I'll just cut to the chase and make this announcement: I am now officially an Amateur Writer. I know I've flirted with it before, talked about having a foot in both camps (that is, professional and hobbyist/artiste). I've talked a little (and keep saying I'll talk more) about how the future of publishing is with the Amateur.
Now, I guess I have become what I have observed. And it actually happened a while ago -- life crept up on me and swallowed me whole, and I realize it has been two years since I really was a WRITER of the kind I always was before. (At least, the kind of writer I was since Clarion in 1982.)
I can't really talk about what has been going on in my life, because it involves other people, but I will just say that Life is now a bit more than a full-time job. It is, however, a very pleasant full-time job. Just one that keeps me far too deeply distracted to write the way I feel I should.
And yet... and yet... and yet....
I find myself ending 2015 in a much more genuinely optimistic mood than I have been in for a couple of years now. (This inspite of the fact that I want to hide under my desk any time I look at my News Feed. Yikes!)
Part of the reason for this, I think, is because of what Amateurism is. It's a very Zen kind of thing. It's about doing things just for the sake of doing them. About living in the moment.
I do think that there is a movement toward amateurism in the world -- everything from crowd-sourcing to self-publishing to adult coloring books -- and that is good for professional writers. Reading is a great "living in the moment" sort of activity. It's something we dive deeply into, and concentrate on wholly and completely. (The way the zen masters say we should on any activity we take up.)
But I also think that we will see more and more amateur writers in the mix. Most will be our own readers who want to dabble in creating stories, not just reading them. Others will be like me -- drifting away from the rigid definitions of professionalism, maybe making a living off writing, but more likely integrating writing and its income into a larger lifestyle.
I came up with a term for that idea: Wordsteading.
It came to me while I was researching my ancestors -- a really hearty bunch of pioneers, generation after generation. For a long time, one branch of my family lived in the state of New York, which means their economic life was not only well-recorded by state censuses (taken between every federal census) but also that these records are fully available for research.
These people didn't farm like today. They didn't have a few cash crops which they sold to have an income. They did everything. They raised or foraged all their food, yes. Also fuel and building material. And they spun their own cloth, and knitted socks, and made candles, and built furniture....
But they also weren't just subsistence farmers doing that for their own use. Everything they did, they sold the extra. My great great great grandfather listed not only his oats and barley and honey and butter as income sources, but also the dozen pairs of extra socks knitted by his wife and sold for several dollars of income.
They made their living from all sorts of things other than farming (hauling, sometimes tutoring, or census-taking, or lumbering or running a bording house or store, or even lawyering or land-speculating or blacksmithing) but often listed only "farming" as their occupation.
That's because farming was the thing that they identified with. Where they got their money wasn't as important as where they put their love.
Recent generations, on the other hand, did the opposite. They might put all their effort into their farm, and keep their family extremely well because of it, but if they also had a job where someone else paid them a salary, no matter how minor that job was, listed their job as their central identity.
I see an awful lot of people shifting back these days. It's partly a necessity in shifting times (and I won't get into the pros and cons of the "freelance" economy here), but partly because, due to the internet and due to Amazon, we can shift more into the way our ancestors did. Live our lives, make a living in multiple ways -- including creating for ourselves what we can't or choose not to buy.
And in the online writing communities, I see more people I think of as "wordsteaders." These are people who aren't making a living in the traditional writerly way: that is, they don't just publish a branded set of books and make their income from retail sales of it. They make their living in multiple ways. They might hire out as editors, or write website copy, or manuscript formatting. They might get donations via an arts-patronage site, or selling t-shirts, or making appearances. They may have at least a part-time day job. They may knit their own socks (and sell extras on Etsy) and grow their own tomatoes. They may invest, or gamble or go dumpster diving.
Of course, there has always been a "self-sufficency" community out there. But I'm not talking about the kind of people are into self-sufficiency as an activity in and of itself.
What I see is that many of the lifestyle habits of the "frugalistas" and self-sufficiency freaks have gone mainstream. Mainly because it's now easy to put up home knit socks for sale on Etsy... just as it is easy to put your novel for sale on Amazon.
We all do it now because we can... and there is no reason not to.
We're all Wordsteaders now. Writing and creating and doing bits of work. Sometimes for money, sometimes for the betterment of the world. (Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, etc.)
And here's the kicker -- for those who are more serious about writing and publishing, it means that we have a whole new line of possible income sources. Because people spend money on their hobbies. And writing, as well as reading, is a hobby now.
So, I don't know what next year will bring, but I have the feeling I will be talking more about some of these other income streams for the modern writer.
For instance, I'm doing cover art again, and also working on the Story Game, but I'll talk about that tomorrow.
See you in the funny papers.