Recently my husband asked me when I thought I would be getting back to some "writing." That led me to ask myself the same soul-searching question, "Gee, why am I not getting any writing done?" Was it fear? Procrastination? Deep-seated doubts about the validity of my work?
And yet... As I searched my soul, my soul whispered back, "But... you have been writing! Constantly!" Or so it seems...
On the theory (also regularly espoused by my spouse) that you can't manage what you can't measure, I decided to take a look at just what is happening with my time. How is it that I "feel" like I'm writing, when I'm not getting any "writing" done?
One clue came in the form of an e-mail from a friend in Nigeria. When I mentioned my difficulty in "getting writing done," he responded with a note of surprise: "But you just wrote 4000 words to me!" Wow - 4000 words, in one e-mail, in one afternoon. That's... a lot of words.
So I looked at my "writing" record for the past two days, and found that, sure enough, I'm doing quite a lot of writing. Yesterday, I wrote another 2000-word e-mail to my friend (to make up for the fact that I haven't sent him an e-mail in about a month). Today, I've written - counting this editorial - roughly 5000 words. Almost 2000 words went into an e-mail responding to a question relating to my pet loss website (an e-mail which, admittedly, I plan to turn into an article). Since the critique group I've just joined meets tomorrow, and requires crits to be delivered in writing, I put in another 2000 words reviewing this week's submissions. And then Dawn sent me the newsletter, which I'd completely forgotten about, with the note that "all we need is your editorial!"
Now, while some of that 5000 words is fairly decent writing, none of it is getting me any closer to, say, the short story that I've committed to submitting to the critique group when my turn comes up next month. And by the end of the day (which is, pretty much, now), I'm definitely not going to have the energy or motivation to tackle yet another 5000 words. Which means that another day will have gone by when I've been too busy writing to write.
It occurred to me, as I read Jennifer Banks' article on Social Proof in this issue, that this problem may affect many of you as well. Today, we are constantly being told that we must write this, that and the other -- "this that and the other" being in addition to the books, stories, articles, poetry, or whatever else we actually want to write. We are told that we really must blog - regularly! We simply must keep active on our Facebook page, posting catchy updates and providing our readers with links to interesting websites, cool pictures, and so forth. It's absolutely vital that we build a Twitter following. And of course we need to keep responding to other people's blogs, posts, and tweets, because being a "successful" writer is all about interactivity and "community."
In short, writers today have more demands upon their time and skills than ever before in history. Charles Dickens did not keep a blog, and managed, instead, to write a number of quite popular (and very long) books. Agatha Christie did not have a Facebook page, and wrote dozens of novels that are still top sellers today. Moving into the present, bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark - arguably one of the more prolific of authors - does not (gasp) have a blog.
Yet today, we dutifully finish our blog posts, write comments on our friends' blogs, handle our e-mail, update our Facebook status, respond to half a dozen tweets - and promise ourselves that tomorrow we'll work on our novel/short story/memoir/whatever. And we wonder what is wrong, and why our dreams aren't "happening," when, after all, we are doing what all the pundits tell us are the "right" things. We may not be doing what we want to do, but we're doing what we've been told we have to do to become a successful writer in "today's world."
The problem is, having a great blog and a fantastic Twitter following isn't going to help anyone sell a book if they don't have a book to sell! I'm delighted to have found a fantastic critique group, and pleased to help my fellow writers therein, but that group won't help me if I don't find time to write a submission.
We're living in an era where the very technologies that promised to reduce labor have, instead, managed to multiply it beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Thanks to cell phones, we no longer have to be in the office to "do business" - we can do business in the car, on the bus, in an airport, even in the grocery store. We can do business at any hour of the day or night, whether we're at home or on vacation - and so, naturally we do. Not because we want to, but because we're expected to, simply because we can. E-mail has meant that we can now be contacted by readers and fans around the world - so instead of having a handful of letters to answer every month, a popular writer may receive dozens or even hundreds a day. Laptops and tablets mean that we can write or work anytime, anywhere - so (according to my sister's account of a recent cruise) even a traveler on vacation is more likely to be dashing off posts and tweets than enjoying the scenery he or she paid to visit in the first place. In every area of our lives, technologies that start out as "possibilities" turn, almost overnight, into requirements.
It seems that every generation encounters the tempting myth that one can have, or do, it "all." And for a time, we pursue it eagerly, hoping that in our case, with our shining new technologies and time-savers, this time it will actually prove to be true. Unfortunately, it isn't. So if you're running faster and faster in your efforts to do "all the right things" as a writer, here's my suggestion for 2014: Stop trying to do it "all." Instead, try to do what counts. Because all the Facebook friends in the world won't help you sell a book that you're too tired, or "too busy writing," to write.
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