Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How easy it is to write a book...

Bet that got everyone’s ears pricked up!

Off the top, I have to admit that I was trying to light a fire for this week’s blog entry. I want to talk about technology and its effect on cranking out books.

Way back when — for reference, let's say in Shakespeare’s time — writers had to have some pretty arcane skills before they even got to their prose or poetry. Unless they had money to buy them, they had to be able to carve their own pens (usually out of feathers), often make their own ink (out of iron gall), sometimes even produce their own paper. Then you had to write the work, revise it, revise it again — and all of this had to be done by hand. It was an onerous job, to say the least. I've written large scores by hand and then copied out the individual parts. Trust me when I say that it’s damned tedious and time-consuming. It sort of takes the fun out of the job.

Life went on that hard way for writers until something called the typewriter was invented around 1870. Writers probably fell to their knees in thanks when they got a hold of one these little suckers. Writing suddenly got a lot easier and continued that way until the end of the 1970s when the third wave hit: personal computers. Now, nearly all the tedium disappeared. A writer could cut and paste to their heart’s content. Revision, still tedious with typewriters, became a matter of clicking on a bad word, substituting in the one you wanted and never again having to type out a whole page just to fix one thing (if you wanted a pristine ms).

Before PCs, lots of people would say that someday they were going to write a book, but when they realized how time-consuming and tedious that would turn out to be, they gave up the idea.

Producing a 400-page ms is now no a big deal, even if you get bogged down in the middle of your story like Vicki was talking about this yesterday. Problem is, a lot of books that should never have been written are now being passed around, sent to publishers, and occasionally being printed and sold. Ask any publisher who’s been around for awhile how many more query letters and unsolicited mss they get these days, compared to the early ’70s. For them, those were the good old days.

I’m not saying that anyone who wants to write a book should be discouraged from following their dream. It’s a good dream to have. But the ease with which books can now be written means that you’re going to have to swim up a faster and faster-moving stream if you want to get anywhere. And you have to swim around all the dreck that’s floating in the publishing stream along side you.


Vicki Delany said...

I something think about the ease of making copies of my work - I have copies on my computer, on my flash drive, on CDs. I send copies to my daughter just to have them saved off site. Imagine the days before carbon paper and photocopying. When all you had was one handwritten package of, say, 1000 pages. And the dog ate it.

Rick Blechta said...

The point is, I sometimes think we have it too easy. What about suffering for your art?

What's that you say?

That comes after you get your contract?


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