On Long Form Writing

How to make new writing reach new readers?
How to make new story media reach new readers? (Bazaart mashup by Fred)

[In obvious conflict with the last post on keeping written thoughts in staccato mode.]

First, long is relative. But as we’ve had occasion to note here recently, it is getting shorter all the time. TL; DR.

And I’ve been aware of this, of course, looking at the statistics of my blog site all along: the average dwell time can be less than a minute. And that’s a problem on the days my blog posts run more than 300 words. A reader stops at one half or one third or one quarter of a fully-expressed thought. It’s like someone engaging in conversation, and walking out of the room while you’re pouring your heart out to them.

So what is a blogger doing, knocking himself out to find what he thinks are likely to be widely-relevant and interesting topics, spending some time–hours maybe–fine-tuning the language, nuancing the accompanying photograph, finding relevant links?

[Here’s he’s doing with all that: learning deeper into the topic being researched and written about; doing the “morning pages” exercise and growing writer muscles.  He’s emoting and catharting and creating, and those are worthwhile endeavors. So this is to say I write for me, too. And lack of dwell time, while discouraging, has NOT been a blog killer. It rather frequently comes close.]

Lo some while back I got excited about the advent of a places for writers who have more than 140 characters worth of worth to share. One such site is well-crafted by leaders in thought and tech and design. I offered up a few pieces to the site, after blogging them, thinking maybe this placement would lead to an audience that would fan the flames that died with the decline in blog conversation.

Then I learned that anything I submit to that site is owned and becomes the commercial property of the site owners. Now that’s a deal killer. So the take-away is read the fine print.

I recommend Medium as a place to read some longer and well-written pieces. But I’m not likely to submit anything more. Still, maybe I’m reading this wrong? Here’s the clause that gives one pause…

“By furnishing your User Content to Medium, you give Medium a non-exclusive worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable license to utilize all copyright rights now in existence or that may arise in the future” …   yada yada yada. That makes me uneasy. Maybe that’s wrong.

I once had a goal, having become comfortable and somewhat capable with the 800-word essay, to weave related pieces together into more fully-fleshed-out pieces in the way that popular writers like Barbara Kingsolver so capably do.

But I’ve had to accept that a blog is not the place to explore this kind of growth as a writer, especially given my history.

I “became” a writer-storyteller at age 54 in 2002 with an instant audience through the blog. That evolution has spoiled me; my writing engine is powered by instant readers. Or at least from “readers” of customary old-form mostly-text around an image format. The blog is failing badly there. Maybe the form needs to change.

WordPress (my blogging platform) is not well endowed for more dynamic story-telling. Other media do that better. I’m exploring. Story is important.

Story is not diversion, not entertainment, not fantasy. See story as truth; story as guiding myth; story as learning metaphor to empower. The best teachers tell the best stories. We need them, and Facebook is not the place to go to find them or to tell them.

▶ Here’s an interesting look at non-linear storytelling–at Medium, matter of fact! Got me thinking–rethinking–what writing-teaching-speaking future, if any, might lie ahead for me.

▶ And news / press-related story telling is also changing: How to break away from articles and invent new story forms – American Press Institute

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I would truly miss your informative and sometimes *very* amusing (thinking of the doughboy nursery, as one example) blog posts if you were to stop. Reading your blog is something to which I look forward every day. Thank you for the knowledge you disseminate about the important issues of our era.

  2. Fred, I wouldn’t put too much thought into your stats. Most of the short hits are search engine hits trolling for some specific info. If many of your regulars are like me, I almost never hit your stats. Since I follow you in Facebook, with Feedly, on Twitter, and on Flickr I seldom come straight to your website.

    That being said your thoughts on long form writing rang a bell with something I had heard on a podcast recently. So I went searching for a reference and in the process saw a link to the Organize Series Plugin for WordPress. You might want to check it out ( I haven’t looked into it myself so this is not a recommendation of the plugin) as it seems to offer some of what you are looking for in a single plugin… And you control your own writing. The website for the plugin is http://organizeseries.com.

    Keep writing… I and others will keep reading.

  3. Hmmm. Funny. I did a needlepoint of that same image (though with a book and not a Kindle, of course!)

    Fred, I say, don’t stop writing what you want to write; you will continue teaching, entertaining, pleasing the readers who stick around. Yes there are days where we might feel we don’t have the time to read a longer post; however, if it’s by a writer we do enjoy, we will probably bookmark it for a later reading or simply take the time.

    Thanks Gary, I myself will look into this plugin!

  4. As a former lawyer, I think the clause in question would keep you from charging any royalties for re-use of your writing, but it is a non-exclusive right, so you may charge for anything you earn from your own publication efforts, withouot any restriction arising from that clause. I took a look at the Medium link, and I personally would love for you to use it. Just interacting with those guys and the other wirtiers will be very stimulating to you, I would think.

  5. But doesn’t it give Medium the right to use my work for their own profit– to include, say, in a product reaching a wide audience and saturating that market before my individual effort to promote it could gain any traction? I think I am not restricted from profiting from work submitted, but neither are the big guys with the, er, medium of promotion.

  6. Challenging thoughts. Not sure where I stand on this; I tend to do what I’m comfortable with, but have little idea of what impact it night have, if any. Copyright thing bothers me too. But I do really enjoy your blog, which is probably the most thoughtful I’ve found. Keep writing!

  7. 🙂 I almost didn’t click on your bookmark because I knew I’d spend more time than I really had reading your stuff! I hope you don’t change either though. Twitter doesn’t cut it for me and as you say, Facebook is not the venue for any serious thoughts. It’s become almost a graphics only venue. It’s main value is keeping in touch with family. I’m with you on the Medium thing. I know it’s legal, but smacks of preying on writers to me.