As writers, we need to get a life

There was a time in my life, say from the late 1980s to mid-90s, when I spent every free second I had working on my writing. It never came before my family, but there were some close calls mixed in. I felt I had to write at least 7-8 hours a day, including weekends, if I were to have a chance to reach my ultimate goal of being a published author. In retrospect, that slightly obsessed attitude probably contributed to the publication of Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream in late 1999. The book wasn’t a national bestseller, but it was published by a respectable house and sold out its print run. By the time Hoop Lore hit the market in 2007, I had come to the realization that being published wasn’t nearly as rewarding of an experience as I had expected. Now, if my books had sold tens of thousands of copies, it’s likely I wouldn’t be writing this post today—but the fact is, most authors who sell a book don’t become rich or famous. In fact, their lives go on pretty much the same as before.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind for writers of all ages, published or not. Writing isn’t glamorous, and most of the time it isn’t even fun. We are writers, so we have to write. Speaking of which, I am about to begin sending out queries for a new fiction manuscript. My expectations are realistic: it’s unlikely I will find an agent who wants to take on my book. The publishing world is changing so rapidly, agents are even less likely than they were five years ago to take on new clients. They only accept books they are absolutely certain will sell and sell very well. And really, who can blame them? They make a living from commission. No commission, no income. So I am stating upfront that I will have no hard feelings toward any agent who rejects my work. The last part of that sentence is key, by the way: when an agent says no thanks, he or she is declining to represent our work, not us. It isn’t personal. I know it’s hard to look at it that way, but we must.

And that brings me to the point of this post. Writers must have a life away from writing. We must have outside interests, friends, and hobbies. My circle of friends is small but supportive and caring. (Yours should be the same, or they aren’t worthy of your friendship; don’t waste time with negative people, it will drain your creativity.)  I spend the majority of my mornings outside taking care of my gardens, which in itself feels like a full time job in Fresno. Last but certainly not least, I have an abundance of animal companions who never fail to brighten my day. We recently lost our beloved boxer, Kook, who finally succumbed to heart disease at the age of 12. We adopted him when he was two, and he quickly became our “Director of Enthusiasm” with his upbeat, funny personality and his obvious love for life.  (I will be writing a full post about him soon, so if you are a fellow animal lover, stayed tuned and have plenty of Kleenex handy.)

Your outside interests might be completely different than mine. What matters is that you have interests other than writing, and that you engage in them every single day. Chances are doing so will enhance rather than distract from your ability to become published.

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Writers and the technology trap

There’s something about modern technology that sends writers running for cover. If we were characters in LOST, we’d know exactly why we wanted to get back to the island—as long as the timeframe we landed in was the 1970s. Like Sawyer and Juliet, most of us would embrace the simpler lifestyle those days provided (less the weird Dharma Initiative folks, of course). Alas, the world keeps changing, pushing us forward. Writing a book is no longer the end of our journey, it’s merely a step along the ever-lengthening path. A path where new obstacles seem to appear every day.

Back in the 90s, when MP3 players were first coming onto the scene, I asked both of my daughters if they’d like one for Christmas. Each carried her CD Walkman with her most where ever she went. Given how CDs required a bigger or extra carry case and were easily stolen or lost, I thought the idea of having a tiny device that held more music without the hassle of CDs would be a huge hit. Instead, they rolled their eyes and told me MP3 players were stupid, and no one wanted one.

Now of course, both girls have numerous devices that make MP3 players seem like dinosaurs. CDs will ultimately go the way of vinyl and cassettes, leaving us with the digital only format for music. Regular DVDs are being replaced by higher quality Blu-ray discs, which in turn will eventually give way to digital downloads. Analog TV is out, high-def digital is in. Next up, 3-D TV, complete with those silly 3-D glasses (only they won’t be so silly at $500 a pop).

As much as we might wish it were so, the publishing world is not immune to technology. Many well-known newspapers have folded in the past five years. Those that have survived supplement their hardcopies with on-line versions. Most publishers have added e-books to their printed catalogues, and new e-book readers to compete with Kindle arrive every few months. As Spock from the old Star Trek series might say, logic would dictate it’s only a matter of time before those printed catalogues disappear entirely in favor of digital books.

There are tons of writers and readers out there who will scoff at that prediction. I used to be one of them. And some days, I still am. After all, I did use a notepad and pen to jot down notes for this article over breakfast this morning. Old habits die hard, don’t they?