This post was written by Stephen A. Roddewig.
We writers are a strange bunch. Many of us are raised in a culture that lauds competition and exceptionalism. Indeed, the sheerer the slope, the more exceptional you must be to climb it, yet we confront a space as contested and conflicted as the writing sphere and believe that somehow our voice will stand out among millions.
What even is the writing sphere? It’s a market that has been uprooted by the Internet and forced to reevaluate its identity. The same trend has forced writing itself into conflict, as scholars debate where high literature ends and popular culture begins. More progressive voices argue that even discussing such a distinction is pointless. Meanwhile, mass communication has started to rewrite the rules through blogs and online journals.
None of this is to say that these changes are bad. From the populist perspective, the Information Age has kicked down the barriers to entry that existed in the traditional print media realm. In fact, print media’s decline is perhaps the source of much of this crisis. One’s name on the page used to distinguish the author from the amateur, the prestige from the undiscovered, the successful from the struggling.
Now, by virtue of writing this post, I am published and have been dozens of times. The hardback novel still stands as the beacon of achievement for many of us, but online venues have started to force a deep retrospection on the boundaries of the writing world and the reality of the skill itself.
To sum it up, we are active participants in a realm in flux, witnessing a transition that may never find the solid bedrock that the print industry enjoyed. More than ever, online publications and websites push the boundaries of writing and the prestige it can command. We owe it to ourselves, as writers, colleagues, and citizens, to not only observe but participate. In this new frontier, we owe it to each other equally to present the best form we can to represent the new breed of writer. The online writer.
With the very nature of this democratization, where now anyone with a limited technical knowledge and the necessary resources to uplink to the Internet can publish their writing, we will face a new level of scrutiny. We not only have to adhere to the traditional conventions of language and mechanics, but the newfound criteria demand that we prove ourselves unique, insightful, exceptional. The bar of publication that used to determine quality has been trampled in a flood of websites. Our writing must stand on its own, regardless of where it appears.
The past media still exists, though some has fallen by the wayside. Newspapers have taken to the online world with some success, and online journals reduce the costs of printing and allow for greater visibility. But with the ability for more readers to view your work comes the equal risk of them missing your work among the flow of content. Indeed, visibility may trump exceptionalism as the greatest standard to weigh your work.
Think about our own writing space. When we visit a new blog, we instinctively check the follower count. Every article we read starts with a glance at the number of likes and comments. If it didn’t produce much, it’s probably not worth ours. That which is popular is not inherently best, as Ayn Rand would remind me, but the prominent display of these quantitative measures cannot help but influence our thinking. WordPress makes a point of it.
Paradoxically, the best way to attract attention and engagement is to produce good content. Still, if you do not have mechanisms in place to distribute your posts, you make little headway. I don’t believe the chicken-or-the-egg debate between these two will be solved, but exceptionalism and visibility appear to mark every successful website and blog.
We have stumbled upon a new age, and I wrote this post not so much to catalog it as to attempt to grasp its basic characteristics. We, as individual writers, artists, and designers, hold much more of the power to decide our future. No longer does our future wait on the decision of one literary agent or publisher, though these institutions still command considerable (if lessened) authority. To some, this truth is daunting. To others, it is thrilling.
I am still waiting to form my own final judgment, which may never come due to the innovative nature of the Internet. Change terrifies some, but this medium thrives on it, and we must learn to embrace it, even if we retain healthy skepticism.
A Final Note
I will leave you with this thought. The opportunities for collaboration among writers and artists have never been so ample or so simple. WordPress as a platform enables and encourages it. In my own experience, my website has seen more success since I started contributing my time and effort to another writer’s endeavor than it ever recorded when I wrote as a singular voice. If that is not a humanist message of unity and mutual support, I don’t know what is.
Thank you, Mladen. Your openness and trust has made all the difference, and I am honored to help your website reach its goals.
On that note, keep writing!