This is my favorite time of year. I love the colors. I love the way you can drive down a lane and be utterly surrounded by swathes of crimson and gold, on the ground and in the air, and swirling on the breeze. I love pumpkins and squash and corn. And apples... My grocery store, for the first time, has brought in local "Honey Crisps" and I'm buying them by the peck, storing them in the vegie bin so that I can snack on crisp sweetness all month long.
Most of all, I love the feeling of energy that comes when the heat of summer gives way to that first tang of autumn. I want to tackle new challenges, new projects. I drag out my crafts and beads and start preparing Christmas gifts. And I start thinking about the fact that winter isn't far away, and all that stands between me and cabin fever is the keyboard.
First, however, we hit Thanksgiving. And it's traditional at this time of year (well, traditional quite a bit down the road, but this is my only editorial of the month) to think about what we have to be thankful for.
Now, writers come in for a fair amount of doom-and-gloom predictions. It seems that pundits are always predicting the imminent demise of the written word. And there's no doubt that being a writer is far from an easy career. Pay rates have scarcely risen in decades; I know plenty of magazines that offer the same fee today for a 2000-word article that they offered 20 years ago. Markets are drying up, and the competition keeps getting stiffer.
Add in the social media phenomenon, and one might suppose that things are truly looking bleak for us wordsmiths. The next generation, we're told, is growing up with Twitter and Facebook and texting -- they don't even think in entire words, let alone in long strings of words put together in something as archaic as a book. It's short-attention-span time, we're told -- don't even bother trying to communicate a message you can't shrink to 140 characters.
I have news for the pundits, and for writers who fear their world will disappear in a wave of blogs and tweets: We've heard it before. We'll hear it again. Let's start with television, that sure-fire assassin of books and literacy. The generation raised on the "idiot box," we were told, would never have the patience to read -- they wanted their messages delivered in pictures and soundbites. They'd never learn to appreciate literature. Well, folks, that generation is US -- and somehow we made it.
Then we were reassured that, thanks to the Internet, people would never be willing to read more than the amount of text that would fill the screen. Scrolling would be too much trouble. It was time for multimedia works, we were told: Pictures, animation, audio clips, and interactive features. Anything, in short, but actual WORDS. And yet the Internet has managed to bring more words, more literature, more information, and more straight, unadorned text to the world than just about any invention since the printing press.
Now we're being warned that the rise of Twitter, blogs, Facebook and texting is going to produce yet another generation that will never have the patience or the attention-span to read. And a few years from now, there will be yet another crisis that spells the doom of the written word, and then another, and another...
So here's the good news, folks. The world still needs writers. It needs writers no less today than at any other point in history. What the "world," and the pundits, tend to forget is how much of life, including politics and commerce and social interaction and social media, is driven by the written word. Want to set up a Facebook page? You'll need to read the instructions -- and somebody has to write those instructions. Do you want to blog? A productive blogger probably churns out as much as two or three books' worth of text a year -- and people read it.
Magazines and newspapers are kept alive by advertising -- but that advertising goes nowhere if no one wants to buy the publication. No one subscribes to junk mail, or buys it from the rack. If magazines had nothing but ads, they'd end up in the landfills and recycle bins. It's writing -- articles that readers want to read, about subjects that have meaning to those readers -- that keeps the magazines, and their advertisers, in business. Without writers, not only would the magazines and newspapers die, but so would many of their sponsors.
How about books? Yes, we keep hearing that fewer and fewer people are buying books (though pricing paperbacks and $8 or $9 could be part of the problem!). But publishers are businesses too. Without new readers, they don't stay in business -- and without new writers, they won't attract new customers. Publishers still need you. Kindle needs you. (I do get a kick out of Kindle's new ad on Amazon, though: "Buy a book once, read it anywhere..." Hey, guys, did you know you've been able to do that with a print book for centuries?) Most of all, readers still need you.
So as the days grow shorter and darker and colder, don't let the impending gloom of winter and the ever-present gloom of pundits lead you to believe that your days as a writer are growing short as well. (Gloom sells newspapers -- but someone has to write that, too!) They aren't. The world runs on words. Words are our business. And that's something to be thankful for!
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