Times are a-changin’ which means all writers must keep a-changin’ too, if we want to be published and read. Long-gone is the myth of the writer in the cold-water flat banging away on a typewriter and sending the results to a big name publisher who “discovers” a brilliant story within the coffee-stained pages. It’s not happening in this day and age.
Publishers no longer wade through manuscripts littered with typos, misspellings, dangling modifiers, and split infinitives hoping to find a good yarn or information worth publishing. Writers are expected to have mastered the essential basics of the craft of writing—or to have hired a good editor who has—before approaching a publisher.
The Old Order Hath Changeth in Writing, Like Everything Else
When you read stories written in the ‘40s, and ‘50s, you’ll notice there is no mention of “pasta,” only spaghetti and macaroni. In most households, rice was offered as dessert in a pudding, never as part of the main course. Was anyone ever served yogurt or seaweed? I don’t think so. Our drinking water came from a tap or a fountain or would be carried from home—in a thermos if you had money, in a glass jar or bottle if you didn’t.
Do any of you remember when you didn’t have to take off your shoes when going through security before boarding a plane, and you were cautioned to keep your bags locked because of ongoing theft by airport personnel? There has been a multitude of changes since those days.
Some major changes that have taken place in the last 50 years:
- Undersea cables and communication satellites have transformed the communication process.
a) Desktop and laptop computers and various handheld devices have made typewriters obsolete.
b) The cell phone has (mostly) replaced landlines,and the cell phone and the Internet with email and messaging in various forms has changed the way we keep in touch with each other. It’s difficult to become lost, or—if desired—disappear for a while with GPS and various tracking devices built into so many items we carry with us wherever we go.
- The camera, film, and the film-developing services have been replaced by the phone-camera and other digital cameras.
- Office efficiency has vastly improved with computers, cell phones, and printers. However, with wireless connections, we no longer have the ability to leave the office behind us on weekends nor on vacation, even if we travel to another country.
- Companies today need a visible online presence with text, photos, and videos in order to advertise, sell, and communicate with buyers.
- Online advertising has reduced print advertising to such an extent that newspapers have become smaller, have amalgamated, or have gone out of business altogether. Many people now receive their news online through electronic newspapers or through social media.
- There has been a financial revolution with the rise of online banking, and credit and debit cards have (almost) replaced cash transactions. Online orders and online payments for goods and services are increasing in popularity on a daily basis.
- There is a new, celebrity culture with websites like TMZ keeping everyone up to date with intimate details of the lives of the rich and famous. Many famous people spend so much money on their appearance, it has seriously promoted unrealistic expectations of how desirable males and females should look:
a) The signs of aging can be hidden now, and medically smoothed, unlined faces are framed by color-enhanced hair and extensions, and beaming smiles display perfect, sparkling white ceramic-capped teeth.
b) Exercise and careful eating and dieting has reshaped normal female bodies into the thin shapeless forms of 14-year-old boys with feminine curves surgically implanted and very large breasts and extremely fat behinds now publically admired. The normal male frames of healthy 40- to 60-year-old men are labeled and scorned as “Dad bods.”
c) Current fashion for both sexes is usually the same for the 50-year-old and the 18-year-old. Pregnant women no longer wear loose fitting tops but choose form-hugging dresses and blouses to draw attention to their slender frames and growing bellies. Post-pregnancy weight is now shamed in the world of the famous.
- The music industry is under threat with musical numbers shared freely, easily, and illegally with no payment to anyone. The incomes of musicians, composers, arrangers, and producers have been severely curtailed.
- In Canada and the US, our industries have changed from primarily manufacturing and farming to services. Artificial intelligence (AI) is springing into existence by leaps and bounds and already replacing people not only in manufacturing but also in service industries. The robots are here. Now.
- Women are a big part of the workforce today and laborsaving appliances have greatly reduced household chores. The industries of prepared and semi-prepared foods have emerged to lessen the time it takes to put meals on the table but have generated less healthy diets causing obesity as a new, national health concern for children as well as adults.
- It is difficult to sort out the conflicting information about organic versus non-organic food, meat versus vegetarian and vegan, gluten and gluten-free, etc., and Doctor Google and various news sources continue to confuse consumers who want to make healthy choices.
Some of the recent changes have also specifically altered the writing field:
- The typewriter has been replaced by the computer and made writing and editing faster and easier. It has also made it feasible for almost anyone to write and self-publish a book, with good bad, and indifferent results.
- Library research has been replaced by Google-search and Wikipedia.
- Spellcheck and online dictionaries have replaced paperback dictionaries.
- As well as paperback and hardbound books, we now have electronic books and reading devices.
- The snail-mail submission process has been replaced almost entirely by the electronic submission process.
- Few newspapers are still financially stable enough to afford journalists and investigative journalists, which has given rise to poorly researched and distorted news, fake news, and rumors spread through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Big, trustworthy newspapers that can still afford to employ journalists are now undermined and scorned by trolls who distribute and distort news for political or financial gain.
And the Old Order is Still Changeth-ing
I mourn the lack of water fountains and lament the need to purchase a bottle of water because I am away from home, want to take some medication, and I’m not carrying water with me. If I forget to take my cell phone when I leave the house—does that ever happen to anyone under the age of 25?—I search endlessly for a phone booth. When grocery shopping, it takes a long time to find canned or frozen products that are notgluten-free, salt-reduced, fat-reduced, and sugar-reduced. Really? I’m not overweight, don’t have high blood pressure, don’t need or want to avoid gluten, and I find it hard to locate the former yummy condensed soups that I used to eat and enjoy.
However, The New York Timesreported recently that phone booths are making a comeback because (surprise) some portion of the population likes to make private phone calls rather than use cell phones in their office cubicles where fellow workers can hear every word. I was in a brand-new shopping mall last week and spotted several water fountains! There are more and more grocery stores inviting you to order groceries online and they will select and deliver the order to customer’s homes. There’s hope on the horizon.
Unfortunately, there is so much information assaulting us from so many sources, it is as though we can never catch up, never keep pace with the new technologies, and never be on top of the important new information that we must have to stay healthy, stay employed, raise confident, well-adjusted children, and still find time to enjoy all the entertainment within our reach, or relax and do guilt-free-nothing now and then.
If you are a writer, there is nothing that can save you from regularly having to upgrade all your techie devices to stay in the business—if you buy a new computer, the old printer likely won’t work with it. You have to be ready to adjust to, and accept, new conditions and marketing requirements in the publishing world and the changing needs and demands from editors. Our techie world makes life an ongoing learning situation for all of us. Times are not only a-changin,’ they will continue to do so and all of us in the field of writing must continue to change and adjust if we want to be published and read. Yes, we shall overcome.
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