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The author in Colorado. Photo: Lau

Now’s the season for year-in-review features and ‘looking ahead’ pieces, the kinds of stories that would seem little more than exercises in banality were they not necessary somehow to our sense of time and place.

Music countdowns, say the “Top 209 songs of 2009,” are perfect examples. By what criteria can we reduce music (or writing, or even people themselves–Traveler of the YEAR!!) into some kind of zero sum game?

Still, it occurs to me that even if the subjects and formats are unoriginal, just stopping and taking time to remember is a very human and life affirming act.

The other day Klaus and Manuel, two raft guides at Lat42Patagonia, asked about what I did. When I told them I was a writer, they asked the default question down here, which (as it should be) is “do you write books?”

“It’s mostly stories and articles online,” I explained. “One day I’d like to collect them into a book though.”

Anyway, the conversation left me thinking about people’s perceptions of what a writer is in 2009, and now looking ahead to 2010. Here are a few notes:

1. Blogger vs. Writer ‘debate’

Don’t waste time posturing or defending or shit-talking anyone in this silly-ass argument. Being a writer (or whatever) in 2010 means getting paid to write what you want to write. Part of this (perhaps all of it) will mean blogging; part will be journalism, fiction, poetry, whatever shape your imagination and work takes.

2. You don’t have to write a book.

As proven by NomadicMatt , you don’t have be writing a book to still be a financially successful writer and get featured in the New York Times

3. If you write a book, you can publish it yourself.

This year, Cory Doctorow showed that you can self-publish your work, give it away for free, and still make money by offering a print on demand option.

4. However, If all you want is to see your name in print, there are plenty of vanity-press operations ready to take your money.

Consider the move by Harlequin earlier this year wherein they began charging writers thousands to self-publish via their imprint.

5. You can make an enormous impact with simple ebook.

Earlier this month, Seth Godin’s ebook What Matters Now became a Trending Topic on Twitter, getting retweeted over 4,000 times.

6. Independent Publishing Houses

Writers seeking traditional book publication in 2010 will increasingly look to independent publishing houses.

7. Writing conferences will focus on social media.

Those attending conferences in 2010 will be bludgeoned by social media ‘gurus’ with pie graphs showing the correlation between your followers on twitter and your potential readership.

8. New forms

Hint Fiction, Micro-Notes, Segmented Essays, and other new forms of writing will become increasingly common, as writing continues to be optimized for reading on screens.

9. Multimedia

Writing / publishing / reading via mobile devices will lead to more experimentation with multimedia.

10. Real-time composition

New technology such as Google Wave combined with back-channel conversations being an increasingly important element of media events will mean that writers and journalists in 2010 will publish more work created in “real-time” as opposed to the the traditional process of drafts which are polished and edited before publication.

11. Revitalization of tribes

The democratization of media / disbanding of large publications will lead to writers building new communities in 2010. These include both official communities which exist online such as Fictionaut, SixSentences, or Matador, or just crews of writers who are associated with one another (via collective projects or similar styles), and thus can help mutually promote their work, such as the crew who runs HTML Giant.

12. Continuing Education

Looking beyond grad school and MFA programs, writers in 2010 will find increasingly relevant training and skills via online writing programs and learning centers.

13. Transparency

Whereas writers have traditionally had to make ethical choices when writing about places or stories to which they had material connections, writers in 2010 are essentially free to write about whatever they want, take whatever story they want, as long as their writing has an underpinning of material transparency.

14. Self Promotion

Although many writers may claim they didn’t go to journalism school to “sell themselves,” writers in 2010 need to find how they can best promote their personal brands.

*Get access to paid freelance travel writing opportunities and an active community of travel journalists by enrolling in the MatadorU Travel Writing program.

Journalism Career Tips


About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • Alyssa

    Yes! All of these are exciting, scary, new, readily changing – especially pumped for #s 8, 11, 13…

  • Candice

    Sweet compilation, I honestly think there’s never been a better time to be a writer.

    • David Miller

      thanks Candice.

  • Megan Hill

    All these new opportunities are exciting, especially the challenge of having to largely self-educate.

  • Craig

    I agree that traditional media, especially print is on the way out. Writers are going to have to adapt to blogging formats and relentless self-promotion to succeed.

  • lauren

    This totally got me fired up. 2010, let’s do this!

  • Michelle

    Ugh, the Harlequin fiasco. Vile.

    This is a great list. I’m almost frightened about the social media ‘gurus’ you mentioned – it’s important, for sure, but (for me) not so important that it should take so much attention from other aspects of being a writer. Tweeting a sucky article to thousands of followers doesn’t make it suddenly a not-sucky article.

    • David Miller

      “Tweeting a sucky article to thousands of followers doesn’t make it suddenly a not-sucky article.”


  • Nancy D. Brown

    True; I didn’t go to journalism school to sell myself, yet as a freelance travel writer and blogger I am keenly aware of the importance of self promotion and personal branding.

    With that in mind, you can find my “What a Trip” blog at
    Follow me on Twitter @Nancydbrown or @Ridinghorseback

    I’ve also started a niche travel blog, for all the horsey equestrian lovers out there.

    Wishing much success to my fellow writers and bloggers in 2010!

  • joshua johnson

    Love this D, really got me thinking about the evolution of the form. We are very lucky that we have the opportunity to create and connect in so many ways. I think with everything shaken up in our economy and whatnot it is the perfect time to discover new forms and vehicles for the our message, whatever that would be.


    Great post! Being a writer in 2010 means just that — be a writer! People will not give a rat’s you know what about what others think of them or their writing. Writers will write for the sake of writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a blogger or freelance writer for a newspaper, writing is writing end of story. Some people may venture into foreign territory and write books, screenplays, poems, essay, and whatever strikes their fancy. Yes, 2010 will be a great year for writers!

  • Hal

    I was very interested by what you had to say in your #’s 1, 7 and 11. With 1., because you’re right – it’s something of a dead-end argument although I’d be the first to confess that I’ve fed into it in a viral fashion in recent weeks after a long long period of just listening to new travelblog converts wax on about how necessity of getting on their bandwagon of 40,000 Twitter following connected blogsite business model. I couldn’t help myself and read some of the original Gary Arndt posting you linked — while he’s more than entitled to his speculations about the future and present, he’s somewhat off in understanding the dynamics of seasoned travel writers – e.g., we don’t customarily do “work for hire”, and there’s such a thing as intellectual property rights in all media – yes, even electronic ones that we negotiate. Also, the notion that at least freelance travel writers always just shoot off one article from a press trip and that’s the end of it — also misconception. However, I apprediate that you David have clearly kept an open mind and spirit towards all writers and/or bloggers in all media. With #7, because I’m curious myself to see where the ideal learning and networking experiences will play out — at traditional writer’s conferences, or the exclusive self-bloggers affairs like Blog World and TBEX. With #11, because that may be one of the most exciting developments in 2010 as a wider variety of writers within a specialty interest niche of travel — geographic or personal interest — make more intense effort to form communities.

  • Christine

    Go tribes!

  • SuSaw

    got ya. it’s one thing to be a writer, it’s another to be a writer with an editor. Here’s to my 2010, hoping for both. really. reax?

  • Gary Arndt

    I didn’t realize I was “shit talking” anyone. I just think there are different business models.

    You are 100% correct when you say “Being a writer (or whatever) in 2010 means getting paid to write what you want to write.” That is pretty much the definition of writer that I’m using. Someone pays you to money in exchange for your writing, either as a freelance or staff writer.

    The question is “who pays you?” As you define it, NomadicMatt isn’t writer because he is getting his money either from advertisers or from direct sales of his ebook. People aren’t paying him for his writing. He is making money from his position as a publisher, not a writer.

    The number of opportunities for travel writing (ie: someone paying you cash in exchange for an article) are drying up. What opportunities that still exist are paying less.

    My own real claim is that writers have to move towards becoming publishers, which is something I really don’t think is that controversial.

    I’m not anti-writer. I just recognize that writing (pay for hire) is different than blogging (internet publishing). They are just different business models and they aren’t even mutually exclusive with each other.

    Thanks for the link.

    • David Miller


      Thanks for stopping by and making these points.

      The question ‘who pays you?’ is super valid, and I feel like this is a really important distinction:

      People aren’t paying him [NomadicMatt] for his writing. He is making money from his position as a publisher, not a writer.

      Still, I think there is another part to this that I needed to elaborate in the article. It comes down to this: I see NomadicMatt not just as ‘writer’ or, as you’ve more precisely defined him, ‘publisher’, but more as a masterfully-created ‘persona’, a readily-identifiable and marketable and apparently lucrative brand.

      So for the writer in 2010, even if ‘who pays you’ is the fundamental question, it’s interesting to follow up with ‘why do they pay you?’ or ‘what do you represent to those who pay you?’

      I feel like the more honestly writers can answer these questions, and the more aligned those answers are with what writers or bloggers or journalists truly want to be doing with their time (and for the long term) then the more potential success/happiness they’ll have.

      Or something.

      One quick clarification: By ‘shit-talking’ I was referring to people attacking others because of their stance one way or the other on the ‘debate’ over travel ‘writing vs. blogging’. I think it’s a total waste of energy (although I recognize the ‘pageview-potential’ that these kind of discussions have for the publishers), time that could be spent actually writing or blogging, whatever it is you do when you sit down in front of the compu.

      So just to clarify, I didn’t mean that you were shit-talking people.

      If anything I like the clear way you break it down to raw economics.

      • Gary Arndt

        You’ve touched on what is perhaps the biggest difference between being a writer for hire vs a blogger. Personality.

        Writers, especially freelance writers, are by their nature rather anonymous. They might get a byline, but that’s it. IPeople read the New York Times or National Geographic because of the name of the publication, not because of any individual that works there. If a publication can’t get their first choice to write an article, there are usually a bunch of other writers they can get for the same assignment. This is especially true in travel where you have so many people who want to get into the business.

        Most people follow blogs precisely because of the personality behind the blog. Most large blogs have a personality behind it, or at least did when it was started, even if it is a mutli-author blog.

        One thing I’ve noticed is that many of the most successful bloggers (at least today) do not have backgrounds in journalism or writing. They have backgrounds in management or entrepreneurship. I’m sure this will change over time, but I think it shows the coming to fruition of Jeff Jarvis’s prediction of “entrepreneurial journalism”.

        That is why in the future, I think that large publications will still use freelancers (perhaps even more than today), but the exchange will different. Writers will take on these assignments only to supplement their income, and mostly to build their own brands via the exposure they get from larger outlets.

  • Abbie

    I don’t know how I missed this article until now! Great list, great discussion!

    • David Miller

      thanks Abbie.

    • peter johnson

      love being a writer i write erotic stuff…it is intense i want to be a pessoa/ what a bout pen names? is that important method writing?

  • Melinda

    Enjoyed the article, but I’d be only too happy to never hear the word “personal brand” again. Despite what our corporate overlords would like us to believe, we are people — not products.

    • David Miller

      thanks for commenting melinda.

      initially i felt the same way about this, as do many other people. i think it’s yet one more example of how technologies and their effects on how we live and work have moved faster than our ability to cope emotionally.

      in my opinion we’re still pretty much ‘emotionally programmed’ to live the lifestyle of upright bipeds walking / hunting / gathering / working the land in small communities where everyone knows each others’ stories and shares the same context.

      being isolated in cubicles, ‘producing’ things (whether on a screen or in a factory) goes against millions of years of evolution (both physical and emotional). we as humans have a natural aversion to thinking of ourselves as ‘products’, or even our ‘work’ as a product.

      the issue however is that we live in postmodern world. if one denies or pretends that whatever he or she ‘produces’ isn’t simply ‘product’ (even if it’s art), then his or work is perpetuating, at least on some level, an illusion. it stems from a philosophy which is already outdated, not reflective of our current ‘times’.

      This is not to say that you can still ’produce’ with soul (just look at rick rubin)…it’s just a matter of recognizing your ‘place’ as a writer / producer / whatever.

      as gary noted above, a fundamental question is ‘who pays you?’ you can still be (and should be) hyperaware of the answer to this question without ‘losing your soul’.

      personal branding is positive. it recognizes that people can only really ‘know’ the multifaceted ‘you’ in person, so when communication is mediated via computers, your ‘persona’ or ‘personal brand’ allows readers to better receive your main ‘message.’

      on a different scale, branding is essentially the same as creating a narrator to tell a story.

      from an editor’s point of view, i always appreciate when a writer is obviously aware of his/her brand, Matador’s brand, as well as his/her own personal ‘role’ as a contributor.

      still, all of this said, there’s something effete and semi-ridiculous about the phrase ‘personal brand.’ it makes me think of someone on stage at some sort of conference giving ‘opening remarks’ to audience members who are bloated and flatulent (after the morning’s food service by sysco), but afraid to interrupt the branding-‘guru’ by audibly ripping, as would their proud biped ancestors.

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