Electronic Community and the End of the Lone Writer

Jun 6, 20:01 by Bluejack
Comments on the Myth of the Lone Writer and/or Ruth and Jay's article are invited.

For the article itself, click here.
Jun 7, 02:20 by Jeff Spock

Thought has been provoked. This article is interesting in addressing two aspects of the "lone writer" image --getting the writer out of the loft, and getting the reader into it.

As far as the first part, the Internet is a godsend. As an English-speaking writer who has not lived in an English-speaking country for 13 years, I would be about as isolated a garret-occupier as you could imagine without the Internet.

The second part is interesting as well; using technology to rebuild the sense of community -- in this case between writer and reader -- that existed for millennia before being steamrolled by industrialization and urbanization. What is happening is, as noted in the conclusion, not new at all; it is really, really old. The storyteller by the fireplace, the town crier, the tribe's oral historian. The audience is there, reacting to the story as it is created. Just like blogging, except time-zone dependent.

Aside from literature there are some other examples of technology rediscovering community that have made me think "Hmmm..." lately:

1. Music. One of the hypothesized evolutions of the music industry is that songs will continue to be distributed electronically, and ever more cheaply. Artists will make their money from concerts and gigs, playing directly to their audiences. The Internet gets you known, but you make your money from playing for your fans... sounds kind of pre-industrial, no?

2. Movies. The Hollywood studios are like big pharmaceutical firms. All the money goes into the next blockbuster, and you pray to every functioning pantheon that it does well. But now with desktop technology everyone can make movies, and the indie scene is generating stuff that is far more interesting than the average studio fare. Again, technology is letting us make the creative process more human, more intimate, and less expensive. Serial movies on the Internet -- whether they are based on video games or blogs -- are almost conversations between the creators and the people who watch them. The same could be said for comic strips, and probably other media as well.

3. Shopping. We went from the Mom and Pop corner shop to the supermarket to Wal*Mart (we all know what the "*" replaces). What is happening now in retail, worldwide, is that the big stores are trying to rebuild a sense of community for their customers and treat the different in-store departments as if they were, well, little Mom and Pop shops on, well, Main Street. Try googling the term "category management." Here, however, massive databases with customer profiling information are exploited to give the impression that the store really actually knows you as well as Mom or Pop might have. Why? Because the shopper wants to feel that community around them, to rediscover the social aspects of these everyday acts. Anybody remember the chain "Suds & Duds," where you could have a beer while you did your laundry? Yeah, okay, it failed, but the image that came to mind when I first heard of it was the old public washplace you find in medieval villages.

I come to the conclusion that we are resolutely social animals, and that we will continue to put a great deal of energy into exploiting technology to this end.

Great article. Thanks.
Jun 7, 07:16 by Gene Stewart
A blog is neither short story nor novel, neither of which is enhanced by communal pile-ons or workshopping, so I find the main thesis of this article less than persuasive. Yes, the individual writer is still the prime and best producer of the kinds of stories we traditionally call fiction. Blogs and inter-active fiction and hypertexts and the rest are new forms, and of a different nature that strays far from story per se.
Jun 7, 16:15 by Jim Van Pelt
The lone writer is still a part of my writing process and thinking about writing, but I think the lonely writer can be and is a thing of the past. What the Internet has done for me is to plug me into the 24/7 SF convention that is always accessible. Instead of waiting weeks and weeks for my next convention fix, where I can chat with folks of similar obsession, I can log into different bulletin boards (I like SFF.NET, NIGHTSHADE BOOKS and SPECULATIONS RUMOR MILL) to find like-minded people to share ideas with.

Dividing the "lone" from the "lonely" is a semantic hair-splitting but an important one to me. Despite the always connected possiblities of my computer, when I write, I'm still a lone agent.
Jun 7, 16:50 by Bluejack
But there are people for whom the actual writing from original composition through the several cycles of edits is -- if not collaborative -- conducted with the input of others.

I think that, rather than extra-fictional writings people may do in blogs, or new forms of storytelling that may (or may not) be emerging, is the interesting new way of writing that Jay and Ruth were putting their finger on.

But that's not to say everyone's doing it!
Jun 8, 10:36 by Jim Van Pelt
The exchange of rough drafts over the Internet has expedited the feedback/revising/editing process, but I don't think it's much of a change from what many writers were doing before the Internet. The lengthy correspondance between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, the writing group the Tolkein, Lewis and others belonged to, the expatriots in Europe with Hemingway and others, all were feedback loops.

I co-wrote a couple stories with Brian Hopkins all through e-mail exchanges long before I ever met him in person. What the Internet has done has collapsed the writing world into a space no larger than someone's livingroom, and everyone who uses the Internet is in it. Depending on how gregarious one is, there is the possibility for much more conversation about writing and specific pieces. Jay, for example, could send me the first paragraph of something that he's working on for comment, which would have been possible before only if he was my neighbor. I think the Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin chapbook (Shadow Twin) was mostly an Internet collaboration.

The increase in communication is exciting, but it could have downsides too. The isolation of a writer can be a part of the creation of a unique vision. Could that edginess be smoothed away with too much talk about the work in progress (this is the same critique of traditional writers groups)? I doubt it, partly because I don't believe in the "Clarion story" or the "Iowa story" myth, but it is an interesting counterpoint to the Internet's upside.

And, of course, as Bluejack pointed out, not everyone is doing it.
   

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