free range writing (or: how the internet can make you a writer, but maybe not a Writer)

Karen Chau

There’s something glamorous about writing. Or, at least, the image of what a writer should be. Sitting somewhere with a notebook or laptop, chipping away at a magnum opus or the Next Great American Novel. The status of writing in the cultural imagination is all about the glamour. And the impending sense of failure. Like all other artistic fields, writing has been defined by the rarity of its success stories, and the exclusiveness that becomes associated with that success. Getting published isn’t supposed to be easy, but the result of years of hard work, starving and suffering for the higher ideal of art.

small child using a Remington typewriter

Photo credit: La Petite Vie / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Though the image hasn’t changed, the mechanics of the industry have already begun to shift. It’s easier than ever to get original content out to an audience. Amazon allows you to upload your e-book to their Kindle website and sell it for a price, which takes the cost of publishing out of

publishing your work; there are a myriad of websites that allow you to self-publish copies of your book rather easily (for a price); and if you’re smart enough or funny enough to amass an Internet following, there’s regular blogs. Maybe it’s no longer a question of being discovered or mailing a manuscript out to feed the slush piles of the ten biggest publishing houses, but of working on something and posting it somewhere.

Every year in November, thousands of people participate in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – and set personal word goals for their novel and aim to meet them within a month. That’s not to say that everything produced as a NaNo project is going to be critically good, but at the very least, the mission of the website seems to be getting people to start projects and begin writing. And if there’s anything every advice-dishing author can agree on, the only three consistent cardinal rules among all the published seem to be to read a lot, to write often, and to constantly edit.

As any current English major at a university can tell you in the job climate of the past few years, the MFA programs also begin to look really attractive. Offering time and spaces to write, ready audiences for consuming and critiquing work, and often with academic connections that can lead to getting published, the MFA program at many schools can, at the very least, offer prospective writers a chance to polish their skills and develop their process. Its drawbacks largely being cost and availability in the program. And here is where the Internet can provide an advantage.

Conversations about such open-to-everyone invites to write almost always devolve into discussions of the worthiness or quality of the work, but determinations of quality aside, the ease of posting work online – and the ease of finding communities that lend support in the process, or offer reviews or critiques – has lent a larger number of would-be writers the opportunity to try their hand at the craft, and to produce something. It only requires an impetus to write.

And there is merit in having that community. Even if the works produced never actually make it to print publishing, their presence still reaches numbers of readers, who may then be inspired to produce content themselves. When conversations about digital media often talk about its ramifications for print – consider, for example, Newsweek’s decision to transition entirely to digital – or its impacts on children (and how much they read) or attention spans, but digital doesn’t only have to be the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the house of print.

The Internet, after all, is meant to be about over-sharing. Sharing book recommendations, talking about recent reads, debating the merits of one particular character against another, posting original works, etc. Even advice and complaints about writer’s block. The next critically acclaimed bestseller might not ever start on WordPress, but the next bestselling author might.

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Source: Karen Chau

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