Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Athletes and Writers

An interesting Slate piece on the value society places on developing writers. I take issue with his assertion that we don't need new writers today because we already have Dickens and Shakespeare's works. But it seems that he also disputes his own point. What do you all think of that?



epic said...

He's wrong about the market. There's a greater need for content than ever before. More outlets. More content for more people hungry for news and entertainment.

It's just that many, many people want to write, and it's hard to monetize that when so you can get so much content for free. Reuters. BBC. Newspapers were muy estupidio to give away content for free, thinking banner ads would make up the difference. Nope.

Now, after the horse has left the barn and the barn is on fire, they're started to close the door with paywalls.

Julie Harrington said...

Saying you don't need any new authors because you have literary greats like Shakespeare, Dickens, etc, etc, is like saying you never need a new painter or singer because you have Picasso and Ella Fitzgerald. A painting is a painting, a song is a song. 1 is the same as everything else and there ya go.

Most people I know don't even understand what Shakespeare is saying let alone can translate it into "modern" situations. Heck, most people I know wouldn't read Shakespeare unless threatened at gunpoint. I haven't seen anybody lug round Dickens or Stevenson lately outside a high school, have you?

People want stories and characters, emotions and situations they can relate to, and I don't know many people who can related to, say, England in 1810 or Paris in 1720. In fact, most of the people I know don't realize women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years or what women went through in the banking industry prior to fighting for unionization in the 1970s. How do I know about it? Books written during and after that time, and those weren't written by Dickens OR Shakespeare, and *that* is why you still need writers.

You need writers in the here and now because 100 years from now some of *them* will be the Great Literary Works that people look back on.

Writing, like painting and music and every art form, evolve with the experience of the world. They are snapshots to who we were, how we got there, and where we were striving to go at the time. They are as integral to history and the mapping of that history as much as politics and war we learn about in History class.

To say that we don't "need" writers is incredible shortsighted. Without someone to keep a written record of society (no matter what form of genre you're writing in)... wow. I can't even imagine. We'd have no commentary on recent wars, on gay marriage, on environmental disasters, political hijinks, the rise of the paparazzi, terrorism, 9-11, the economic collapse...

Can you imagine what it would be like if someone told Dickens, "Eh, don't bother. Nobody'll want to read what you think or have to say in another 100 years anyway because we have that Shakespeare dude."

And to compare the need for writers to athletes is kind of a head scratcher to me. I mean, every author is a unique person with a unique perspective on situations, one who can make you pause and think and learn and see things in new ways, with new ideas and philosophy. The written word can, as has, shaped the ideals of nations, inspired hope and change.

A guy throws a ball into a hoop or kicks it between goal posts and...? Please don't think I'm knocking talented athletes because I'm not. They're amazing to watch. But to try to say we need 100 baseball leagues but no more authors because somehow baseball is more important and more rewarding and teaches competition and blah blah blah???

How about writing teaches the art of thought? The art of words? Of philosophy? Of reflection? Of learning from the past? Of understanding mistakes made, where they led, why society swung on way and then the other?

Why do people not value intelligence? People will pay millions when a painter captures the world in splashes of color on a canvas but when a word painter splashes their vision of the world in words on a page... it's "not needed?"

Great thinkers, great debaters, and word-smiths have changed the world through the power of their observations. When's the last time a guy (or girl) with a ball managed to do that?


green_knight said...

Firstly, I think that there *is* great evil in encouraging children and young adults to damage their bodies in case they *might* make it - some will drop out damaged for life without even having the fame and fortune; others might get those, but suffer from the consequences for the rest of their lives, and many were *not* old enough to choose that path.

As for the other... it's a buyer's market. So many writers are willing to sit down and learn and polish and invest in their careers, that agents and editors rarely need to go out and look for more. This is hurting publishing tremendously, because the amount of well-off, privileged voices is disproportionately high, while minority writers face greater hurdles than ever. (If you only need to write a great story that's one thing; if you need to write a great story and have it independently edited and attend writing conferences and need to spend time developing a platform... guess how many minority groups manage those extra hurdles?)

Edittorrent said...

Epic, what gets me about the free-content thing is that now they're trying to pass the mistake down to writers. Pay for written content has dropped like a stone.

JT, the flipside of that -- if people have the ability to think for themselves, they're harder to wrangle. So shifting the values emphasis from intellect to other things like brawn and speed can have far-reaching social and political consequences. Some might actually want those consequences.

GK, some of us have done what we could to encourage writers from all demographics. We had in-house debates at RS about whether to create a separate line for our minority/interracial stories, but I was opposed to it. I didn't want to compartmentalize the stories that way. Also, this blog is free. Granted, you need web access to read it, but if you can get to a public library, you can use this free resource to improve your writing skills, and this certainly isn't the only such free resource available.


green_knight said...

Theresa, I knew you had sense, and I agree that this blog is a great resource - but I'm seeing the 'platform' thing from agents and occasionally editors, as well as the 'must be of publishable standard' and I've heard from more than one writer that editors reccommended they'd have the books professionally edited _before_ submitting. And that just puts the hurdle higher, just as not being paid enough to live on raises it: spending five years or more honing your craft to earn a modest sum is something not everybody can afford - if people make less writing than flipping burgers, those who NEED money will get that second job.

And even if all those things are not true - that you don't have to have a superbly polished, professionally edited mss and you don't have to bring large numbers of potential customers to the table, giving that impression is likely to discourage people who might have interesting things to say. (I cut down on reading agent blogs. I find them too depressing. Particular since at the same time I'm reading publisher's websites, and most of them say 'we're looking for new voices. If you have an interesting proposal, contact us.' so there's a certain disparity between what agents say will sell and what publishers say they're looking for.)

Julie Harrington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Harrington said...

I still can't wrap my brain around the fact that news anchors are *reading* tweets on the air to me like they're news.

Can you imagine if someone told Woodward and Bernstein, "eh, don't bother researching that stupid Watergate story. Nobody cares about digging into somebody's medical background. Here. Go read these Tweets from RedBeau, BlueOyster, and WhiteSocksRulz before we go to commercial."

Somewhere Socrates weeps.