Bob Bly interviews Harlan Ellison

Bob Bly did an excellent interview of writer Harlan Ellison in the May issue of Writer’s Digest.

Ellison, who has forgotten more about writing than I will ever know, is a crusty old firebrand who is not afraid of anything, except perhaps change. He is quite perceptive as you can see from this excerpt, but you should read the entire article to see his … conclusions regarding the internet:

Ellison: …there are fewer and fewer real venues for a professional writer nowadays to make a decent living at the craft.

Bly: Would you go so far as to say the internet has destroyed the writing trade?

Ellison: I don’t think that’s going too far. When you destroy the basic philosophy, the parameters of a field of endeavor … everything changes. You stand on the cusp of a gigantic paradigm shift, where nothing is of the same value.

Ellison has nailed it. Nothing is of the same value, and who feels the loss most? Those who were most successful on the old playing field, like Ellison. No wonder that some choose to remain dinosaurs. It can be daunting to start over and become a "newbie" again.

We are all exposed to the continuing onslaught of change. We work hard to build up a secure livelihood, and somebody does an end-around run that negates all of our hard-earned experience. People keep inventing new technology and it is picked up first by those who are looking to even the playing field.

Our viewpoint on change is determined by how early we are exposed to
it. The year I graduated from college, all of the technology I had
studied became obsolete. I had to learn solid state devices and all
about digital logic during my first job. That particular technology
became obsolete during the next few years and I had to learn to use and
develop a whole new generation of tools. Then I had to learn what a
computer was and design and build several generations of them, and so
forth. The last fifty years has been one paradigm shift after another.

The only people who seem to get stuck are those who have been wildly
successful in one paradigm and couldn’t confront starting over. Those
of us who failed to grab the brass ring in earlier paradigms are still
leaning out there expectantly and looking for the next opportunity to
present itself. The internet and blogging opens the door to more
opportunities, if you are willing to pay your dues and learn what is

Ellison has harsh words for those who are not as skilled as he:

vast hordes of semi- or untalented amateurs festoon the Internet with
their ungrammatical, puerile trash, and they think because this
"vanity" publication gets seen by a few people, that they are
"writers." Horse puckey!

What he doesn’t say is
probably what he fears most. The advent of citizen publishing,
blogging, opens the door for development of many more channels for good
writers, musicians, and artists to be discovered. The barriers erected
by traditional publishing kept out all but the lucky and the

Lowering of the entrance requirements allows more people to write
and be read. Those that are skilled have a greater chance to be
discovered and they are no longer fettered by the limitations of

A limited number of recognized genres was important in the days of
brick and mortar stores. Not so on the internet. When you can search
for subject matter on Google, it doesn’t matter if the book is a cowboy
horror sci-fi sex novel, if it deals with your subject of interest,
(radioactive armadillo fetish, for example), you will be able to find

Thanks to Bob Bly for another interesting post on his new blog.

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