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Writing For The Web Can Be Easy


webcanbeIt’s not paperbacks 21st century writers are working on. Here’s what you must know to make your Web dreams come true.

So, here we are, at the turn of the millennium. Fantastic technological change surrounds and affects nearly all of us–yes, writers, too. But while it’s possible to be a writer in the 21st century and look pretty much like a writer of the 20th (having work published on paper), there are opportunities for cutting-edge writing that are far more interesting and … well, modern.

This monthly column, debuting as the calendar makes its momentous turn, is about writing sans paper. There’s a whole new and fast-growing community of writers whose words never touch paper–unless they hit Print to get a hard copy before e-mailing their work to their editors. These scribes pound out words (on a computer, of course) that will never be set permanently on paper, never end up at the county recycling dump.

We have entered the age of the online writer.

The Internet changes everything, the pundits are fond of saying. We say that, too, and it applies to the craft of writing. When you think about it, the Internet is the largest publishing medium ever created. There are more words published on the World Wide Web than in the Library of Congress. Many of those words are put online by writers who have no expectation of earning money from them. But a huge amount of online writing is done for profit. The online medium represents the largest opportunity for Writers to earn money (or self-publish to a global audience for personal gratification) to come along in … well, a millennium.

The online army

There’s a growing army of writers who have recognized the Internet as a compelling career venue. John Scalzi joined their ranks after deserting the ink-on-paper industry. Fresh out of college, he trekked to California to take a newspaper job as movie critic and humor columnist for the Fresno Bee. Because his columns were spread far and wide online as well as appearing in print, Scalzi’s entertaining writing style got noticed by America Online, which hired him to write online “newsletters” at rates his newspaper employer couldn’t come close to matching.

Today, Scalzi lives an enviable writer’s life, working purely for a small number of online clients from his home office in northern Virginia. In addition to the AOL job, he does music reviews for MediaOne/Road-Runner (a fast-access Internet company), and topical e-mail reminders for LifeMinders.com (a free service that sends out personalized messages). Added to those regular freelance gigs, Scalzi writes and produces GameDads.com, his recently launched video game review Web site. The consummate online writer, his humor/science fiction novel, Agent to the Stars, is published only on the Web (scalzi.com/agent/). (Scalzi will have some of his upcoming prose recorded on paper rather than electrons: His book about online finance and banking is due out next fall.)

Heather Martin likewise does nearly all her writing for online clients. Working from her home in Bellingham, Wash., the marketing and copy-writing specialist has no local clients. (Local writing jobs don’t pay well enough.) She calls her writing business SuccessWorks, and focuses on finding online writing assignments–like writing Web page copy for companies, writing e-mail newsletters and Web-zines, ghostwriting articles that appear online, etc.

After deciding in 1998 to concentrate on serving online clients, her friends told her she was crazy and that the Internet wouldn’t support her. Instead, she’s “finding so many opportunities out there, it’s incredible,” and she’s had to develop a network of fellow online writers to take on work when she gets overloaded. Each month, Martin’s writing income increases–on occasion doubling–as new clients are found and, more significantly, as existing clients increase their need.

Online writing work comes in many variations, and some of the opportunities are fascinating. Art Fazakas found an interesting gig–his first online writing job–by registering to work as a writer with Volt Computer Services in Redmond, Wash., an employment service that provides contract workers primarily for Microsoft. Fazakas, a technical writer and former import manager, became the lead writer for the Kasparov vs. The World online chess match Web site produced by the software giant last summer. He wrote feature articles and profiles of chess analysts; an every-other-day event update newsletter about the match; and a column about where to play online chess.

Fazakas’ favorite part of online work is the fast turnaround. The gap between finished writing and publication is often a matter of hours–sometimes even minutes. When he wanted to change something on the Kasparov site, he needed only his editor’s approval to type in a correction to polish the published product.

No geographic limits

Online writing also breaks down geographic boundaries. The now-famous New Yorker cartoon has a canine sitting at a PC saying to a buddy, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” A variation might show copywriter Suman Bolar saying, “On the Internet, no one knew–or cared–that I was working from India.”

When Bolar quit her advertising job in India after becoming pregnant with her first child, she bought a PC and “fell in love with the ‘Net.” Spotting an ad for “online writer wanted” on a Web site, she applied and has been writing for the Web ever since, mostly for clients far from her homeland. Last summer, her family moved to the US, and she now has two young children. “Web-based [writing] work gives me the opportunity to stay home with them as well as keep my sanity,” she says.

As the millennium turns, writing really is different for many practicing professionals. Paper may never go out of style, but you don’t have to have your words printed on it in order to a successful 21st century writer.

The Discussion

see what everyone is saying

  • Gino M. October 11th, 2015 at 8:34 pm #1

    I am not a web content writer but I must admit I would love to be one. It is cool being able to write something that many people could see.

  • Jasmin October 18th, 2015 at 8:48 am #2

    For me, one can only consider it is easy if the person is a true lover of writing and research. This is not for those who only wish to earn money for a living. Dedication is of extreme importance.

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