Nursery rhymes such as Jack Be Nimble are among the most memorable of writings, and I think that for your writing to be memorable it needs to be nimble, by which I mean:
Words be nimble,
words be quick,
words be open,
words be shtick
words be quick
Others will just need their eyes to read nimble writing. Most often it will come in the form of a web page they will view using a browser. Nimble words will be not be found in static documents that require you run a software program such as Adobe’s Acrobat or Microsoft’s Office just to put the words in front of your eyes. Nor will nimble words be found in elaborately formatted documents or, god forbid, presentation formats such as PowerPoint.
Why should you lock up in your nimble writing in a proprietary format before offering it to others? What do you gain by doing so? It’s the writing that counts, not how is presented to the reader’s eyes. Shakespeare or Lincoln didn’t have to format their writing, so why should you?
Don’t won’t waste time in formatting. Get the words out as early as you can, as the rewards will go to those who write quickly and so engage in the marketplace of ideas sooner.
words be open
Open-ness will take many forms. Here are a few I can think of now.
Nimble words will have a URL. To know of them is to know where to find them and so be able to read them with a minimum of effort. If my writing is in a PDF document, then it is not nimble; to share it with you I have to e-mail you a copy of the document or put it up on a server and send you the URL before you can read it. If I put my words in a blog, or as a comment to another author’s blog, or in a public wiki, then the words have a unique URL from the moment of writing. I can send the URL to you knowing you can find the words, and also knowing you can share that URL with others.
Nimble words will come with a known license so that those who wish to reproduce, or otherwise make use of the words, will know how to do so. Writing with a liberal license such as that used in this blog, license, will be more likely to be found elsewhere used than that under a more restrictive license as GFDL.
Nimble words with such a liberal license will be very accessible. To use them you will just need to cut-and-paste, and give credit where credit is due. You won’t have to write a program, or master a complex format, to share nimble words with others.
Nimble words will more often be found in a public discussion than in a private exchange. It is the public-ation of them, in its literal sense “to make public,” that will give them their force.
Nimble writing comes from open writers. Nimble words will not be found in isolation, but will be much more likely to recognized as nimble once you have gone to the effort of defining your public identity. Nothing you write within a corporate firewall adds to your public identity, so unless you plan to spend the rest of your career behind the firewall that is your current lot then you should start defining your public identity as soon as you can.
Nimble writing will also be found in a shared form. You won’t be measured by just your own original essays, or the mini-essays that constitute a blog, but by the totality of your efforts. Such efforts include comments you make to the blogs of others, or comments in other public fora, or the carefully-commented tags you post on del.icio.us.
Nimble words will be out in the open. You will be able to find them with a search engine. Words locked behind a firewall can not be found by a public search, and hence their author can’t be found by a public search. To labor inside the firewall is to guarantee obscurity to the world at large.
The more nimble your writing, the more often it will be cited, and the more ways people will come across it via search engines.
words be shtick
shtick is another way of saying reputation or identity, one that happens to rhyme with “quick” and so completes my doggerel verse.
Your collective public writings, however presented, whether as blog posts, wiki contributions, or openly available articles, will define your public identity. It is your writings, in the form of your “voice” or “persona” that will define how others interpret your words.
In a way I can’t define precisely but do sense intuitively, I believe that the concept of “social networking” is not just a passing fad but a way of expressing the more complex forms of interaction that the internet has made possible, and that what I here call “nimble words” is but another way of saying “social writing.”
We will begin to understand “social writing” only when we are able to read the first works by the authors who first master this new form of writing.