A few years ago, I wondered why any self-respecting writer would ever want to write for the web. Words on the web seemed so impermanent, so forgettable, so unsophisticated -- like words on a chalkboard. Why would it matter whether the writing was good or bad? And standards: Why bother?
But somewhere along the way (I don't remember the exact moment, but it was sometime in early 1997), I fell in love with the web. Before I knew it, I was a web writer.
What I'd come to realize was that writing for the web wasn't at all like writing on a chalkboard.
For one thing, pages can be archived indefinitely, or printed out and saved forever.
For another thing, there's nothing inherently unsophisticated about words on the web -- any more than there's anything inherently sophisticated about words in print. Good writing is good writing whatever the medium.
And though words on the web tend to be less formal than words in print, standards matter every bit as much online as in print, if not more. (Why else would so many people have such a gut-level reaction when Wired put the hyphen back in "email"?)
Copywriting on the web, I came to realize, is like writing song lyrics. On the web, text and design need to complement each other to create a good user experience -- the way lyrics and melody need to complement each other to create a good song. Too many words, the wrong words, or even words with too many syllables -- and you lose your audience. Switching web sites is as easy as switching radio stations.
Writing for the Web Is Harder -- Not Easier -- Than Writing for Print
"A writer is someone," said 1929 Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann, "for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
It's so true.
And the more serious you are about writing, the more difficult writing becomes. Oscar Wilde once claimed he'd spent the entire morning putting in a comma and the entire afternoon taking it out again. Though most of us writers aren't quite that hard on ourselves, many of us can agonize -- even lose sleep -- over a single word.
But I believe web copywriters have the most difficult lot of all copywriters. And I believe it's getting more difficult all the time. Here's why:
So how do you pull it off? How do you factor in all the demands of writing online and come up with the right words?
One thing's for sure: It takes more than talent. World-class print writers don't necessarily make world-class web writers. Why?
Because besides talent, it takes an understanding of web site architecture and navigation. It takes a feel for the web. An affinity with the web. Perhaps even a passion for the web. And it takes a willingness to collaborate and let go.
Aye, there's the rub.
Next week: the seven qualities of highly successful web writing.
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