Writing In Life

100_2195Advice on writerly success almost always includes exhortations to write daily, to remain focused, to give up other things in order to keep the butt in the chair.  There is much truth in those words, but taken to extremes, can become quite dysfunctional.

New writers in particular are vulnerable to the negative judgments wrapped up in those pieces of guidance, worrying if one can be a “real” writer if not behaving as if writing is the most important thing in life.

It’s a tremendously destructive mindset.

See that picture?  That’s my son and I.  It was taken by my sister almost fifteen years ago, during a wonderful hike around a lake in southern Indiana.  That day, my son touched a frog, giggled over the sound of pebbles splashing in the water, and freaked out over mud sticking to his shoes.  Those memories keep my heart full–not only because of my son’s darling childhood experience, but because my sister (who now has two little boys of her own) was there to share it with me.

The picture is one of my favorites.  It hangs on the wall where I can see it while I’m working.  Sure, I could say it reminds me of the reasons I work on as many projects as I do.  But it’s actually there to remind me to stop working rather than obsessively tune out the world to produce content.  It’s there to tell me who I am is more important than what I do.

There have been times I behaved otherwise, always trying to take more and more and more time.  I could always do those other things later, tomorrow, next time.   And I’ll still blow off steam from time to time by griping about things that dig into my writing time and my writing energy.  But now, as I watch my son speed toward independent adulthood, as I come to accept the aging of my parents, as my sister and her children build a new life in a new place, as more people I know grow older and share the regrets of their middle age,  I get it.  I get it. 

I’ve written about the balancing of life and writing here, here, and other places in years past.  Experiencing life is, to me, worth the sacrifice of producing content more slowly.

The other way the “write every day, all the time, no matter what” advice can hurt us crops up during times of great pain–emotional or physical.  Believing a writer is real only when producing content adds a layer of guilt, depression, and anxiety to hard times that interfere with creativity.  Only recently have I discovered the Writing for the Long Haul series over at Janni Lee Simner’s blog.  Its most recent entry, “Writing Through Crisis” by Deborah J. Ross, is important for any writer who has endured emotional hits and tragedy.  An April 2012 post from Kris Rusch is another important perspective on the impact of life events and hard times on one’s ability to write.

A riverbed doesn’t stop being a riverbed in periods of drought.  A writer doesn’t stop being a writer while raising children, loving families, caring for friends, or enduring and processing emotional upheavals.  Rather, that’s a writer who is fully participating in life, whose experiences will later inform and enrich their stories when time to write can again be found, and the empathy required to write is once again a companion rather than an affliction.

So if you’re a new (or newer) writer, cut yourself some slack.  Choose your priorities as if you never know if “later” will exist.  And, frankly, ignore anyone who wants to judge your writer-ness by their own priorities and choices.

2 thoughts on “Writing In Life”

  1. Thank you for writing this. There are glaciers moving faster than the speed my books progress. Sometimes it frustrates me but mostly, I’m happy to accept that my son will only be five for one year, that my parents, who are both in their 80s will not be around for ever, that there is more to life. Other times I see the rapidly shifting landscape and realise that the Trad Publishing world may well find a way to close off indie writers from mainstream sale – the way they have in many book stores here in the UK – before I have enough of a name for myself. Sometimes the fear gets to me. And then I look at my son, or he tells me that a car looks like his dad’s because their bottoms are the same and I know that, as you so succinctly put it:

    “Experiencing life is, to me, worth the sacrifice of producing content more slowly.”

    Spot on. And again.

    Thanks you.



  2. So glad it spoke to you positively!

    No matter what happens in the world of writing, your son will be your son. I’ve never heard an “empty nest” parent say they wish they’d spent less time with their kids. 🙂

    Years ago, I remember believing I’d missed out on the chance to publish because, due to the shrinking number of book distributers, publishers were no longer supporting many writers for the long haul. Then I remember believing I’d missed out because, due to chain bookstore ordering policies, fewer writers who weren’t “bestseller” material were being picked up. Then I remember… You get the idea. 🙂

    The opportunities and limitations of publishing will remain in flux for a long time. If one opportunity closes, another will come up. Right now, it’s considered most feasible to publish on one’s own. On the other hand, writer communities are forming for cross-promotions and the like. Writing cooperatives, like Book View Café, have been around for awhile and are really growing. If one option closes down, others will be created. The key is, and will be, flexibility.

    So don’t worry about missing out on the chance to sell what you create. Enjoy your son, knowing we creative folks will find a way to be heard.

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