Recently Cameron posted a thought-provoking article on his website The Granite Notebook. If you’ve never been over there, take a look. It’s a more intellectually complex blog than this one, and arguably more worth your time. I don’t say that to be self-deprecating, I am just being truthful. I have a tendency to write about lighter, sillier topics. This isn’t a bad thing, but if your brain needs a little more stimulation, his blog is where it’s at. Anyway, the article “The Trouble With Lying” is the inspiration for today’s post. “The Trouble With Lying” is an article that lays down some serious #truthbombs about the self-publishing industry. Cameron makes several assertions in the article about writers and writing that I think should be an open topic for discussion in the literary community.
What do I mean by literary community? I’m not 100% sure I have a perfect definition for you but let’s just go with this for now: The literary community consists of people who are interested in reading and writing. Readers, writers, literary critics, book reviewers, and pretty much anyone who consumes or creates combinations of words that have value and meaning are included in this community. Teachers, librarians, bookstore owners and other people like that are part of the literary community as well. The point is, that the people in the literary community, i.e. people that like words, propel literary culture. They contribute to the development of ideas and discussion about words and their meaning. A thriving community typically has a general sense of ethics and morals that keep them tied together, or at least the debate/disagreement about these ethics and morals forms a bond when a discussion is had around them.
Anyway, book nerds, #amirite?
So, back to “The Trouble With Lying”. One of the major points of this article is, whether or not you want to hear it, not everyone is destined to be a writer. In fact, MOST people should not be writers, and that, for many, to declare that you are a writer and that your work is worth the time for someone else to read is not just bold, but ethically the wrong thing to do. It’s an assertive argument, wouldn’t you say?
If you’re at all checked into the literary community as of late, you may have noticed a huge influx of self-proclaimed writers and creatives. Often, these writers and creatives jump into the self-publishing industry and quickly write a book to sell. This isn’t just an influx of bloggers and writers giving away their work for free, but an influx of people who claim that their words are worth your money and time to read. The self-publishing industry has been a blessing and a curse for consumers of literature. On one hand it gives a platform for brilliant people to get their words out there, on the other hand, not-so-brilliant people also can put their words out there too.
So where am I going with this?
“The world doesn’t need more writers, it needs more readers”
- Cameron Lambright in his post “The Trouble With Lying“
Cameron makes the argument in his article about the “circlejerk” nature of the self-publishing community as of late. There are so many writers out there desperate for someone to read their work, and so many of them just trade their work around with each other in hopes that they’ll get a positive review or two on Amazon. Often writers are plagued with questions like: Where are are all of the readers? Why can’t my book get any attention? How do I promote my book? How should I price my book? What is the best way to make money with my writing? Huge communities who are asking questions like these are sprouting up everywhere. Marketing and advertising has always been a large industry, but now there are more and more businesses and blogs popping up everywhere whose entire mission is helping writers market and promote their work. Not to discuss their work, the quality of their writing, the importance the writing has to literary culture, or anything like that, but simply to wheel and deal an e-book or novel to someone, ANYONE who will buy it. This isn’t necessarily a horrible thing despite how I just worded it. Those who write things worth reading need an audience to sustain their writing. You know the saying “It takes two to tango?” well in the literary world, it takes one author and a bazillion readers to tango properly. (okay, a bazillion may not even be a number, but do you see my point?) As someone who is actively involved in the self-publishing industry, (I mean my husband and I run a small press for pete’s sake), I 100% feel for the people that are asking these questions.
Now that anyone inspired to write a book has significantly better access to the tools (computers, print on demand services, etc.) they need to produce books, books are being self-published left and right. The statistical probability of you knowing a friend or family member who is attempting to write a book is probably higher than it was ten years ago. This influx of ability to produce books, though, has created imbalances in the literary community. (Of course I don’t want to say these tools are bad, they’re doing a lot of good things for publishing too.) The problem is, there are A LOT of books being written, and they’re not all being read. People who are spending huge amounts of time writing, rather than reading, create an imbalance in the reader/writer dance. Too many writers are left without their partners, the readers, to keep their art alive. This deteriorates literary culture in the sense that the writing community needs a huge reading community to critique, discuss, and think about their writing. Not everyone can be a writer and THAT’S OKAY. I guess that’s the point of me writing this in the first place.
Ever since I was a child I have kept a journal. Even when I was quite young, I was always plagued with this idea that I desperately wanted to be a writer. I have always been a big reader. I mean, I was an English major… so I might like books or something. One of the things people ask you when you’re an English major is if you’re going to be a writer (after you’ve declined that you want to be a teacher, of course). It makes sense, a lot of English majors are aspiring writers, and some are deserving of that title. I’ve always felt a huge personal pressure to be a writer, (I mean who doesn’t romanticise it even a little?) and even in recent journal entries, I struggle with the fact that nothing I have to say really needs to be said, even if it’s kind of smart or witty. It’s not that I am stupid or don’t believe in myself. Trust me, I’m a strong, stubborn, determined person. If I felt like I was a writer I’d go out and do it OR ELSE. But the thing is, the things that I want to say, have been said much more eloquently by people far more talented than I am. I know technically I’m “writing” right now, but when I say “becoming a writer” I mean taking on a responsibility and claiming a title that says “I am an artist. I have unique, important things to say, and I can say them more eloquently than anyone has yet so far”.
I consider the claim to be a writer a huge responsibility to the literary community that I am simply not qualified to take on. AND THIS IS OKAY! Yeah, I’m kinda not-so-secretly bummed out that I’m never going to be the next Robert Frost or Hemmingway, but here’s the dealio, my role in the literary community is still incredibly important. I am a reader. I consume the words of writers all around me and develop my own thoughts, ideas, and opinions about the world around me from these words. My participation in the literary community as a reader is critical. So dear reader, (Hi, Mom), I urge you to consider your importance in the literary community as well. If you have read this far, you must be reasonably passionate about reading, right? I urge you to consider your role as a reader in the literary community as an important, critical one, and to not feel less special because you haven’t written a novel, even if it is your dream. As Cameron states in his article “Why You Should Be a Writer“, there are are many good reasons to be a writer, but it is not essential to your worth as a person to become one. Not everyone has to be “special” and have their own published work out there to validate their participation in their literary community and the creative world. By simply consuming art, you are a vital part of the artistic community, and that should mean a lot to you. At least, that’s what I’m urging you to consider with this blog post.
I will probably never write a novel despite my desire to, and that’s okay. I haven’t “given up” but I have realized my role in the community I adore with all of my heart. I want the literary community to thrive and grow from my presence in it, so I am going to keep doing what I do best, and that is read, read, and read some more. I consider this an ethical choice. Sometimes I might write a little – a book review here and there, a blog post that reflects my ideas about a piece of work, things like that, but I don’t have to write a book. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if I change my mind. But for now this is how I’m gonna roll.
I hope this gives you a little food for thought – please comment below if you have any thoughts, I’d love to talk with you!
Until next time,