The Problem With Writing on the Internet

9 February, 2012 at 11:03 am


I’ve been writing my whole life. When I was little, before I could do much with words, I made stories by drawing out each scene, frame by frame, on a notepad. I’d sit in the back of my parents’ station wagon and I’d sketch out the adventure du jour. The ballpoint pen-and-ink helicopter chasing the motorcycle, bullets striking the asphalt, explosions happening everywhere. I’d make myself car sick back there thinking it through, but I wouldn’t stop. What I had in my head needed to be put down on paper.

I wrote stories in school. Somewhere, in a box, I still have one of my earliest, written and drawn out in crayon, the front and back dust jacket made from hideous wallpaper glued to the makeshift book. In the fifth grade, I placed second in my first writing contest. It was for a bumpersticker campaign about seatbelt use. I received a $50 savings bond. By the end of fifth grade, I won first place in an all-school story contest. I more or less blatantly ripped off The Indian in the Cupboard in my breakout hit, The Drawing that Came to Life, and I earned myself a trip to Bantam publishing, so I could have a sense of what the process was for real writers. My dad took me, and while I was excited, I lost interest quickly. The only tangible thing I brought home with me that day was a copy of Ursula K. LeGuinn’s A Wizard of Earthsea, which started a decade-long dalliance with the fantasy genre, that ultimately culminated in a life-long enjoyment of the more mature and interesting obsession I have with Science Fiction.

I let my writing slip somewhat as I cruised through high school, still earning high praise for my test essays and English and history papers but not doing much with it. I went to college for communication arts, but I focused on Radio and Television Production, not journalism or other disciplines of the scribe. But it was in college, ultimately, that I re-discovered my love for the written word. In a series of journals I sent home via an arcane email system while spending a semester abroad, I developed (unbeknownst to me) a fan base of individuals who had received my dispatches as forwards from my mother, and I returned to the U.S. with lots of suggestions that I continue the craft. My senior year of college, I landed a column in the student newspaper, and it wound up being fairly popular (if at times a bit too controversial for administrative tastes.) Several years after college, I got my first paid writing gig, when I landed a column with Inside Catholic, formerly (and, now, again) known as Crisis Magazine. Since then, my writing has appeared in multiple publications, corporate blogs, personal and business websites, and even under the signature of some rather more successful and well-to-do people than I am who simply didn’t write as well, or have the time to take up the keyboard for themselves.

All of this is to say (in a long-winded and self-promoting memoir-like fashion) that I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve produced a lot of material over the years that I’d like to be able to showcase for anyone interested in taking me on for a gig. For the writer, there is perhaps no more valued possession than his portfolio of work. And while I still have a box with clippings of my newspaper columns, childhood stories, and the like, for everything I’ve written since 2001, the portfolio is entirely online.

I should say, it was entirely online.

Over the years, websites I’ve written for have disappeared, changed their URL structure, archived or deleted old content, or in some other way invalidated my links. Just this week, Crisis relaunched with a new website look, and it appears my archived content on the site More three-quarters of the links on my portfolio page now either go nowhere, or to whatever PDF I could patch together from digging through The Wayback Machine.

This is, frankly, a pain. I don’t want to only offer links to locally hosted PDF files, which are bulky and slow to download. I don’t want to have to convert HTML to PDF either, since sometimes this comes out rather less nice looking than the original page.

The simplest solution, I suppose, would be for me to get more things published instead of relying on links to older content. This answer of course presumes that I possess plenty of time and spare creative energy to produce new content, which lately I haven’t, but which I certainly should have if I want to sell anyone on the fact that I can still write and do so worth a damn.

But there’s still the nagging question of legacy content, and how to best display it. I really like a good deal of the work I’ve put up for public consumption, and I’d prefer to be able to keep it available for as long as possible. Any ideas on how to best handle this challenge?