A fecund environment rich with narrative inspiration points. Fuel for enriching process-obsessed conversations. A depression-inducing shitpost that’s annoyingly addictive and impossible to quit. One thing you can trust writers for is evocative descriptions. When Anna Kiernan asked 33 authors, poets, journalists and graphic novel writers for their views on writing culture in a (post) digital age, the floodgates opened. From the influence of social media to the opportunity new tools present for publishing, they had a lot to say.
Do you do social?
Almost 71% of respondents said they used social media to engage their communities and readership, 61% used it to promote their own events and publications as well as share the work and ideas of others. Almost 42% admitted to using social media to stalk and showboat (don’t we all). So with such uniformity in application, surely comes a shared view on social media’s value and purpose? Not so…
“I use it dip my face into the vast ocean of ideas and everyday narratives that are swirling around out there – it’s a fecund environment, pumping out the base ingredients of a million stories, which I’ll probably never get around to writing.”
“I’m only on Twitter – and I’d like to quit, but I find it annoyingly addictive.”
“I use it to engage with my fellow writers. I’ve had six-way conversations about handling point-of-view with well-known writer friends.”
“I used to use social media but it makes me depressed.”
“Nobody really knows where technology is heading, and space is limitless, so it follows that publishers and developers have adopted the business model of throwing everything at the wall and then seeing what will stick.”
Where are we going?
What about the scope and potential of digital for publishing? Is it exciting to think of the possibilities, or tiresome to still be talking about it? Writers were asked to consider how they view and engage with technology as an avenue for adding depth to a text and the reading experience…
“Nobody really knows where technology is heading, and space is limitless, so it follows that publishers and developers have adopted the business model of throwing everything at the wall and then seeing what will stick. As a journalist, I found it variously silly and exciting and it certainly forced me out of my comfort zone, which is entirely healthy. Although the paperback is still the best, most user-friendly piece of technology.”
“Everything apart from the text is just a distraction, or projection of a third party’s perception of what the narrative is about. I don’t even like graphics on covers.”
“This may be a generational thing. Little kids brought up reading on tablets might not have the deep connection to books an earlier generation had, but they might move effortlessly across platforms. We also need to make a distinction between ‘digital’ literature and ‘digitised’ literature.”
How much do you share?
In an essay in the New Yorker in 2013, Thomas Beller wrote about sharing an essay through a series of tweets. He said, “I found the experience to be strange, exhilarating, outrageously narcissistic, frightening, and embarrassing. In other words, like writing.” Asked about Beller’s view of writing, respondents mused on the idea of sharing their life and work online in a similar way.
“Well, Twitter is perfect for the snappy soundbite. I’ve heard it said that if Dickens was around today, he’d be serialising his work on Twitter but I just don’t buy it (Medium, maybe). I even have a problem with Twitter trails and I don’t think I’ve ever written one myself. It seems to violate the USP of the platform. Be concise, keep it simple and then shut up.”
“I am hideously online. In previous versions of my writing life, performative/confessional Twitter disfunction has definitely been a part of my output.”
“Questions about digital culture tend to focus on form, often fixed or idealised. But actually the 'digital revolution' has been used to disenfranchise writers and thinkers in all kinds of ways.”
“Sharing work online is just a different form of publication, albeit in some cases with format and time limits which do alter the experience. For example, taking part in a Twitter chat, I’ve found to be intense, trying to craft engaged and relevant responses in the moment. Afterwards, I did feel vulnerable and exposed as there wasn’t enough time for the reflection and editing processes that I usually undertake before sharing ideas. And yet, it was certainly exhilarating and enabled me to have direct contact with readers and potential readers in a new way.”
“Questions about digital culture tend to focus on form, often fixed or idealised. But actually, the most significant development of the digital age, in my view, relates to the degree of control we (don’t) have over our own information. The ‘digital revolution’ has been used to disenfranchise writers and thinkers in all kinds of ways and to hugely undermine individual rights of privacy and ownership which have protected democracies since the eighteenth century.”
“Being published has always been about 'creating the name of the author' although it's more complex than ever in a digital age.”
Who are you, really?
Author brand is a buzz phrase now that just won’t quit. What responsibility does the author have to promote their own work across endless channels simply by being them? Are these writers doing it and, if so, how do they feel about the idea of branding themselves?
“Some years ago I was introduced to another journalist at some party or other and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Good brand’. It almost brought me out in hives. Writing a novel (or a poem or an article or whatever) is hard enough, without worrying about whether it’s securely on brand or a super-smart rebranding exercise. Just write the thing the best you can and then write something else and something else after that. The story matters more than you.”
“Being published has always been about ‘creating the name of the author’ although it’s more complex than ever in a digital age. It’s going to happen, it’s part of the publishing process. Even anonymous authors, by choosing not to share their ‘real’ identity, are creating a persona. So I feel I may as well embrace it and contribute to the creation of the author brand, on a book by book basis.”
“On one hand: shrinking myself to something digestible and marketable is vile, and shapes my output to fit market forces – which is hideous. On the other: my persona is a buffer between my interior and the market. It lets me stay healthy, sure in the knowledge that who I am and what I sent (sic.) are different things.”
Insights gathered as part of Anna Kiernan’s pending book Writing in the Digital Age.