Writing in a Canyon

It seems like often when I am talking to my friend, Jason Griffey, we end up talking about the print format and how it is going to die. Notice I did not say if. I think we always circle back to this because usually one or both of us are in the middle of some kind of writing project or other and we are frustrated with the process or the medium. Both, usually.

I am in the middle, the literal middle, of writing a book and the process has been interesting. Most days I hate it, though I do love to write in general, but writing a book has been not exactly what I thought it would be. It took a conversation with Jason for me to put my frustrations into words. I should clarify that by book, I mean a print book, made of paper and sitting on your shelf. I do think print books will be with us for a long time to come but I believe their purpose will be collection and vanity printing, not for reading and certainly not for most research. Here are some reasons from a writer’s perspective that cropped up in our chat:

Writing a print book is like writing in a vacuum. I am used to immediate feedback. I have mostly written for online venues where people are not shy about telling you to your virtual (or real) face that what you are writing is amazing or absolute trash. Sometimes they tell you both in the same sentence. This helps ideas become refined and evolve in amazing ways. I am used to the wisdom of the crowd being a sounding board. Writing a print non-fiction book means you write to yourself. Your sounding board is you. It is boring! I do not like it. I do not like it with green eggs and ham!

Some days I feel like I am typing into a canyon and the only thing coming back to me is the clicking of my keyboard after it has distorted itself by time and distance. It sounds different but it is the same stuff I just sent forth. It is not a satisfying process nor do I think it is a conducive one to brilliant new ideas. As my conversation with Jason proves, I have the best ideas when spurned on by my peers.

You might argue that I am just accustomed to social media, I have ADD instead of writer’s block, or that I need instant gratification. Perhaps you are right, but I am not the only crazy person who feels this way and it is one of the reasons why print books are going to go away. And it will happen sooner than we think.

The other main reason that this process has grated on my mind is a very practical one. Most books it is out of date as soon as the first sentence is typed, let alone edited, typeset, printed, delivered, and actually read by a consumer. Add to that equation a book that involves a discussion of technology and you are in serious trouble. I am writing a book that discusses technology and I find myself being a bit more general than I would like. I am saving individual tool highlights for the appendix and in the chapters I try to be general, wikis instead of MediaWiki for example, because I do not want the reader to be distracted from the concept by the outdated tool mentioned. In an extreme case, the use of an outdated tool in a discussion could actually damage the argument if I then loose credibility for its use. For some books, this may not be an issue if the tools are the discussion (or maybe even more so?), but I am talking about the ideas and beliefs behind the tools or the uses applied to the technology, not the technology itself.

As a consumer, I believe the print industry is just not a sustainable model in its current iteration. The problems with the industry and the format for consumers are many, but this post is not about those reasons. As a writer, I just hate that I feel like I am yelling to myself about something that will be outdated by the time it is in print. On the upside, that is why the book will have an accompanying web site with new links and information. Technology to the rescue of print media!

I feel, I should, after all this blathering, disclose what I am writing because I know you all want to know so you can buy it when it is out. Vanity printing, I said, remember? *smirk* It is a book for Information Today, Inc. on how the wisdom of crowds and technology has changed conferences, continuing education, and training. It is, I believe, very exciting because the very nature of the way we learn and share is evolving. The wisdom of crowds is changing the individual.

I am shocked most days that I am writing a book at all. In my mind I think, “Holy crap! I am writing an actual book! And people might actually read the thing!” My manuscript is due in May.

–Jane, is living with her laptop until May

3 thoughts on “Writing in a Canyon

  • February 18, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Jane – I share many of your sentiments. I had a book published last year: “The Web and Parents: Are You Tech Savvy?” and I did use specific Websites and tools and I know that some will disappear from the Web while people are still buying the book. Several example sites and tools I chose disappeared during the writing process forcing me to choose others. It’s a risky thing to write about the Web. However, I think the part that worries me just as much is that the book will not be sold in stores and it’s a book for people who don’t know much about the Web. That means that they have to go online, find it and order it in an environment that they are unsure about!

  • February 18, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I understand your point for the type of writing you are currently doing, but do you think the same holds true for fiction or possibly even less time sensitive non-fiction subjects like history or literature criticism?

    What kind of continuous feedback would be useful to fiction authors? I obviously understand that they have people who critique their work along the way, but I don’t see how putting their creative work out to be critiqued by an endless number of people while they are still in the process of writing would be useful. It would most likely result in to much disparate feedback that would hamper instead of benefit the writing process.

  • February 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

    The question about fiction and history related things is a good one. I was thinking about it as I was writing, but decided to skirt around it. I do not think this applies to fiction. Fiction, I think, is an entirely different animal and continuous feedback is not as important, perhaps detrimental. Non-fiction history books would still benefit from a feedback process though and I do think these ideas apply to them, though in a different way. The sources for history are not ever changing, but the new discoveries and insights are. It would be interesting to see, for example, a book about the Holocaust written by a community of regular German citizens and Jewish citizens of the time. Throw in a few of the next generation and that would be a powerful community written book!

    However, I do still think that printed fiction books will also cease to be as common but for entirely different reasons. I think fiction books too will be printed only for collecting and vanity, not for simple reading. Printed books are already prohibitively expensive for many. A new hardback easily costs $30+tax and that is more money than most people are willing to spend these days. I only buy print books that I want to keep, to collect and I am running out of physical space to keep them. Plus, my Kindle is much easier to cart around then a 5 lb hardback.

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