Writing for the Masses 7: Know Writing When You See It

“Keep writing” seems like some obvious advice for anyone with creative writing ambitions, no matter how large or small. There really isn’t much else to writing other than to do it, and continue until you can do it well. You can read fiction, read publishing advice books, read writing websites (like this one!), but at the end of the day, practice is the only way to hone your voice.

I throw the “others have said this much better, but it bears repeating” disclaimer about here in the post. I’m not pretending to have some significant insight, just the experiences of my undergraduate career that I think others could learn from.

First, comrades, we must discuss the idea that we are writing all the time. Many of you will no doubt protest: “But I set aside special time for my fiction/poetry/satire. How can you tell me I’m always writing it?”

Well, Greg, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re looking to hang out with your best friend and grab a beer downtown. You could call him, you could Skype him, but most likely, you’ll pull out your smartphone and send him a text. How did you do that? Not by staring at that screen, no. You wrote it out. Sure, you may not put the equivalent amount of thought and revision into it as a short story, but in terms of time demands, you spend more time communicating through text than creative writing.

Many scholars lament the Internet as the end of the printed book and attention spans, but I’ll give one thing to the Information Age: it’s chock full of words. From the basic machine code that forms the basis of the Dell Inspiron I’m typing on to the HTML and CSS that lay out this webpage to the visual content of The Future Writers of America itself, text surrounds you. Anyone who visits a YouTube comment section can attest to the subpar writing that proliferates on the World Wide Web, but text forms the technical backbone of the graphic, visual, and audial elements that the websites use to attract views. Indeed, pictures and videos are often used as supplements to reinforce and break up text.

None of this argument is intended to say that creative writing and communicating are exactly the same, but the processes are quite similar. This knocks down the Ivory Tower for any who believe that creative writing is something too far out of their skillset. Shake the idea that literature is something reserved for pipe-smoking aristocrats who spend their whole lives in rooms with twenty-foot tall shelves lined with leather-bound books. Not everyone can write a novel, and not everyone will, but everyone writes each and every day. The step from there to the composition of prose isn’t as far as many think.

That seems like a sufficiently populist message to end this installment of my call for a revolution from the oppressed unpublished masses. Until next time, I call on our comrades, The Rolling Stones, to play us out with the Soundtrack of the Revolution centered on the struggle of the common man:

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7 thoughts on “Writing for the Masses 7: Know Writing When You See It

    • That’s a great way to put it. After all, what is writing if nobody reads it? Social media, and the web at large, relies equally on writers to continue producing content and readers to continue consuming and engaging with content. And when they engage with content, they become writers themselves, and vice versa.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Followed this back from the reblog.
    You make a good point. If we’re not careful we distinguish too much between ‘proper’ writing (i.e. Novel, short story etc.) and all the other writing we do, like this comment now. It’s all practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. When I studied rhetoric, the older essays my class read distinguished between “high” and “low” culture, which implicitly gave higher weight to literature than popular culture. The underlying point of this post and my guest post on Writer to Writer is that these imposed lines between formal and informal are blurring due to the nature of the Internet. If we continue to cling to ideas of prestige and tradition as writers, we’ll be left behind.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As an educator, I can attest to the fact that this “high” writing (i.e. academic writing) vs. “low” writing divide has a lasting impact on people beyond the classroom. I teach at a community college and I often have students in my classes coming back to school after 10-15 years in the workforce, and they’ll tell me things like “I haven’t written anything for ten years!” I’ll ask them when they sent their last text message and, without hesitation, they’ll say “Oh, about five minutes ago.” It’s important to remember that writing is all around us, all of the time, and we engage in it every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a very interesting story. I had a similar epiphany when talking to my rhetoric professor, which inspired the message of this post. We tend to think of writing as a print medium as opposed to online content. However, in the same vein as your last point, very few could function in US society if they didn’t write or read every day, from traffic signs to signing checks to ordering from Amazon. Words are the backbone of our world.

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