Is longform writing modern day hieroglyphics?

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2 years ago
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Dear Reader,

Are you a fan of longform writing? I am. I love it.

I'd curl up to Ken Follett's books any day. In fact, when George RR Martin eventually publishes the Winds of Winter, you can bet I'd be at the front of the line with my order.

I like longform books when they are well written because the writer is skillful enough to draw me into his or her story. As a reader, I like to feel like I am part of the plot or at least like the author is speaking directly to me. I like to be wooed. And sometimes when the story is too short, and the writer economical with words, I feel cheated.

But I know that there are many readers today who do not like longform writing, and who find chunky paragraphs to be distracting at best, intimidating and a huge turn off at worst. I struggle with this disconnect.

Maybe it's my generation. I was born at a time when we didn't have ready access to the Internet and there weren't many other distractions. We learned about the world from oral stories, through books, through experience, and the occasional TV.

Maybe it's because of where I grew up: in a tiny house at the end of a tiny road, sheltered by the forest, on a tiny island, so that books were the ships and airplanes and escorts that carried me through the halls of castles, made me sit alongside kings and queens, helped me to break bread with lords and ladies, to share cups of mead and ribald jokes with rakes as we warmed our hands over winter fires, to go to battle with brave knights, to ride on the backs of dragons, to embark on wild adventures with mischievous lads and to solve great mysteries with detectives, all while lying under my blanket, my feet curled up on the couch in my living room.

Maybe it's my generation, maybe it was my location, or maybe it was just me. Because the truth of the matter is I chose books over TV every time. And I particularly chose longform books.

Let me tell you, the best opening for a story that I read growing up, the very best, like it literally sent me into paroxysms of delight as a tween, and I read it over and over and over again, was Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

As a tween and teenager, I read Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, all great writers, and some of them were very somber writers indeed. And it didn't matter that sometimes their writing was stern or austere or even difficult to understand, I loved their work, and the challenge of reading was merely motivation to learn. And so, if I didn't get it the first time, I read it over and over until I did.

Maybe it is weird. Maybe I am strange. I never thought of myself as a nerd, I was always the really cool kid. But maybe the truth of the matter is I am as dorky as they get. Maybe that's it, maybe it's me. Still I can't help feeling stunned every time I'm in company today and someone says, "Oh, reading's not my thing" or "I have more important things to do, I don't have the time to read". I am always left thinking, huh?

I am always appalled when my sons, for example, don't love to read like I do, and I clutch pearls when I hear in a corporate setting, for example, can you condense that? Or, I'd just like to know everything in one paragraph, a short paragraph.

I love creative writing, always have, and so the crossover to corporate and even web writing, scannable writing, has been and continues to be a journey for me. Mind you, this is not a rant, it's an observation.

I could be wrong, but I think that for a lot of creative writers who grew up near the tail end of the 20th century or before, it's sometimes really difficult finding a footing today given the variety of content creation tools available because, no, we don't want to create a video short of that. No, we're not going to dance to our story. No, we're not going to tell it while conducting a make-up tutorial or while running through a video game shooting at random strangers. We want to write.

The thing is though, write for who? When it comes to longform work, the sad reality is that there are less readers on the other end. You have to be really, really, really good to cut through the noise- like George Martin and Ken Follet and Jodi Picoult good.

For most of the rest of us, the pages of our generation's letters are yellowing, silk worms are having a field day, people don't care to read that much anymore, the present generation curates its content, there's information overload and whatnot... and ours are the cuneiform and hieroglyphics of the present age.

And, hankering after yesterday's artform the way I do, I'm little more than the modern day Miss Havisham, sitting around in a mildewed lace gown with a moldy old cake, with the only difference being I'm carooning to Time: "When I had you, I treated you bad and wrong, my dear, and since you've been gone, don't you know I sit around with my head hanging down, and I wonder who's lovin' you."

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Still, if I could, I'd bring back the house imagination lived in yesterday, with all its open windows and flowing curtains, and boxes of letters and sepia pictures, and cards hanging on lines of twine spread across the living room. And I'd gift you with books of adventures where dinosaurs roamed the land and knights walked around with chunky armor and men went to great lengths to win the favor of a maidens, and where anything you imagined was possible- in longform.

Have a great day, my friends.

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