The Future of Writing
On the face of it, who the hell am I, right? I'm just some random dude with a blog. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of random dudes with blogs out there. It's not like I know much of anything at all. I'm just a random dude with a blog who likes to grapple with big, deep ideas sometimes. Sometimes that's not always pretty, but sometimes it's fun and you know what? After participating in a fascinating discussion about this very issue in one of My Friendly Neighborhood Discord Servers, I figured it might be fun to break out some ideas and look at... The Future of Writing!
If we combine enough publishers we get publishing Voltron. That’s just science.— Michael Mammay (@MichaelMammay) March 30, 2021
[Impressive Fanfare, Theme Music, etc]
Initially, when considering this question, my brain went immediately to two points. First, the internet- if it hasn't already (see: music, movies, television, etc) will disrupt a lot of the standard creative arts/industries. That leaves us with point number two: has writing been 'disrupted' into an entirely new model? Or is the process of that disruption still ongoing?
I'm going to say it's the latter. To me, news that Penguin is taking over Simon & Schuster is both slightly alarming (I'm not going the trad pub route- so far- with any of my work, so Publishing Voltron is probably bad news for alternative/indie/self-pubbers such as myself) and reassuring. (The old Guardians of the Industry are feeling the pinch and the disruption and they are consolidating their power in the face of things like The Internet and Amazon.) Something be changing, but it's not at all clear if a. the disruption is coming to an end and b. what model is emerging (if any) to replace Ye Olde Guardians of the Industry.
In the discussion on Discord, I tried to draw a parallel to what happened with the music industry. You can, I believe, still get a recording contract and do what many people would consider "the trad route" but now, post-Napster, the model has shifted to try and get artists their money more directly without the middle man of a recording company. That's a big disruption. You can breakthrough in multiple ways now. It just depends- probably like writing- on a little bit of luck and talent.
The music parallel doesn't really hold up with writing though, because writing is different. Your average song is 3-4 minutes long and people can figure out pretty quickly whether they like any given song or not. Books... not so much. There is right now, no good sorting mechanism to replace what Ye Olde Guardians of The Industry have done- which is figuring out what's good enough to be made into a book and distributed to the masses of consumers.
If any disruption of writing is to reach its 'final' form, we need that. I have no Earthly idea what that might look like. I don't know. But if writing is to evolve into anything different, there needs to be some sort of sorting mechanism that sorts through the quantity to determine the potential quality of all the stuff out there. Because there is a ton of stuff out there and tons of people fighting to get to the top of the pile and get noticed.
(Okay, tangent/dream time: There's a breakthrough in 3D printing that lets authors/writers/creators 3D print their own books on demand. That might be a potential game changer and push writing a little closer to music, but the size differential between books versus songs or even albums still applies. Hmmmmm... gonna have to think more about this.)
Whatever happens to the industry- and if you're a writer looking to break in or just starting out, you should be listening to Writing Excuses. (Season 16 starts with a "Master Class" about the business of writing broken down into about seven episodes or so. Very thought-provoking, Very helpful. Highly recommend it.) People are going to keep writing! I'm not particularly concerned about the idea of writing becoming obsolete somehow or something replacing it-- we've been doing it in one form or another for thousands of years now. (Though I'm sure there's an outside chance I'll live to see the return of hieroglyphics thanks to emojis... a novel in Wing Dings will probably be published in my lifetime and be a runaway success... *shudders*)
There are tons of practical advice about writing out there if you're looking for it, but this is pretty good to keep in mind.
I like that.