This week, I’d like to discuss something that festers in the writing community. This is also a problem in other professions and communities, but writing has a certain je ne sais quot about it. Writers are both beloved and reviled, treasured and treated like garbage. It’s an amazing sort of phenomenon to come across people who gush about their favorite writer, then tell you where you can pirate their books. Or then complain violently about how said writer has not yet produced the next book.
Anyway. This isn’t about those people.
This is about how we writerfolk can get swept up in a whirlwind of advice that ruins our lives. It may or may not make our careers flourish. That’s not the point.
Advicegiver 1: Writers write.
Advicegiver 2: If you’re not writing, you’re a failure and might as well not bother.
Advicegiver 3: EVERY DAY. If you don’t write every day, you’ve already lost the game.
Advicegiver 4: You must produce 4 books a year or you’ll never succeed.
Advicegiver 5: [Famous/revered Authorperson] wrote every single day. If you don’t, you’ll never be as good as them.
Which leads to something like this, which I noticed on Twitter the other day:
There has come to be a strange myth that one cannot write and still have a healthy, otherwise productive life. Which is so bizarre. It’s also toxic. Toxic Writing Mentality is more or less about workaholics and a culture that reveres them.
I expect to publish a total of 12 short stories, 2 novellas, and 3-4 books this year, plus edit two anthologies. A few stories I wrote last year will appear in anthologies releasing this year.
Which sounds like a lot. To be fair, it is a lot. It’s a large quantity of work. I spend a lot of time doing it. But that’s not my whole life.
I have friends, folks. I do things. I’m a parent and my kids aren’t neglected. I take taekwando classes. I go to a gym every week. I read books, go for walks/hikes, ride my bike, make dinner, play video and tabletop games, see movies, work conventions, get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every night, and many other things.
Now, I like to write, so sometimes it’s a challenge to get my butt outta my beanbag. And because there are so many people saying so many of the things listed above (and more), I often feel guilty about getting up. I still do it. I still make time to do it. I saw Black Panther on opening weekend, in fact, and loved it.
All of which is to say that anyone who tells you that you have to sacrifice joy, love, health, family, friends, or your paycheck to be a writer is a jerkface. You don’t. Writing takes time and effort, but it doesn’t need to take ALL your time and ALL your effort.
Be sane, folks. Take breaks. Do things. See things. Talk to people. Never let anyone tell you that your book is more important than your life. Or any other job, for that matter.
I have a theory, backed up by non-scientific data, that many of us in Gen X were so psychologically affected by the label of Slacker that we overcompensate by working too much. Everyone else suffers with us because we’ve created an insane threshold for work-life imbalance that has become the norm.
Anyway. The point is, take some time to do things. Every new experience gives you new stuff for your stories. You’re not a slacker. Don’t act like other people think you are.
Too true! And the ‘write every day’ thing doesn’t take into account the many quality, successful ‘binge’ writers out there who write like crazy over a weekend but the rest of the week they may do zero writing. Well, at least it looks like zero from the outside only. Because living life, having friends, all that… that’s really good to give you something to write about. On Quora I occasionally get questions like ‘how do I write a romance if I’ve never been in love?’ Well, I gamely try to answer but really, falling in love (and maybe getting your heart broken too) will give the love relationship part of your writing more depth (generally speaking, I’m sure there are exceptions because there always are) than the love relationship part of writing of someone who hasn’t had that experience. So I do my best to encourage people to go outside and play. Not necessarily do dangerous stuff, but to smell the roses, make friends, people watch (I love people watching!) and all that other awesomeness that awaits out there. Your ‘down time’ can be as much about writing as you want it to be. And there’s also good things to be said about giving your brain a break from wordsmithing too…