by Will Viharo
It’s easy to romanticize the past from a healthy distance, and with a mature perspective. Ideally, one contextualizes previous struggles as stepping-stones to one’s current condition, since the present is all that ever truly matters.
You can’t change the past, but you still have a shot at altering your future – and for writers with a bold independent streak, that’s never been more true.
I’m old enough that I actually wrote many of my currently published novels on something called a “typewriter.” If that doesn’t ring a bell, Google it. It’s a relic from the era of cassette tapes, rotary phones, and TV antennas. You can Google those, too.
Sometimes I miss the staccato, rat-a-tat-tat sound of artistic progress. It was like firing a machine gun loaded with dreams right at my target audience.
Except there was no audience at the time. I was typing inside the echoing void of my own lonesome imagination.
That’s one thing I don’t miss about the pre-digital days: the absence of not only an audience, but of an online support network. Whether it’s via personal email or social media, you can stay in touch with and follow fellow scribes and literati of all stripes, providing you with a solid platform of communication and community.
It wasn’t like that in the previous century, trust me. Back then, you had to physically contact and congregate with like-minded folks. If you could find them.
And that’s still a good idea. It’s not always very easy. At least not as easy as fraternizing via your fingertips.
The classic image of a writer hunkered over a typewriter tapping away in between shots of bourbon (or sips of tea) still inspires many authors, even if the actual archaic mechanics involved aren’t a subject of common nostalgia.
Many of today’s young writers have never even used a typewriter. They only know the comfort, convenience and commercially viable world of digital technology, which takes them through their computer-composed manuscripts through the self-publishing process and into the global market place without so much as the cost of a stamp. You know, to snail mail in your submissions to editors.
Now you can not only email a document to prospective publishers, if you choose to go the traditional route, but that document itself can be automatically spell-checked and easily edited.
Of course, I am pointing out the obvious benefits of today’s technology more as a reminder than a newsflash. As someone who has lived through several eras of the publishing industry, I know first hand just how much it’s evolved, and how quickly.
I’ll be 53 this April, and I’ve been writing since I was 16. Many of the novels I wrote during my 20s remain “training manuals,” i.e. self-designated exercises rather than work I wish to share with the public, though that was not my plan at the time. It was simply part of my unique education.
I’ve had a New York agent, been courted by a major New York publisher, been published by small presses, and self-published. Each has its up and downs, plus and minuses, all varying according to the individual. There is no magic formula or tried-and-true path to success.
And you still need to type all your books yourself, unless, of course, you can afford to dictate your lucrative words to a secretary. If so, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. You’d be too busy and rich to bother.
Power to the 99%!
The rest of us need to recognize the fact that we live in a terrific time for aspiring authors. Sure, the competition may be tougher than ever, given the glut of both true talents and hacks crowding the field, but the opportunities are virtually limitless.
It’s also a new golden age for readers. Amid the amateurish efforts are true gems that would’ve otherwise been filtered out by an increasingly monolithic system interested only in turning a profit, not in nurturing creativity.
And you don’t even need a typewriter. If you have a computer, you already own the equipment not just to write but also to publish your own work, or even someone else’s, if you’re that ambitious and responsible.
So never take our independent industry for granted. Just take advantage.
Best of all? Good riddance to "liquid paper." Google it.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO (the author in 1992, age 29)