I want to write a book .... How many of us have said that to ourselves, or out loud to our friends or family? I’d guess almost everyone I or you know has uttered these words at one time or another, or perhaps many times over our lifetimes.
Writing a book is a cultural milestone for anyone who writes one, and has grown to have tremendous meaning and impact.
It’s pretty common to hear people in the book business (writers too) complain that there are "too many books," worried as they are that the bad will drive out the good, or at least make it difficult to find the good ones among the dross. I do not doubt that is difficult to find all the good ones, but I think finding a great book to read today is like falling off a truck.
Isn’t it interesting, and in some ways heartening, to realize that writing a book is something that so many people aspire to? Doesn’t that tell us something good about our culture? At the same time we also worry about the level of literacy in America, and the fact that millions of our fellow citizens never read books, hell, maybe never read magazines, newspapers, or in some cases even the street signs that they ought to be reading to know when to stop, yield, or merge properly.
It seems to me that we are in a golden age of creative culture, whether we recognize it or not. It may not last - we can’t know what kinds of challenges we are going to face in the future that could diminish the time we have to read, write, listen to music, make music, watch films, make films - so much of this engendered by the openness and vast reach of the internet.
If anyone in the future has enough time to sift through all the creative outputs of this era, I believe ours will be thought of as an amazingly productive and interesting culture like no other that has come before us.
I think this huge wave of cultural creativity is a good thing. I don’t care that we don’t have commonly accepted "giants" of literature anymore, I’m happy that there are so many great books to read, new writers to be discovered, riveting stories I may never have time to uncover.
We don’t have a homogenous culture anymore. When those "great" writers of their times were considered great, the critics and tastemakers were a small bunch, themselves a homogeneous group, with similar backgrounds and educations or aspirations to same. Even if you look at the rebels of past times, like the Beatniks, they had all read and then rejected the same writers, they were reacting against the given culture, but to do that, they first had to consume and understand it. Today there is no single stream of culture. I think that is a good thing. But it does eliminate a certain cultural certainty and comfort, which for some people is uncomfortable.
I’m even thrilled that so many writers want to become publishers, or at least make themselves more involved with the business of publishing. I think that is a healthy development too. The wide availability of tools and information spurs creativity on multiple levels.
What this means for everyone who is writing, making music, art, film, video, etc., is that they have to focus on what they do first and foremost, and not worry about becoming rich, famous or even mildly popular. With so much output, the only thing you can strive for is attention.
We live today in an attention economy, where time is more valuable even than money (mostly because we know instinctively that time is precious, fleeting, and in finite supply). All that matters is to find audiences, and to be found (and appreciated) by them. And that makes it all kind of fun, doesn’t it?