Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Reign of the Hobbyist

So Robert J. Sawyer has posted a blog entry where he asks the question "Are the days of the full-time novelist numbered?" For those who are interested, it can he found here. Go take a look, if not for the article then just for the picture where he has this kind of WTF look on his face.

So Mr. Sawyer raises some good points. The point he makes about there only being about 10 years left for professional authors to make a living at what they do he also stated at the writing workshop he gave at Ad Astra this year. Yes, he told a room full of aspiring writers that there was a 10 year deadline before the chances of becoming a full-time writer disappeared like a puff of smoke. Well, at least he can't be faulted for sugar-coating the medicine.

The article expands upon this theme, and a whole host of examples are given. Most of them are just amusing, mostly examples of people or organizations asking for something ludicrous, though one I did find, lets just say interesting enough to quote here. The offer to teach at a writing retreat for 10 days for $3000. Mr. Sawyer states that this essentially would be a pay cut for him. Hmmm... interesting. Also, it's interesting that very next words are "so this would be me subsidizing the cost of the event so that students could pay less". Hmmmm.... yup, very interesting.

So are we headed to a time where it's impossible to be a full-time writer who only writes to the exclusion of all else? Probably. Is this a bad thing? Probably not. I say this because it will encourage those of us who have an idea but feel we'll never make it as a writer to go ahead and try anyways. The stigma for being a "hobbyist" will be, if not removed, then at least lessened. This could mean that people who would have thought, "well, I'm not good enough to do this for a living, so why should I bother," may actually put something out there now. Yes this may lead to a glut of slush hitting us all in the face, as mentioned in this article, but we'll survive and new ways of picking out the gems will emerge. Do I know what those ways will be? Nope, but then even the methods we use now are subject to the reader's whim and taste.

Oh, and don't for second think that there isn't a stigma attached to being a "hobbyist". It's subtle, but it's there. The same sort of stigma has attached itself to fan-fiction, which thankfully I can honestly say I've only produced one piece of, and then only for a contest that could lead to being published. (Yes, I don't like fan-fiction and think a lot if it is garbage. Sorry if that's your thing, go ahead a write it but don't expect me to read it, especially if it's set in something I've created.)

A defining moment for me was when I realized that I may never be able to make a living writing. I've struggled with this for years. All of these ideas have been rattling around in my brain, wanting to get out. I'd write something and a friend would read it and say they wished I would continue the story, but I never did because I was afraid and depressed that I'd never be a full-time paid writer. Once I got over that, and realized that, hey, it's not so bad to write on the side and work a day job, it doesn't make me any less of a writer than anyone else. Even if I never get published, I know that I worked at it and developed my skills and enriched my life. Yeah, that does sound kind of selfish, but that's kind of the point. I'm doing this for me, but I do hope that others will enjoy my brain droppings.

Oh, Mr. Sawyer does make one other point that bears upon this post. He states "Still, lengthy, ambitious, complex works — works that take years of full-time effort to produce such as, say, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, or, if I may be so bold, my own WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonderaren’t things that could have been produced in any kind of reasonable time by squeezing in an hour’s writing each day over one’s lunch break while working a nine-to-five job."

So what is a reasonable amount of time? Is it a year between books? Two years? George R.R. Martin hasn't published a new novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series since 2005. Should we hunt him down and chain him to a desk until he does? Will I enjoy the next book less because I had to wait? Nope.

Yes, these massive and epic projects will take longer to complete, or will be cut down in scope in order to be published in a more timely manner. This is not a bad thing. It certainly would have helped the Wheel of Time series, which has grown so bloated it metaphorically resembles a parade float about to burst. (I mean really, not only did Robert Jordan die before finishing it, they hired someone to take over and the last book of the series ends up getting split into three? It should have ended about two books ago. I love the early books of the series, but after reading an entire prologue filled with characters I cared nothing about and who added really nothing to the story I was done.)

Also, we may see the "new" novelist get even older, as burgeoning writers work a regular job and slowly develop their craft and stories until they can retire and then devote more time to it. Literary careers may be shorter, but, if as Mr. Sawyer has commented before we're all going to live a hell of a lot longer and become near immortals, there may be a lot more time devoted available to us all, especially once we all have smart homes in the bright new future of free energy and boundless material that futurists have been promoting for, what, the last 50-60 years?

Let the full-time writer go the path of the dinosaurs (something Mr. Sawyer is infinitely fond of). While some may lament, some may whine, and some may take their ball and go home, I'll be over here working my day job and then writing for my hour when I get home. My only advice to those who don't like the fact that they were born too late to be full time writers is this:

Suck it up, buttercup.

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