There is an article in today’s Telegraph in which Jonathan Franzen, the American author of The Corrections and Freedom, finds that freelance writers being forced into “constant self-promotion” instead of developing their craft “particularly alarming”. He told Radio 4’s Today program that he used technology constantly, but warned that is was a “weird compulsive, almost addictive thing which doesn’t seem to have much to do with what were thought to be the great benefits of it.” He claimed that young authors were being told they must improve their social network presence before their manuscripts were considered. “Agents will now tell young writers, ‘I won’t even look at your manuscript if you don’t have 250 followers on Twitter’.”
He said that observers could see the “demolition of the independent book business and really the demolition of the brick-and-mortar book business” by internet sellers.
Speaking of Twitter, he added: “But really this kind of crowd-sourcing model – everything shared, communal – doesn’t really work. Most important, the whole definition of literature is that people go off by themselves, develop a distinctive voice. It’s not a communal enterprise.”
I think that Franzen makes a very good point, and it’s the reason I don’t have a Twitter account. For me, writing a 140 character tweet every day would be a time-consuming exercise in triviality. What could I possibly say, every day, in 140 characters, that would be insightful about my writing in particular or about the writing of fiction generally?
The reasons I have this blog is that, once a week, I have to try to say something insightful about the business of writing. It makes me think about what I do, what other writers do, and how and why we do it. It’s a kind of discipline. Initially, I had thought I would enter into a dialogue with interested readers. This, unfortunately hasn’t happened: after two years, there are only six genuine comments. If I want to read what people think of my novels, I’m better off looking at the reviews I have received. Still, some people are following this blog: about 1000 per week, not including spam.
I can’t help but comment on Franzen’s “constant use of technology”. I remember him saying a couple of years ago that he did not have Internet access at the desk where he wrote. I could not write without almost constant Internet access, because it helps me keep the settings real, interesting and credible.
Technology does have its drawbacks, though. Earlier this week, I replaced a ten year old desk top with a new, state-of-the-art laptop, which I have connected to my keyboard, monitor and mouse. Going from Windows XP to Windows 8 was a bit of an ordeal: ‘how do I close this window?’. And, I had to get professional help to move my email, calendar, and contacts from Outlook Express on the old machine to Outlook on the new one. But it’s done now: much faster and more reliable. Besides, I’ve even got an iPhone (instead of my ancient dumb phone) which can tell me more about the world than I could possibly want to know.