A Crossroads, Part One

I am a personal and professional crossroads, one I created myself with my insistence on never doing anything the way other people do. That nonconformist attitude has been one of my biggest assets and the cause of some of my worst follies. I don’t know what to do now. And neither does anyone else.

When I was young and wanted to become a writer, the world was a different place. There weren’t computers, cell phones, iPhones and all that shit. The internet was not mainstream and was only used by academic institutions and the military. Heck, I went all the way through college writing my papers on a typewriter from handwritten notes that I made from books in the library. And now I have this haunting feeling that, if I don’t refigure what writing is and what it has to be, immediately then I am going to be dinosaur at age 40. (A short time away, for me)

I had wanted to write books and magazine articles, to make a living writing, and to be read in as large a circle as possible. I never wanted to think about putting in searchable keywords or limiting paragraph length for readability on a screen. I never imagined keeping my diary or notebook where anyone could read it, as in a blog, and I certainly never imagined that writers would need to do that to stay viable. I never conceived of the notion that a writer should also be a photographer or that cameras would soon be smaller than a pack of cigarettes.

I am questioning the need to write books at all now. This dream of mine has been realized right as the bottom is falling out. Amazon.com recently reported that digital download sales have officially exceeded print book sales, at least for them. Why should I seek out traditional publishers for my work, especially ones who aren’t taking part in new media like e-books and Google Books.

And moreover, this leads to questions in my teaching. As a high school creative writing teacher, what do I need to be teaching my students? Should I teach them the traditional way, that varying word choice is best, or the digital way, that more instances of searchable keywords lead to greater responsiveness from search engines?

The fact is that, unlike in the late 1990s when I began writing web content at a time when few people I knew even owned computers, competition for reader’s attention is so expansive now. Getting web-content jobs used to be really easy, but now every writer out there recognizes that having work on the Web may be more important than having books in print. Everyone is blogging, sending e-mailed newsletters, hosting an up-to-date website, tweeting, updating Facebook and MySpace statuses. When are we supposed to WRITE? And who is reading all stuff? Is anyone? Are we all just freakishly panicking, trying to be “out there,” when no one is even reading all the shit we’re throwing out there.

The sad fact is: no one really knows. So, for this dilemma I am facing, there is no one to turn to.

[continued in “A Crossroads, Part Two” ]

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