I thought things were changing fast before 2020.
No, seriously. One of the things it really hit was my line of work. I had things I had sold for a pittance and whose rights I’ll never recover, because at the time it was a matter of making a little money, or never making money on these properties.
This was not a great amount of time — 9 years or so, though the big difference came in about five years. In 2010 I was still selling trunk stories and my more… uh….outre novels to small presses, just to make some money out of them.
In 2014, these properties could earn me as much as my “real” novels, even under pen names.
Most traditionally published authors haven’t fully processed this. This is partly because my generation, coming in, took years to break into print, and most of us were over thirty when we did it.
So we’re contending with habits of a lifetime. Mental habits of a lifetime. So, most writers who are dumped or walk away from their publishers (and sometimes that line is blurry-ish. I mean, depends on how many hoops you’re willing to crawl through, and how long your ulcer medicine works) end up teaching. Mostly because they stop writing.
And I’m not sure why. Although I’ve long ago come to the conclusion most other writers make more use of their agents/publishers than I ever did. I’m always mildly puzzled when I read something like “I was having trouble coming up with an idea, so I called my publisher, and we discussed it for two days, and I conceived my great Space Opera series that has got all the publicity.” In fact sometimes I wonder if that’s the trick. If you have to get buy-in from your publisher/agent by making them co-own the idea before you ever sell it to them. It’s possible. It’s also not how I work, and it was never offered. (There were offers to ah…. brainstorm a series, but in fact, what was required was that I write something completely different, which didn’t fit the parameters already established for the world. There were also fairly crazy-cakes revision-requests, one of which was aimed at a character which wasn’t in the book. And who apparently wasn’t acting like herself. Probably by reason of NOT BEING HERSELF.)
So, it’s possible that writers who were used to having their hand held suddenly can’t function without it, and at some point decide to teach instead of writing.
But me and other people like me…. I don’t know. Part of it, I think is that writing pays slowly. It’s all about the long tail and building up, book on book, while teaching pays upfront, and let’s face it, the last ten years have been fairly tight for everyone. (In our case mostly due to paying for sons’ educations.)
For me, it all got complicated by health issues which sent my ADHD through the roof. I was always ADHD. I joke that Portugal is ADHD at baseline. I mean the gene pool is tight enough it’s entirely possible. But even in Portugal I was considered “distraida” which is more or less absent minded, but in point of fact was ADHD.
Things I managed in my pre-teens included walking down the street carrying a book, forgetting I was carrying the book and letting it drop. And not noticing until I got home and was asked about it. (It was where I dropped it, half a mile back.) Or well… losing everything. To this day if you go to a restaurant with me, you’ll see me position my bag (or umbrella) where I’ll trip on it if I forget it. Because I got tired of losing them. And it was never unusual for me for forget I was in class and wander off (honestly, if I hadn’t gone to a school where everyone knew my family!) . And yes, I mean the H. My biggest issue with writing, unless the book is totally immersive or I’m under a deadline is having to sit down and write. And no, the treadmill desk doesn’t quite work because if I get to a scene that I have to concentrate on, I stop walking, fall and scared the cats. (I plan to use it for the non-fiction.) But I had routines which had got me through college. Now my routines are broken — between illness and moving — and the ADHD is really, really, really bad. How bad? Well, standing in line was always a problem for me, which is why having a book with me was necessary, because if I didn’t have a book to read I’d not be able to hold myself in line. But now my ability to tolerate lines is something under three minutes. Which — ahem — is a problem when I’m at the grocery store alone.
So, the adderal is helping. But I still need to rebuild my routines. And I need to learn to finish books without the drop-dead-deadline and someone else demanding I hand it over. Either that, or I’ll have to hire a boss.
The one thing I’m trying to do is delay teaching classes. I want to do it, eventually, mostly as part of paying it forward. But I’m trying to delay setting it up because I know it will eat my writing time if I haven’t established writing routines first. And, you know, I want to be a writer, not a teacher. Not primarily, at least.
Which brings us back to the matter of things changing, and how fast they were changing.
Things were already changing really, really fast. One of the things I told my kids, the last ten years is “learn to learn, and learn your fields in such a way that you stay flexible. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the way things are now in your fields is the way they’ll ever be.”
This was because I was already anticipating that things would change really, really fast. In ten years or so. I also anticipated that we would, you know see the result of the digitization of the market place within the next ten years or so, with things like shopping from home and getting food delivered (my dirt little secret is that I hate going to the grocery store. People get really upset when you abandon your cart in line and go flitting off 😛 ) and traditional publishers getting hit hard (they probably won’t go under until they go under in Europe, where ebooks are still a novelty. OTOH 2020 might cause some crashes of American branches.) I could foresee in fact publishing suffering the sort of fate that the music industry did. And I could see a day when 30% of people or so worked from home. (More if telemedicine and such become more of a thing.)
What I didn’t expect is that it would all hit over a year and a way overblown disease panic.
Sure, I know, at this point MAYBE 20% of people will be working from home primarily or solely at the end of this. And you think “that is not such a big difference.”
Except you’re not thinking. Those people cluster. To a certain extent, and because of legacies from the 20th century industrial age, coupled with archaic laws against working from home, and managers who feared home-workers, those people — almost all of them — lived in largish cities. And were pretty well paid. (Yes, I know it doesn’t seem like that, but part of it is “lived in largish cities” where things were therefore more expensive.
Around these people clustered services aimed at these people: daycares, gyms, restaurants, various retail establishments, heck, even entertainment venues and, yes, grocery stores.
Someone was talking about how we’re seeing one of the “great people movements”in US history and it’s definitely away from big cities, though the details are not fully clear yet.
Now, I’m not going to lie. A lot of us are moving away from cities (for the first time in 30 years, 4 years ago we bought a house in a suburb. Mostly because it was the only house we liked and could afford that would fit our needs. I did it under protest because I don’t like suburbs. There’s nothing for me to do. You have no idea how happy I am right now.) because of the summer of idiocy and unrest coupled with the fact that our mayors and governors think their real constituency is the feral and drug-addicted homeless who have been invited to camp everywhere and who are never to be bothered under any circumstances. (They might be right. I think that’s who votes for these idiots.)
But it’s more than that. After working from home for a few months, most people are going “uh, that commute? That big office with cubicles? Yeah, no.”
In the same way, while I understand it’s been a disaster for some people, I have also gathered that many students prefer remote learning, though not necessarily provided by their local public school…
But what do I mean by “the details are not fully clear?” Well, you know, if you read books from the dawn of the internet, you find how people antecipated it would work. But people never saw all the “details.” Things like ebooks were predicted (for twenty years. Then given up on, and then suddenly–) but no one expected this to kill traditional publishers. (It might not have, if they were doing their job before. But they’d forgotten their job was to publish things people wanted to read and were instead trying to “teach” the public.) And certainly no one expected it to kill newspapers (ditto.)
These were a total surprise and still are in parts of the fields being hit. Just like writers have trouble adapting to the new age, publishers have trouble. They can’t seem to process they’re no longer the only game in town. And newspapers, magazines and “mainstream news sites?” Ah. Learn to code. Because you’ll never make it on your wits alone.
And keep in mind that these changes worked themselves over 20 years of so (and some of us saw them coming, even though not “when.”)_
Now the changes forced on many, many fields this year?
We have no idea, other than “people no longer need to live in expensive cities. None. Where do restaurants (which are closing in droves, due to the government deciding to run them from above. Don’t get me started) go if everyone is distributed? They’re a low-margin business, which can’t survive (as we found) at smaller capacities. What do they become? What about the people who work for them?
And what about grocery stores? When older son worked in a tiny rural place for three months, the nearest non-convenience store that carried groceries was an hour and a half away through bad roads. Is that it? Are we all going to become once- a-month shoppers? Or do stores move to where they can send delivery vans out one-day-a-week to little villages? (This was the system I grew up with, which is why the olive oil (and olives) man and his donkey came on Wednesdays.)
Probably yes. Probably, in fact a mix of all these, supposing our governments don’t kill off every local business and leave us at the mercy of Amazon.
And people? I don’t know. I think people will surprise us. And I think by and large returning to a more distributed pattern will be better for most people. More flexible.
But as someone whose work was hit with the change stick for the last 15 years or so, let me tell you, just the pace of change will be a stress in itself.
Today I was looking over the Daaz 3-D sale and one of the things they were selling was a modular (ah) city office building. You know, the glass things, with some portions illuminated all of us associate with downtown. I looked at it, and all of a sudden I felt a great nostalgia because I suspect those buildings, a characteristic of large cities, are already a thing of the past. And will become rarer and rare (as anything but ruins and the haven of derelicts) within the next five years.
For the times they are achanging.
Hold on to the side of the boat, and build as much of the good as you can. Write, create, build the future you want. Because in times of change there’s both great stress and great opportunity.