Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Artist Dies of Exposure"

Things are weird. I don't seem to be a new writer anymore. Ideally I would like to read over a job description for this stage that I have reached. First I need to identify what this stage is. I'm tempted right now to call it a stage of confusion.

My confusion is exacerbated by the contradictions at play in the book marketplace. What value do we place on the written word? Much has been said on the internet recently about creative folk being expected to do work for free. We are exhorted to refuse work with no pay attached, in order to change the attitude that this is acceptable. As Tim Kreider says in this article in The New York Times, "money is ... how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up." On the one hand technology makes it crazy scary easy to obtain content for free. On the other hand some folk genuinely see what we do as indulgent and in no way the equivalent of whatever they do as a plumber or farmer or politician etc... It makes it very difficult to make a rational and objective decision about what we are worth, and then to place an actual dollar figure on visits, workshops, or anything we write. This is compounded by the fact that there is very little that is uniform about the writing process. You could not apply an amount per word because two stories of the same word length might have varied in the time taken to write them, possibly even by years. This 45,000 word story in no way resembles that 45,000 word story. Talks and workshops are always tailored to the particular requirements of each audience and the focus requested. So not only must I find a unified formula to apply a fair and reasonable value, and factor in what the market might be able to afford, I first have to have encouraged end users to see that they should pay for the work I have done.

I was saddened too to see a bit of outraged brouhaha in the media about the fact that Kim Dotcom's file sharing site Mega was offering free downloads of Man Booker prize winning novel The Luminaries by New Zealander Eleanor Catton. On the one hand I share their outrage. On the other hand I am disappointed that no one previously noticed the books by all the rest of us being downloaded thousands of times for free on sites like Mega. If nothing else I hope this new attention on the issue raises public awareness about the problem. But in an effort to preserve my own life I shan't be holding my breath for change to happen any time soon.

You might think with some years of experience under my belt and a reasonable and varied publishing history that I would have a firmer sense of the value of my work and time. You'd think I would know what point I have arrived at in this career journey of a children's author. It might seem like a leap forward to reach this next step. Yet there is strength and excitement in beginning: trying on a new idea/embracing your creativity is like being the kid in the candy shop drunk on sugar and the power of a disguise. Somehow this lovely story captures this and  having shed the beginner's dinosaur skin I must now figure out how to live as the next me. Allie Brosh understands my confusion perfectly.

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