We live in interesting times. By which I mean we live as ever in difficult times; given the state of the planet we can be forgiven for a penchant for weaving apocalyptic narratives. It can be comforting to think that it’s only because we know so much more about what’s going on thanks to the internet and all its social media. You’d be a rara avis indeed if you’ve not seen at least a couple of petitions to save something or someone today, usually with a heart-rending photo.
We have a lot of information at our fingertips.
Of course, having information and managing it are two different things. Some people shut off, leave Facebook and retreat to a lower-tech life. As a writer, that’s a bold choice to make unless you’re already famous (and your publisher will probably want you to be on social media anyway). While giant corporations tussle over who really controls publishing (note: when corporations battle we are not the winners), most writers I know are still reeling from the thought that people on the whole would be glad to give their time and attention to potato salad.
Understandable: the cri de coeur of every artist is to be noticed. Now you may be in the camp that thinks there should be standards about who gets to call themselves artists, or you may be the sort who feels that people should be able to call themselves whatever they like. It’s not as if it matters, anyhoo — because we’re all fighting for the attention of those readers/listeners/sharers of experience and that slice is getting thinner.
Here’s a pie chart from a Slate story about the crushing weight of work days (American; Europeans may adjust accordingly, though the differences are getting smaller):
See that red slice? That’s what we’re all competing for. “We” meaning all us creators and our creations: books, films, television, online videos, social media, etc. All of it. Reading is a high bar to get folks to jump over. It requires more effort than a lot of other entertainments: time, engagement, imagination and the will to sort through the millions of books out there to find one they might like — an increasingly daunting task.
We remember Shakespeare because he was good enough to consistently snag a good number of people away from the lure of bear-baiting. ‘Such a horrible sport!’ I hear you cry. Well, yes, but we can always harden our heart to things we’d rather not think about. But it provided simple, reliable entertainment as far as Elizabethans were concerned. It asked little of them but showing up and letting the spectacle make their pulses race. If it sounds like a Michael Bay film, you’re on the right track.
Our challenge is the same: there’s more bear-baiting than ever. There are more Shakespeares and his sisters, too (or should we call them Aphra Behns?). The small blip of time ( a few decades) where a small number of writers made a great deal of money may not return. The slightly larger blip of many people making a living from writing (about a century) may also have passed.
If you have stories in you that want to be told, don’t let anyone discourage you from telling them. Make money from them when you can, don’t sell yourself short, keep striving, and most importantly keep working — honing your skills, failing, learning and working harder. Because William Goldman is still right: “Nobody knows anything.” That’s why blockbusters tank, television series get axed and people give money for potato salad on a whim. Nobody knows.
The golden age is before us, not behind us. ~ William Shakespeare
If you desire something lighter, try: Ten Steps to Inner Peace