I know. Regardless, have faith! The problem likely is not yours.”
Then where is the problem? Is there a difference between what people want from a paper magazine and an online site? Some surveys suggest yes – people are willing to sit down for a few minutes with a trusted paper periodical, but are more likely driven by specific search engine requests, and quick time-kill diversions like “Top Ten Things You Suck at.” As a writer, I believe that we are in a significant period of transition. Society has been through this several times before.
I feel that as we move into a ‘tablet-based society,’ the disconnect between paper and online reading will narrow. The notion of a paper mag as special, a moment which deserves extra attention, will continue. However, we will learn to cherish a few quiet moments with a cup of coffee and an electronic version of a magazine just as much. When moveable type first arose, printed books were seen as extra-ordinary. Yet, a century later, the typeset book had become (relatively) standard operating procedure. When the glitz of the tech and tablet revolution fades, readers will still want ‘their moment.’
Fifty years ago, don’t forget, the comic book was going to be the death of good literature. Today, the ‘graphic novel’ is a recognized literary resource. Twenty years ago, gaming was going to kill our kids’ brains. Today, gamification is everywhere in the corporate world. Our armed forces fly planes remotely via gaming platforms. The challenge of the modern writer is to find a site where the written word is cherished.
A good analogy is that in good times and bad, there is always a market for the finest handcrafted furniture. Yet, in bad economic times, IKEA has a tough time making their nut. The high road of quality is rarely crowded. As DadsRT co-founder James Hudyma wisely said, “I’d rather be handmade than IKEA any day.”
John Taylor is a major contributor to Dads Round Table. “I look at sites like Babble, HuffPo, and a few others. Just a few years ago, those sites would be crammed with really great articles. Now, as they’re chasing the mega-page views, they’ve become reduced to ‘10 things we do better than everyone so we’re going to tell you what to do better.’”
“My Twitter feed is full of nothing but “Discount codes here!” and “Giveaway” #Spon, #Ad, and just a pile of junk. It was my original blog, “The DaddyYo Dude” blog which got me noticed. It was not the product reviews or Klout that got me noticed. It was my work, my writing. I always write straight off the top of my head, and from the heart. When I write, it’s what I’m thinking and feeling at that moment. No filter (and often no spell check). I would rather be that dude any day than something put together easily with instructions and a warranty.”
As a writer, it is work like John’s that draws me into a site, and brings me back. I am not impressed by lots of advertising, or dozens of comments. They don’t drive me away, either, but what keeps me coming back is the writing. I may be suffering from my own confirmation bias, but I sense the start of a trend – the rebirth of writing craftsmanship. Everything is screaming “TECH” these days. I love tech, too, but the time is right for more “touch.”
I bounced that idea off of Mr. Duncan. “It’s funny you say that, David” he responded. “With companies like Etsy opening up in-house craftsmanship…I see the beginnings of people starting to focus back on non-commercialism and a re-emergence of making rather than buying...”
Co-founder Brad Marmo added, “Everything you guys have said helps save my sanity. It’s hard not to feel the pull of the top 10 list and other such traffic gimmicks, but I know in my heart that as long as we write in a fashion that “cherishes the written word” we’re doing what’s right. That’s what Dads RT is all about. That’s what we strive for daily with Dads RT.”
Just as there will always be a time and place for a fastfood burger, sites that go for the SEO pageview count will always be around. But moving forward, just as the Slow Food Movement and Farm to Table locavorism have invigorated the food scene, that’s the target with my work. Craft, engagement, and a real conversation.
This writing life – to me, and the rest of the men and women of Dads RT, it brings meaning to our lives, as writers and readers. I wholeheartedly believe in the audience that cherishes the written word. As a writer, that’s where I’m headed. Come on along, the ride’ll be fun.
What do you cherish; craft beer, handmade wooden toys, hand-woven sweaters…?
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