I’m a writer. I spend most of my day sitting in front of a computer, with an open text editing program, and I write things that hopefully–after a bit of editorial work–will be useful, enlightening, and/or entertaining as appropriate. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager and frankly it never seemed to be particularly notable a skill. The fact that I came of age with the Internet a member of its native participant-driven textual culture had a profound effect, without question. This is a difficult lineage to manage and integrate.
Obviously I’m conflicted: on the one hand I think that the Internet has been great for allowing people like me to figure out how to write. I am forever thankful for the opportunities and conversations that the Internet has provided for me as a writer. At the same time, the Internet, and particularly the emergence of “Social Media” as a phenomena complicates what I do and how my work is valued.
Let’s be totally clear. I’m not exactly saying “Dear Internet, Leave content generation to the professionals,” but rather something closer to “Dear Internet, Let’s not distribute the responsibility of content generation too thinly, and have it come back to bite us in the ass.” Let me elaborate these fears and concerns a bit:
I’m afraid that as it becomes easier and easier to generate content, more will start creating things, and there will be more and more text and that will lead to all sorts of market-related problems, as in a vicious cycle. If we get too used to crowd sourcing content, it’s not clear to me that the idea of “paying writers for their efforts,” will endure. Furthermore, I worry that as the amount of content grows, it will be harder for new content to get exposure and the general audience will become so fragmented that it will be increasingly difficult to generate income from such niche groups.
Some of these fears are probably realistic: figuring out how we will need to work in order to our jobs in an uncertain future is always difficult. Some are not: writing has never been a particularly profitable or economically viable project, and capturing audience is arguably easier in the networked era.
The answer to these questions is universally: we’ll have to wait and see, and in the mean time, experimenting with different and possibly better ways of working. My apologies for this rip-off, but it’s better to live and work as if we’re living in the early days of an exciting new era, rather than the dying days of a faltering regime.
Perhaps the more interesting implication of this doesn’t stem from asking “how will today’s (and yesterday’s) writers survive in the forthcoming age,” but rather “how do these changes affect writing itself.” If I don’t have an answer to the economic question, I definitely don’t have an answer to the literary question. I’m hoping some of you do.
As an interesting peak behind the curtain, this post was mostly inspired as a reaction to this piece of popular criticism that drove me batty. It’s not a bad piece and I think my objections are largely style and form related rather than political. Perhaps I’m responding to the tropes of fan writing, and in retrospect my critique of this piece isn’t particularly relevant here. But that article might provide good fodder for discussion. I look forward to your thoughts in comments or on a wiki page.
Onward and Upward!