Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

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Great Writing on the Web

December 11, 2007
Roscoe, N.Y.

In a blog entry about preserving web sites after death, Dave Winer made a very bizarre statement:

Actually, Norman Mailer was alive just a month ago, and he didn't even have a web site. Kurt Vonnegut, who died earlier this year, did have a web site but I can't find anything that he actually wrote for it. And what about prominent authors who are still alive? When was the last time you visited Ever gotten anything worthwhile from Oh — you gotta check out! I suppose has some good information, but not much that Ian McEwan actually wrote, aside from a few links to magazine and newspaper articles. Even doesn't have much actual writing that I can find.

Some contemporary composers have web sites, such as Philip Glass and John Adams but mostly just for informational purposes. Can you imagine Elliot Carter having a web site?

The ephemeral nature of the web is precisely why most writers still prefer publication on paper. (But I haven't done an extensive search for great writing on the web, and as the girl in the story once said, "There's got to be a pony in there somewhere.")

For the record: When I die, I'd like somebody to print out a copy of my essay "Maxwell, Molecules, and Evolution" and put it someplace safe, but pretty much everything else can be deleted (including this).


It may be debatable as to whether or not Scott Adams is a "great writer" but I hold the opinion that he is quite the genius. His online works are treasures.

I may agree with Mr. Winer if the premise of the statement was changed slightly. Maybe if those writers were beginning careers right now they might be writing on the web. There are quite a few writers, both prose and verse, and musicians/composers that I've been following online. Given time it may be that one or more of these artists will grow to be the next Shakespeare or Mozart. I'm sure that scholars would kill for the kind of early insight into the works being produced that we can get today.

Can you imagine having a perfectly preserved journal from Beethoven discussing his creative process while working on his 9th?

Robert Nagby, Tue, 11 Dec 2007 14:09:43 -0500 (EST)

Neil Gaiman ( has an excellent blog ( where he generally has a post per day. Very informative too about the writing process, from his viewpoint naturally.

Lots of writing, sure, but not necessarily stories or novels per se.

Julian Bucknall, Tue, 11 Dec 2007 14:23:01 -0500 (EST)

How amusing: The most recent entry on Neil Gaiman's blog (dated Dec. 8, 2007) indicates that he has to get away from the internet to get some real writing done! — Charles

I assume that many(most?) writers (particularly those from the "pre-Internet" days), consider writing for the web as "giving it away for free", and would expect to be paid for pretty much anything they write. That's pretty much that feeling of most bands in the early days of MP3s (and still for many these days).

James Curran, Tue, 11 Dec 2007 16:47:06 -0500 (EST)

It's obviously more complex than just the money. People who write will write regardless. A good deal of professional writing is basically pro bono anyway. There are perhaps three major incentives involved in writing something for publication:

  • A personal interest and curiosity about the subject.
  • The prestige of the publishing organ.
  • Payment.

With the internet, unfortunately, both the second and third of those factors are zero. — Charles

NO they are not ................ you just not expore enough Mr Charles ,

— Mr Devenport, Wed, 12 Dec 2007 08:29:57 -0500 (EST)

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