Way back in the day, sometime after quill pens and parchment and before personal computers and word processing, it really meant something to be a published writer. That’s because, back in ancient times, writers had to rely on publishers to create ways for their words to find an audience. In those days, editors were the gatekeepers of literature and all kinds of writing, and if a writer wanted his work to reach an audience broader than his mother or kids, he had to hope (or beg or bribe) that an editor would see something of merit in his work and condescend to publish it. Of course, very few editors allowed a manuscript to pass from their desks to the printed word without some serious tweaking and editing.
As a writer hoping to get published way back in the day, bumping into those gatekeepers was a regular and frustrating experience, but I learned that in nearly instance, an editor’s heavy or light hand on my work ultimately made the writing better. What I didn’t realize, way back in the day, was that as a reader, I also benefited from the gatekeepers whose job it was to make sure that whatever was fit to print got printed and whatever wasn’t fit to print never saw the light of published day. Of course, editors weren’t perfect, and sometimes their gatekeeping zeal kept something worth printing, worth reading, from finding an audience. And sometimes those gatekeepers suffered an aneurysm of judgment and wound up publishing something that wasn’t worth the ink it was printed with. Again, the gatekeepers weren’t perfect.
(BTW, even nowadays in the 21st century, most editors aren’t perfect, but more on that later.)
Of course, things have changed. Nowadays anybody can be a published writer. Anyone, and I mean anyone, with internet access and a computer can create a blog and publish his work to the world. He doesn’t have to be smart. He doesn’t have to have connections. He doesn’t have to be good looking. He doesn’t even have to be able to write. Blogs don’t have gatekeepers; there are no editors reviewing the blogger’s work and making suggestions or demanding revisions. The stuff a blogster generates, whether it’s puerile piffle or polished pristine prose, can go straight and unadulterated from the keyboard to the World Wide Web.
It’s almost that easy to get a book published these days. My university’s bookstore has a print-on-demand machine that can, for less than $10, take someone’s electronic manuscript and convert it into a printed paperback book, complete with a cover, in about 5 minutes. E-books, little more than a blog that’s been formatted, are nearly as easy to publish. There are no gatekeepers pressing these writers to proofread, revise, and clean up their texts before they turn into print. Of course, there are some fine E-books and print-on-demand books, but there’s also plenty of pretty paltry pulp, too.
What are the implications of such ease of access to readers? Well, it means that it’s no longer as cool or exclusive as it once was to announce, “Yes, I am a published writer.” It also means that voices that were once excluded, marginalized, or ignored now have ways to reach readers. And it means that the famous line that Bobby Knight, the pugnacious former basketball coach from Indiana, once threw at sports reporters, “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things,” is now truer than it ever was. With only a little assistance, a second grader can become a published writer and rightly stake a claim in same arena as Stephen King, Stephen Crane, and Stephenie Meyer as a published writer.
Fortunately, the new ease of publishing does not mean the end to quality writing as we once knew it. There are still plenty of old-fashioned publishing outlets that have hardnosed, honest editors who work hard to help writers improve their work before it’s published. But those other, open access, modern publishing outlets don’t necessarily doom the reading world to a steady overdose of unregulated, unedited writing. Instead, these new easy-access venues place more responsibility than ever on a writer’s wrists. Writers, especially those who write for blogs that have only three readers, must become their own gatekeepers and editors. If they don’t police their own work, nobody else will—and before they know it, they’ll be down to two readers.
2 responses to “Can Anybody Be a Writer?”
Do we only have three readers, Chris? You, me and Ann Dee. And Kyra once a week. That’s three and 1/5.
Thanks for this post. I don’t know why, but it made me feel better. Perhaps I am ill.
Hey, I’m a loyal reader. That makes four. No, three! Hey, if any idiot with a computer can blog the H-e-double-hockey-sticks out of the internet, there’s got to be hope for all of us. I pray I get an editor one day who makes me work so hard on my manuscript that I get a nosebleed and cry. And I put out an amazing book.