On writing

For a long time I’ve wanted to be a writer, and ultimately make a living writing. My biggest problem with that, however, is actually making myself write. I’m great at thinking about writing, though, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Herewith some of my thoughts, in no particular format, just rambling (i.e., expect no conclusions).

What defines a “writer”? For a long, long time (well before I discovered the internet), I distinguished between two types of writing: amateur and professional. To my mind (and maybe to many others as well, I don’t know), the only one that really “counted” was the Professional Writer. This was the writer that got paid to write, and had their work published. For extra points, you were truly a Pro if you not only sold your work, but had an Editor as well (as opposed to selling your work as-is for peanuts—if even that—to the various independent and/or struggling ‘zines that floated around).

That distinction—amateur versus professional—still lingers in my mind. But with the advent of the internet, and now especially blogs, literally anyone with access to a computer can be a published writer; the lines are blurring. And, they can be paid, too, after a fashion: anyone running AdSense on their blog can make money for their writing. Does that make them Professional Writers? I don’t know, truly. My notion of what delineates writers has been pretty much trashed anymore.

Yes, there’s irony in that I’m writing about writing on this blog after what I just wrote. There’s more irony in that, for all my procrastination in making time to write, I actually spend a fair amount of time writing here. Maybe I’m motivated by the instant gratification and feedback that blogging offers; maybe I like cutting out the middleman—in this case submitting stories, going through the reject/acceptance cycle, waiting for them to actually appear in print. Who knows?

What I do know is that I love to write. I do. I get a charge out of it, it’s refreshing, energizing. I always sort of “rediscover” this after I write a bit (like I’m doing now). But I’m the absolute worst at violating the number one rule of writing: Write! That’s always my first and main piece of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer: make the time to write. Write, no matter what. Heh. Talk about irony.

(Actually, when I was younger—late teens and early twenties—I used to write quite a bit. Usually late at night; probably one of the most productive writing times of my life was when I was working swing shift at the particle board plant—I’d get home by one in the morning and start writing. By hand, of course.)

Fiction was what I always wanted to write, “professionally.” Well, science fiction mostly (big surprise there). That’s changed over the last few years; I still want to write fiction, but I find I’m also interested in writing on other things—and that’s pretty much all I’ve done since starting this blog. It’s a maturing process. It’s definitely a good way to find your voice and develop style, better than just sticking to one type of thing.

Obviously, looking at my previous post about blogs and money I’m thinking a lot about writing online (and making money from it). It’s an attractive idea, but I wonder: could you make money publishing fiction online? Or is the online model more suited to an article model, like niche blogging? I’m thinking the latter. I’m not sure if there’s a model for selling fiction online that doesn’t involve ebooks or DRM or something; somehow attaching ads to a piece of fiction seems doomed to fail. (Although, maybe I’ll post a piece of free fiction from Gutenberg and see what happens to it with AdSense; now there’s an experiment.)

But what’s crazy is that even though I could (hypothetically) make a career writing online, it still doesn’t feel to me like I would have accomplished anything—like I’m not a Professional Writer. Somehow it’s more validating to me as a writer to have my work printed that to just have it published online. It feels like cheating, somehow. Can I allow myself to be called a “Writer” if I didn’t have someone edit my work? If it didn’t show up in print?

But it doesn’t really matter, does it? Well, yes, it does in certain ways. I’m sure no one would argue that a story is better with editing and review that the “traditional” publishing model provides. But—and this just occurred to me—when you publish stuff online (as with blogs), having an ecosystem of readers that can provide feedback and comments on what you write is probably a better edit/review system that the traditional channels can provide. Interesting.

I wonder about writing books anymore; 99.9% of writers are of the struggling artist variety, that is, they might be able to scratch out a living from writing, but they’re barely getting by. There’s a glut of books out there all vying for publication, and it gets worse each year, so that there are more and more books competing for fewer and fewer publication slots. So, when I could release everything online, in any format I want, for anyone to download—isn’t that more validating that struggling to sell a book that may not even be published for years, and will most likely never print more than a first run? More satisfying?

I think I’m mostly past the printed-as-validation snobbery, despite going on about it here. Blogging played a part in that, no doubt. I wonder how the next generation handles/will handle it. (Those that write and fancy themselves writers, anyway.) Will there be a perceived rift for them? Likely not; blogging and writing online will probably be second nature, par for the course.

The next step, of course, is to write. No matter what.

5 Replies to “On writing”

  1. "The next step, of course, is to write. No matter what."

    Just curious how you are going to do that with us being on the road for 10 days for vacation.


  2. You know what I love the most about this site? The constant bantering between you and your wife ;-).

    You’re probably one of those couples that IM each other when you’re in the same room on different computers.

  3. No, we have puter’s on each floor, and jon hates it when i’m upstairs and try to IM him something.

    We did get new phones last week that have intercom’s and we were playing with them, but thank god that ended quickly and went back to yelling what we wanted upstairs and downstairs.

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