Everybody writes … but should they?

August 13th, 2014 by Bob Bly

My colleague Michael Stelzner recently did a podcast with a woman, AH, who wrote a forthcoming book called “Everyone Writes.”

AH is right: everyone writes. But I have always wondered whether everyone should write. And I have come to believe that they should not.

Reason: In the good old days, just because you wrote something didn’t mean it would be published. In fact, likely, it would not.

To get published, you had to convince a publishing house to buy your book – or a newspaper or magazine editor to print your article or your letter-to-the-editor … and most people were not able to do this easily. So what got published was vetted by professionals – and the quality reflected that editorial guidance.

But today, in the digital era, anything that anyone writes can be and often is instantly published to the Internet where theoretically millions of people can read it – and at least a few people, if only just your Facebook friends, almost certainly will.

Some people see this “everyone writes (and publishes)” phenomenon as a wonderfully liberating new age in human communication.

To me, it is the end of western civilization as we know it – and the death of literacy – and the heralding of an unceasing age of what I call endless “content pollution.”

Content pollution is everyone publishing every thought they have, and almost everything that happens to them, without the benefit of an editor or publisher to filter what goes out into the ether.

The job of the editor is quality control for written communication. Without editors, which the Internet has largely removed from the equation, the quality of published writing has fallen to a new low – not an easy accomplishment.

Example: Facebook posts featuring a picture of what the person has just eaten for breakfast. The amazing thing is that some readers actually seem interested!

The ease of publishing blogs, online newsletters, online articles, posts, and the like has caused amateur writing to flourish. And that’s bad news for professionals: it’s difficult to command a living wage for something thousands or even millions of people are happy to do for free, even if you are ostensibly better at it.

People ask me why I take the old-school stance of preferring traditional book publishing with NYC publishers to self-publishing on Amazon with Kindle.

The main reason is this: with traditional book publishing, you know that at least one person – the editor at the publishing house – thought highly enough of the work to pay for it. That’s a quality control self-publishing is sadly lacking.

Normally at this point in my essay I suggest solutions or give tips for profiting from the situation.

But I don’t really have a solution to content pollution. People feel compelled to express their thoughts, and thanks to the Internet, can do so at any time and are assured of at least some readers taking note.

There is nothing I can do to change the human compulsion to write and publish. I just wish more people who feel this compulsion would produce content at a higher level – that is, writing actually worth reading — and filter what they put on the web.

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