Writing is writing. What could be different about writing for the internet? True. You can use the same writing skills online as Mark Twain did on a typewriter – and Mark Twain would probably be one of the first writers to jump onto Twitter if he was alive today.
Writing for the internet starts with the same goals of most writers and authors: gain exposure, reach an audience and a community or a market, spread a message, and if the writer is lucky, maybe even make some money. That last one is tough, but that’s always been the case.
- Style has changed. Adhering to various manuals of style isn’t as appreciated as producing something that can be searched, found, and shared.
- Being concise is much more valuable thanks to shorter attention spans and the visual limitations of screen sizes. Book authors get to create tomes that are hundreds of thousands of pages long, but on the internet they can expect to find readers labeling the works as tl;dr (too long; didn’t read.) Get a slice of that message across in 2,000 words, or 500 words, or even 140 characters and more people will read it.
- Give up on the idea of controlling formatting. Elegant fonts, page layouts, and professional headers and footers are lost on devices where the reader can grow, shrink, and change the color of the text. What are you reading this on: a monitor, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone? I don’t care because I don’t try to optimize for any platform because there are too many platforms and devices. Relax. Keep it simple.
- The formats that matter are headlines, images, links, and hashtags; all things that lead to searching and sharing. Be too common, and the words get lost in the crowd. Be too uncommon, and never be found. Write about something others care about, make it easy to share, and reach farther than most authors did thirty years ago.
- Then, after you’ve introduced the world to your words, pull up the analytics and truly learn what resonated with readers, and what was there mostly for self-satisfaction.
It’s possible to devote an entire weekend to getting past the fear of social media, practicing phrasing, choosing the right keywords, finding the right community, and learning how to efficiently write once in a way that can be shared often. For the portion of the afternoon devoted to writing for the internet we’ll review the techniques, the reasons behind them, and hopefully play with real examples that can be launched after you get home.
Want an example of what you can bring? Try writing something like this blog post (~400 to 600 words), and then think about key phrases to share, descriptive topics that aren’t too common or uncommon, and then how to edit it down to half that size, and down again, and eventually down to the 140 character limit of a tweet. Even if you don’t use social media much, your readers probably do.
After all of that, realize that writing for the internet is also a way to earn income as a writer. But, be ready to write for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), readability, and networking.
Writing may be thousands of years old, but it is also continually evolving. Scribes needed to know how write in clay. Now, we write in electrons. What’s next?