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Monday, November 14, 2011

Is Most of Our Writing Done in Vain?

Cover of Voodoo Planet, by Andrew NorthImage via Wikipedia
Have you read this book?
Andrew North is actually acclaimed author Andre Norton

        Technology has made it possible to amass so much history and data and the information keeps piling up everyday. It kind of makes most of our own writing efforts seem insignificant as it melts into the accumulation that is already out there. Who will remember most of today's best sellers 200 years from now let alone some of the smaller print run books and publications. Do we mostly write in vain?


         This was the comment I left on one of Hilary Melton-Butcher's wonderfully diverse posts at Positive letters....inspirational stories.  She was discussing the topic of Project Gutenberg and the process of preserving the written word throughout history. Her post made me contemplate not just all of the writing that has been preserved for posterity throughout history, but more specifically all of the writing that has been preserved in print and in digital formats in my lifetime. 

       Hilary challenged me to write a post on the topic   And now, as many are deeply absorbed with NaNo novels and other writing endeavors including our blogs, I thought this might be a good time to address this question.  Not that I mean to bring anyone down or anything like that, but it's something that I'm sure many of us think about.  What's the point of all this writing that we do?


         Many of us work hard at the writing we produce, and often with little to show for it in the form of any remuneration.  Sure, the pats on the back and encouraging words from others are good for our egos, but those don't pay the bills.  I realize life is more than money, but most of us need the money to survive.  And the "will write for food" scenario might keep you fed, but quality of life might be lacking if meals were all you got in exchange for your words.


         Don't get me wrong.  This is not a gripe piece; it's a piece of reality as I see it.  There are a lot of writers out there producing work in many forms.  Most of them are barely noticed when you put it in the perspective of the big picture.   Most books, no matter how good they are, when compared to a book on the best seller list are not read by many.


         Even the books that make it to the best seller lists will probably fade into obscurity for the most part as the years go by.  Think of the best sellers of one hundred years.  Oh, you can't think of any?  If you look at the Publisher's Weekly list for 1910 I rather doubt you'll find anything you've read let alone heard of.  What about Mary Roberts Rinehart who had two books in the top ten that year?   Who's she?
Author Mary Roberts RinehartImage via Wikipedia
Mary Roberts Rinehart


        Let's face it.  There are a lot of books out there just like there are a lot of blogs.  I can't remember most of what I wrote a year ago let alone expecting anyone else to remember it.  If I read something it usually becomes a matter of who wrote what when?  It's like when all the ping pong balls would fall on Captain Kangaroo's head.   "Captain who?" some of the younger readers might ask.  See--that's what I'm saying.  Eventually later generations forget what came before because they have new cultural icons that resonate with them.


         So do I think our writing is mostly done in vain?   I like to write so from that standpoint my answer is no.   If someone reads something I've written and gets some enjoyment or education out of it then my answer is no.  If I make some money off of something I've written then I'd have to answer a big no. 


       I can't worry about what people will think of me one hundred years or more in the future.  It would be nice to be remembered and thought of as someone who created memorable work, but that isn't going to help me now.  In the grander scheme of things perhaps our writing is in vain.  But does it really matter?


        What do you think?  Is your writing mostly in vain?   Would you rather make a good living at what you do now and be consigned to the back pages of history?  Or would you prefer the status of struggling artist who gains fame after you are dead and gone?


         Something I failed to mention on my blog is that I have a short story that appears in the e-book anthology On the Brink...Volume 2 which was released in October by Spectacle Publishing Media Group.  The e-book is available from Smashwords or Amazon

          Be here at Tossing It Out this coming Wednesday November 16th when my special guest is Lani Diane Rich, best selling author of nine novels including three that were NaNo novels.  Lani is noted for being the first unpublished author to have a NaNo novel published as a result of her efforts in 2003.  She will be offering some words of advice to the current NaNo participants and writers in general.   Don't miss this visit.  It's a good one.


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45 comments:

  1. I'm enjoying living for today and writing for next year as most of what we write takes at least another year before it see the light of day, unless, of course your words are being upload onto the net, but then your readers have to search through all the other uploaded books to find yours today. I've just had a short story accepted which will be in print next summer.

    Until you've a readership who is willing to hunt your ebook/book out for themselevs you could already be writing in vain, let alone in the future.

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  2. I write because I like to write. I'm not really going to care one way or another 100 years from now if someone remembers me as I won't be here anyway.

    Like most authors I like to entertain through my writing.

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  3. Congratulations on the short story!
    I guess it depends on why a writer writes. I wrote because I enjoyed it and I'd hoped a few others would enjoy it as well. Sure it would be cool to create something as epic and immortal as Star Wars, but otherwise, I achieved my writing goals. Surpassed them even. So if no one remembers CassaStar twenty years from now, that's all right.

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  4. good questions, - love the Captain Kangaroo reference too :) - while it is true much of what we type won't be remembered, there are so many other less enjoyable professions without even a hint of a promise of posterity. I love this life, still amazed I can exchange words for dollars and pay my bills. If someone wants to pull up my words after I am gone - they will most likely be amazed I was paid too, ha!

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  5. Man, I'm not too sure about this, your post has certainly given me a lot to think about. I know for a fact informationals and encyclopaedias are now pretty much completely useless due to the internet so I sort of agree with you. Stories and stuff, especially posted to the internet like ours are completely worth our while and I'm sure your followers would agree.

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  6. My writing matters to me because it is the only way I can keep myself sane in a world gone horribly mad. It's how I make sense of the world. If that resonates with someone, great. If not, I at least know that my words will live on well after I'm gone. Will they fade into obscurity? Most likely yes. But they'll still be there.

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  7. Congrats on the short story!!!

    I just write hoping I can find a place for my writing.

    Sometimes artists (like parents:)) aren't appreciated until they are dead.

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  8. I write the words that appear in my head because if I didn't they would drive me insane. It's lovely when someone reads them and says "good job" or "that made me think" but even if they didn't I would still have to write. I don't imagine I will ever publish anything. This blog is publishing for me.
    Congratulations on the short story.

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  9. Congratulations on the short story. :) I started writing YA because I wanted to make young adults feel connected during a time when they feel alone. I lost three friends in high school to suicide and if one girl reads my story and connects then I've accomplished something.

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  10. I've always been told, "Do what you love and the money will come." So you trying to tell me it will come too late? :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  11. For me, it's the creative process and love of communication. :)

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  12. Interesting question to ponder. I think one has to identify what their purpose is for writing. Congrats on your short story.

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  13. Never. No writing is done in vain. 10,000 hours. [The amount of time one devotes to their craft before beginning to exhibit mastery.]

    I decided, long ago as a very young girl, that nothing is every truly lost. Despite all, I still believe that way. Firmly.

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  14. I don't think writing or any other type of art is ever completely in vain, but you are right that much of it is lost or never read. Congratulations on your short story!

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  15. I write because it helps me make sense of my life and my world and it brings me peace and comfort and joy. If my words reach someone else and touch them, then that's wonderful. If they don't, it helps me.
    Karen

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  16. Who is Mary Roberts Rinehart?! I guess I'm biased because I read a lot of classic mysteries, but I would think she'd be the best-known name on the 1910 list. She's certainly the only one still in print. (Heck, she invented "The butler did it!")

    I never read the book in the photo, but I read some Andre Norton when I went through a female sci-fi writers phase.

    I think the reason many of those authors ARE unknown today is because they were writers of popular fiction. There are plenty of literary writers from long ago that we still know. I doubt people will be reading Nicholas Sparks in fifty years, but they might be reading Murakami.

    Since I spend more time writing for money than fun, I can't consider any of it in vain, whether anyone reads my work in the future or not. (I guess it depends on how long they keep their magazines!) I like having the spending money, and in this economy, I need it.

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  17. Good topic Lee.

    I do think that my posts on missing persons and unsolved crimes have a clear purpose, but other writing that is focused on humor or current events--definitely less meaningful.

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  18. Quite a response so far!

    Jamara -- Getting your work found is what promotion is all about, but all the promotion in the world can't guarantee legacy. In fact the advertising in that case could be more noted than what is being advertised.

    Donna -- Entertainment is most suited for the here and now and if anyone remembers it's an added bonus.

    Alex -- I think fulfillment of personal goals is what most of us consider when we write. Also, most artists are remembered for a body of work rather than a specific work.

    Sylvia -- I think I'd rather have a million dollars while I'm alive and can enjoy it than a million readers a hundred years from now, but both would be nice.

    Matthew -- I think it's more important to write for the audience we know than an ambiguous audience that could be there someday years in the future.

    Jeffrey -- Our writing should start with ourselves. If it goes somewhere good beyond that then it's an added bonus.

    Teresa -- Trying to find a place for your writing is a good reason to keep writing. I hope I don't have to wait until I'm dead and gone to be appreciated, but your point is sadly true.

    Delores -- Writing is a release and an effective way to sort out what's mulling in our brains. Bloggers are publishers--it's a great platform to make what we write available for anyone who will read it.

    Lee

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  19. It all comes down to "Why do I/we write?" Fame and fortune are way out of my grasp, so that is not it.

    When I was teaching 3rd grade, we always read "George Washington's Breakfast" by Jean Fritz. The boy named George searched high and low for the answer. Modern technology failed him.
    Finally he went up into his grandmother's attic and found an OLD book on G.W. There was his answer.

    The answer for your questions, for me, is that I want my writing to be a record of who I was, what I saw and thought. My descendants may find a dusty book in their grandmother's hall closet, and discover one of their great-greats.
    Thanks, Lee. You always make me think. I like that.

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  20. I was downloading free classics on my Kindle yesterday and thinking these very same thoughts! New books come out by the hundreds of thousands every single year, I think it's something like 750,000 a year, and that was a few years ago. With self-publishing and epublishing taking off, it's probably much higher than that.

    How can anyone hope to compete in such a market? I figure money isn't an issue. If I needed money to pay the bills, I'd go back to my job at Costco. I don't know if you read my .99 ebook post, but you can see those cookies I make, and each of them earns me .99 and I make 12 dozen twice a week. So yeah, compared to other things writers can do for money, books make no sense whatsoever in any kind of financial equation.

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  21. Ah yes Ephemera! Even Benjamin Franklin knew about the brevity of all things and wrote that piece. It often comes to mind at 4AM when I'm trying to wrestle some prose onto the page. Why? I guess the answer is that it's in hope of sharing what's in my mind with others, and words on paper are the most effective way to do that . . .not the most enduring .

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  22. Ciara -- Connecting your message now with readers for whom it will matter is a good reason to write.

    Jules -- History has shown that for some writers and artists the money that has been derived from their efforts did not benefit them. I guess that possibility exists for us too. Bad for us, but good for our beneficiaries if the proper arrangements have been made. Still, I want the money now.

    Paula -- I think the love of what we do is our first motivating factor for doing it.

    Wanda -- There must be some kind of reason that we write and it may vary from person to person.

    Suze -- Everything we do is part of our life and the bigger picture of the world. It all means something ultimately despite the seeming meaningless that our actions may have at times.

    Kirsten -- If our writing means something to only ourselves then it has not been in vain. If it goes beyond us to have a positive effect on others then it is definitely not in vain.

    Karen -- Writing can serve as therapy to the writer and help to the reader and in both cases it is probably a good thing.

    Kelly -- If you are not having fun writing I hope you at least enjoy doing it. I am in agreement with your writing philosophy. And any writer who acts only with the intent of establishing a legacy and doesn't care about earning a living must be nuts since history decides legacy and not us.

    Slamdunk -- As long as we see the purpose in our writing efforts then I think we are on the right track.

    Susan -- You are right. We never know into whose hands our writing will later fall and we can't always have an absolute expectation that our intended audience will be our actual audience.

    KarenG -- The statistics you cite are staggering. So easy to get lost in that. A great deal of doing something is our love for it. How sad to spend a life in a situation we deplore while longing for something else in our life. I don't think we were put on this earth to live that way.

    C. Lee -- And we look at how words and their meanings change. In the future what we have written today may be as archaic to those readers as someone like Chaucer is to us and studied by students and scholars. Most of us will never achieve any status of that sort.

    Lee

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  23. Lee--

    Didn't mean to suggest I don't have fun doing it, or I wouldn't blog in addition to my other writing --just that money is the motivator for most of the writing I do.

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  24. I guess it depends on what your intention is when you write. Is it to get world wide acclaim?
    to entertain a few people?
    to write a bestseller or a classic piece of literature?
    Is it to amuse ourselves? (scratches chin) Or maybe a little bit of everything?

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  25. Hmmm. I guess I'm writing because I enjoy doing it and I'd like to have people read and enjoy my work. That's enough for me. No immortality needed.

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  26. I often wonder which books, films and TV shows will be remembered in 50 or 100 years time and considered as classics. Due to massproduction of everything it is not that easy for writers and directors to become new Dostoevskies, Tolstoys... The same goes for modern songs... Wish we had some time traveling machine to check this out, Lee.
    I think it's better making a good living now instead of being famous after death, since we only live once :)

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  27. I'd love readers to be enthralled by my words. But it doesn't matter. I write for me, to get everything out of my head. And because I get all cranky if I don't write for a while. Love it - can't stop.

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  28. Kelly -- I figured as such. You seem like you're having fun. And having money can be fun too.

    Madeleine -- Fulfilling one's intended goals is a good reason to do anything. I'd say all of your reasons add up to the big purpose in writing.

    LD -- One's enjoyment is a primary goal as far as I'm concerned.

    Dezmond -- It would be interesting to know what will endure. I fear that if everything goes digital much will be lost. But the rewards of the here and now mean the most to the one who is producing the work.

    Carol-- I know what you're saying. It's a compulsion I suppose.

    Lee

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  29. It makes me happy. No, it's not in vain.

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  30. I don't consider my writing to be in vain. I enjoy writing, and even if it doesn't become famous or well-known, I think it's worth the time spent creating it.

    Congratulations on the short story!

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  31. I really enjoy writing. It brings me joy - that alone menas it's not in vain. Life can be very, very tough - anything that brings joy or pleasure (even if it's momentary) is worth it! :)

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  32. Yes.

    [Didn't want to waste any more time or words explaining my answer in greater detail.]

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  33. If fame is why we write, then you paint a dismal picture. If self-fulfillment is what seek with our writing then I see a happier future. If someone ever enjoys anything I've written, yay. But it doesn't really matter because I wrote it for me. As long as I like it, I'm good. Beats the heck out of sitting around watching TV or playing videogames. And I enjoy both of those, too.

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  34. Mary -- Me too.

    Golden Eagle -- If we're going to do something, writing is not a bad way to pass time.

    Jemi -- You expressed it well.

    StMc-- Okay

    Donna -- I find myself watching much less TV these days. I'd rather have money than fame, but fame often comes with making a lot of money.

    Lee

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  35. It's not in vain, because I love the process of creating something I'm proud of. It makes me happy!

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  36. I enjoy writing -- hard as it is. Years from now it won't matter to me if anyone knows me or my work.
    Writing in vain? Not at all. It fulfills me.

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  37. I like to write as I like to share my happy times with you and I know I can also share my not so good days hopefully without being a bore.

    Yvonne.

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  38. Talli -- I suppose some could say that everything we do is in vain. Writing is certainly a better way to pass one's time that a lot of things people do.

    Mary -- And if we are fulfilled then I guess that says something. All we have for now is now and writing is a fine exercise to pass one's time in a constructive manner.

    Yvonne -- Back not so long ago people used to write letters--not so much anymore. Writing expresses our lives, feelings, and thoughts to others much like people used to do in their letter writing.

    Lee

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  39. I don't want the fame after I die while someone else enjoys the fortune. I have a family to support and would love nothing more than to be able to do it as a full-time writer! So many world renown writers, artists, and musicians have died penniless.

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  40. I'm not really a writer, though I have a blog. I like writing because it helps me remember what I was thinking. It's more for me. And then there's the communication with people on the other side of the world. I love that. Maybe my kids will find it interesting in years to come. Maybe not. Interesting thoughts. I miss Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans.

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  41. Congrats Arlee! I think most creative efforts are in vain. In the end its the struggle that makes it worth it

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  42. I'll tell you what I told myself as a senior in high school who took a detour away from the field of fine arts.....I want my money now, not when I'm dead! Fair enough? Lol. It's so hard for many of us to earn a living doing what we love but I believe that the strong desire for large financial gain that some of us possess may be the very thing that keeps us from earning a living because were so set on that big payday, when taking it one day, one project, one task at a time may likely be what (gradually) gets us to the point where we can do only or most of what we love, and nothing else.

    Since it's the NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo this month, it's only fitting to compare our desires for earning a living to the keys to getting through the NaNos....remembering that it's a marathon, not a sprint.

    Yes, I believe that I'm writing in vain when either no one is reading my stuff OR I'm writing something that serves me rather than others, so I try to keep these things at a distance by applying most of my writing efforts to universal interests that more people can relate to...and when I do that, nope, I don't think I'm writing in vain when I do that, writing things that can help others :)


    The Madlab Post

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  43. Reading this made me realize something about why I write. Yes, I have the dream of achieving fame and glory through writing and always have, but that is not why I write. I write to share my story with a small audience. Right now, I write for a future audience, my daughter and descendants unknown. I know very little about my parents, despite them still being alive and together. If my words now give my daughter a better understanding of who I was, then I will be happy. I can't share everything with her yet, but as she grows I have begun to share some posts and other writing already. She knows more about me than I ever did about my Mom. So, I may write for joy, or to be heard, or to understand, or to remember . . . but I also write to share.

    Lisa
    lisawieldswords.wordpress.com

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  44. I think it was George Carlin who said that he believed humans developed the ability to speak because of their innate need to complain.

    On a more serious note, it's important for humans to tell stories. They're shared experiences, and we use them to relate to each other and world around us.

    Humans aren't certain of what happens to us after death, or why we're here in the first place. There are some cultures that believe a person is only truly dead once they're forgotten; stories are a way for us to be remembered after we've passed on. I think some just want to be remembered by more people. :)

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  45. Stephen -- I certainly don't want to be in that latter crowd that you mention.

    Thea -- Indeed, writing is all about communicating.

    Maurice -- I don't want to struggle too much or too long, but I would agree with your point.

    Nicole-- I don't need to be rich, just pay the bills. Okay, maybe it would be nice to be rich. And, yes, it would be nice if someone reads what I've written.

    Lisa --The legacy we hand down to others is a treasure.

    CouchP-- I like that. Pretty deep and quite true.

    Lee

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