We’ve heard of all kinds of “bubbles”, or market excesses. We had a tech bubble when people thought stocks like amazon.com were actually worth a lot. We had a real estate bubble where the market was willing to run up housing prices beyond what was reasonable. Why do we do this? Apparently, it’s what we do as a people – over-do.
One of the many smaller bubbles that make up our world of great excess is a bubble in writing. With blogs like this one, twitter, and all the other ways that a keyboard becomes a connection, writing is generated spontaneously in ways that would amaze anyone from the printing age of a few decades ago.
How is this a bubble?
The investment isn’t in dollars, but time. Hours are often spent in front of a computer chatting with strangers. Novel writing is something like a strange lottery, where instead of plunking down a buck for a ticket you have to work for months perfecting your tome before you can find out if it hits the big prize. The investment, if you even out your odds, is valued at considerably less than minimum wage on an hourly basis. So you can compare all of the time spent writing to a dollar investment, if you really want to, meaning that it can be compared to the other “bubbles” that we’ve seen.
The main feature of any bubble is that while the quantity increases, quality becomes questionable. That’s not a slam on my fellow novel writers and their share of words, but their craft generally is lost in the noise. Sales of books in the USofA appear to be stagnant, increasing with inflation and nothing more since 2002. It’s hard to track just how many submissions come in each year, since so few are ever actually read, but it’s gotten to the point where no publisher will pay an advance for a work of fiction. While writers remain the primary means of production, there appear to be an awful lot of them. The value of their work has clearly decreased thought increased supply and constant demand.
Why do people write? I’ve asked this question many times here, and discussed it with a lot of other “writers” at other sites. The short answer is that it’s like any other art form, such as music or knitting or cooking. People get into these arts because it gives a chance to relax and consider their world. Arts are a form of meditation, especially in a culture that values activity and production rather than sitting around doing nothing. Only some of these art forms have a peculiar need to exhibit or generally have other people be a passive part of what you’ve done. Writing isn’t something you shove in a drawer – it’s supposed to be shared.
That is the nature of the Writing Bubble. People are definitely writing because “They have to”, the most common response when they are asked directly why they write. It’s a kind or therapy just like nearly any other folk art. Words are uniquely social, meaning that they require a kind of performance even more than music. The internet has suddenly given many of these people an outlet to be seen that was missing before, and the amount of writing has exploded. It’s even gotten more people interested in having a novel written, even if it’s self-published. More and more people are choosing writing as their form of therapy through art.
What will happen because of this? Hopefully, people will develop skills through practice and we’ll have more interesting conversations about the world we live in because of it. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s possible. The biggest argument against this outcome is that it’s clear that the increase in writing is not being met by an increase in reading, at least not to the same extent. Writing doesn’t go as far as it used to, and a lot of stuff is going unread.
The ultimate end of the Writing Bubble won’t come in a spectacular collapse that brings down Penguin Books or Harper Collins. In fact, the Writing Bubble may not end at all. What matters isn’t how much people write but how much they read, or at least how much people are willing to seek out new writers that will expand their minds. That’s where this all moves from being a form of meditation and self-expressive folk art to being something cultural.
Perhaps in the end, this internet thingy will really connect people’s ideas to each other, rather than their therapies. Here’s hoping.