From poetry to personal essays via journalism and op-eds, effective writing is an act of communication.
And it can be a radical one when it tackles taboos or articulates human emotions often deemed unspeakable, something poetry excels at.
To journalists, writing is service. Our job is to convey information and promote understanding by breaking it down into accessible language. Often, we strive to humanize universal issues through a personal lens by focusing on one person’s experience.
We also hold ourselves accountable for every word we write unlike in the Wild West of the internet where typists monetize every brain fart.
To feed the algorithm, words devoid of message or value get published every day, several times a day.
That they fail to provoke thought or illuminate a particular human predicament doesn’t matter to those who produce them as long as they get paid.
This approach is problematic. Not only does it preclude conversation as there’s nothing to talk about, but it also drowns out more thoughtful content.
Worse, it dehumanizes readers by treating us like metrics and dollar signs, expecting us to reward whatever is thrown at our eyeballs.
Designed to surface quality content, the audience engagement model can be only as discerning as the readership of a platform is.
In an era where human attention is the most sought after currency of all, clickbait abounds. Among less reputable publications and grabby typists who call themselves writers as a way to appropriate the credibility they don’t deserve, it’s the default setting.
And among readers, it’s the trough of choice for those who enjoy being comforted by familiar mediocrity. Pandering to the lowest common denominator and rehashing recycled clichés is a popular editorial strategy.
Instead of encouraging curiosity and critical thinking, filler copy is often found in listicle format or under a headline that promises a shortcut to whatever matters most at any given time.
In a capitalist and individualistic society, a piece about how much one can milk the internet for with clickbait is guaranteed to work, for example. Meanwhile, one that argues the need for editorial standards will be considered niche and unlikely to be a crowd pleaser.
Then again, the goal of the latter is to make just the one person think about the responsibilities inherent to writing about what it means to be a human in the world.
And when more of us start questioning the content we consume, editorial quality will eventually prevail.
Good writing is service, not self-serving.
Self-marketers who consistently fail to transcend the personal to get at universal truths don’t care about you. Instead, their copy is designed to trigger a reaction, any reaction.
Because the human being is by nature a compassionate animal, overwrought pathos and false candor are big money makers. Narratives dripping with phony vulnerability also do well as few of us are comfortable being fully ourselves but we admire those who say they are.
Copy that lets it all hang out in public fascinates as it appeals to our inner voyeur. Readers end up relieved they aren’t you instead of relating and realizing they could be you under different circumstances.
Finding comfort in the misery of others isn’t something good writing encourages. Similarly, responsible use of language seeks to unify rather than divide.
Some terms are loaded while others are neutral, and knowing which to use and when is key to getting a conversation going.
It’s only by talking to one another that we can understand one another better.
But when you lecture others with screeds about anything from gaslighting to how to recover from mental illness in one step, you write at us.
Not to us.
Compensation leads many internet typists to sacrifice editorial quality for clicks and bucks.
Even if you’re not a pro, everyone who has been reading the internet for a while has basic notions of what makes good writing.
The lure of lucre is blinding though. When a clickbait farmer promises you easy money if, like them, you flood the internet with garbage, it’s tempting.
What’s more, writing is an occupation often synonymous with precariousness at all levels. The issue isn’t specific to bloggers but also endemic to journalism and the literary world.
And yet, earning a living with words is a pursuit that continues to capture the public imagination because of its perceived aura of prestige.
There’s nothing prestigious about working so hard and being so poor you can’t afford to feed yourself. In such cases, vocation and an unwavering commitment to making the world a more tolerant and tolerable place to live in can be a curse rather than a blessing.
A sense of mission will keep you going even when money doesn’t follow. You’re either wired this way or you’re not, it’s not something you get to choose; the only choice is whether you heed your calling or not.
When you pour your heart and guts into your work, it will yield rewards beyond your wildest imagination.
They may not be quantifiable in dollars but they’ll be invaluable nonetheless.
Human connection is the only true wealth there is and that is why writing at us doesn’t work.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.