That's so 1970s - how the writing life has changed

 I was chatting with a friend the other day about the challenges of being published in a digital age. Of course it's wonderful that we can get our work out there easily, to say nothing of accessing tools to help refine our craft. We can build an audience, join networks, take courses, interact with professionals, get feedback and (best of all) meet other writers.

However, it can all get a bit manic, especially on the marketing side. Apart from the discomfort many of us have about showcasing our work to the world (so un-British), it can be time-consuming. It can cause anxiety. It can make us jittery, constantly checking our phones/social media/blog stats. It can steal away away the moment, that God-given gift which, unlike the number of likes on twitter, can only ever be lived once.

My friend and I were thinking about how different it would have been fifty years ago, around the time I first harboured dreams of writing a book. Now some of this is surmised as I googled 'What was life like for writers 50 years ago?' and all it came up with were articles about whether you could have a book published after the age of 50. (The answer is yes, by the way). But here are my thoughts on what it may have been like as a 1970s writer: -

  • You could write away quietly on your state-of-the-art electric typewriter. My Mum had an Olympia. There would be nothing to disturb your peace, no twitter or Facebook chats; no WhatsApp Family Wordle scores; no I'll-just-answer-this-email
  • You would post off your pile of typed brilliance to one agent/publisher at a time, lugging it painfully to the local Post Office and perhaps rewarding yourself with a Caramac on the way home.

Anyone else have one of these?
  • You would wait AGES to hear anything (especially if the postal workers were on strike) but at least in the meantime you would have time to live your life (between water shortages and power cuts). No obsessive checking of emails or rereading the ones you sent, daydreaming of their impact. There would have been plenty to get on with:  saving for a VHS player, shopping for flared jeans and platforms; arguing about whether Britain should join the common market
  • If you got commissioned, you could throw your hat in the air and take your family out for a Wimpy to celebrate, while chewing over the terms of the contract, which would presumably need to be taken to the photcopying shop after signing
  • Editing would require a ton of glue. I remember actual cutting and pasting in the early 2000s, editing textbooks. I would have several copies of the m/s and, on the editor's instructions, would cut whole paragraphs and move them to a new place, type out new sections and cut and stick them in, cut out whole sections and bin them. It was time-consuming but in my mind it was vaguely therapeutic too. Perhaps my glasses are tinted a little too rosy. It was probably hateful.

  • Once the final m/s had been approved, presumably that was it? No announcements, no cover reveals, no posing awkwardly with your book, and a pre-ordering link, on Instagram. You were given a publication date which you could tell your family and friends about and perhaps your local bookshop. Then settle down to watch the latest Star Wars film. 
  • Once your book was out there, I suppose you would wander down to the local shop for a newspaper now and then to see if there were any reviews. Perhaps you'd send a copy to your local paper. You could have a launch party with your family and friends with hula hoops and a few bottles of Blue Nun 

Of course we realised we were kidding ourselves. There are always bad old things about the good old days, of course there are. But one thing I do remember is that my parents always used to say that the new technologies would give us all so much more leisure time. They haven't. Remember talk of a three day week? What happened to that?

I've just finished a fascinating read - The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. What a book! He argues that our fiercely technological, calendar-driven culture is not compatible with good mental and spiritual health. He doesn't say we should ditch them, obviously. But he does suggest some ways to put boundaries in place such as limiting phone and internet use. I am trying some of his suggestions and so far, doing well. If you ignore the shakes, the comfort food and the tick in my right eyelid.

What are your thoughts about how the writing life has changed? There may be some readers who remember what it was like writing and publishing in the 1970s. How was it easier/harder? 



Deborah Jenkins is the author of textbooks, educational articles and a novellaThe Evenness of Things, available in paperback and as a kindle e-book.


Her novel, Braver, will be published on 30 June 2022 by Fairlight Books. You can read more about it, and pre order here or on amazon worldwide. The amazon UK link is here


Deborah wonders aloud about the crazy, inspiring and inappropriate, on her blog, stillwonderinghere.net



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