The Future of Writing

For nine years I worked as an editor at a trade publication for the film industry. I left that job a year and a half ago to write my graduate thesis and finish my master’s degree, reentering the job market just as the economy tanked. All around me, film journalists were getting fired, not hired. And once a newspaper or magazine got rid of its film critic, I couldn’t see it hiring him or her back.

Film journalism—and writing in general—has changed irrevocably. No longer are an elite few granted the privilege of publishing their thoughts. Now, anyone with an Internet connection can express him- or herself publicly through the written word.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I support anything that promotes the production and consumption of words. (Or any kind of creativity, for that matter. Think about all the pictures, songs, videos, and animation that are being created simply because there are outlets for it on blogs, MySpace, and YouTube.)

But for the professional writer, the landscape is different. How writing will evolve, I don’t know. But it won’t be the same.

We can begin to imagine what the future of writing will look like based on what’s happening now. So much of writing in the digital realm involves linking to somewhere else. Suddenly the reader has instant access to all of the writer’s research, rather than the writer’s selections.

Say I’m writing an article about Dave Eggers. Rather than taking the time and using up space to describe who he is, I can provide a link to his website or Wikipedia page. Readers who already know who he is can read on. Those who don’t can click through to find out.

Such access isn’t limited to blogs. The Kindle comes loaded with the New Oxford American Dictionary. Click on any word in the text, and a definition is provided. Now, imagine that feature extended to Google.

Already imagining the possibilities is the Institute for the Future of the Book. Among them is CommentPress, a WordPress blog theme that allows readers to comment paragraph by paragraph, like writing in the margins of a book.

Meanwhile, digital writing allows for the seamless integration of pictures, music, video, and animation, broadening the scope and intensifying the impact of information and ideas.

With this wealth of possibility comes the danger of information overload. Anyone addicted to Facebook, Twitter, or Google Reader can attest that more information doesn’t necessarily make us better informed. Our engagement with media often is limited to the speed that a page loads. But maybe we can adapt to these new parameters by using the tools of this brave new world to actually broaden and deepen the reading—and writing—experience.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Future of Writing

  1. Katrina

    Yes. Writers are facing a new “generation” of challenges. To make myself marketable, I can’t simply strike at text with my grammar light saber, nor can I ‘simply’ craft an intriguing novel. I’ve got to maintain a public diary, know how to edit video and become a celebrity. The challenges are generally healthy ones because they stretch me in new directions but they’re awfully intimidating. For someone like me who’s an all or nothing kinda gal, I’m afraid to even WANT to be an author. The precariousness is threatening.

  2. I’m a fan of the democratization of writing that the internet allows, but I also feel that as a “professional writer” I have an edge in the digital milieu. Us writer types have to adjust to the changing environ, but no one can take our skills away, even some d-bag armed with zany videos of sneezing pandas. That said, Hee! I love sneezing pandas.

  3. I think with all the sites offering freelancing contracts for bid, a lot of the lower-end market for freelancers has eroded.

    And even if you’re writing for the top magazines out there, freelancing is not going to make enough for a family to live on. It might keep you from starving, but just barely.

    And as you note, MJ (hah!), the newspapers have all but collapsed.

    And novel writing keeps on getting to be a dicier and dicier proposition, at least in terms of making money at it.

    What’s there to do other than to blog for free? Well, the only way to earn cash is to write for companies, I think. Copywriting, ad writing, etc. That or get into the university gig, but full-time positions are only available to Ph.D. graduates, never mere MFA grads (much less MPW).

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