Writing, Alone, Does Not “Cut It”
by Jack Dermody
Writing, for me, is almost a desperate need. I have always assumed there were people out there who cared about what I wrote. In my youth, parents, relatives, and friends received my letters and responded to them eagerly. Today hundreds of “friends” like and love and comment on my rants and writings on Facebook. The nonfiction books I wrote in my thirties were eagerly bought up for their usefulness in classrooms.
My articles and books today, however, get little or no comment. What concerns me is that my issues matter so very little to other people. Worse, I worry that people might see my writing as I see the writing of many of my friends: Poor-to-middlin’, not great at all, so why should anybody waste time pouring through it?
I recently sent out a 20-page essay on family research to 20 bona fide family members who, by DNA attachment alone, should rave about the six months of research and the results that I jammed into those 20 pages.
Comments I got varied from “that’s cool” to “very interesting” to “thank you” to complete non-acknowledgement of receipt of the package in the mail. In fairness, two of them did claim they read “a couple of pages” and would get back to me after “finding time” to read the rest.
Yes, I MAILED the packages because I knew half the people rarely open their email and, even if they did, would forget about it, lose it, or – perish the thought – delete it.
My goal in writing this is not to make you feel sorry for me or enable me to wallow in some kind of pity party. Rather, I want us all to answer some questions:
- Are people reading less today?
- Are people relying much less on reading?
- Are we losing our love of reading and replacing it with other things?
- Do we find reading more of a chore than ever?
- Is reading just plain annoying? Especially for younger generations?
- If we are honest, how worth reading is our writing to begin with?
I think I know the answer. Writing by itself is likely a dinosaur in the communications arena. So much media today takes a single story and hits the consumer from several directions at once: a video, a photo, a link, a summary, a full article, a song, an appeal to subscribe to a blog, etc. – and that’s just one article, one story that used to be only a few paragraphs of carefully crafted writing.
I fully understand. I’ve learned, finally, never to simply post a paragraph on Facebook without at least one photo or video. I am betting 95 percent of all Facebook users will not read more than five words of a post that are not accompanied by a visual.
Ironically, adding links, photos, etc. to an article is not that much work. The technology is too easy. This just gets back to the Platinum Rule, i.e., treat others as they want to be treated. They want photos and links and songs and blogs. Oh yes, and the writing better damn well be good, too.
Uh-oh, I just had a terrible thought. Is what I really want an “A” from the teacher? Do I want you, dear reader, to print this out, mark it up in red, fill the margins with praise and criticism, and tell me I am wonderful or horrible? Oh crap, I fear this is not very far from the truth.
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I can relate, Jack!
To answer your questions: Yes, people are reading less; yes, reading has been replaced with other pastimes; and yes, younger generations are not reading–they are passing time playing Angry Birds and Candy Crush (and I’m talking about a 50-year-old female friend of mine who has a Masters Degree and works at a major university.) Your last question’s answer varies from writer to writer. Some of what I write is worth reading, some of it is simply entertaining. But you wrote a very provocative essay.
Jack, I’m sad to have to answer ‘yes’ to your first five questions and an ‘I don’t know’ to the last. Not only do the upcoming generations not read; they in many cases don’t write well, costing businesses billions of dollars a year. Alas … we’ve lost out to digital devices and short attention spans.
When I consider how I spend my time, my favorite (and not enough) hours of each month are spent with my book club, discussing the ideas, inspiration, emotion and perspective generated by books. My second favorite way to spend my time is writing.
I’m a dinosaur.
Jack – I continue to believe that there is a core group of committed readers – and they are reading everywhere – in every medium – not just printed books. I think it behooves writers to find those folks. I also think that this is not a “responsive art”. By that, I mean – feedback is slow to arrive – and sometimes never does. But that doesn’t mean that you’re communicating in a void. People often collect books – and take a long time to read them. I’ve seen this happen a lot. Months. And even if they like the book – it’s rare that they reach out and tell you. Heck – I’m exactly that kind of reader. In 30 years – I’ve reached out to one author – when there have been dozens who have changed my life. So – keep going. Head up. Do it for yourself – if no one else. And heck – if I haven’t told you – I enjoy your writing. So there’s one for you. BG
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I tacked your response next to my PC, Brad. You uplifted me. Thanks.