Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Fever

Any farmer must have moments of spring fever rush over them, when it feels impossible to do anything but rush out to the field and check things out. It doesn't matter that there is still every possibility that it will freeze again because we are caught in that moment of potential and we're excited about it. This happens to writers, too. And, if you've lived long enough as a farmer or a writer you know that you have to grasp that momentum and run with it because soon enough the plodding sustaining of the thing will set in.

I went to a futurist talk last night at The daVinci Institute in Louisville, Colorado. The topic was "The Future of Print Media," and of course having been an editor in the past and a writer in the present my interest was piqued. Thomas Frey was the speaker. He speaks all over the world, in different industries, about the future trends of education and business mainly, but he'll talk on any subject if you give him enough time to prepare. He's a tall man, prone to wearing costumes from the renaissance, and he has a serene posture that is barely covering his enthusiasm for the future. His talk was interesting as it covered the systems of publishing (i.e., print media, digital media, audio and video) in terms of what takes us further and what holds us back. The long and short of it is that he believes most print publishers are in the death throws, but that there will be survivors in niche markets. The bottom line is that digital publishing has greater potential to expand, but that our literacy is likely to change. I won't review the entire lecture except to say this: writers are going to have to be extremely flexible in the future.

It's not just the mediums that our work will be presented through or by, but it is ownership of our creations that is going to be changing a lot. Going back to my proverbial orchard, it's like this: I grow the trees and I own them as methods of production. Methods of production. I sell the peaches and once the peaches are sold they are not mine anymore. Another company can slap their label on products made from my peaches and never give me any credit beyond the natural grown quality of the peaches. The peaches could be made into pies, cobblers, juice, smoothies, etc., and no one would ever know they were my peaches. I might not even recognize my own peaches once they are sold. What I do have is the method of production, my orchard, and possibly I can improve on that alone. I could possibly even grow my peaches in such a way that they might be recognizable no matter what product they ended up in, raising demand for them, but then other people could take my peach pits and grow their own orchards and change them yet again or keep them the way I created them.

Can you translate that to writers and their writings? Yes, you can. It used to be when a writer wrote a story that the writer would retain the copyright for that story. The story could not be reproduced (i.e. printed, made into a film, copied into another work) without that writer's permission and without paying them for it, and certainly not without giving them credit and giving notice to them that they would be using that bit of writing. Therefore, it behooved the writer to hold their work as precious, close to their heart, unwilling to put it out until it was perfect and protected. The digital age has changed all that for writers. Now, if a writer keeps their work until it is perfect and protected it is likely never to see the light of day or the back light of an iPad. Now a writer had better jump on the bandwagon of self-promotion, self-publishing and selfless let go if they ever want their work to be read because the publishing world of the last 650 years or so is dying. They had better be prepared that their work, once out on any digital platform, is likely to be "sampled" the way a musician's work is now sampled, often without due credit. Does this mean the end???

No! It is just a whole new world of creative opportunity for writers to create and tell stories that move the world. It means that methods of success are as important as the product because being prolific is the best way to succeed. It means fast and more is going to rule the day for a while because the world is so hungry for digital writing, and it will be so until the heirloom peaches restore balance to the palettes of readers everywhere. Please note that heirloom peaches have been preserved in the age of commercial farming, and so will poetry and short, pithy fiction, and long complicated novels, but they will not be what everyone necessarily wants to purchase for their Kindles. Still, people will buy specialty writing to read mainly because it is as enjoyable to some as an heirloom peach is delicious to eat. There will be some heirloom peaches that still end up in peach pies, but there will be other heirloom peaches that are eaten as fresh and unadulterated as possible just because they are that good. There will be stories like that, too.

So, these thoughts have given me spring fever, and I'm jumping all over my field to see just what I think it can handle producing. 

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