Writing Rawks!

Sitting in on Writing, Better.

When people tell me the book is dead, I sneer. Then I shudder a bit. I love books and because I have an MFA, I’m something of a snob when it comes to what is and isn’t good writing. But with all the competition for eyes, on and off line, those of us who love books worry. Still, a girls’ got to read. There may be plenty of images to lure us to the computer, but when it comes right down to it, it comes down to the word, according to the panelists for Writing, Better. More specifically, it comes down to the story. For those of us who love getting lost in the stacks, there is something inherently comforting in that.

Panelists included Greg Storey Principal/Creative Dir, Airbag Industries LLC, Bronwyn Jones from Apple Computer, Happy cog editor Erin Kissane, and Ethan Marcotte of Vertua Studios. Each defended the art (yes, the art) of writing for the Web. Collectively, there was agreement that there is a casualness to Web writing, but that does not mean sloppy. It means figuring out who your audience is. Finding your voice and honing it, editing it, find your way of telling and being true to it – stuff learned from good writing teachers from grade school to graduate school.

Jones gave props to the e-mail. First, throwing down some e-mail is a good way to get past the blank screen. Also, e-mail is less restraining because of its inherent conversational tone. Don’t worry about writing the Gettysburg Address. It probably wouldn’t read well online anyway. Next, she advised doing your research (if you’re professing to be an expert on something). “Learn just enough to fake it convincingly. Know the terminology. Do your homework.” And finally, realize that “nobody knows the rules. If you think writers know the style guide” (as in E.B. White’s The Elements of Style), Jones says “they don’t.” And just to make her point, she found a quote from White stating his unease with being deemed the English police and the maven of style prior to the publication of The Elements of Style.

Marcotte struck me as the most passionate about good writing. “If I find a passage that I love, I’ll retype it … I don’t know. I guess I like knowing what writing greatness is like.” That’s a great exercise, especially for young writers. “Get past the ‘I love this’ stage,” he adds “and figure out why.” Also great advice. And finally, “Find your rock stars.” Marcotte named some great ones: Sarah Vowel, Angela Carter among them. Storey loves Baxter Black and Daniel Shorr on NPR. That’s actually another good piece of advice, I suspect, for good Web writing: read what you’ve written out loud. That is probably the best way to find the kinks in the flow and the first step to becoming a writing rock star.

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