Holding Patterns

Europe is in this strange kind of holding pattern because of Iceland’s volcano and in Poland it’s compounded by the April 10th plane crash that took the lives of the Polish president, his wife and several members of its military, political and church elite. Ten days after the tragedy happened and one month since Eyjafjallajökull began erupting, life here feels freeze-framed.

The holding pattern is nothing new for the writer.

I have a short story that should be published in the States any week now, though the story was accepted for publication last year. I have academic articles being published in June, July and September in different journals. There are six stories being thrown around for submission. And then there is this 500 page book sitting here on my desktop that’ll be on bookshelves in June.

The funny thing is I could put any of these pieces online at a moment’s notice. I could have been them posted here on this site or on others. And though I’m waiting for my writing to show up in magazines, journals or a bookshelf near you, there is no guarantee that more people will read any of it.

In fact, by posting it here, as an unknown writer, my writing probably has a better chance of being read.

The only thing holding me back is tradition. This need for my work to be reviewed and accepted by strangers and then to have said strangers sell my work.

The only reason I’m writing this because yesterday Warren Ellis wrote: “Fiction is fast. It eats things before they’re even born, sometimes.” And he’s so right. It is fast. An idea for a story can come along so fast that if you’re not paying attention or not willing to put it down to paper, it’ll be gone, leaving you with ghost fragments that simply won’t hold together.

When it’s magic, the writing can be a blur. Other times, it can be strenuous.

Either way, the reading experience is ephemeral. Readers may connect and the experience will linger, but most times they turn the page to the next story.

It’s fast, but it’s also waiting. Waiting for the story to finish. Waiting for the editors to accept it. Waiting for contracts. Waiting for the story to finally be published. Waiting for the reader to get to the story and fulfill their part of the agreement.

And finally – if we’re really lucky – waiting for the reader to say something.

A lot of this waiting can be resolved quickly, as I said above, by simply posting the story online. The format here makes it easy for readers to write their thoughts if they’re inclined. If the audience is waiting, a writer could realistically get responses in minutes.

This is why Twitter works so well, and why I find myself addicted to its simplicity, because it encourages feedback. There is no wait. I write something and I instantly know if what I’ve written works or not. It’s the kind of scenario writers have always dreamed of, and I can understand why they find themselves gravitating to Twitter. Who knew it was going to take a platform that limits us to 140 characters to unlock our potential?

Ellis is right. Fiction is fast, in ways we never even imagined. And it’s going to get impossibly faster.

But the only way it’s going to work is if we let go of the things that’s been holding us back, the things that’s been keeping us in a holding pattern. And while it’s easy to blame publishers and the market, the really guilty parties are the writers – me being one of them – who cling to tradition and who were raised to believe that validation only comes from print.

Today, Europe is full of people struggling to get home and lovers trying to reunite. Life has been freeze-framed and thousands of journeys have just begun. Their stories can be told now or later. The choice is ours to make.

One thought on “Holding Patterns

  1. I think that you have a point, and it’s not limited to writing alone. Everything is speeding up, and there will always be those who resist and retard change. Doing what I do, I come across this quite a bit in education. It’s this strange type of doublethink: schools that don’t have computers are told to integrate technology into their curriculum, because most of the kids have computers at home, or can access them at their local libraries, etc. Then, when these schools finally get online (the lucky ones, at any rate), they find that the sites which are culturally and socially relevant to their students: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, their favorite author’s blog, etc. are blocked. Ironically, the students have their phones and BlackBerries, and still have constant access to these places, while the teachers and staff are being hamstrung. For, you see, we can’t afford Blackberries. 😉

    We’re all going through a pretty massive upheaval, I think, and we seem to deal better with it individually than we do in groups. I read an article a few days ago on literacy. The upshot was that the literacy our children will need is shifting drastically. Those who are socially literate are no longer the ones who retain and process information alone. The people who will succeed will be the ones who are able to interact best with technology in order to find those answers. Now, I’ve read too much sci-fi to be totally comfortable with this idea (“Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind” and all that), but I can’t deny its reality.

    Mind you (and I guess this is my point here), I don’t think that one can necessarily disparage tradition. It connects us to our past, to our culture, to our roots. To things that, in the past at least, *work*. However, when blind adherence to tradition holds us back, when people bury their heads in the sand (or other more…personal spaces), then we have to question tradition and cast it aside if we must. After we consider, of course, exactly what we’re being held back from.

    I’m now putting the Aldous Huxley soapbox back into its closet.

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