I received an email comment yesterday regarding a post I'd written a few months ago on my other blog about Demand Studios.
Subsequently, I've been engaged in a conversation with the sender about the state of writing today as it has been altered by the Internet. This subject is a potential minefield, littered with the corpses of well-meaning writers, aspiring writers, and never-will-be writers (no matter how many words are pounded from those keyboards).
The email sender is highly educated in the writing field and is considerably surprised and dismayed by the content mills and by those who supply the content and who say they can produce a couple of well-crafted articles in an hour or less. The question was posed by my correspondent: is it really possible to create quality, well thought content in that time? The conclusion this person had reached was: ". . . I just don't think so."
Other questions posed in the original email were: "When did writing become synonymous with volume? Where is the craft, tell me?"
Where's The Craft
That question, for some inexplicable reason, calls to mind the old "Where's The Beef" ad campaign from Wendy's many years ago. In the commercial, the old lady is looking inside all these burgers trying to find the beef, which always is minuscule. Maybe it made me think about that because I've seen SO much writing on the Internet. Where's the craft indeed? Excellent question.
How Many Blogs
In 2005, there were supposedly 70 million blogs. I don't know if anyone is still counting, but I do know you won't find quality, crafted writing on most of them. Then again, that's okay because the software that made blogging platforms accessible wasn't created for professional writers. It was created for anyone and everyone who had something to say and felt a need to say it - apparently to anyone who might cruise by their electronic home.
How Many Websites
Is the craft in any of the 108 million distinct websites listed in 2007? Now, I don't know if that number includes blog URLs. I'm guessing it does because there's really no difference between a blog and a website. Blogs are websites.
X Marks The Spot
Maybe we should have an X Marks The Spot Award to a website with good writing. Those sites do exist. I like to think all my sites fit this description. Do the content mills offer good writing? Some of the articles are good; some are hideous. It's a mixed bag. Good writing can be found on blogs or other websites. Usually, the writing is created by professional writers though there are some sites that may be written by "civilians" with a solid grasp of the language and grammar.
The commercial websites, if entertaining and educational, can usually be ascribed to a team of pro writers along with the website coders and designers. When they're mundane or, worse, boring, the content probably was written by the techs who coded and/or designed the site.
I have a set of cocktail napkins emblazoned with these words: "If at first you don't succeed, lower your standards." That's my mantra for analyzing websites. You can't judge them by the same criteria you judge a good book or an in-depth article. There are many websites written by those for whom English is not their first language. Does this mean the site is dreck?
Judge By What's Given
Many websites, though written in non-standard English, and rife with errors, sometimes offer content so good that it allows you to overlook the errors. It's kind of like a good book makes you suspend disbelief. Good web content makes you blind to the language and writing errors.
I find these blogs are usually technological in nature. Want a writing hack that allows you to get rid of those icons Microsoft makes standard on a desktop? I found the step by step instructions on a blog from someone in the Philippines. Excellent content but not excellently written in the English language.
I cut a writer lots of slack if he's writing in a language not his own. Heck, I have to admire anyone who can speak, much less write, in more than one language. I'm sure if I tried to write a blog in Tagalog, it would be riddled with errors.
Native English Speakers
Now, by the same token, if I come across a blog by someone who should know how to speak and write English, as we speak it here or in other English language countries, then I'm less generous. If you don't know to capitalize proper nouns, or you're too lazy to write in anything but all lower case or, God forbid, all upper case, you don't get a break from me or other workers in words. Why? Because we take the time to do it right, and we expect the same from others who call themselves writers. That's part of craftsmanship.
Edgar Allen Poe
Craftsmanship is not indicated by the volume of articles you can submit in a certain period of time. I tend to think that the number of articles you can submit to a content mill would be what Poe called: Potboilers, a form of writing which has a long and rich history among writers.
Perhaps because of my awareness for Poe's Potboilers, I don't condemn those who resort to that method of producing income. However, Poe's Potboilers were well-written, grammatically and narratively. If you write potboilers, then make sure you write them as well as your skills allow.
Take what is good, and leave the rest behind.