Chris’s series on it being OK not to write led me to wonder if many people who say they want to be writers, those who can never find the time to think up anything but excuses, who agonize over not putting fingers to keyboard, or mouth to mike, or pen to paper, actually want to be writers at all. The literary world has room for many kinds of people. Writers are not the only ones. Maybe there’s another place in the literary world that would bring these people joy and fulfillment, a place that accords with their real talents. Editors, copy-editors, agents, publicity folk, reviewers, bookstore owners, librarians, book bloggers — these are all extremely important roles in the literary world. But they aren’t the most important roles. Neither, in truth, is writing itself.
As a seriously working writer, I can tell you my life is pretty ordinary. Here it is, late Saturday morning. My houseguests have left, and I have plenty of housework to do. Yet, here I am, writing, because I love what I do. I could tell myself that I’ll write later, when the cleaning’s done, when I’ve reorganized my art supplies, when I’ve brought in firewood, when I’ve baked those granola bars, taken out my kayak and walked the dog again, but I’m not doing that, because I did a lot of PR outreach this morning, playing catch-up, and now I am writing! I’ll do that other stuff later.
I get up in the morning, fairly early, and do all the usual morning stuff everyone does. Then I nosedive into my computers, my galleys, my own blog and my publicity stuff, usually around nine. I go to work, just as if I were going to an office in town. In fact, there are writers who do go to rented office spaces, or dedicated rooms over the garage or in the attic, off-limits to all, and do so for a regular period of time each business, or maybe every, day. I do plenty of things that aren’t writing. Nobody goes to the store for me. Nobody cleans my house for me. Nobody tends my garden for me. I stack my own firewood. I watch almost no TV, I rarely go out to eat, I don’t sit in coffee shops, I don’t go to bars or clubs except on very rare occasions. I carve out time for several sports I enjoy. I need to sleep, so I make sure I do. The simple fact is, I work. What you see when you look at me is a middle-aged lady living a quiet life whose work, at which she works a lot, happens to be writing books. That’s why I try to convey here. THIS is the normal life of a working writer.
A few working writers seem to spend a lot of time drinking, drugging, clubbing and having affairs, but if you read their biographies or get to know them, you’ll see they do that during “off” times, not when they’re seriously writing. A bout of addiction and rehab, or a really nasty break-up or divorce, can wreck not just months but years. Those missing years aren't productive, fun or lucrative, either. Writing takes concentration, thought and effort. It requires you to be physically and mentally at the top of your game. It doesn’t happen when you have a hangover or were out until the clubs swept you out with the trash. Nothing wrong with those things; if you’re a serious working writer, you just build holidays and days off into your schedule. You don’t make a lifestyle of them.
What I think is there are many people who are attracted to the “time off” parts of being a writer. They enjoy talking about writing, just like writers. They enjoy reading, especially reading about writing, just like writers. They also enjoy sitting in coffee shops or bars with their compatriots griping about how hard writing is and how they have no time. They often love clubbing and partying and going to events. But actual writing? The follow-up parts to that actual writing, like PR, appearances, outreach? Nope. Not happening. Here at last is my serious question: why should it?
Look, I love music. I have music on all the time. I even know a bit about it. Sometimes I actually sing, though my voice is very rusty. But in music, my real role is to be the audience.
I’m going a little further than Chris. It’s not only OK not to write, it is also more than OK to be a reader and a fan. Readers are the most important people in the literary world. Fans are fantastic! We write for you! We need you! Writing is communication between the writer and the reader. Readers are vital to this process. Why not be the audience?
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