Writing for the Masses: A Revolutionary’s Retrospective

When I first started Writing for the Masses, a series aimed at kicking down the elitist door to the publishing industry and bringing success to the down-trodden writers, on my blog The Future Writers of America two long years ago, I considered myself one of those unrecognized talents that would lead the charge toward a more equal and free world of writing.

Up hands barcelona protests” by Marcello Vicidomini is licensed under CC by 2.0

Inspired by James May’s Cars of the People, I followed the soda industry’s long-held tradition of stealing a rival idea and rebranding it as my own. If James May would discuss the cars that brought automobile transportation to the common people, I would galvanize the masses of bloggers and amateur writers into a movement. Take a read from the original manifesto:

Gone is the decadent individualist notion of being a writer of myself, for myself. Forget the future, the way to revolution lies in the masses, Lenin (probably) said. This site will not be me preaching into empty space, as it’s been for many months, but what we, the collective of the oppressed class, make it. Struggling writers, prospective writers, uncertain writers, unrecognized novelists, misunderstood poets, ignored playwrights, and all writers among the masses, unite! Our time is upon us.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t become the leader of a revolutionary corps of writers that would lead a writing revolt. At least — not yet. However, as I explored different writing opportunities in college and after to varying success, a guiding pair of truths became abundantly clear.

Truth 1: The Will to Act

In “Writing for the Masses #2,” I took inspiration from R’as al Ghul in the masterpiece Batman Begins and declared that only one factor separates writers from the rest:

There’s an even smaller number of people that enjoy isolating themselves for hours a day to craft worlds full of fictional characters that have no bearing on their lives. A lot don’t see the point.

But you’re different. I’m different. We both have the will to act, as Ra’s al Ghul says, and that is what truly matters. You can never become a novelist if you don’t write one. You can’t develop a “good” writing style unless you write a story, and then another, and another. Eventually you’ll have a sense of what works, and what doesn’t. Sure, you’ll make mistakes. I have a whole Writing folder full of them on my desktop, stories that should never leave this hard drive. Without failure, you never learn what your mistakes are.

We have the will to act. I had the will to start a Medium account and write this story when I could have done anything else, such as catching up on that sleep I’ve been neglecting. Plenty dream about writing the “Next American Novel,” but writers are the ones insane enough to think we can do that — and more. Ambition is one side of the coin, but the true test comes when the slope turns upward:

Someday, you’ll wind up sickened by the thought of your “awful” writing. Someday, you’ll wonder why you even bothered opening up that first Word document and how many hours of your life you’ve wasted. Maybe things really are as bleak as your inner critic would have you believe, but that’s not the point.

In this darkest hour, you’ll learn whether or not you’re truly a writer. Nobody’s going to come along and suddenly convince you that what you have is gold, because we both know you won’t believe them. Not fully. It’s not that you’ll get an acceptance letter in the mail for your first novel. If you despise your work, then you won’t feel any better. No, you’ll know you’re a writer, because, sooner or later, you’ll keep going.

That’s all there is to it. Nothing special sets writers apart — other than our determination. We’re a dogged sort. In a world with more communication tools and outlets for speech than ever before, we believe our voices deserve attention and provide value to others, whether that’s entertainment, enlightenment, or empathy. Which brings me to the second truth.

Truth 2: Writing is now for the Masses

In a way, my revolutionary movement was never needed. The Internet and cellular communication have kicked down the door of communication and opened whole new writing spaces to those who can connect to either.

“Writing spaces?” you say, “but nobody reads books anymore because their faces are buried in screens!” To be certain, the decline of print media is a notable side effect of Web 2.0 and this overall trend. Yet, while we can debate over the quality of the content between books and websites, these new spaces share one undeniable fact: they are built on writing.

From the coding of web pages and apps to the text messages and emails we send on them, the writing spaces of the future are crafted by writers for writers. Participating in them makes you a writer. As I declared a few months back, “know writing when you see it.” I’ll let my past writing elaborate further:

Many scholars lament the Internet as the end of the printed book and attention spans, but I’ll give one thing to the Information Age: it’s chock full of words. From the basic machine code that forms the basis of the Dell Inspiron I’m typing on to the HTML and CSS that lay out this webpage to the visual content of The Future Writers of America itself, text surrounds you. Anyone who visits a YouTube comment section can attest to the subpar writing that proliferates on the World Wide Web, but text forms the technical backbone of the graphic, visual, and audial elements that the websites use to attract views. Indeed, pictures and videos are often used as supplements to reinforce and break up text.

I’ll give you an anecdote. One day at work, I was discussing my publishing ambitions when my coworker, a social media coordinator, said: “I wish I could write that many words.”

“Well, how many words would you say are in a tweet — on average?” I replied.

“15–16.”

“And you write about a hundred tweets a week. You’re already well into your first draft in a week. In a year, you’ll have 80,000 words.”

Now, I’m not sure anyone would want to read an 80,000-word novel that consisted of strings of tweets. If I’m wrong, let me know, because my coworker and I could send one your way. The quality debate throws somewhat of a wrench into the idea that we have all become writers — in the traditional sense of the profession. Yet, as the future marches forward, there’s no denying that definition will change, and perhaps the goal of Writing for the Masses has already come to fruition without my rhetoric and rage. Once again, I turn to the premiere source: my past self.

None of this argument is intended to say that creative writing and communicating are exactly the same, but the processes are quite similar. This knocks down the Ivory Tower for any who believe that creative writing is something too far out of their skill set. Shake the idea that literature is something reserved for pipe-smoking aristocrats who spend their whole lives in rooms with twenty-foot tall shelves lined with leather-bound books. Not everyone can write a novel, and not everyone will, but everyone writes each and every day. The step from there to the composition of prose isn’t as far as many think.

Everyone writes each and every day. The coders that built this site wrote, I wrote this post, and when you comment, you’ll write too. Most likely, my Writing for the Masses project doesn’t deserve the credit for this change, but, regardless, the barriers to entry have lowered. Some find this liberalization of the writing field intimidating: with a hundred million voices, how will I make mine heard? Yet the same environment creates a space where a hundred million voices all have equal opportunity to share the communication streams.

If that’s not a populist message of revolution and hope, then I don’t know what is.

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