Not having the privilege of being a full-time writer, I am struck by the number of times I see (joking or serious) references to self-isolation. Roughly, they equate to “leave me alone, because I’m writer, and I’m creating.”
I imagine this is followed by a haughty fling of one’s writer scarf, as the writer sits in his internet cafe or in her hermetically sealed writer cave, pounding away. It is reinforced in cinema – Stephen King’s The Shining, for example, with Jack Nicholson pounding away in isolation in his haunted writing fortress.
Yeah, he was an alcoholic character, written by an alcoholic writer, perhaps exorcising a few personal demons of his own.
Maybe my bristling at this behavior is just jealousy. I haven’t achieved the success I want – which isn’t sales or acclaim , but reaching people organically, through the work. Maybe I just don’t get the artist’s sensibility, my being an ambidextrous, left-right-brained semi-analyst. I suppose if I were more worthy of the craft I would see the benefit of throwing up walls whenever the Muse arrived.
But see, I learned to write for money. And guess what is expected when you write for money?
1. Consistency. Write every day.
2. Schedule. Write every day because the end date doesn’t move.
3. Interaction. Write in teams, or interact with editors, publishers, other writers, and change your content in accordance with what the team agrees.
4. Organization. Try doing any of the above 3 without it. I double-dog dare you.
See, you don’t get to be isolated, and no one gives two shits about your artist’s sensibilities. It’s due when it’s due. Then, when your writing is done for the day, you go home, and have a life.
Now, I won’t pretend for a second that this kind of writing is as fulfilling as writing a novel, or a poem, or even a personal essay such as this one. However, there are some things that carry forward into creative writing from which I think others can benefit.
For instance, consistency, schedule, organization, and interaction. All of these things take place in “works-for-hire” writing because they need to be there. If you are on a corporate proposal team, you may very well find yourself writing in a room of talkers, plinking away on your little keyboard in your cubicle, with only your self-discipline and earbuds between you and success. Not as creative, but I assure you, the need for crispness, clarity, and readability is at least as great.
“Yeah, but we’re all different,? you say. “Not everyone could thrive in such a scenario.” I agree. In fact, I think you will do better in the works-for-hire sector if you are a little more extroverted, and a little less introverted. But, frankly, that’s true about society as a whole.
Here’s me, for instance. I have a 40-hour a week job, and it’s a pretty damned good one, frankly. At the average newbie-writer book advance, I’d need to plunk out a couple and a half novels a month in order to quit. Not rich by any stretch of the imagination, just the facts of where I live. Full-time-author Bill just ain’t happening. So, I need to balance writing and life, or quit writing.
I’m not quitting.
So, over the course of 2012, I will have put in around 1,920 hours at work, written a 100,000-word novel, written and published one short-story collection of around 60,000 words, edited three novels, published two, and maintained all my personal relationships – the ones I value, anyway. That doesn’t count the blog entries or the poetry or the 5,000 photos that I fit in when I can, nor the time spend trying to stay abreast of other writers. Writing is a job, but SO IS YOUR FUCKING LIFE. When you meet someone you’re pretty sure you can adore, but you get ANNOYED when they reach out, do not be surprised if they are GONE when you emerge from your word cave.
The problem is NOT that they don’t understand how hard it is being a WRITER. The problem, my love, is that you don’t understand how hard it is being a PERSON. It’s constant, and it takes work. Writing – damned good writing – is the gift that flows from the loves in your life, the stress in your day, the empathy you develop from trudging through the muck with the world around you.
If you’re not in the world with them, why on Earth would they want to read your words? How could you … know? How can it be deep, and rich, and full of the stuff that makes them nod, and cry, and tear at the pages, trying to see how it all turns out.
How can your words weep, if you plonk them out in your cave? They can’t, that’s how.
See, I get frustrated with the “I’m writing so I’m too busy to deal with you” nonsense. At the very least, the people in our lives deserve the truth. “I’m not really too busy to talk to you, but I think if I don’t spit out all the words at once, they’ll disappear. So let’s pretend I’m too busy, so you’ll be there when I decide to emerge from my hole.”
Kewl. Or, maybe we can practice a little structure – write a paragraph or two on whatever ideas you’re having before you try to turn them into chapters. If it’s all stream-of-consciousness, what the hell difference does it make if you stop to have coffee with the girls? Hell, the book will be based on whatever comes out next anyway. It’s not that hard, it really isn’t.
My advice to writers, trying to balance mundane life with being an artist? Don’t be a douche.
If your words don’t make you cry, tear them up, and call the girls. It’s time to smell the coffee.
Loves ya more than chocolate.