Friday, June 10, 2016

Ramblings and Ruminations

Yep, I paid to license this
I was going to chat about creativity today. Creativity and what it's worth. But I don't have the energy.

There's been a lot of discussion recently in the blogosphere about piracy and pricing and publishing in general. Nothing new, except maybe the increasingly militant tone of some readers. I think a lot of it began when an author received a note from a reader informing her that the reader had enjoyed her latest book, but had returned it because she felt the book should have been free. That all books should be free. (I'm summarizing.)

It's not surprising that some readers feel this way. The surprising part is that the reader thought such a message would be received with anything but rage on the part of the author. Maybe it was a deliberately antagonizing move. Or maybe the reader honestly doesn't get it.

There's a surprising amount of that going around. I've read some fascinating comments from non-writers about what writing is and isn't -- and why it is or isn't worth anything.

The idea that storytelling isn't worth the paper it's printed on (or the cyber space it occupies) is a new one. It's a new one in any culture and at any time period. But it does seem to have taken hold in this century. Now, largely it's taken hold because it's self-serving. People very often try to justify the shitty things they do by coming up with elaborate reasons for why it's actually okay. And a lot of the reasoning for piracy smacks of that. Lots of grandiose talk about defining legal terms and artistic obligation and so forth. Most of it missing the point that piracy is illegal pretty much everywhere on the planet because most people, including governments, think it's not cool to steal from artists. Most cultures value art and artists. Heck, even the Nazis valued art and artists -- they were just rather particular about which art and artists.

By the way, when I talk about "piracy" I'm not talking about sharing a book with your mom or ripping a CD for your girlfriend. I'm not talking watching YouTube vids or downloading the file of an out-of-print book from a dubious source or snitching a Google image for a blog post. Yes, all that IS piracy, but it's also inevitable and -- in my opinion -- harmless. Not everyone agrees, but I don't have a problem with low level sharing. No, what I think of as piracy are torrent sites and massive sharing -- and the startlingly self-righteous and hostile attitude that frequently accompanies it.

I mean, you can rationalize it however you want--and I've heard some mighty high-falutin' arguments as to why piracy is A-OK--but the bottom line is the pirate is someone who has decided (for whatever reason) that what he or she wants trumps what the artist wants and hopes for. Debate it any way you like, but in the final analysis the argument is What I want is more important than what you want.

Which doesn't exactly make the artist feel good. It doesn't inspire the artist to create more art, let's put it that way.

One intriguing argument posited was that art is created for the purpose of sharing it with others. Now that's a non-artist speaking. Most art is created for the artist. Pure and simple. I write for myself. Most authors do. Most painters paint for themselves. Most songwriters are writing for themselves. I guess acting--maybe all of filmmaking is the exception? Playwrighting? Hm. Musicians are first and foremost creating music for their own pleasure...
Not Vivian Meyer -- but licensed thru Shutterstock

 My point is the act of creation is separate from the act of sharing, let alone the act of selling. Many artists do not share and would not think of selling. Their art remains purely private. It's still art and its still valid whether they ever share it or not. I give you Vivian Meyer.

I would continue to write even if I couldn't sell my work. But would I continue to publish? Hell no. Publishing is a HUGE amount of work and effort and expense. Why on earth would I continue to share my stories if I wasn't being recompensed? Writing the story satisfies my need to create art. The selling of the story...that's a whole other step. And I think that part of the equation is often missed in these debates about what art is and the role of the artist.

Then again, I could be wrong. I think fan fiction writers and much of fandom art is created with the idea of sharing--driven by the idea of sharing. Payment in that case is feedback and engagement. And it's possible that at different stages in an artist's life, feedback and engagement mean more than they do at others.

Another startling argument was the one that no one should have to pay for "ideas" or "imaginings" or "stuff that comes from other people's heads." This sort of falls in with the idea that an ebook is not a physical book and therefore it's not worth anything.

But a bard sitting with his harp singing his tales of gore and glory was still a storyteller and was still recompensed--even revered--for his time and effort and words. There was no physical product to be handed round. The thing of value was the story itself.

And pretty much anything you can think of starts out as an idea, as stuff from other people's heads. Okay, not the natural world. Not a wild flower. But a garden does.

Maybe the problem is thinking of storytelling as a product versus a service. Maybe if we could get across the idea that storytellers are providing the reader with a service she or he cannot provide for himself, it might make more sense? After all, a doctor is not leaving you with a product like the milkman does, but we still believe doctors need to be paid. And typically more than milkmen. there a more valuable service provided than that of teachers? But all too often they hand our own product back to us in its nearly original form. :-D An accountant does not leave you with a physical product...or maybe she does, but it's in the same way that a story can be printed out, yet doesn't have to be printed in order to fulfill it's purpose.

I guess I find the debate -- not the debate, but the hostility toward the idea that an artist would wish to be paid for their work -- dispiriting because I'm having trouble "creating" right now. I don't feel inspired. I don't feel like writing. It's now been two months and when I think of writing I think of how much work it is. How much time and energy and effort go into crafting fiction. If I could just  lean my head against my monitor and transmit complete and readable sentences that would be one thing, but that's not how it works. Furthermore, a monitor makes a very uncomfortable pillow.

So yes, I wanted to chat about what creativity is and what it's worth...what role inspiration plays versus discipline and training. But I find it all very, very wearying. Which gives you an idea of where I'm at from a producing-fiction-for-your pleasure standpoint.

But I saw a picture today -- a book cover -- and I was (briefly) grabbed by that urge to write, to create a story to amuse and entertain myself. Because the act of writing is a powerful and at times pleasurable thing. It is satisfying to create a story for myself. I started thinking about literary mashups and so forth.

Why would a picture of a vintage book jacket stir me to want to write something, anything? I have no idea--and that is the mystery of creativity.

and this I snitched off the internet


  1. I am confounded by the idea that people expect books to be free. Not only free, but good quality. They don't want just any ol' crap. I came of age during the good old Napster downloading for free era. I couldn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now, it was plain stealing and people understood they were stealing.Napster killed the albums because it forced record companies to sell songs as singles instead of part of an album. So maybe you could start charging for each chapter on Wattpad.

    I think the publishing houses are contributing to people thinking they are entitled to free stories, especially for self-published works. Riptide recently lowered the prices on its whole catalog and Dreamspinner regularly has 30% off sales and 99 cent books every weekend.

    Anyway, when you are ready to write again, I will be here ready to pay for it.

    1. Thanks, Lori. I think you're right and there are a lot of contributing factors leading a new generation of readers to question why they should have to pay for entertainment and art.

      I'm not sure why people need to be paid for their word isn't enough of an argument. But then a lot of people imagine that music, painting,'s all just so darned much fun the artist is ALREADY being sufficiently recompensed.


    2. Er...word = work, but in this case it's the same thing. ;-)

  2. I agree with Lori; I just can't begin to comprehend the view that books (or any other creative endeavour) should be free. You can bet that those who think that (if anyone does genuinely think that) has no talent at all. I wonder how much they'd like to work for nothing? Or do they think that the world owes them a living, too?

    Anyway, try not to let the idiots get to you. Just rest and relax this summer, enjoying your swims (especially in the evening) and don't worry about writing again. When the time is right you'll feel the urge again, and maybe then you can sub-contract the more tedious aspects of publishing and selling.

    1. Thanks, Helena! We live in interesting times, that's for sure. On the one hand people are quite cynical, even jaded. And on the other, they're naïve enough to imagine other people will be willing to work for free AND turn out a top-notch quality product while they're at it. Simply for the pleasure of serving their audience. :-D

  3. I work in the health care profession and people tell me the same thing--healthcare should be free, drugs should be free and I don't know why I'm paying you for all this.

    1. Even if you believe healthcare should be provided at free or low cost, someone still has to pay for it! And certainly the people providing the service would need to be recompensed.

      I mean, how lovely if we lived in a communal type society where all our essential needs like food, shelter and romance novels were provided for free and we could all just work for the greater good...unfortunately we're not bees. :-D

    2. This infuriates me! And then people wonder why health care becomes even more expensive!

  4. A thought-stirring post. Thank you. (Gratitude: a form of payment?)

    I can't help but feel that a lot of that privileged attitude springs from a society in which things are come by easily, cheaply, and even free. We expect to walk into a grocery store and find not only stocked shelves, but bargain prices. I know I feel affronted when a restaurant is out of a dish I want. Like they are personally offending me! I was surprised and humbled when a friend from South America told me the grocery stores regularly run out of products, so even people with money in hand are cut off from diet staples.

    With the Internet, we've come to expect instant access to the world of ideas. Streaming music, wikis, libraries of free electronic books... A bounty of information and imagination, all of which comes to us without printing, storing, or shipping -- so, basically without any cost on the part of the person sharing, right? (Mild sarcasm there.)

    I don't know. I'm probably way off the mark. I'm not a pirate and I can't fathom the thought process. I'm the kind of person to thank a tree when I pick an apple. But it's interesting, this all reminds me of being on a friend's farm and spying some chard that had "volunteered" itself--that had self-seeded and was basically growing feral with the weeds. Which turned my idea of food on its head. Until then I basically thought of foodstuffs as products to be traded for in the store, like any other product. But here was food growing from the ground without any help. Food grows from the ground! By itself! Without monocultures, pesticides, or rain dances! OMG! So basically this chard is free. The cherries growing on my tree in the backyard are free, as are the pears that went unpicked in my neighbor's yard last summer. So food is basically free. Why is it so expensive?

    I remember something a farmer told me, that most of the expense of farming goes into harvesting. Then add to that all of the work that went into preparing the ground, paying for the land, putting in infrastructure like irrigation pipes, renting or buying equipment... The chard and the cherries are there because someone put work into planting them in the past, even if they now sustain themselves.

    Maybe it's true that writers write for pleasure and thus would write anyway. I mean, food grows by itself too. *Can* grow by itself. But a lot of work goes into making it possible for this kind of creation to occur. And it certainly takes a lot of resources to package the products of this creation for others, even if electronically. So even "free" things are not free. I'm sorry more people don't get that.

    Also? I think we're basically just SPOILED.

    1. I love your thoughts on gratitude -- I think you're onto something.

      Gratitude is something we should all be practicing all the time. In fact, gratitude is a discipline.

      The happiest people--those who feel most satisfied and sustained--are those who give gratitude freely.

      At the same time, the idea that gratitude should be enough...I ALREADY SAID THANK YOU!!! sort of undercuts the power and sincerity of the emotion. :-D

      Great points here.

  5. God, I'd love to see all these pirates sentenced to a weekend in the general population. I'd PAY to be a fly on the wall.

  6. I find it hard to understand why people think things should be free. If they don't give something, why should they get something? I will, admittedly, take more of a chance on a new to me author if that first book is discounted but if I enjoy their work and it makes me feel satisfied to have read it then I'll buy the rest of their stuff anyway. And probably get it across multiple formats, too - 'p', 'e', & audio. I don't expect it all for free. That's just selfish. (& I bet if you asked the people who won't pay for books to do some work for free that they would be up in arms at the effontry!)
    People are strange. And some are very rude.