When I launched Writing-World.com nearly 16 years ago (in February 2000), I never imagined it would come so far or reach so many. Back then, my plan was to launch my own writing site, because I knew I was about to be "let go" by Inkspot -- then, arguably, the most popular community for writers on the Web. Little did we imagine that it would be Inkspot itself that was "let go," shut down by its new owners. On her way out (I hope she slammed the door afterward), Debbie Ridpath Ohi redirected Inkspot's readers to the newborn Writing-World.com.
Now it's time to close my own door, quietly, on this chapter of my writing life and (I hope) open another. Sixteen years ago, launching a successful writing site was my goal and dream. That dream has been fulfilled. It's time for a new one.
But I can't help lingering on the threshold to look back. After all, I've spent nearly 16 years writing in this space. How better to close than with some observations on how the writing world has changed in that time?
We've certainly seen amazing changes in technology. When I launched Writing-World.com, the web was raw and new. I gave a seminar at a writing conference that was meant to be about how writers could benefit from the Internet -- and ended up explaining, instead, why a writer ought to invest in a computer!
I could spend pages talking about technological changes, but let's cut to the chase, to the one that has had the largest impact on writing and publishing: E-books! The Great Debate about e-books has been raging since Writing-World.com's beginnings. By now, according to many pundits of that day, print books should have disappeared entirely! But I doubt even the most fanatical e-book proponents could have imagined the changes wrought by Kindle. (Back then, we were still debating the merits of Word vs. PDF!) Print-on-demand was becoming a new reality as well, but 16 years ago, I don't think anyone truly imagined that it would become possible to publish and get your book onto a major marketing platform -- for free!
Today, forums and blogs are filled with commentary on how the e-book (and POD) revolution has, well, "revolutionized" writing and publishing. We're often told that we writers now have, for the first time, "control over our own destinies." For many of us, this means that, instead of struggling for two or three years to get an agent and a publisher, and eventually earning a measly few thousand dollars on a book that is read by tens of thousands of people, we can get that same book published tomorrow and thank our stars if even 100 readers come across it and we earn enough to buy lunch.
So what has changed for writers in the past 16 years? For the better, I mean?
Insert drum roll here...
Ah... erm... really... nothing.
Because despite all the changes in technologies and delivery systems, despite the fact that you could (if you wished) set your novel to the music of a symphony of your own composing (assuming you could in fact compose a symphony, an issue that rendered this particular, and very real, prediction a little less popular than anticipated), one thing has not changed.
All the fuss about getting our books onto Smartphones, or Kindles, or iPads, or this platform or that one, makes it easy to forget one key factor: To readers, these technologies are just new and different ways to access what they've wanted all along. Smartphones and Kindles simply give readers new ways to get what they've been looking for, not just for 16 years but possibly for 1600: A good story.
Readers don't really care how you get your book to market. They care what you bring to the marketplace. And that hasn't changed. Readers want good stories. They want good writing. They want characters that they can love, or hate -- but most of all that they'll enjoy spending time with. Lots of time. They want worlds that make them wish they could pack their bags and move in. They want tales that feel "real" even when set in another universe.
Readers may enjoy being able to access a book on an iPad, but many don't actually care whether what they access was written last week or, say, in 1843. (If you don't believe me, just scan the listings to see how many variants on A Christmas Carol will be playing on TV this holiday season!) Our competition isn't just the author next door or every newbie who publishes on Kindle; it's every author who ever lived.
And that brings me to the other thing that hasn't changed in 16 years, or 160 years: the fact that there are still no shortcuts to good writing.
The last two decades have brought us miracles in time-saving and labor-saving devices (leaving most of us with less time and more labor than ever). This has led some writers to believe that everything ought to happen faster -- including becoming a "good" writer. I know of a company that sells "writing classes" that consist of a five-minute talk designed so that you can watch it on your phone while standing in line.
But here's the thing, the thing that hasn't changed: Some things can't be rushed. Just because it takes only five minutes to microwave a bag of frozen peas doesn't mean it takes peas any less time to grow. We may enjoy shortcuts that are wired into our electronic devices, but our brains have not (yet) been rewired. To become truly skillful and proficient at writing (or anything else) still requires time, hard work, practice, more time, disappointment, time, ah-ha moments, rejection, and... more time. And hard work. And did I mention time?
Time and hard work will not guarantee success. The lack of them, however, will definitely guarantee failure. Because the thing that really hasn't changed in 16 years is the fact that we writers have always been in control of our own destinies. What we control -- and always have -- are the choices we make, and the tools that we use, to reach the goals that have set for ourselves, the dreams we long to reach. The key to controlling one's destiny is not some new technology. It is 1) identifying where you want to go; 2) identifying the steps that are irrevocably necessary to get you there; and 3) taking those steps.
And that, dear readers, is one reason why I am signing off, to buy myself some time for that hard work. I hope that I can follow my own advice!
As for all of you who seek to take charge of your destinies and dreams, remember that Writing-World.com is still there to help you. I hope it will remain a source of help and guidance for many years to come.
And now I will say, not "good-bye," but "au revoir." If you'd like to remain on my "list," to get updates and notifications about my work and the world of writing, please sign up for my new mailing list at the link below. (The old list is so full of outdated addresses that I'm simply going to retire it.) Sign up at:
And please, keep in touch! I may be closing the door on this newsletter, but I am definitely not closing it on you!