Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing for Twits

The other day I got an unusual mention on Twitter - and it wasn't unusual just because it was someone other than @vancouver_rt retweeting one of my photo links. It was obviously spam at the time, and the message's disapparance from my message timeline bears that out; nevertheless, I checked it out anyway. And I didn't really appreciate what I found on the other end of the link.

"URGENT: Writers needed, more writing jobs than we can fill..." You'd think that would be of interest to people like me, people who are interested in the prospect of being able to scratch together rent money by stringing words together. But it didn't take me long to look over that splash page, and sure enough there was something there that made me want to put my fist through the monitor. Three simple words: "no experience required."

In fairness, no matter how much the outfit tries to convince you otherwise, there is no way their business is legitimate, and there's no way you would actually need any experience anyway. $25-$50 for a blog post or comment on a blog? $100 for an article? If I could make that kind of scratch I wouldn't have to hold down a day job - but it's the particularly rare person who ever finds themself in that sort of situation, and when you consider that the posts or blog comments you would get paid for are likely a) pharmaceutical spam or b) political astroturfing, someone who is actually a writer can do much better.

I don't care that this outfit is transparently a bunch of scamming spammers; my problem is the denigration of the skill. Just because someone can write, in the sense of using a set of symbols representing spoken-word sounds to encode messages on appropriate materials, does not mean that someone can write in the sense of making the result easy to read, comprehensible, and clear. Writing is more than connecting a bunch of words, just as cooking is more than emptying a bunch of ingredients in a pot. A careless or inexperienced cook is much more likely to produce something that's unpalatable or worse; a careless or inexperienced writer is apt to create something not worth the time it would take to skim it.

Writing is not something you pick up overnight. It is a skill that has to be honed by long practice and the production of vast quantities of dross - and frequently self-taught, as well. Personally, I've been writing stories for fifteen years and it was only recently that my skill reached a stage where it wasn't pure narcissism to send out a submission in the expectation that it would be bought. Likewise, these weblog posts were honed by essay after essay after essay in high school and university.

It's easy for people to dismiss the necessity of experience in writing; after all, writers just throw a bunch of words together, right? What they miss in that dismissal speaks more to their lack of experience than their belief that experience is unnecessary.

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