Monday, April 20, 2009

The Best of Times, and the Worst of Times

by Anna Buttimore

There has never been a better time to be a writer. If you are of a creative bent, and get a particular thrill from seeing your prose "out there" for everyone to enjoy, then the web means that you can blog and twitter and comment and vent and voice your opinions and publish and pontificate in the public forum from the comfort of your own home to your heart's content.

When I started writing, if you wanted anyone outside your own circle of friends and family to read your work you had to send carefully-typed double-spaced pages of heavy manuscript to a publisher, with a suitably professional and polite letter, and then hope and pray that your genius would be recognised. In my case, the publishers generally chose to use the stamped self-addressed envelope I'd sent them rather than my masterpiece, and so I would select another publisher and go through the whole process again. I'd comfort myself with the knowledge that the editors had at least treated my manuscript with due respect. There were no dirty finger marks or coffee-cup rings on it, and the pages had been turned with great care so that there were no creases or torn edges.

Today, if you want to submit a manuscript for publication in order that the general public can benefit from your knowledge and skill, you need only attach a document to a professional and polite email. But why bother with a publisher at all? Why not just put your book on a site for digital download?

If you want to write something that millions of others will read, you can do it right now. Having spent my first thirty years of life trying to get something with my name on it in the public domain, I now do so almost every day. Today, for example, I launched my new website. (I'm quite pleased with it, so take a look - And I'm blogging. I may Twitter later, just in case six billion strangers are interested in what I had for lunch. Yes, if you love writing, there has never been a better time to be a writer. The ideas in your head are no longer condemned to stay there; you can very easily tell everyone.

Unfortunately, this is also a bad time to be a writer. Partly because the very blessing I have just spoken of can also be a curse, in that much of the writing out there is dreadful, unnecessary, and often downright wrong, if not libelous. And have you noticed how many people seem to have no real grasp of the rudiments of punctuation or spelling? And there is so much information that many people no longer feel the need to buy books. Whilst it affects fiction to a lesser degree, why would you need to buy on doing your own tiling when you can look up step-by-step instructions on Wikipedia? How many books haven't you bought because you chose to use the Internet instead?

So is this the best of times for writers, or is it the worst of times? I'd love to know what you think.


Gale Sears said...

Dear Anna,
This was an insightful blog. It is amazing how much "stuff" is out there on in cyber space. It often boggles my mind. When the emailing, blogging, and facebooking get to be too much for me, I run for my pen and paper and write a letter to someone. My heartrate slows by 80%.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Anna, your website looks great. Way cool. =)