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The Writing Machine

Updated on June 5, 2011

Education through electronic teaching has come a long way...or has it? I recently came across a program for schools called MY Access which promises to efficiently assess student's writing, not only in spelling and grammar but in elements like content and delivery, organization, completeness of development, etc. According to the spiel,the program "frees teachers from grading thousands of papers by hand" and can mark “more accurately” than human readers. Eh..? How is this possible? Since as far as I know computer programs aren't yet equipped with imaginations how can human creativity be evaluated by a non-creative software program? For example,while developing an argument, a student may find it necessary to write one sentence over the acceptable paragraph length. However apt, brilliant and original that line may be,it would not fit the formula recognized by the machine and so would score a lower grade.

This leads to an interesting question, what would our writing become if our audience was non-human? Success would depend on the closest adherence to the formula but originality and the creative spark which defines us would be diminished. Similarly, when we rely too heavily on formulaic notions and perceptions of the 'market', are we in a sense de-humanizing our audience by reducing them to an economic demographic? This is not to completely deny the realities of publishing and being marketable and unless you want to write in a vacuum, I suppose a happy balance between marketability and originality is what many writers strive for.

Aim before Firing

Many established writers advocate 'writing for your target' . In an article, Hitting the Bullseye, writer Susan Vaughn offers some very practical advice about getting published and makes the valid remark that "while one has to write from the heart, if you want to sell, it’s also necessary to keep an eye on the target". However this might be easier said than done if you dont work in a particular genre with a clear idea of your audience.

Unless you are writing on a particular topic for a specific group of people, a sense of audience can be difficult to define and apply. I tried to imagine myself writing a creative piece and think about who I was writing for. While conscious of writing for an audience I couldn't really articulate what that actually meant, apart from a vague awareness that my potential readers were *human* like myself. Perhaps when it's all boiled down, this is really all some writers need to consider.

Reader-response theory (pomo jargon) tells us that the reader creates meaning partly out of his or her knowledge, past experiences with the subject, other reading on the subject, etc. I'm sure this is true but then it's also true that readers will share many similarities, in their human emotions, drives and motivations. Marketing aside, I suspect in the end it's only in writing truthfully, from your own perspective and not trying too hard to fit the perspectives of others, that the writer may be able to communicate something meaningful to others.

George Orwell said this about writing:

The first thing that we ask of a writer is that he shall not tell lies, that he shall say what he really thinks, what he really feels. The worst thing we can say about a work of art is that it is insincere....

It is either the truthful expression of what one man thinks and feels, or it is nothing.

Writing truthfully for an audience of one...yourself, doesn't seem like a bad starting point for a writer to begin.

Image from
Image from

Text Providers

Things are a bit different here at the hub where I feel less like a writer and more like a 'text provider'. Sometimes I do feel a bit like a writing machine.

Here I'm always at least semi- conscious of my 'target audience'...a vast, mysterious entity known as *search engine traffic*. Yet I still can't get a clear picture of this potential readership-when I try to visualise it it comes across to me vaguely as a sea of hands on a giant keyboard. The hands are always searching, seeking something indefinable through the ether that I must try and second-guess.

I've learnt a few things. I know this Google beast I'm constantly throwing meat at demands that I keep my titles as blandly to the point as I can. I know I should try to write on topics that aren't too saturated while still making sure there are enough people searching for the topic. I know I have to be careful with the layout, lest I obscure any important adsense information.

So far I haven't succeeded but I'm looking at it as a challenge...a nut that I want crack. The odds are against me, especially when you consider that only 25% of people who sign up with adsense make 100 dollars or more a month.It's a tough business if you're in it for the money...some people might say a joke. Ah well.I'm still basically writing for myself..just tweaking things around a bit. I wonder what Orwell would make of the internet...?

Tireless text provider
Tireless text provider


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    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I guess we're already being corrupted when we change the title to suit the search engines..but hey, we can't be too precious about this. I might be just rationalising but I do think it's possible to be sincere and vaguely commercial at the same time.

      I'm big on George Orwell at the moment. Animal Farm just amazes me. You know someone just told me recently that it was at first rejected by American publishers because,as they said at the time "we don't go for animal stories over here". Lol.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      7 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Interesting. I am on George Orwell's side. Writing should have purpose and meaning to at least one person if it is to have purpose and meaning to anyone else. You are that person if you are the writer. Meanwhile I have learnt that simple two or three word titles seem to work best in grabbing readers.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Tim, thanks for that. I just read your bio so I imagine you have lots of interesting things to write about.

      The money is hard to come by, that's for sure. At six weeks I'd hardly made anything either. I've been here 7 months and the drip, drip,of the adsense has now turned to a tiny trickle. I've made 11 dollars so far this month and consider that HUGE by my own standards.From all accounts this is a long-term investment and time will tell.

      Your last comment says it all really..*to thine own self be true*. Hopefully more readers will eventually translate to more clicks but if not, yeah writing for it's own sake is certainly worthwhile.


    • tmbridgeland profile image


      7 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Found this funny. I am in the 'doesn't make $100/month' group. Heck, I don't make $3/month. Recently I gave up, temporarily at least, writing for outside traffic, and began posting chapters of a novel I have about half-done. I am still surprised at the response. These get more readers in a day than some of my older Hubs ever got. But, still no money...

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Shades, it's lovely to see you here and thanks for posting that. You are right...the integrity is in the *intention* of the writer not to deceive,not so much in the outcome which may or may not be truth with a capital T.

      I think writing commercial stuff is fine too...and yes, haha, we are those "little green tics". who must eat. Despite all the rhetoric about the internet being a subversive, freethinking maverick, in effect what happens in the real world is happening in the online Universe. That is, the commercial giants have formed their mega-planets... Google, Facebook and Youtube etc... and the space dust (us) begins to orbit around them.

      On your last point, I have very recently done exactly that..:) I'm not sure Orwell would approve but as you say, it's just easier to have that division in your head between what you might feel quite good/want to write about and that stuff where the "moral technicalities" lie, as you so delicately put it..haha. In other words, the stuff you write only because you hope it makes you some money.

      Cheers and I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    • Shadesbreath profile image


      7 years ago from California

      A very important hub you have written here. I think you touch on the very nature of communication. At stake, or at least under inquiry, is our identity as writers (at least for those of us for whom writing is not just something we are capable of doing, like raking a lawn or spitting accurately).

      There is a continuum upon which the morality of writing resides, and there exists a contract between writer and reader that has its locus on the "commitment to truth" end of that moral scale. Readers read expecting that if someone took the time to write something down, it should be true, or at least as true (honest) as it can be, which relates to the Orwell quote in your piece (as you already know; I know). I can write something and be wrong, but if I have written honestly, as in, have written to convey how I see things in such a manner as to be honest with my vision, then the "rightness" of what I have written is not so important. Done morally, it will be clear to a reader that what I wrote comes from me, and that I make no claims as THE authority on my subject but that I might perhaps fancy myself AN authority.

      Readers of HP articles (and pretty much everything on the Internet these days) find their trust being violated constantly. It's not that this sort of thing didn't happen with print media, but the rampant abuse of the reader online is precipitating a degradation of the written word as a reliable medium of communication.

      But we all have to eat. Eat first, have morals later. All that rot. As the continuum of writing morality tips under the collecting weight of more and more lay-writers, more and more of us slide towards the non-contractual end of the scale by virtue of the old, "Well, he did it."

      I think writing commercial stuff for HP is fine, if done with integrity. There's not too much wrong with "passing information along" especially since it's really just us little ticks sucking green blood from the broad backs and exposed ankles of the great Google and Amazon beasts. The reader of a commercial piece should know all that caveat emptor and stuff anyway. (How do you say, "Let the reader beware" in Latin?)

      My thought, however, if it bugs you (us) a little, make two accounts so you can at least keep separate in your mind and heart that writing which you know is good and true, and that writing which you feel might be a bit of a moral technicality. That way the two won't get blurred in your soul like they might if left to your head alone.

      I ramble. Sorry. Cool hub. Thought provoking, and, as I said, important to keep bringing up and thinking about.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      *Waving at Micky as he turns the corner on his bike and disappears*

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Great hub as always. I throw all rules aside. But I tread water a lot. God bless!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Sue, it's I who should be flattered. Ive read your hubs with your easy and very funny style. They're terrific.

      I love the Orwell quote too..which you fit to a tee by the way.

      See you 'round the traps

    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 

      7 years ago from Indiana

      Wow. There are so many comments that come to mind when reading this. I'll see if I can keep this brief.

      First. I LOVE and am moved by the George Orwell quote. In the end, if it's not honest, the reader will know and repulsed by the lie.

      Second. You are an excellent writer, in my very humble opinion. I read this entire article from the first sentence to the last, and lord knows I have a short attention span.

      I'm glad you're here, flattered you're following me, and thankful to have yet one more talented writer to learn from.


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