Tag: Washington Post

Tweetability of Writing

I don’t like Twitter.  One of the reasons, though not the only one, is that it’s too short.  As a writer, I know that some things really can’t be communicated in 140 words or less.  I’ve just spent a week where communication has broken down again and again.  Someone dashed of a vague email from their cell phone or Blackberry.  The short length made it hard to be clear about what they wanted, and I got it wrong.

The Washington Post has one of their infrequent reviews for a book called How to Write Short for Fast Times, by Roy Peter Clark.  Newspapers are edited with tweets in mind:

When I’m editing an essay or opinion piece, I try to make sure the final version includes some memorable lines that I imagine getting posted, shared, tweeted and retweeted. I’ll even slice a smart but lengthy passage for that purpose. “Trust me,” I advise the author, “you’ll get more readers this way.”

But how much is Twitter eroding our writing abilities?

I’m bad at details.  I can write something, leave out all the details, and then double it in size — just adding the details.   (Yeah, I really can leave out that much.)  So I look at these 140 characters and wonder what was left out and if it was important.  In the case of a news story, I wonder if it was taken out of context in a way that alters its meaning.  That happens a lot.

We did a query letter session at Cat Vacuuming Society.  If you’re a writer, you probably already know that you have to come up with one line that defines your story.  It’s darn hard!  I think it only works well on some kind of books, like high concept.  Some stories are very hard to describe in one sentence.  I still remember when a synopsis was 25 pages.  The shortness of summarizing your story in one sentence almost feels dismissive, like the agents are saying “I’m too busy to pay any attention to your query letter.”  I know that agents have priorities — the clients — but this seems to lead to more desperation and more gimmicks.  Are we one day going to see agents asking for a query letter to be a tweet?

While you’re hanging around the internet, wander on by my short story “The Sea Listens” at Enchanted Spark Photo Flare Contest.  This was inspired by the two photos for the prompt, the phrase “Voices in the fog,” and the setting, which is in Northern California.


Amazon Buys the Washington Post

This last week, the Washington Post was bought by Amazon.  Judging from the local news, it was a complete shock to everyone.  What does it mean?

The internet has already changed how local news is done, but it was changing even before then.  When CNN introduced the 24-hour news cycle, Desert Storm had just kicked off.  Soldiers like me watched the news to figure out if we were deploying, and sometimes the sensationalism got pretty scary.  I still remember dire predictions about Saddam Hussein using nerve agent on the troops, and particularly an op ed piece in USA Today showing a soldier with a skull’s head instead of the face.  I’m sure it sold newspapers, but it sure scared at least one soldier who was going over.

Sometimes the best story told is what sells, and sometimes that isn’t always the most accurate.

When I was growing up, I read three newspapers every day:  The Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.  I didn’t care much for the times because they would have these really long articles that seemed dragged out for the purpose of having an inch of text at the top of a large Broadway advertisement (chapter 11 in 1991).  It also had a snooty quality to it, which it shares to some degree with the Washington Post (who also used to have those long articles and big ads, except they were for Hecht’s, which was bought by Macy’s).  The Daily News and Herald Examiner had more accessible writing.  The Herald Examiner folded in 1989.

In Washington State, when I was stationed there, it was the Tacoma Morning News Tribune (later they dropped the Tacoma), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the Seattle Times.  I thought the Times was snooty, too (every big city must have a snooty paper, I guess).  The Tribune reminded me a lot of the Daily News.

And in Washington, DC, it’s the Washington Post and the Washington Times.  I have a friend who thinks I’m an utter idiot because I read the Times.  But frankly, with all the changes and the increasingly politicized direction all newspapers have gone, it’s the only way to put together all the pieces of the news.

Neither paper here reacted well when the internet took off, and it seemed like everyone started out in denial.  Like the publishing industry has been in.  Consequently, the newspaper companies were late on dealing with the problem across the board.  I thought the Times was going to fold for a while, but it rallied and survived.  They did cut out a lot of things I liked, which included a weekly Civil War article, a column on comic books, and book reviews.  The Washington Post dropped its entire book review section. Boo!  Boo!

What would be next for the paper? I’m predicting that they will drop paper delivery and go to an electronic version, especially with Amazon’s focus on the Kindle.  I dunno about that.  I still like to get the paper version and flip through the pages.  I have the suspicion also that the news quality will continue to deteriorate because eNewspapers will tend to focus on sound bites and not on articles that are longer.

What are your predictions for the Post’s future?

Video Saturday – Nora Roberts’ Advice to Writers

Okay, today’s video from Nora Roberts isn’t so much “Advice to Writers” as it is talking a little bit about her own process.  This Video Saturday is from her talk at the Washington Post to an audience of over 500.  Nora Roberts has written more than 209 romance novels.  She also writes hard-boiled futuristic mysteries as J.D. Robb but has also written under the pseudonyms of Jill March and Sarah Hardesty.  As of 2011, her novels had spent a combined 861 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, thats like 16 years!  And of that, 176 weeks were in the number-one spot!  Hmm, maybe I SHOULD pay more attention to her process.

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