Brave New (Writing) World: Up in the Air

While I was out in Santa Fe at my retreat, I got together with fellow Book View Cafe author Pati Nagle. Over incredible chocolate drinks at Kakawa Chocolate House, we discussed the future of writing and publishing along with her husband, Chris Krohn, and my friend and fellow writer, Diane Silver.

Our conclusions? We don’t have a clue. But we were all sure about three things:

  • The world is changing.
  • The old way of doing things isn’t going to work.
  • And we’re going to go out and try new things instead of sitting around complaining.

That last item was the most remarkable thing about the conversation: It wasn’t negative at all. In fact, when I mentioned to Pati that I was writing about our talk, she called it “uplifting.” And that’s how I felt, too.

Of course, that could have been the chocolate talking. But we really are going through a fascinating and exciting time of change. And while that can be scary — especially on the bringing-in-enough-money-to-eat front — it’s also exhilarating.

I love having useful tools for writing right at my fingertips. Take the last word in the last paragraph: exhilarating. I wasn’t sure how to spell it, and the Word Press software confirmed that my best guess was wrong. So I started typing it in the Google box to figure out how to spell it. Now I could have looked it up in a dictionary — I own several. But I’d have to know it was misspelled to do that and to tell you the truth, I still think it looks right with an “e” where the first “a” is.

That’s a minor example, but I can come up with a dozen more without even trying — like looking up a location on Mapquest to understand a story I was doing for work involving highways. I have an atlas, but even with a magnifying glass I couldn’t get the detail I got on Mapquest.

Plus there’s just the joy of working on computers themselves, especially if you started out on manual typewriters. And there are exciting new tools everyday. The four of us debated the comparative value of netbooks and smartphones for carrying your work around with you. I can remember when I thought the correcting Selectric was the greatest invention since sliced bread.

Pati pointed out that we’ve all seen lots of other changes in our lives, even though the current period may be the most intense. Xeroxing (sorry, Xerox, it’s just a better word than photocopying) made a huge impact. So did going from “hot” lead type to “cold” offset printing. Those changes might not have affected as many things at once as the combination of the Internet and constantly improving computer tech, but they did eliminate whole industries and lots of jobs. Remember carbon paper and mimeograph machines? Remember when newspapers had as many staffers in the composing room as they did in editorial?

Both those developments made it cheaper to get into publishing: My parents started a weekly newspaper in the 1970s. They wouldn’t have been able to do it much earlier than that, because they couldn’t have afforded the necessary printing equipment.

Now anyone can afford to get into publishing. The trick is figuring out how to make money off of it! Though come to think of it, my parents struggled with that one, too. Publishing has never been a sure money maker.

Diane made a comment that I’ve been thinking about ever since. She said she didn’t want to be the buggy whip manufacturer in the years after people started driving cars. Some things that once seemed terribly important are going to disappear. Others are going to adapt in ways that are not yet obvious. Look at bicycles. You’d have thought the car would have run them off the road, but I’d be willing to be bicycle manufacturing is a bigger business today than it ever thought of being in the 19th Century.

As I drove Diane to the Albuquerque airport so that she could fly back to Kansas and I could start my drive back to Texas, we got to talking about older people we know who refuse to do much with the Internet. We agreed they were making a mistake, but then we got to talking about the kind of changes we might see in the next 30 years or so. Maybe we’ll all have permanent wireless plugs in our heads, so that we are connected all the time.

Scary. Daunting, even. But damn. Think of all the things we’ll be able to do!


The Shadow ConspiracyRocket Boy and the Geek Girls

Nancy Jane has stories in both of the anthologies recently published by Book View Press: “The Savage and the Monster” in The Shadow Conspiracy and “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars” in Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls.

Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty (plus one new one) of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available for free here.





Brave New (Writing) World: Up in the Air — 5 Comments

  1. And the tech has utterly transformed bicycles and biking. Carbon fibers! Lycra! Digital meters! No, if the basic device is loved and used, modern inventions are simply applied to it. I still think that’s going to be the story with the paper book. Speaking as a person with twenty floor-to-ceiling bookcases crammed into the house.

  2. Thanks for the great post, Nancy, and thanks to Pati Nagle for dragging us to the most amazing chocolate I’ve ever sipped, not to mention for engaging in a wonderful conversation.

    I suspect the paper book is going to be around forever, or nearly, but what is changing is the business model. Who pays us for our stories? Who pays us for our time? And how the heck does a writer hook into a profitable stream of income? These questions are far more important than how a book or story is printed. The answers aren’t clear, yet, but I’ve loved watching the intrepid writers of BVC explore new realms of publishing. Well done!

    I’m with Nancy in that I think this is a thrilling time to be alive and writing. The only thing that will doom us is if we hang onto the old ways of doing things, and refuse to look for the new.

  3. RE Diane’s comment about buggy whips — I grew up in northern Indiana, where Oliver Buggy Whips once was — also Oliver Plows. They did try to diversify.

    Studebaker also tried — they were Studebaker Wagons, and became Studebaker autos. The thing that killed them was the big cars of the early 60s. Their factory door could not roll out a car larger than a small 4 door sedan, and they didn’t have the capital to build a bigger factory. So, they closed. of course, for years afterward, Studebaker engines, die-hards that they were, were used in the luxury cars Avantis (I think that’s right.) They were the sports cars that would still start on a hard freeze morning, unlike a Jaguar or some of the delicate Italian cars.

    All we can do is keep trying….

  4. Some companies — and some individuals — are trying desperately to hang on to the old way of doing things in the face of change. I don’t have much sympathy for them. But as Kathi points out, changing with the times is a guessing game, and even those with great ideas don’t always make it. If Studebaker had managed to survive through the first big car era, they’d have been perfectly positioned to grab a big part of the market when the Japanese companies came into the US with small cars.

    Diane, in addition to wondering how we’re going to get paid, I wonder who’s going to check our facts, help us revise, and put our work out there so people notice it. I realize a lot of publishing — and I’m thinking of all forms of publishing here, newspapers, magazines, books — has been falling down on the job in that arena in recent years. But that doesn’t make those things unimportant.

  5. I love this post–I was just thinking yesterday about how great it is that I can do instant research on small things without having to drop everything and run to the library, finger through the card catalogue, and then go hunt up a book, hoping it is not checked out.

    Not that I don’t love libraries, and I always will. But I note that libraries are getting into the tech age in a big way, and more power to them. Most, I am glad to find, are still keeping those old books on the shelves.