Friday, October 3, 2014

Escape From Public City

The past year has been less than inspiring with the deaths of a good friend and my mother, so I haven’t been able to write much. Life can seem almost frivolous when one isn’t engaged completely. Living then feels much like a meaningless progression toward the ultimate end. To write in such a state of mind can be therapeutic for the writer to help find a new focus or purpose, but such writing is not so interesting for anyone else. Some day I may have interesting insights into this phase of my life during the last year and will incorporate some into my writing. Today, though, I am thinking about the writing game in general.

I use the word game intentionally, because lately I have been feeling that the usual endgame of writing—to be published—has become more of a game, not just of luck but of cynicism and desperation. The writing world has expanded with technology. It’s so easy now to give oneself the reward of the endgame either through self-publishing books on demand or through e-publishing; though, it’s debatable if there’s much of an audience for these works. Some find a following through this route and might then be published by traditional publishing houses, but there are probably thousands more who don’t ever find a wide audience (over a 1,000 books, say).

Some probably deserve a wider audience, too, but in the midst of all the others, self-promotion is paramount and not all writers are gifted at this crucial part of the sell. To be a writer means to spend a lot of time alone in a room with only one’s own ideas and words flowing out and none flowing in. It’s the first half of the communication equation. The second half—publishing—although welcome, comes at a later time when the thoughts and ideas have moved on, so this delay in response can be difficult. Couple that with a publisher wanting that writer to go out and discuss those earlier ideas as if they haven’t been flogged to death through the writing and re-writing stages is actually a lot to expect. Besides, after being alone for so much time, how does one suddenly engage others? Only some have the gift of public speaking with ease.

There’s also the writer who turned to writing because of being a more introverted personality to begin with. Many writers are observers, not the actors of the drama but the interpreters. I count myself as one of these types. In a drama workshop I attended once wherein actors and writers were to try improvisation and so on, I and the other writers stood to the side and watched the actors speaking and gesturing, moving their story organically through speech and action. We writers were out of our depth—we needed to think about the concept and create the scene in our minds before we could even consider actually doing it. Most of us remained mute. I did try to join in the improvisation and apparently committed the cardinal sin of negating what another stated as true. I should have shut up!

I have a friend who’s published a couple of novels later in life, not to seek attention but because she always wanted to try it. She’d worked as an editor and publisher, so she knew what she was getting herself into; now though, she’s been informed that an online presence is a necessary part of her books’ promotion and she really should be on Facebook or Twitter. Doing this doesn’t interest her much, though she does have a lot of friends and could likely find her own audience is supportive if she were to use either platform for promotion. I suggested a blog to begin with, and it sounded like she might actually give it a try. I can sympathize with her predicament, though, because why spend time writing on this medium when the story is what we really aspire to write?

And once you enter that online world, you can feel lost pretty easily. When I see others promoting themselves through social media, I lose a sense of my own achievement and end up feeling excluded from an elitist circle. This reaction says more about me than anything else, I’m sure, though I do wonder if there is a point when all that tweeting and retweeting just creates less buzz and more busy background noise. There’s only so much of so many voices all clamouring for people to Listen to me! or Read this! that a person will be receptive towards. We all know how tiring and ultimately meaningless all those opinions can be whenever we have read through dozens on a thread.

When someone catches more attention online and a big buzz follows, a traditional publishing house might decide to capitalize on this built-in publicity and put out a book. These are usually the ones that seem too gimmicky to me. They have found some kind of “hook” that sets their voice apart, such as trading a paper clip for a house, living for a year without buying anything new, or trying to follow the ideology of someone famous for a year. I’m not going to name these books because I don’t want to publicize them further. They’ve gotten enough attention already. Most of these seem questionable as worthy of the paper they're printed on, in my opinion. The latest one I read about yesterday was a Pinterest joke that took off and is now a book in print. It was probably very entertaining in the online arena, but to put it out there as text to be stored forever (or not) on a bookshelf…well, all I can say is, Seriously?

The old saying is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I say there is, and even much of the so-called “good” publicity is questionable too.