Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archiving Tweets and Assembling Manuscripts and Other Thoughts about Media

In this story in The Washington Post, we learn about the plans of the Library of Congress to archive Twitter tweets. My first response was, "That's ridiculous." But the article makes compelling points:

"The purview of historians has always been the tangible: letters, journals, official documents.

The purview of Twitter, on the other hand, is the ephemeral: random spewings that some argue represent the degeneration of society. Would a Founding Father ever have tweeted his crush on Evangeline Lilly?

But on the other hand, says Michael Beschloss, historian and author of Presidential Courage,
'What historian today wouldn't give his right arm to have the adult Madison's contemporaneous Twitters about the secret debates inside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia?'"

The article goes on to talk about how rare it has been for ordinary people to write about their ordinary lives, and how much historians learn from the rare people who do (think Samuel Pepys' diaries). And of course, we don't know right now what will be historically important, as we save all those tweets: "But the more interesting possibility is that there are tweets whose value we do not yet see. "'Somewhere in [the digital world], we don't know where,' Cohen says, 'there is a kindergarten photograph or a link to a personal blog of a future president.' Somewhere, there are tweets that foreshadow enormous moments in history. We just haven't learned what they are yet."

I still have no plans to join Twitter. I don't do a good job of writing updates on Facebook, and I'm not sure that Twitter tweets would be high on my to-do list. I don't need one more thing to feel guilty for neglecting.

No, I want book length publication. Terry Lucas posted two great reports on an AWP presentation here and here. Still no answer to my pressing question: at what point does one abandon the manuscript or revise it so substantially that it's no longer the same manuscript?

Actually, I've answered that question for myself. I've made a list of all the places I haven't sent the manuscript yet, and if by November, I still have no publisher, I'll take it with me on my writer's retreat at Mepkin Abbey, and rethink the manuscript.

I did the last major revision somewhere around 2005 or 2006, and since then, I've continued to write poems that fit the theme of the manuscript. I suspect that some of those newer poems are significantly better than the ones in the manuscript, but I haven't spent time with all the poems to give the matter serious consideration.

If I revise the manuscript so substantially that it's a different manuscript, can I keep the same title? I love my title: Ash Wednesday at the Trinity Test Site. Do various publishers remember the titles of all the manuscripts they receive? I can't imagine it. But just to be safe, I suppose I could mention something about substantial revision in a cover letter.

Of course, to listen to some commentators, print as we know it will be gone in 10 years (listen to this Marketplace story, where the commentator can't imagine that we'll even have airport newsstands in 10 years; everything we want, we'll purchase on our Kindle-like devices). In some ways that makes me feel panicky. In other ways, I know that my poems have been making their way in the world, in all sorts of vehicles (paper, electronic journals, websites, animation of sorts). Ten years ago, I couldn't have imagined how beautiful electronic journals could be. Now, I wonder what we'll create in the next 10 years.


Lyle Daggett said...

I continue to be skeptical about the death of print publishing. T.V., after all, didn't bring an end to radio.

T.V. did, however, affect the sort of content and programming that radio did and does. Most scripted dramatic and comedy programs went off the air on radio, as that kind of thing began to dominate T.V. Apparently people liked seeing the actors in addition to hearing them.

So now radio is mostly music, news, talk shows, and sports.

I suspect that at least some types of writing will continue to find a home in print books. Poetry may be one of them. Poetry has almost never been a profitable business, so it's hard to imagine that anyone who is publishing poetry now will stop because they're not making money at it, unless they started publishing with completely unrealistic expectations.

It may require new ideas about how to get the books to readers, if bookstores continue to disappear. I don't think that's an insurmountable problem, it just may require some creativity. Fortunately creativity runs amok in the poetry world, among other places.

I self-published my first book of poems (something like 35 years ago) when the technology was a little more "primitive" by current standards. I gave away most of the copies, which was fine with me. For my second book, several years later, I did it as a kind of joint project with the publisher (we each put up some of the funds).

I've worked with two other publishers in the years since then, and in each case they initially approached me to ask me for a manuscript. These things can take time, and that's all right.

Kristin said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

meyerprints said...
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