In a fascinating look-back on the way things were, publishing icon Joni Evans muses on simpler times in her article, When Publishing Had Scents and Sounds. Her descriptions of the editorial office of the 1970s completely suit my romantic notions. But oh, how things have changed. Darwin, indeed!
Evans writes, “We were a small community of authors, editors and agents, and we were on fire.” It was a time when enthusiasm, insight and belief had power. The world of words seemed tactile and immediate back then. That the sheer enthusiasm of an editor and a house could send an author from obscurity to renown simply by placing the anointed work in Doubleday’s front window is simply amazing!
Today, even with the hard push of a publisher, it seems there are absolutely no guarantees. What lights the world on fire is media attention, and grabbing it amidst the constant noise of a 24-hour news cycle cluttered with both serious issues and inanity is beyond my understanding. Add to that the digital disco of social media where everyone is his or her own publicist, hocking their works and wares on friends and family (and so on, and so on, as the old shampoo commercial used to say). How can anyone hope to stand out in this invariably deafening entrepreneurial clamor?
We authors in this modern moment are also on fire, pursuing our passion for better or worse, seeking out the deep expression our imagination and our understanding of the world. The simplicity of our work never really changes. We come to our desks each day with a cup of coffee and an idea. We open a file or set a pad of paper on our desks. We breathe deeply, then begin laying out the story that’s been churning in our minds.
But when the truth is finally wrought on that stack of sheets (virtual or otherwise), we still long to lift it up and share our effort with the world. Today we must face the whirling storm of multi-media – a drenching cyclone into which we hurl our creative sparks, mostly to watch them quickly quenched by the over-stimulated, over-crowded, super-saturated media world.
As Ms. Evans writes, Charlie Darwin is sitting in the corner office. So much is changing in publishing right now that even insiders are uncertain where the next steps will be. And it’s not just in publishing. The entire world, rocked by economic and technological upset, is trying to find new footing on uncertain ground.
Why should we insignificant writers escape? As I sit at my desk, the pile of pages on my left are my anchor in the storm. I’ll hang onto them for as long as I can, forever if I must, gazing at them with gratitude and trust that somehow they will save me – if not in any professional sense, then perhaps in the honest effort that they represent. They are my offering to myself, my interpretation of this strange experience called life in a chaotic world.