Over the last two First Monday blogs I’ve explored some of the challenges facing writers today. Yes, they are many. Big publishers are amalgamating at a rate of knots. Soon we’ll be down to perhaps three. Rather than taking on new authors, the remaining publishers already prefer to mine their backlists for books they can rely on to sell.
Will we even have a publishing industry any more, or will every person who is so inclined write and publish their own books? This is already happening with Indie publishing. All you need is a manuscript and the money to produce the book yourself or hire qualified people to do the technical stuff for you.
As writers this is our current reality. But there are other aspects to writing that I want to focus on here. Why we feel driven to share the stories buzzing around in our brains. Why writers who have made significant fortunes – J.K.Rowling, Stephen King, James Paterson and the like – still feel the need to share their stories.
Is it because writers can’t not write?
Maybe we’ll go back to our beginnings. Instead of going into print or ebooks, will we collect followers around whatever passes for a camp fire and revive the oral traditions of storytelling?
Mixed media is very much a thing now. Writers are combining with designers, musicians, painters to bring stories out in very different forms. They are ephemeral but they offer both creator and recipient – is it accurate to call them readers anymore? – the satisfaction of going from Once upon a time, to…and they lived happily ever after.
That may be enough for many storytellers. As a child who thought everybody wrote stories, I printed my own on flimsy paper with illustrations done in pencil. When I was at school in Grenfell NSW I wrote my first book in pencil in an exercise book in response to a class assignment. I may have been the only one in the class who actually produced a book. It was a complete story with a beginning, middle and end and a few very poor illustrations. That book somehow survived the years and now lives among my papers in the State Library of NSW.
Reading it again before sending it to its new home, I was surprised how my writing voice had survived intact. I used a lot of big words I wouldn’t use now, not so much showing off as exploring the sheer joy of language. Back then I’d had no thought of making a living as a writer. I didn’t know what a writer was, and thought everybody made up stories.
Maybe we’ll come full circle back to those innocent times and tell stories for the joy of sharing them. Here are five reasons why we’re lucky to be writers:
- We never have a dull moment. Standing in a supermarket line or bank queue, we can free our minds to explore possible stories or solve plot points. Our bodies may be in the doctor’s waiting room, but our minds are away in our invented worlds so that when our turn finally comes, it’s an unwelcome interruption to our thoughts.
- Our feelings have somewhere to go. In my indoor bowls group, if they spoil my team’s carefully placed shots, they’re used to being told I will put them in a book and kill them. I haven’t done so yet, but there’s always a first time.
- Writers never retire. Even if we develop some physical infirmity, as long as our brains function, we can still write. Stories can be told to someone or recorded via a dictation program or other clever gadget. I dream of the time when I can attach something to my forehead and the words will stream direct onto a screen. Such systems exist for people with disabilities. Properly refined, I’m sure they will serve our purpose in the near future.
- Our writing touches other people. This may be the most precious gift of all. We can move people to laughter or tears. We can make them ponder life’s mysteries, or discover invented worlds that become as real to them as to us. Hogwarts, Narnia, Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street, the Star Trek universe, all were born in a writer’s imagination.
- What we do is a mystery, even to ourselves. One minute we’re daydreaming, the next we’re scribbling or typing frantically, trying to keep up with our thoughts. We’re often asked where we get ideas, yet none of us really knows. On my wall I have a copy of a Rembrandt painting called The Apostle Matthew Inspired by the Angel. Pen in hand, he sits stroking his beard and staring into space while an angel whispers in his ear. Whispering ideas? It’s as good an answer as we may ever get.
What gives you joy in writing? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
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