Writing for People Who Aren’t Me

I have a gig. Sort of. It’s not a paying job but hopefully one day it might help lead into one. But I write for a website that does things about gaming.

Recently they put up a rule sheet in which they talked about their guidelines. Now, I’ve known that the site has a rule where all articles have to be under 400 words. But when it was reiterated to everyone in the rules, it said the following:

People ARE NOT reading more words than that, so why are you putting in so much time and effort into writing them?

This killed me. I looked it up online to find out that it’s some weird standard of making things under 400 words. It’s like this weird cut-off point. And I realized why I’ve been having such a hard time coming up with content as of late. I’m writing for an audience that isn’t me.

For example, I can’t read my own articles on the site. I can’t. I also get into a weird thing where I bump heads with other people because I’ve never read the backlog of articles.

But, I’ll be honest, if I go to read an article and it’s short, I don’t read it. It’s a waste to me. Information that has to be condensed just feels cheap to me. Kotaku, for example, is a site I just completely stopped going to because their articles have become smaller and smaller.

And with the growth of sites like Buzzfeed I honestly have to wonder, between short attention spans and smaller articles, is it the chicken or the egg? Do the “people” not read longer articles because they don’t want to? Or are they reading shorter articles because they’re being dumbed down to?

Let’s look at a site that writes long articles. I’ll use Cracked. I like Cracked. Sure, they mostly write lists but they also have incredibly informative articles. For example, one of my goals is to get into screenwriting, and in addition to going to school and reading up on it, I also looked at this article called “4 Reasons Why Bad Movies are Allowed to Happen“.

If you look at the article, the first reason alone is almost 600 words. One reason out of four is larger than the majority of the articles on the internet. And I lapped it up. I like reading, I like reading one thing and even if it’s about something silly, I rarely want it to end.

And Cracked doesn’t get in trouble for long articles either. It’s one of the most successful sites out there and even spun off a long-winded yet awesome podcast that was acquired by a good chunk of money by the folks at Nerdist, the biggest podcasting empire on the planet.

Even with my friends, you can’t mention Cracked without talk of the phenomenon we all call the “Cracked Rabbit-hole”. This is a scenario in which you start reading an article on Cracked and it leads to you opening about 6-7 additional tabs for other articles you want to read next. And those spawn more. Those spawn more. And by the time you’re done you’ve read about 10-15 articles. All long.

Do you know why? Because they’re fun, they’re engaging, you read them for a while and because of the additional length they get to explain things on a level where you feel comfortable with it. It feeds this need that we have given that the majority of items the average person reads are Facebook statuses and Tweets.

It’s a fear I’ve had for a long time too. I think it spawned the first time someone explained with “TL;DR” meant. Given how terrible and shitty the internet can be, it might surprise you to find out that this was the most offended I’ve ever been by the web.

For those who are lucky enough to have never seen this, “TL;DR” stands for “too long; didn’t read”. This trend started a little more than a decade ago, there’s even an Urban Dictionary post for it from 2003. It’s used by, in my opinion, monsters and idiots when someone writes something and they felt it was too long and wanted the author to know that they didn’t read it because they thought it was too long.

The kick in the ass, it’s something the internet rallies behind. If someone comes up with a solid point and backs up their sources and paints a solid picture, they’re literally punished for it by these people. As if people watched the future in the movie Idiocracy the wrong way and thought it painted a paradise scenario in which they could eat through a tube and watch people get kicked in the balls all day.

But how? How did we get this way? Even my student liaison in my writing course was concerned by it when I was talking to him about writing for them. He wrote me this, and I’ll copy and paste it right into the article, “Eric, it’s good that you’re doing something you enjoy, but be careful. I’ve seen this happen many a times with our students. They’ll start writing for a blog and forget how to write like a human. They forget details and things that combine writing and real life. Real life isn’t brief and to the point. You don’t just go outside and take the trash out. You observe the weather, you see a squirrel, you hear the traffic, you smell the trash, you say hello to a neighbor. There’s so many things that happen in even the simplest action in real life and when people right for a website, they often lose that.”

I love writing for this site, I honestly do, I’m not planning on stopping. But it does make me wonder why it has to be like this? Why can’t sites cater to both? The people who want to read AND the people who just want to click things and form opinions on the fly. It could be both, but sites won’t allow it.

What happened to us? Why is it like this? If you have any idea, leave it below.

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2 thoughts on “Writing for People Who Aren’t Me

  1. Wow, that is a concern. I’ve found it interesting when I stumble on story challenges with limited word count, but it’s a fun challenge because you still need the right word choice to contain a full plot. Wouldn’t want to see that become the norm. You are right, however, these articles today on many sites are worthless, and so many are turning to video with barely a caption to support the headline. I believe there is some finely tuned brain chemistry going on here.
    We’ve outgrown the MTV generation of the fifteen minute attention span. Technology has given us speed and access and literally rewired cognitive functions of today’s children and young adults. Do they think in smaller chunks? Do they ‘save’ information easier that way? I can’t say for sure. But to read without my five senses being tickled is a bland diet of malnutrition. I appreciate the speed of technology but I long for more than a thirty second snack. Quench my thirst, please!
    (TL;DR? That’s horrifying! We should use TBTMAD: too brief to make a difference.)

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