Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Do writers contribute to a country's overall productivity?
A new way of calculating gross domestic product
(GDP) says they do. Sort of. In July, the U.S. adopted a new calculation for GDP that includes measurements for innovation and copyrighted material, such as movies and books.
That's right, writers. Since 1947—the last change to the GDP calculation—you and those who came before you haven't officially contributed anything to the nation's productivity. The Economist
examined how the new change affects GDP (it adds about $560 billion), and its economics section, Buttonwood, describes how the new calculation for the European Union might help it increase productivity
in order to achieve a growth rate of 2 percent.
As Buttonwood writes, however, it's not as simple as saying a writer is now able to produce more work:
"As a journalist, I am more productive than I was 20 years ago because of internet-generated content... In terms of personal utility, it is now possible for my employer to contact me more easily when I am not at work and so my leisure time is eaten away; this is arguably a reduction in my standard of living that offsets some of the gains elsewhere."
So, generating more content isn't necessarily more productive—especially if it's causing someone else to delay work while they take a break to read.
The digitization of writing
is a regular beat now in Internet articles about writing. I wrote about it
as recently as two weeks ago, but seldom is it treated as Gene Budig and Alan Heaps described it in a piece in USA Today
—as a good thing.
The writing revolution, as they call it, presents the opportunity for young people to take writing seriously and develop the skills to express ideas in ways kids haven't been able to, or haven’t wanted to, for a long time.
They compare the wide adoption of digital platforms to the creation of the printing press. Not the first time that connection has been made, but Budig and Heaps are not lamenting a change in the publishing industry. They make the point that the printing press spawned the reading revolution and the spread of ideas. The writing revolution has a chance to do the same, they write:
"How is this to be accomplished? By ensuring that people know that writing is not an arcane academic skill based on fixed rules. They must understand that writing is about the creation and communication of ideas."
Blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, texts—digital writing—are nothing if not short writing
. Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute is about to publish a book on the subject, and he conducted a live chat about short writing
Short writing is required of all writers now for all sorts of reasons—audience tastes, ease of publishing, staying connected, promotion (either story or self), and it hasn’t made things easier.
Writers are expected to post often, and as we know, shorter writing is often more difficult than crafting something longer. In the chat at Poynter, Clark related an anecdote about the importance and weight that short writing can have, sharing an insight from a reporter friend:
"But then he took these historical documents: Hippocratic Oath, 23rd Psalm, Lord's Prayer, any Shakespeare sonnet, preamble to Constitution, Gettysburg Address—and if you add up the words in those documents, they total fewer than 1,000. And I did it and he was right!"
A good way to learn anything is often knowing what not to do
. So why not occasionally take a break to read some bad writing? In the new book “Wretched Writing,” Ross and Kathy Petras have done much of the work for us.
The brother/sister team assembled a collection of bad writing
by paging through some really awful books, including the Twilight series, romance novels, and apparently something written by Newt Gingrich.
The resulting tome includes some awful constructions that those who appreciate good writing will like. Says Kathy Petras:
“You can’t do something like this if you don’t love good writing, too. It’s the difference between having a steak dinner and having, you know, chips and dip.”
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Speechwriters, how would you like to have one of your works turned into a book
? That's what's happening to George Saunders' speech
to the graduating class at Syracuse last spring.
The speech quickly became a hit in the digital realm and was re-published in The New York Times
. Now, with some additions, the speech on the power of kindness will be published by Random House
under the title "Congratulations, by the way."
David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005 got the same treatment, having been turned into the book "This is Water." Both are worth a read.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.