The New Old World

Jason Pinter recently wrote an interesting essay on the Huffington Post about ebooks. The upshot of it all is that things are changing very quickly. I had a meeting with agent Laurie McLean on Saturday, and again and again we returned to this idea: the publishing world is in for a big shake-up. I was caught off guard by the speed with which publishing is going digital. I was flatly unmoved by the Kindle and remained convinced for many years that the book is a technology that needs no improvement. Whether this is so or not, publishing has been going about things without significant change for about 100 years. It seems to me it is impossible for this enormous industry to resist the inexorable pull that has reshaped pretty much every other industry on earth.

This change is frightening to a lot of people, as all big changes are. Will authors simply begin e-self-publishing all their work? Will bookstores disappear? Will the world end in 2012? I wish I could tell you. Remember, however, that changes occur to meet the needs of the moment, and the needs of the moment are always driven by humanity’s insatiable desire to grow. I know sometimes this growth is ugly; I know sometimes we cut down forests or perch oil rigs in the open ocean. We are not perfect. We cannot always get it right. But we must grow and we must expand. Asking ourselves not to would be like asking ourselves not to breathe.

After all, are you going to write the same novel over and over again? Will not your next story be an expression of your desire to expand as a writer? And how often have your experiments and writing adventures gone sideways? How often in your desire for the new have you produced draft after draft of dull and formless dreck? But this dreck is always the caterpillar of your coming butterfly. You just can’t see the butterfly yet.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this moment in time that needs fixing. Or that is, nothing would need fixing if human beings never changed. And so this perfect, un-broken moment must change because human beings are change. We are a walking, talking, writing, singing, snoring manifestation of change. We don’t know how to do anything else, and the pain of resisting growth will always far outweigh the fear of the new world we ourselves desire to create.

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