Friday, December 13, 2013

The Writing Days of Yore

Post by Kelly

One can’t attend more than a few workshops, conferences, writer’s coffees, etc., before being clued in on the fact that the world of writing is changing. Writers are bombarded with new frontiers like self-publishing, print on demand, social platforms, or dire predictions that books won’t even be around in about five years' time.

But the biggest, most serious change, as far as I can see, is that writing does not have the same street cred that it did in the days of yore.

I wish I could go back to when being a writer was edgy. When you’d walk into a smoky bar and suddenly a glass of absinthe would appear with an understanding, that you, a starving artist would never pay your tab as you’d be dead or crazy before long. People would invite you to dinner parties as a conversation starter or curiosity. If you were a woman you’d probably have to live a double life and write under a nom de plume until you became wildly successful and had enough money to laugh at everyone. If you had any guts and wrote the truth, you’d probably offend big brother and have to decamp to some exotic location or else be killed.

People would expect you to be a disorganized freak show. In fact they’d be disappointed if you weren’t. You were an artiste and normal occupational policies and procedures would never be expected to apply to you.

Not like today when writers have to balance being savvy business people who must understand what the market wants, how to write for their genre while simultaneously discovering the next big thing if they want a chance at making a living off their writing. They must balance all this with the hope that a tiny bit of their original, unadulterated creativity shines through and hasn’t been bludgeoned to death by their desire to be attractive to an agent.

I have my theories as to the culprit of this disheartening shift but I'd like to hear what other writers think before disseminating my startling revelation. Any thoughts?


Tyrean Martinson said...

I actually think that we, the writers, are partially responsible for this shift. In our desire to get our work out there in the world, we have become marketeers, and now, we must market.
Although, I also remember, when an author I knew 30 years ago had to market her books back then too . . . so it isn't entirely a new thing - it's just that more is expected of us now.

Anonymous said...

I am a disorganized freak show!:-)

Sharon Himsl said...

Your desire to dip into the past reminds me of my visit to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. I was told it was the playground of the rich in the 1930s by writers like Fitzgerald and Hemmingway. I didn't spend the night. It cost a fortune to stay, but I left thinking how different it must have been for writers then. But both of these writers famously struggled and succeeded in their careers, not necessarily in that order! So in some ways, not much has changed.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Every time I watch the movie "Midnight in Paris," there's a part of me that wishes I had lived in those times and had the courage to wander off to Paris and live the ex-pat writing life. Sigh.

Sarah Sullivan said...

It's a quandary isn't it? I do think the fast paced short attention span culture in which we currently reside has changed the quality and structure of writing. I think there is a far greater appetite for page turning action oriented writing than in the past. I sometimes wonder if writers like Fitzgerald or Joyce would even make a mark today. In terms of children's and young adult literature, I worry that books like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" or "Charlotte's Web", which I used to think of as timeless, perhaps have run out of time. I hope not, but it's hard for them to compete with the wimpy kid graphic novels or the Mocking Jay series amongst the current generation of computer game loving youth (and my kids, sadly, are no exception!)

Sarah Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RichardK said...

I think the life of writers is cyclical, like everything else in life. It's true the first half of the 20th century was a golden time for writers, but go back 50 years or so and authors were in the same boat as we are now. They self-published their works and marketed them in order to get notice. We're back to the same process, although done more electronically than in person. I don't know if we're to blame for it. Rather, I think it's the way the big publishing houses started to handle authors that led to this major turnaround.

By the way, I am more than willing to throw some parties where writers are the stars who pontificate on all things important. Just as long as discussions about the Real Housewives are off the table.

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