This post has been contributed by Henry Feltham. He's an award winning writer, so it's likely to be way better than our posts. We often collaborate with Henry on web projects, because he's damn good at helping tell our clients' stories. Cheers Henry...
In 2017, being a writer is about being able to deploy every tool at your disposal to get a message across, while understanding that beneath it all, story will always be story. That everything is a story. And if you're not – in some way – telling one professionally, you should be.
No matter how often I hear it, some questions catch me off guard.
A lot of them are straight-forward enquiries that I should really have better answers for – the kind you get asked at parties by friends of friends, in-laws and immigration officers, not that far down the priority chain from 'What's your name,' or 'Where do you live?'
In my case it's: 'What do you do?'
It throws me, not because I don't know. Of course I know what I do. I'm a writer. I write things. But I have learned, by long experience, that this tells people almost nothing about what professional writers actually do to earn their keep – more importantly, why anyone would pay me to do it in a day and age that can feel almost exclusively and obsessively visual.
The problem is, as soon as you say, 'I'm a writer', people ask 'Oh, like novels and things?'
It's tempting to come back with a smart answer like, 'No, I do it for money.' But again, that doesn't give anyone the slightest sense for what a writer actually is in 2017.
There are and probably always will be people writing novels. Thousands upon thousands of them, the remainder table at most airport bookshops proof enough. But that's a very 20th century notion of 'writer'.
A professional writer, good ones at least, are still in the business of narrative. I know some who say they're in 'communications'; that their essential function is to convey information to people. But structured information of any kind is a story. And if I'm being honest, when I hear people say 'information', it's a kind of code. It tells me they're adequate, but probably not great at it.
Given the time, I would talk about my work as managing narratives. Often this uses words, but not always – I 'write' web content, like the words you're reading now, but also visual storylines for the ubiquitous beast known blandly as 'video', and, most recently, the far more strange and wonderful world of computer games.
Often enough, when someone asks the question, and is genuinely curious to know what on earth I actually write, it turns out they have work for me.
There are very few organisations that won't profit quickly from developing some kind of narrative around their operation. Usually, it's about what their business or service is offering their customers. It's astonishing how few groups, especially small ones, have a brief, potent story about why their customers' or clients' lives would be – in some critical sense – improved by using their service.
A big part of my work is going into an organisation, to find out what they do, so that I can explain it to other people, whether through words, video, or some other means altogether. In games, for instance, it's usually about ideas: producing content that supports the game, storylines, characters and plots for players to pursue or simply give it context.
On the web, it's all of these and more.
Working as a creative copywriter, you're distilling a business to its core values and offerings, while also moving in the other direction – furnishing their online world with detail, significance and points of connection. You're using every tool you can think of to link the centre to the edge.
I'm not going to pretend this is a science. Every single business is different, and some lend themselves to description, to stories, more easily than others. At a certain stage, it stops being about if something works, and starts to become about how well it does.
Online, we have the advantage of agility – of being able to try things, see how they're received, and then adjust. It's a kind of open-ended editing for the digital age, and produces – at times – extremely potent content.
At a deeper level, the best web writing reflects the nature of the digital medium, its resemblance to the oral tradition, and a fluidity that unchanging things – like novels – seemed, for a time, to have replaced.
Sometimes, I feel like what I do has more in common with a wandering storyteller of 300 B.C. He would tell a story that was different every night, composed from the hundreds, maybe thousands of fragments he knew.
That's what a writer does these days.