by Emma Thomas
From oral to literary cultures, from the manuscripts of the past to the e-books of today, the view of writers and poets has gone through dramatic changes. What’s the difference between a writer and an author? How do people now view both literary creations and their creators? In her song ‘Creation’, singer-songwriter Emmy the Great outlines the way in which stories become something more – “you dry the riverbed, and so he builds a well” – but the act of writing remains something mysterious for many people, so that writers and authors become mythological creatures in and of themselves, complete with all the urban legends and beliefs which are requisite for a myth. By examining this myth, or these myths – for as the publishing industry changes, so do the ways in which we view authors – is it possible to articulate what the public is reaching for when they reach for a book?
Burning Down the Castles
As the internet reaches into our lives, we respond by filling it with words. Sometimes it seems as though every other person has a blog of their own, and those who don’t still have Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook to fill the gaps. Instead of calling a friend, we text or email them; the written word replaces speech, and more and more people become inspired to write something real. This is reflected in the rise of e-books, which bypass much of the red tape which previously kept the literary industry as an echo chamber, and in the common view of writers as neighbors and friends. Authors famous, infamous, and little-known all keep websites and blogs where they interact with their fans, and crowdfunding projects allow for alternative approaches to the creative process. For loyal fans this kind of immersion only intensifies their fandom, while also providing entry points for potential readers who may not have otherwise read or even heard about an author, book, or series. Writers and readers can now make good use of this change in tactics, with the caveat that it’s as easy to get lost in the author blogosphere as it is to be lost in the remainder bin; it remains critical to find, create, and keep both a voice and a vision.
Blurring Reality and Fiction
The complicated public relationship between a writer and their work is not a modern artifact – one only has to consider Byron, as well as the Romantic writers, whose work was often seen as a supplement to the art form that was their life. Alcohol and drug use was a staple of this artistic lifestyle, and – as the popularity and subsequent shaming of James Frey illustrates – stories of addiction remain in demand, so long as the reader can rest assured that the writer is coming from a place of deep personal truth. Even writers who classify their fiction properly are expected to somehow reflect their work, or have their work reflect them, and this sense of confusion around the creator and the creation has only intensified with the influence of the internet and blogging. By documenting the minutiae of their lives, writers invite the kind of psychological analysis that belongs by nature in university literature classes, and it comes easier than ever for readers to conflate the opinions and actions of characters with those of their writers. While this can be helpful for writers establishing personal brands, it changes the relationship readers have with stories, and is something to think on when writing both stories and tweets.
The Desire for Diversity
One glory of the modern age is that it has, in many ways, thrown open the gates of admittance which for so long dictated who an author must be in order to be taken seriously, and what styles of writing were to be classified as serious or frivolous. This has not happened; it is happening, slowly but surely, carried along by the ranks of people eager to see authors and characters who reflect the diversity they see in themselves and in their own lives. Younger readers, in their teens and twenties, are particularly interested in these changes, and have created the sense that an audience is waiting for almost any story – the challenge is only to find them and inform them.