As I write this blog post, I look to the right of the editing pane at a shiny blue button labeled Publish. When I am done writing, I can press that button and, voila, my written work is visible to the entire world.
Growing up, I fantasized about “getting published,” without really knowing what was involved. In high school or college, this meant submitting to a campus literary magazine. After college, this meant spending quality time with my copy of Poet’s Market and labeling tons of SASEs. In both cases, I had to cull my reams of poems and short stories to the ones I felt were the best and revise them to the point where I felt they had a chance to stand out amid the competition.
When one of my submissions was accepted, the feeling of exaltation at knowing that my work had been assessed by the editors of these magazines and deemed worthy of inclusion was incredible. Some were more prestigious than others, but each was an honor. When I began writing freelance, my feelings upon having a pitch accepted or a piece make it through the editing process and into print were quite similar.
Either way, publication took work.
Beware the ‘Axiom’
Today, things are different. Sure, the above processes still exist, in much a similar fashion. But with the web and the wide array of accessible platforms it offers, anyone can get published. I can blog with self-proclaimed authority on any topic I choose. I can create my own online magazine and publish the works of whomever I choose. I can recruit co-authors and craft a collaborative work. I can self-publish my own novel and distribute it through a print-on-demand model. I can choose to just publish my thoughts 140 characters at a time. I live in a world where I can COPE (create once, publish everywhere).
But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Before clicking the shiny blue button, we should pause for a moment to consider the word “publish” as we might have when we were 18-year-olds aspiring to pen the Great American Novel. To be published was an exalted achievement, one that elevated you above your peers. But it took thought and planning. It took critical self-assessment. It took rounds of revision and editing. It took more than a good idea; it took execution. It took work. And once we learned that, if we really wanted to be published, we accepted and committed to the work. We put in the time to earn the reward.
We shouldn’t let modern convenience make us lazy. Even if the publishing mechanism is easier and quicker, we should avoid becoming the publishing equivalents of the fat, slothful humans on the airship Axiom in WALL-E, creating a world where, to our detriment, the machines are doing more of the heavy lifting than us.
It’s All About Value
Publishing without work is a disservice to your audience. Too often, we take the Narcissus approach to publication; in love with our own content (hat-tip: @LoriPA), we gaze adoringly at it and assume that everyone else will want to do the same. Hate to say it, but this is not necessarily true. The size and engagement of your audience is directly proportional to the value of your content. And the irony is that mediums with potentially unlimited audiences can encourage lazier publishing… which reduces the value of the content being published. When people complain about Foursquare spam in their Twitter feed, I want to say, “It’s not Foursquare’s fault; they allow you to opt out of pushing your check-ins to Twitter. It’s the publisher’s fault for thinking everyone wants to know they’re at the supermarket.”
Simply put, the proximity of the shiny blue button to our itchy clicker finger does not excuse us from reflection and revision, whether it’s an idle tweet or a serious blog post. It does not excuse us from asking the question, “What value do I add if I publish this?” In this increasingly noisy space, the more we can focus our efforts and refine our output, the better off everyone will be.
To that end, I think we should give the word “publish” the respect and lustre it deserves. Heck, give it starry-eyed adulation. Pretend you’re 18 again and publication is an elusive, lofty goal to work toward. Make it a reward, not an entitlement.
I’ve never heard of Jonathan Fields before today, but twice today I’ve seen this comment by him retweeted, and it really sums up the whole deal:
Don’t write because you’ve got something to say, write because you’ve got something add.
Top photo by theogeo, Flickr/Creative Commons