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The Online Writer: Why I Never Got Into Writing "Product Pages"
You "should" write about something popular, something people are looking for!
In the course of a 40-odd year writing "career," it feels like I have tried pretty much every imaginable approach to writing. I've written fiction, technical manuals, (bad) poetry, hobby articles, web site copy, radio ad scripts, corporate newsletters, you name it, I've probably tried it at some point.
Although my introduction to web writing came in the form of building online help systems and FAQs in the IT industry, I was also part of some of the earliest "user generated content" sites such as Epinions (a review writing site) and long-defunct Themestream (a more "creative writing" site).
Of course, there are probably a million articles dedicated to "how to become a successful writer online." This is not one of them. If you're looking for the latest tips on SEO, finding "hot" keywords and "tricking" Google into believing you just invented cold fusion in your basement... I just can't help you. If writing online means "I must make $3000 a month from writing," I can't help you.
This is an article about sticking to what you know and writing what you feel passionate about... an approach that often involves tossing aside conventional rules and wisdom of both writing and creating content, as well as "letting go" of any anxiety about whether any given cluster of words will be "read" or "popular, and allowing "success" to be whatever it wants to be.
It's also about why "popular" writing doesn't necessarily make sense for all writers, including myself. And why-- ultimately-- I could never succeed at writing so-called "product pages."
But I'm in it for the MONEY! or... thoughts about our underlying motivations for writing...
Why do we choose to create content on the web?
Personally, I just like to write. Writing is my favorite form of creative expression and I love the online format because it enables instant publication and almost instant feedback.
I like to write about things that interest me. Things that interest me include metaphysics, psychology, the general study of the human condition, stamp collecting, sociology, the supernatural (my wife happens to be a world renowned psychic and web radio show host), nature photography, beach combing, sacred geometry, labyrinths and the crazy antics of my cats.
Things that don't interest me-- and definitely not enough to spend time writing about them-- include blenders, shower curtains, auto parts, costume parties, luggage, vacation destinations, theme parks, get-rich-quick schemes and diet plans.
When I was first learning about "writing online for money," one of my first realizations was that I am just really not into most things the world consider "popular." Second, I determined that most of the "everyday objects" around us may be "there," but they are not interesting to me... therefore, I am not interested in wasting words on them.
It's a decision a good number of writers end up facing: Did I want to write what interested me, or did I want to "write for money?"
What motivates you to write online?
If you're reading this article about writing online, odds are your immediate response will be "for the money!" But is that really your only motivation?
An interesting thing happened, on the way to the bank...
As I alluded to in the introduction, I've tried many forms of writing. And I write for the joy of writing... that I "get paid" is a secondary consideration, these days.
In the late 1990's, I "did time" as a technical writer in the IT industry. In the beginning, I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever... I actually was getting paid to do something I loved!
Unfortunately, the bloom came off that rose pretty quickly.
How? Well, it wasn't long before I realized that I was merely "a person who puts words on a page for some company." And it really wasn't fun, or enjoyable. And I realized that I was really lying to myself when I stated that I was "doing what I loved for a living."
Actually, I'd pretty much "sold out."
It was at that time I realized that I was a very mediocre writer... at least when I was forced to do "write to order" stuff, or I had to write about topics that had already been chosen for me. I would never "make it" writing in a "newsy" or journalistic style. And I would never make it in the rapidly growing business of "sales writing;" namely, persuading people to "buy some product."
I came to this conclusion because-- in spite of what "others" were telling me-- as a reader, I never read that kind of writing, so why would I choose to write it???
My eventual decision to continue to write online became centered on the idea that I simply enjoy the act of writing, without my focusing on writing as a "marketable skill."
It doesn't have be to "either-or"
Writing elicits some interesting responses in people... and surprisingly many follow a fairly narrow "either-or" (or "black-and-white") thinking pattern.
On revenue sharing sites, there's often an almost "mercenary" atmosphere of writing being "a JOB," and lots of energy goes into every detail of "how to make the next five cents." Often, there's also an unwritten subtext that if you're not "there for the money," you should just go away and write your own blog or web site or something else that does NOT pay you for your writing.
In short, if you're into the "art" and "love" of writing, stay away from the "commercial" aspects of it!
My question is: "Why does it have to be either-or?"
Why not write as it appeals to you, and then make the most of your words... even if that just means you get a few dollars a year you would not otherwise have?
It's startling just how many "money makers" take me to task for "doing it wrong" and how many "pure artist" writers take me to task for "selling out."
These are really beautiful journals with high quality writing paper-- and NOT expensive, for the quality.
Staying Creative: The lost art of writing longhand
The photos I used in this article are all my own. Including the ones of "fancy" journals and fountain pens.
Writing longhand is actually a great way to increase creativity because "pen and paper" engages a different (and more artistic) part of your brain than pecking at a keyboard-- these differences have actually been observed through monitoring people's brains.
In general, I can support the theory by adding that most of my BEST brainstorming takes place with a pen, not with a keyboard.
Sure, you can write on printer paper or in a spiral notebook... but there's "something" about recording your ideas in a really nice journal that makes the process more enjoyable. So, I'm sharing my favorite kind of paper journal, here.
This is as close to a "product page" as you are going to see me get! And if you want to double check me, there's actually some science behind the value of writing by hand. Google it!
But THEY seem to be doing so well: Dealing with envy...
I believe we all like to feel like our contributions to the world "matter," in some way. And most of us like to see "tangible rewards" as a sort of measurement of just how much our contributions do matter.
"Envy" can be one of those things that cause many aspiring writers to flail about in a directionless fashion. Been there... done that! As a hobbyist writer who typically writes "whatever he feels like," I'm not immune to occasional brushes with envy.
You might find yourself on a user generated content site and you take a look at the "top ranked" articles... and face the fact that your expert treatise on the importance of finding deeper meaning in work is ranked at no. 458,902, and the top-100 articles have titles like "Dung Beetles on Shower Curtains" and "Justin Bieber Changes his Underwear."
I still have no idea who actually reads those top ranked articles, because they never seem to be about anything I have even the remotest shred of interest in. I can go through a site's list of "most popular" and not want to click on ONE SINGLE TITLE because the content sounds as dull as watching paint dry.
"Yeah, but they SELL and get thousands of views..."
I do my best to take it in stride, because the people who read those articles? They have absolutely no idea about-- or any interest in-- what I am writing. I know. Because I've been told. "Dude, I just don't sit around and THINK about stuff like that!"
My Product Review Pages That Never Were
"But why not review and recommend things you like?"
I've been asked that, a few times. And I have given it some long hard thought... and my eventual conclusion was that I don't really care to put a bunch of effort into writing about things very few people would care about.
I might write a movie review... for an esoteric foreign film I love, that approximately 7 people have seen.
I might write about a new music CD from a favorite music group 99% of the world has never heard of, and whose music has never been played on commercial radio.
I might write about my favorite Danish cooking tool, to which most of the world would respond "who USES something like that, in the 21st century?"
I can't really write a review of a resort on a popular tropical island, because I don't really like tropical islands... too hot and humid. And I don't feel like answering messages asking me why I don't "write about places people actually want to GO to."
I might recommend a favorite book, and in the course of four years, seven people might come along who are even searching for that topic.
Bottom line is that I chose not to write product pages because I didn't need any more reminders that my life choices and preferences tend to be way off the beaten path. More importantly, I am not going to write about things I don't own and use, or places I haven't actually been to.
I realize this probably makes me sound like Marvin the Depressed Robot...
Momentary sidetrack: In keeping with "not writing properly" and "not staying on task," here's a short diversion:
Actually, I am NOT sad!
To kind of wrap this ramble up, I write from the perspective of the "middle way."
That is, I stick to the topics I really like, focus mostly on providing information I hope others will find educational, interesting, entertaining or informative, and only worry about "will it make money" as an afterthought.
I am delighted that there are venues on the web where writers can publish their work and earn a few cents through "revenue sharing" programs. But I haven't the slightest interest in "popular," or "write to order" or "cookie cutter" articles. I'll leave that to other folks.
Does it pay?
Depends what you mean by "pay." In 2013, my words on sites like this earned me the princely sum of $813. The way I see it, that's $813 I wouldn't otherwise have. In 2014, it earned me considerably less, mostly as a result of the demise of three long-time giants in the industry: Squidoo, Helium and YahooVoices/Yahoo Contributors Network. R.I.P. Here in 2015, things are going back up a bit, mostly thanks to my personal web properties.
There are many ways to write, on the web, and off. Whichever one you choose, make sure it's one that makes you feel like you are doing the sort of work and writing that feels "right" to you!
I happen to be a big fan of Waterman pens, and especially their fountain pens. In fact, I own four different models, acquired over a 30-year time period-- all of them are wonderful writers and a joy to write with. A bit spendy? Sure... but well worth it, in the long run!
The Joy of Writing with Fountain Pens
The fountain pens pictured in this article are all from my own collection. I've been interested in fountain pens since high school, and have about 30 of them. I know that might sound a bit crazy, but I enjoy the process of writing longhand, including what I am writing with.
I do most of my "hand" writing with fountain pens. It may sound a bit old fashioned, but I just find it to be a far more enjoyable form of writing than using a ballpoint or pencil.
Sure, fountain pens are not cheap... but spending some $$$ on a nice fountain pen is definitely worthwhile. On a ballpoint? Not so much. Think about it-- a ballpoint, no matter HOW much you spend, is only going to write as well as the $4 refill you put in it. With a fountain pen, you're investing in the actual mechanism that creates the writing-- the "nib"-- and quality does matter.
You should try it, if you don't already use one!