The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 03, 2007

First Person

By Tamara Lee

Typical. I’m trolling the Internet for information on one thing, and I wind up immersed in an entirely new thing. We’ve all been there; we’ll all be there again. That’s the beauty and the hell of the Web.

So, initially, I was going to talk to you all about that ever-exciting issue amongst writers: copyright. Now before your eyes glaze over and you scroll down, you will be happy to know that I am able to address this in one paragraph, and move on with the help of a nice sequitur.

As I take my first tentative steps into the world of ‘freelance writer,’ that foreign land of copyright law looms mysterious. Luckily I happened upon the Periodical Writers of Canada website, where I located some useful resources complemented by a rolling collection of relevant links for freelancers.

It is a daunting path I’m setting foot upon, mostly because I don’t know enough about freelancing to feel safe. Writing fiction and sending it out, yeah, I’m getting the hang of it. But since starting up here at the CWC, I’ve become quite fond of the personal essay. And this relatively ‘new’ form of self-reflective writing is so very 21st century.

We all seem to want connection, a chance to engage. As quickly as the new technologies evolve, we morph to accommodate our deepest human needs: communication and recognition.

The first person, the I in the stories we tell, may not be the sole carrier of ‘truth’, but in our world—which has come to expect a ‘truth enough-ness’, to officially accept ‘truthiness’ into its vernacular, both ironically and now necessarily—the I is one of the most engaging forms of contact. Creative non-fiction meets the Internet, and a wealth of opportunities abound.

The link on PWAC’s site that got me thinking about this, is Jeff Howe’s Wired article pointing to a few examples of how folks are engaging and leaving their stamps online including the latest in cheap labour hitting print media, ‘crowdsourcing’, when print media employs the average Joe or Jane to contribute, pretty much for free.

Quite literally, it seems everyone’s got a story to tell, and there are more and more places for us to tell our little first-person tales. Travel sites are looking for poignant stories of self-revelation from travellers; newspapers and broadband/TV stations seek your POV content. Radio gags for it more than ever, now that there is so much competition moving in on what was once their domain.

As the whole world becomes entranced by first-person revelations, is there a risk involved? Howe reminds us, ‘The emphasis on the local generally comes at the expense of the regional and national.’

This is something I’ve noticed lately with the new CBC site and its TV news restructuring. I now need to troll the Web to get any significant international news. Enough with the ‘local colour’ stories, I want to know what’s happening in the rest of the world too.

How does all this first person, localized storytelling bring us closer together and keep us well informed? Could it not merely insulate us, protecting us within this vacuum of I’s and truth-enoughness? Who fact-checks the first person accounts anyway?

I don’t have the answers, just the questions, as I consider this style I’ve come to enjoy not just writing, but reading as well. There's something about reading how others live and see the world that I find comforting and inspiring. But how do we keep the Internet from turning into a puddle of Reader’s Digest-style anecdotes?

Which, rather surprisingly, brings me back to copyright. As more and more average Joes and Janes access their writer-within, sending off their stories for all to share, it’s important to remember that some news outlets hold copyright not just on your personal notes and slides for a feature article, but potentially on your personal stories too.

Often, the first person just doesn't belong to us.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for the heads up, Tamara. To think that someone else might own The Muriel Cheeseman Syndrome fills me with terror. I'm glad you enjoy writing personal essays because you're so darn good at them.

Mon Sep 03, 05:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

And we're excited about your recent good news!

Mon Sep 03, 07:26:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Great tool, Tamara. But now you've scared me. I think I'll post a disclaimer tomorrow.

Mon Sep 03, 10:41:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Hey there, thanks for dropping by this Labour Day, guys.

Didn't mean to frighten you, Steve. I think the reason why we need to bone up on copyright is for that very reason: knowledge is key. Personal blogs aren't publications, per se, so it remains ours. Now, if you were to sell your piece somewhere, that's when you may want to read the fine print :)

Mon Sep 03, 11:47:00 pm GMT-4  

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