Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The power of the Internet

Last night I wrote a post about fan fiction and giving away writing for free because of a conversation I had with a friend. It was that conversation and talking about Chelle's talented writing that made me think about that long ago episode when I was naive and young and completely focused on a television show, in this case M*A*S*H. I had completely forgotten about the incident, although the letter is buried among a box full of correspondence I've kept over the years (decades), until yesterday.

The purpose of the post was to illustrate what happens when you play on someone else's playground, and also to share some advice about the writing world. There are opportunities out there and so many people waste their time on doing things for free because they don't know they have options.

There was no Internet in 1974 and people communicated by letters (paper covered with typewritten or handwritten words, placed in envelopes, addressed, stamped and sent). I lived in Tucson, Arizona at that time so it took very little time for my letter to get to California and back, but it still took time, not like the Internet where communication is almost instantaneous, as evidenced just a few moments ago when I received and email that someone left a comment on the post.

The comment came from a blog owner named Nick, ostensibly from Glendale, California and posting by means of an Apple computer, probably a MacBook, but it was signed Larry Gelbart and asked what year that was and what idea he had supposedly stolen. Obviously, Mr. Gelbart has Google Alerts, too, and, like me, keeps track of when his name or his projects are mentioned.

I was stunned, to say the least.

I responded with two lines: one with the basic idea of my long ago letter and the comment that the post wasn't about what I sent but how good writers of fan fiction can break into the very shows they love by writing a spec script (script on speculation). It's one way to play on someone else's playground, do it legitimately, and (if you're good enough) get a job as a full time paid writer.

Mr. Gelbart also asked me the year when it happened. It was in 1974, which I just remembered, 35 years ago. And he taught me some valuable lessons about writing. Protect your work. Learn the rules and guidelines and follow them to protect yourself and your work, especially when you want to play on someone else's playground. Anything you do well should be compensated. In other words, don't work for free. (I learned that one from Harlan Ellison.)

The Internet is a powerful tool. It connects people all over the world in a matter of cyberseconds. It grants access to words and ideas and opportunities few dreamed were possible when I was young and naive, but with that access comes responsibility for yourself, your words and the work you take the time to put out there. Don't sell yourself short simply because access to this cyberworld of connections at the speed of light over fiberoptics is quick and fairly easy. Make your hard work pay. You might not get through the door on the first try, but if you persevere and you work hard with the talents you've been given, there is nowhere you cannot go -- even into someone else's playground -- and create a world and a job of your own.

That is all. Disperse.

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