TUMBY BAY - Writers write for all sorts of reasons, some obvious and some obscure. And what they write about is often dictated by the avenues open to them to engage with their readers.
One of these two things, motivation and avenues of opportunity, has undergone considerable change over the last 30 years or so.
I don’t think it’s motivation. What inspired writers before is probably what drives them along today.
If you ask the unwashed reading public why writers write, the answer they might offer is to make money.
The more discerning reader might also add that disseminating ideas and opinions and influencing people are also legitimate motives for many writers.
If you ask writers why they write, they would also add they write simply because it’s something they like doing.
But while the reasons for writing may not have changed much in those 30 years, the avenues writers use have changed a lot.
The old process of finding a publisher for a written work has been effectively superseded by technological advances in formatting, printing and distribution.
Today we have eBooks, print-on-demand and internet retailing.
These advances have resulted in a veritable deluge of new authors and books and a general loss of quality control.
Traditional publishers under siege and fighting a rear guard action against these disruptive changes, now tend to stick with their proven stable of writers and rarely take on new talent.
The old marketing system of sending writers on grand tours, book signings and media interviews is also dwindling.
Having done a couple of those and realising that they were mainly for the benefit of the publisher and not the writer, I’m glad they’re now reserved for just the big sellers and the more ego-driven.
Also gone, I think, is the romantic idea that being a writer is somehow glamorous. Nowadays, for a lot of writers, it’s hard work for little or no pay.
Another traditional avenue for writers has been severely handicapped by social media, which has influenced what they write about and taken away many potential readers.
Nowadays anyone with half a brain can get on social media and promulgate the dopiest and nastiest ideas. This has put a big dent in the avenues available for serious writers.
It’s a sad fact that because of social media, fewer people are reading books. Why read a novel when you can download the aberrant movie version from Netflix?
Long form non-fiction, either in essay or book form, is also no longer in demand. Brief, short-lived quick reads are the order of the day. In their most extreme and insane form they have been cut down to 140 characters or less.
Added to that is the fact that writing these days can be a dangerous occupation. Publishing on social media in particular can uncover and earn you an unwelcome following of the seriously deranged and vengeful.
Which begs the question of why so many writers still write. Why would you labour over 70-90,000 plus words only to be upstaged by some drongo on Twitter spitting out 140 characters of misspellings and ruptured grammar?
There are lots of answers to that question but I think much of it has to do with a kind of compulsion and a love of the written word peculiar to writers.
Believe it or not, many writers these days write with no intention of seeking publication, either in the traditional way or in the new formats. In this they are following in the footsteps of some of their famous forbears.
There is a kind of enviable purity in this choice. Eschewing the commercial and ego driven aspects of writing can be a great liberation for a writer.
Unfortunately, it also creates a substantial loss for a declining band of traditional readers.