“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
So far my experience of what it means to be literate has been one of contrasts, from monastery to high-tech research centre, quill pen and bound books to email and the digital future. But throughout my journey I have found it important to hold past, present and future in a creative tension, neither to be too nostalgic about the way things were nor too hyped-up about the digital as the answer to everything – salvation by technology.
I see everything that is happening now – the web, mobile computing, email, new digital media – as in continuity with the past. Of two things we can be certain: not every previous writing technology will disappear in years to come, and new technologies will continue to appear. Every generation has to rethink what it means to be literate in their own times.
Writing is writing no matter what format or medium it’s on. But it can’t be boring, in either prose nor design. A mastery of writing requires that the artist practice it every day.
When we get nervous we tend to throw out everything and see what sticks.
This often leads to unnecessary tweets, excess Instagrams, and surfeit emails. It only works when you’re new and you’ve yet to establish a permanent audience.
But then you need to slow down production and evaluate where you see the best results. People will unfollow you if your work is jumbled and if you proclaim mastery in areas where you’re actually mediocre.
People demand the best content. Once you establish a niche, keep serving them the content that they want instead of trying to appeal to all audiences.
Constrict if and when you can.
The list—or, more specifically, the listicle—extends a promise of the definitive while necessarily revealing that no such promise could ever be fulfilled. It arises out of a desire to impose order on a life, a culture, a society, a difficult matter, a vast and teeming panorama of cat adorability and nineties nostalgia. Umberto Eco put it dramatically: “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order.”
It’s no surprise that people love digestible lists. They’re easy to consume, literally to the point.
The list format is the main reason this blog entry is one of my more popular posts. Lists are also at the core of Buzzfeed’s content strategy. Call listicles lazy writing/reading but Internet users consume in bite sizes.
Below are some interesting articles that I caught this week:
A Novelist Who Made Crime an Art, and His Bad Guys ‘Fun.’ Elmore Leonard passed away but left us with some great writing tips along with his books, most notably, “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”
The War on Wordsmiths. Author Ali Eteraz explains why we still need words in the age of photographs.
Enough with the ROI. Just follow your curiosity. Ian Sanders explains why you should just do something for the sake of interest. Curiosity is also a currency; fiat money isn’t everything. It’s all about learning and driving new experiences.
When Apps Modify Behavior. MG Siegler examines how apps like FrontBack and Instagram make us think more creatively about our surroundings.
Now it’s ruined. Seth Godin blogs about the impact of technology in equalizing creativity. Everyone is an amafessional with a computer palette in their pocket. But the best stills stand out. You might want to work on your attitude as well.