Peter V. Brett On Writing As Communication
Bestselling fantasy author Peter V. Brett explains how there has never been a better time to be a writer.
There are writers who claim to only write for themselves; who say they don’t care what people think of their work.
I don’t believe them. What is writing, if not communication? And communication goes both ways. I want to know what people think of my work. Even the people who don’t like it. How else can I improve?
Of course, I am also something of an introvert, which one might think is a fine quality for a writer, since we spend most of our time alone in front of a keyboard, but when it comes to marketing our work and/or interacting with readers, it can be something of a liability.
Enter the internet.
There are people who will tell you that it’s a bad time to become a writer. Competition, both amateur and professional, is fierce now that the web has given a free podium to everyone with a web browser, and ePiracy is cutting deeply into sales. The publishing industry, long grounded in physical printing, has had to struggle to adapt to eReaders and other new media.
These concerns are not without some measure of truth, but that said, I would argue that there has never been a better time to be a writer, and I would never trade places with previous generations. They had it a lot worse, and I’m not just talking about typewriters and carbon paper.
There was a time, not so very long ago at all, when the only interaction writers had with their readers were letters, often handwritten, mailed to their publisher, which might or might not ever get to the actual writer’s desk. Personal appearances were better, but often limited individual face time, and while some news could be passed on through fanzines and the like, writers didn’t really have a forum to make announcements, answer frequently asked questions, or discuss their craft. Even after the advent of the web and e-mail, this contact was limited by language barriers and various other factors.
Modern writers have it all over our forebears. Social networking tools like blogs, web forums, facebook, myspace and twitter have opened up most of those barriers, and powerful software like google translate has done the rest, allowing writers to not only read international reviews and correspondence, but to respond and interact in real time, reaching countless people all over the globe.
Of course, this wouldn't be a big deal for me personally if my readers weren't awesome, but they really, really are.
Seriously. I know a lot of writers say that as a matter of course, but I mean it.
One time, I saw an online review of my first novel in haiku form. I thought that was pretty cool, so I wrote about it on my blog, offering a signed book to the reader who could write the best haiku review. Before long, I was flooded with them, including some in Japanese. I needed to add more prizes because I couldn't pick just one.
Another time, a reader in Germany saw online that I was having a crappy day, so she sent me some fan art to cheer me up. Again I wrote about it, and there was a steady stream of fan art pouring into my inbox for weeks to come. Readers have designed custom jewelry, made short videos, climbed mountains to photograph themselves holding my book at the peak. Some have even tattooed themselves with the symbols from my stories. No shit.
It's surreal sometimes, to have people from six continents and all walks of life share in my work and come together to discuss it, or just just share their gratitude or even gripes with me. I love the chance to get to know people whose lives I've touched, and reply to every message sent to me (if slowly).
Fantasy fans in particular seem to have a real passion and creativity that continually amazes me. Some of the questions about the characters, cultures, and magic systems in my stories are so detailed and specific that I get paranoid I'll slip up and get an answer wrong, but seeing how my work inspires creativity in others is more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.
I'm damn lucky, and I know it.