The (Possibly Non-Existent) Future of Writing

June 30th, 2010

Two of my sons are currently enrolled in creative writing courses.  One’s away at the University of Iowa, studying fantasy writing and one’s living at home, taking a class through the Center for Talented Youth on . . . fantasy writing.

(It’s making me wonder whether I ignored them too much as toddlers while reading Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin.  “I know how to make Mom love me!  I’ll write a fantasy novel!  She’ll finally pay attention to me!”)

Anyway, they’re both having a ball and I’m very jealous since they get to do all these totally fun writing exercises and work on stories all day long–THEY don’t have to stop to throw in another load of laundry or cook dinner or pick someone up in LA traffic.  (Hey, Angelenos: anyone else feeling like there’s construction on every single freakin’ street in LA right now?  Took me an hour to get home from Hollywood today.  Geesh.)

It’s all lovely–except I’m a little worried that I’m encouraging them down a road that won’t lead anywhere.  Is there really a future to writing books now that entertainment of all sorts is provided free at any time of the day or night on the ‘Net?   I feel like I just squeaked in as the door was closing and am lucky enough to get paid (a little) to do what I love (a lot).  But I honestly don’t get what the future model is for the book business.  Books are being published in their entirety on the web and beamed electronically to handheld devices for mere pennies.  I’ve given up on hoping the bound book as we know it will survive: now I just want the concept of a book, written by an author and nurtured by an editor, to survive in any form, in such a way that it can support both.

But I’m not convinced it’s a realistic hope.  People are getting more and more used to pressing a button on their computer and getting a TV show or a movie or a–yes–book for FREE.  Why would they pay for that?

Anyway, this is the subject of a much longer discussion and I’m still the new improved Claire who only writes (moderately) short posts.  But it’s something I’m thinking about.  Are my kids wasting their time?  It doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to summer camp of course–that’s just about having fun and being engaged and happily they’re both having a ball and there are thousands of kids in baseball camp who won’t ever turn pro–but when the time comes to choose a college major or graduate program, should I discourage them from pursuing the career both their parents have felt lucky to have?

I guess in the end it’s up to them.  And on the plus side, they’re both leaning toward fantasy writing: a lucrative genre with kick-ass covers.  That one may outlast all the rest.

  • annie says:

    I can’t imagine a world without real books. There’s something special about picking up a new book, feeling the cover and then buying it in a physical bookstore, preferably an independent one. It’s also much more satisfying to turn a physical page. The kindle is fine for traveling, but at home, give me a book any day.

  • Angela says:

    You know, there is no way, in my opinion, that a handheld device will ever take over a book. Take for instance, reading next to the pool. With a handheld device, you have glare on the screen and you have to worry about it getting wet & completely ruined. Most of us stare at computer screens all day long, and so the last thing we want to do while we’re relaxing is stare at this little screen to read a “book.” I downloaded the Kindle app on my iPod Touch, and I never use it! I just love real books, and I think a lot of people feel the same. And, if we want our kids to feel the same, stop giving them electronics when they are 2 years old!!! What happened to the days of books, cardboard boxes, stuffed animals and blankets entertaining kids for hours on end?!

    • Claire says:

      I know what you mean, Angela. Did you see Toy Story 3? It made me nostalgic for the way kids used to play.

      We do have a Kindle and we use it occasionally (mostly when we need a book immediately for some reason and for traveling) but every member of my family prefers a real book. I hope you’re right that people will always prefer books but it just feels to me like we’re heading toward a day when we all carry around one palm-sized device that does everything for us and it will be the way we read books in the future. But maybe I’m wrong and books will always be beloved! I certainly hope so.

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