(I’m finally dipping into my backlog of blog requests. This one is from Ryan Macklin.)
I call myself a writer. I’ve had a number of titles over the course of my life, including “developer” and “designer.” I’ve worked on video games, role-playing games, fiction, non-fiction, television, podcasting, and I’ve even written a few programs in my day.1 But if someone were to ask me who I am or what I do, I inevitably say I am a writer.
But here and now, in 2011, “writer” is about as specific as “human being” as a label. So much goes into my work as a writer these days that has very little to do with prose. Granted, I do a fair amount of activities that comprise “proper writing.” I have kept bound journals for years, and I use them quite often to keep track of notes and write down ideas. Every computer I have ever owned has had some kind of word processor on it, and these days even my phone has one. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about grammar, word choice, story construction, or something else related to the craft of writing. But there are so many things that have changed.
- “Writers are loners who need solitude.” That’s always been an unfortunate stereotype, I’ve found (even notorious loners like H. P. Lovecraft had a thriving community of correspondents), but it’s increasingly untrue across the board. Whether you self-publish, are traditionally published, or work full-time for a company as a writer, the need to be engage in a community (of fans, of other writers, or just other people) isn’t just easier, but necessary. You can call it “networking” or “monetizing a community” or “coming with tribe” or whatever buzzword you want, but it comes down to the fact that being a writer means you need to talk to other people. Period.
- “Writers write.” Well, sure. But they also market. They research. They learn how social networks work (because of the previous point). They make a website. They teach themselves new software. They support and promote the work of their friends and peers. They struggle with Kickstarter or find an agent or file their taxes. Writers still write, but writers also need to be businesspeople, because the days in which someone else being able to take care of everything are gone.
- “I’ll focus on the writing, and someone else will make it look good.” More and more, understanding of the aesthetics of the final product is important. What would look good on a cover? What font is best to use? How should things be formatted? In a world where a few mouse-clicks can change the entire formatting of a document, people are less likely to struggle through an ugly manuscript even if the words are strong and powerful. Writers have to think about the visual context of their work more and more, and many times have to create or modify that context themselves.
- “Writers drink.” Well, that’s still true.
It feels like professional writers are increasingly required to be jacks-of-all-trades, learning a little about a lot of skills and using those to apply back to the craft of writing. While it sounds daunting, it really isn’t. It’s balanced by the fact that it’s easier than ever to get people to read (and buy) your work. Before it could have only happened through a publisher, but now you can upload a document to Amazon and start selling it. The fight isn’t to get it out there — the fight is to get it noticed. And more and more the only person who is going to help you get noticed is you.
I think this is a good trend, over all. We need to get out more, lest we become feral wordmonkeys stewing in our cages and snapping at passersby. We need to learn a little more about what it takes to get our beautiful work into the hands of others, lest we think that all other disciplines are easy compared to the weighty work of crafting worlds. We need to realize that there’s a whole world out there, lest we come to believe that sitting at a desk and waiting for people to throw money at us is a sound business plan.
I still think of myself as a writer. I just define “writing” a little more broadly than I used to.
- That day was long ago, however — I’m in the process of learning how to program all over again. ↩