A few weekends ago I came across this article in the Independent on Sunday (thanks to a tweet from Professor Sue Thomas). The article itself trotted out the cliches on ebooks, with John Walsh saying "[ebook] callowness makes you weep" and hence we go back to dead wood fetishes and the boredom of square one in the great ebook debate. The usual suspects- Nicholas Carr, Sven Birkerts- were quoted arguing that in the 21st century nobody reads War and Peace anymore because our brains are too withered, our attention spans too shot and fractured, to even care about the notional existence of great literature and that we would rather consume endless amounts of intellectual junk food like social networking sites and crap TV. Ok then. Like, whatever. More interesting were the opinions offered by various commentators at the end of the article. One however caught my eye for the wrong reasons. Andrew Cowan, a lecturer on the UEA's famous Creative Writing MA was talking about the attitudes of his students to digital publishing. Here are some quotes:
- "As a student 20 years ago, I did the MA that I now teach in prose fiction and I see no change in the approach and ambitions of my own students to that of me and my peers back then."
- "Ahead of this interview, I talked to them about digitisation and not one of them had heard of Twitter, and they were all hostile to the idea of e-books."
- "None of them keeps a blog, though one admitted sheepishly that she'd started one, and the others were all smirking about it. This is the new generation of writers."
Whoa. It is frankly bizarre that this school boy attitude runs rampant on a course designed to foster creativity. Not only does it show a woeful lack of imagination, vision and sense of possibility in different forms and genres of writing but it also shows an utterly and foolishly blinkered attitude to the modern business of publishing.
Cowan says "Their ambition is to be on sale in high-street bookshops and published in book form by a mainstream publisher", yet they seemed to think that a luddite view on blogging, ebooks and new media generally is clever in a climate where publishing is become increasingly engaged with and reliant on digital marketing strategies, and where authors (especially debut authors) are expected to be actively involved with promotion of their books. Their thoughts on writing seem to extend to getting published- but not actually selling any books. In the current retail climate this is possibly unwise.
The technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 report makes fascinating reading in contrast. Outlining how blogs and blogging have become, in the words of Joicih Ito, "a global main-stream activity", it describes a flourishing and heterogeneous media landscape. It makes cleaer that as with books there are countless kinds of blogs, from personal diaries to rich news sites; as with books the potential for creativity and communication is near limitless. Decent traffic figures right down the tail and the widespread potential for monetizing blogs both stood out to me as examples of how blogging remains a viable platform for publishing.
While some aspiring novelists spurn blogging others are making a success of it. Think of people like Alison Norrington or Scott Sigler who have used blogging technologies to tell and promote their novels. While many people cherish the opinion that their unique vision stands out the sheer mass of the estimated 188 million blogs seems to curl the lips and spike the arrogance of those who can't see that this is now part of the writosphere as much as scribbling sestinas and neo-Freudian meditations on childhood.
Creative writing is as much about tweeting and posting on blogs as anything; or if not then it will be, or at least, if writers accept the challenge, could be. The novel to was once seen as a rather shabby medium, not fit for the Augustan literary elite.