Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crowd-sourced Creativity

So I never actually got into Scribophile. It seemed like a great concept, it really did. And believe me, I had every intention of participating. But perhaps because I was forced to review other folks' writing before I even had a chance to post any of mine, I just let it slide.
Wattpad, however, has proven to be a very different experience for me. I find that since I am able to post my own work whenever I like, and as much of it as I like, I get to have other users comment on my work before I have commented on anyone else's work. And I have received a surprising amount of uninvited commentary on RoboNomics since first posting Chapter 1 back on January 6. (And 99.9% of it has been extremely helpful!)
But today I want to write about a strange side effect that I've had from all of this commentary.
What will the advent and then the success of crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding have been hot topics for about the last year or so. And it's been an intriguing subject to me: in this age (on this continent, at any rate) of capitalism's soul being scraped bare by corporate monopolies, it's amazing to see its true nature re-emerge: market forces at their best, grass roots demands for certain creative projects that folks actually want to succeed. People voting with their dollars, rather than being forced to choose between a crappy product and a crappier product.
So why can't this be applied to creativity?
Crowd-Sourced Creativity
Recently, I read an article in which the author was writing from a staunchly "traditional publishing" side of the current publishing debate. In it, he interviewed several mid-tier writers who were signed on with traditional publishers. They were bemoaning the fact that, although they'd won writing awards, in these days of massive competition from folks who self-publish, they would have to give up that lease on a downtown office and instead write at home. Oh, and in a home office that can be afford to be built by a contractor in an owned home.
(Sidebar: holy shit I have no sympathy here. Are you kidding me? I write from (our rented) home in an office that is also our dining room, and sometimes serves as a guest bedroom. And I consider myself lucky to have this space. If I didn't have this space, there are always public libraries, coffee shops, or hell -- some authors did fine with their beds as that same columnist knows. Don't you whine at me. Deal. With. Your. Life).
At any rate, the article did make me think about two major points:
1. Yes, I can see that you're an artist and you've crafted your art over the years, and you shouldn't have to bend to market forces, thereby rendering your art less pure, less arty, less of a comment on the universal truths of human existence and more of a series of shitty zombie erotica novels. Or something equally stupid.
2. Couldn't you just break with your publisher and self-publish? Even if you sold the same amount of copies, you'd make more money. Okay, fine, legalese and contracts and all that, but you could try it out at some point, couldn't you? Unless there's some sort of lifetime writer-publisher contract that I have yet to hear about?
So far, on Wattpad, I've had some very insightful commentary. I've been working on RoboNomics in one form or another since April 2011. Three damn years. It's safe to say that I am so close to the work, sometimes it's difficult for me to step back and see how all the elements come together. Other times, all I see are the broad strokes and I forget to look at the little details. And working with Wattpad so far has almost been like having access to a massive amount of beta readers. And some of them have made some really awesome, helpful points.
I can see the danger here. I can see that if I were to listen to every passing comment and incorporate changes to the work in accordance, the novel would eventually turn into an incomprehensible pile of shit. If I were out to capture a literary market, I could disperse with the book about robots and just write that piece of crappy zombie erotica I mentioned.
But I'd like to think that I can trust my instincts enough to know when to listen to what the people want, and when to let suggestions pass unheeded. And one of the ways to know when to listen is when I've already had the inkling that I've left something out, or added too much extra in. When I've already got extra material that I was thinking of adding in anyway, or when certain passages bore even me.
And so, I'm going to try it out. I'm going to try and follow some of the suggestions that are cropping up. I'm going to go with the crowd and change my novel where I think warranted. Because I actually do believe that this strategy will not only result in a novel that more people will thoroughly enjoy, but will also result in a stronger piece of art. I am not opposed to market forces. I believe that it's no use if I wrote the most compelling piece of literature if I've made it completely inaccessible to everyone except the most snobby of the literati.
What do you think? Would you ever change a piece of art based on crowd commentary? Or are market forces to be completely ignored in creating art?