If growing up means you can no longer play pretend, I want nothing to do with it. In fact, I’d like to go so far as to that I am, as of right now, declaring myself a professional pretender. I want to be a bard.
What am I on about? I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering my craft, lost in the labyrinth of my own brain, opening doors that have either been shut for too long, or have been cracked open, but not yet fully discovered. Prompted by no small part by some of Matt Staggs’s recent posts at Enter the Octopus, I’ve been waxing pensive (okay and maybe a little poetic) about this “new” age of writing and storytelling. I completely agree with Matt that the Internet has ushered in a new era of storytelling, where writers, readers, and publishers (well, sometimes) are connected on a level never imagined. Not only do we, as writers, have a direct feed to mountains of information (where would I be without Wikipedia or BoingBoing?), but we have direct feeds to audiences, looking for us. It’s no longer a matter of publishing houses telling readers what the next big thing is: they already know!
The thing is, even in this era of technology, gadgets, and ever growing worldwide problems, fiction is needed now more than ever. Fiction functions to keep us hoping, to inspire, to get us thinking outside our mundane little cubicles.
When I was in college and graduate school, my main era of study was the Middle Ages. As such, I tend to have a really backward view of how things work. Once upon a time, in our own world, storytellers, bards, and the like were revered. The Irish bards were a kind of druid, and held the lore and history of their entire culture in their minds (to our knowledge, they never wrote anything down). Sure, stories changed with the telling, but that was part of the fun. In some regions, being a bard was the highest calling one could have; remember, the majority of the population could not read, and certainly no one had televisions (um, duh). People depended on storytellers to transport them out of their dreary worlds into the space of the imagination.
So what’s happened to the bards and troubadours? Where have they gone? Most of us can’t go off to barding school (though, if you’ve been following along in my podcast, you’ll notice I invented one and sent Emry to it). Even if we write thousands of pages and novels and stories, there’s no guarantee that anyone will read them. In most circles, barding or writing or storytelling isn’t a viable option.
That is, unless you make it available.
Because, if you care about sharing your stories with others–if you care about continuing the tradition of storytelling–there are plenty of options. You can publish with a Creative Commons license, you can podcast, you can attend virtual writers’ gatherings and meet other bloggers and writers just like you. Instead of letting your manuscript languish at the bottom of a slush pile (which is still an option, of course, not that it doesn’t occasionally work), you can be proactive.
Sure, we all want to be the next bestseller. But don’t just assume it’s going to happen to you overnight (if at all, says the skeptic part of my brain). Remember, bards had to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to share their stories; modern day writers need to, too. Ours are just measured in bps rather than feet.