Concern about the death of traditional print media is all over the blogosphere. Newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor have been forced to take up online strategies in order to compete, and from this new approaches such as the New York Times social network have arisen. In light of this, the question arises:how can the modern writer be successful in a world where the traditional writing jobs are fading away?
Once upon a time, a writer picked a niche and ran with it. The choice of what you wanted to write and where you wanted it to be printed decided how you wrote, what the best practices and standards were, and how you should attempt to build your career. Books on how to be a writer would differ wildly based on what kind of writer you wanted to be.
Maybe this made sense before the internet, but now it just doesn’t work. As a professional freelance writer, I write in so many different styles and for so many different purposes from day to day that focusing my efforts into only one approach is impossible. In the last few months I have written quests for an upcoming video game, informational articles on computer gadgets at BrightHub, movie reviews, and blog posts on all sorts of topics. Right now my “big” job is copywriting for a start-up. On top of this, I still write my fiction, which will soon be appearing on a new site.
The point of this is that you can’t afford to pigeon-hole yourself into any kind of writing. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “What about inspiration? What about art?” Well, that becomes the difference between writing professionally and being an artist. You can do both, but your attitude is different when you want to write professionally, and you focus on different things.
It is possible that if you are incredibly gifted and lucky, you can write precisely what your inspiration calls you to write and nothing else and make that your career. However, the much greater likelihood is that you need to see your writing as any other professional skill, and thus keep it flexible and open to the needs of the moment. Thus you must diversify your writing and be able to write for any media, as needed.
As the incorporation of new media into the mainstream continues, the needs of the writer’s craft will change. Already we have seen some of these changes, as SEO and social media have become more and more important to online writing. The simple fact is that as the technologies shift, the very definition of what we do changes. Just as I doubt many writers of my generation have done too much of their work on typewriters, I doubt many writers of the next generation will do too much work where search-engine optimization and online technologies do not play a role. If you refuse to learn about these new technologies you are making your skills less valuable, and some other writer who has done their homework will get the jobs that could have been yours.
New media allows for a new kind of writing. As I have written about elsewhere, microblogging has some interesting implications for fiction writers. I think there are even more interesting possibilities with modern technologies, where stories can be structured to unfold over various forms of social media, including video, microblogs, and even leaving trails of social bookmarks and forum posts. Consider the strange tale of John Titor. Ignoring the issue of whether he was really a time traveler, his tale is interesting and the fact that it was delivered across message boards points to hidden possibilities of fiction and meta-fiction. Viral ad campaigns such as that used for Heroes, while used as a way to gain buzz, point the way to stories told across multiple mediums and technologies.
Traditional media may very well be dying, or it may become a form of backup media, like we have seen happen to radio. Writers, whether of stories or advertising copy, need to think seriously about the strategies that will allow them to keep plying their trade in the days to come. However, these ideas are just the beginning; what other strategies can writers use to ensure their success in the changing world?