Thursday, August 19, 2010

does writing still matter?

In this age of character counts and SEO metrics, are keywords now more important than words? Should writers write to captivate people or search engines? But as Copyblogger points out, "It’s people who use search engines--not some other life form." In fact, the latest SEO strategies aren't about keywords, they're about creating content so compelling others want to share it. And it's hard to make content compelling without knowing how to write well.

What's losing relevance is the way you learned how to write in third grade. The grammar that worked for Proust "dznt always matter, unless u r anal," observes Ann Handley of Marketing Profs. (She goes on to make the case for general use of good grammar, however, because "as a business leader, colleague and boss, it’s important for you to communicate clearly.")

Of course, writing for screen has its own rules of grammar which you must abide by or come off sounding stupid or pompous or careless or clueless. Remember Oprah's first tweet in all-caps?

New media is expanding our definition of good writing and putting new value on the mastery of saying it short. Brevity is becoming a key to success not only in the world of commerce. Poems are being created on twitter. Novelists are publishing stories in six words. (Longed for him. Got him. Shit.Margaret Atwood) Literary gatekeepers are finally giving the nod to flash fiction writers like Lydia Davis.

This new emphasis on short-form has implications for writers of all persuasions, in both new and old media. It's a topic that fascinates me, and one I hope to explore in a session I've proposed for the upcoming SXSW conference: Saying It Short: Writing Workshop with @BettyDraper. Check it out here. I'd vastly appreciate your comment and/or thumbs up whether or not you can come to the conference. Tx. I mean Thanks!


Steffan Postaer said...


Please forgive me for posting a link to my blog but my latest post fits nicely with yours. Writers have become publishers and readers our editors.

California Girl said...

just read the workshop criteria and it sounds not only fun but useful. as a copywriting ad salesperson for 30 yrs, the art of brevity is just that: an art.

practice, lots of practice.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks for the very relevant link, Steffan. Fascinating, the publishing trail you're blazing.

Thanks California Girl! Hope to meet you IRL in Austin!

Veronika said...

thank you for that post. I must say, I truly struggle with the SEO thing, the key word thing. Prior to writing for online sites, I took great effort in coming up with clever, funny titles. Sadly, unless you are famous enough to come up by name, it is, above all, a frowned upon skill, as my editors constantly point out to me.

I just find it a bit depressing, that the most obvious titles and keywords are what seem to be preferred.

In regards to the twitter talk: unless I can write out full words, I don't twitter. But that's just me.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks, Veronica. Years ago, I did the same thing for an essay I wrote for the NY Times--struggle to come up with a good title, I mean--and was stunned to be told by the editor who cut it that all titles from writers were simply lopped off the ms and replaced with titles from people whose job it was to write titles. Wonder if any have gone on to make it big in SEO.

Imagine if SEO had been around in last era. Would kids would be studying 7 Signs Your Crazy Neighbor is Actually Crazy instead of To Kill A Mockingbird? How to Get High School Girls instead of Lolita?

Howie said...

Writing will always matter. The form and method of deliver might change over time. I know Twitter is the death of grammar and spelling. But isn't that ok? I think we 'write' more as people now that we have computers and networks to share, at the same time penmanship and knowing how to write on paper with Script might be soon dead.

But I would think any method or shortening words in ways that convey universal agreement on its definition is just the human language evolving with technology and is a natural occurrence.