Monday, November 14, 2011

The Choice to Write & Publish

Today I'm on my soap box about a truth and what it means to me. It has a few parts.

Part I: The writing and publishing life isn't easy.

Not everyone will tell you that, and not everyone who is told so believes it, but it's true. And the reality is that if you're going to walk the path seriously, you'll have to sacrifice something.

Some of what I've sacrificed: several hobbies and pretty much all television, with the exception of the news and the occasional Dr. Phil episode, prerecorded on the TiVo, watched while I fold laundry and do dishes. I've also sacrificed having a Martha Stewart house (if you can call that a sacrifice; I'm teaching my kids to do more, which prepares them for adulthood anyway).

What I haven't sacrificed is my family.

The truth is that a lot of people love the idea of writing and getting published, but don't like the reality of what that means. When push comes to shove, they don't have the drive to do what's needed before and after publication: work your tail off learning more, getting honest (sometimes harsh) feedback, attending conferences, networking, building a platform, promoting, and so much more.

Part II: If you don't want to do all those things . . . that's perfectly fine.

The published writer's life is not for everyone.

But please, if you decide it's not for you, don't pretend you aren't writing because of some noble reason like you're waiting to have the time because family comes first, that you'll write when your children grow up because they need you now, or some such. I hear those things a lot, sometimes to my face, and it's awfully close to saying I'm a bad mom.

My kids, I believe, would say I'm a great mom. (I totally am, so there.) On top of that, I've had plenty of experiences, including many spiritual ones, confirming that I'm supposed to be doing this.

Billions of people on this world means billions of paths. There's a good chance that your path isn't mine. And if your path doesn't include writing for publication, that's just fine.

I have a difficult time with people who put on a martyr act, as if they're somehow better, more righteous, more holy, for "giving up" writing, when the truth is, they never had writing to begin with, so they're really giving up nothing.

They never faced the terrifying fears of the blank screen, of rejection after rejection, of criticism, of deadlines, and so much more. They're never gone into and through the dark tunnels, coming out the other side. No, it's much easier to simply say, "Oh, I'd love to do all that, but my family comes first."

Guess what? My family comes first. But I still write. I still publish.

Part III: The writing life and the publishing life aren't necessarily the same thing.

I believe that writing without publishing (blogging, personal histories, journaling, poetry, short stories, essays, perhaps for yourself and your loved ones) is great. They have their place and can be fulfilling.

If the writing life (but not the publishing life) is where you are, where you feel happy, and where you're meant to be, embrace it. Don't pretend you're giving up something that, if you're being honest with yourself, you never really wanted in your heart of hearts.

Part IV: I couldn't have been as active on this path when my children were tiny.

Life has its times and seasons. No way could I have done some of what I do today when I had a nursing baby, for example. My kids are all in school during the day, and they no longer depend on me for the basics. They're all potty trained, can get dressed, make their beds, take showers, get themselves breakfast and lunch, and so on. There was a time when they couldn't do those things, and the job fell on my shoulders.

On the other hand, I still wrote when they were little, but the extent and purpose were somewhat different. (For starters, the biggest purpose for my writing was to keep me sane, although I still sought publication and had my first article published when my second child was a year or two old. She's in ninth grade now.)

Also: blogging didn't exist back then.

But being a novelist was always my end-goal. Not just one novel. A career as a novelist. Some days, the mountain feels as tall as it ever did. Every step I take presents a new one, a new challenge or goal. To use another metaphor, each lap I finish presents a new one; the race never ends.

Part V: Everyone has God-given talents, passions, and missions.

I believe that motherhood is one of mine. And that so is writing. But it's not everyone's.

If you decide that this particular path isn't for you, I'm sure you'll find another one, something that's what you are supposed to be doing. Hundreds of things could be your path, your mountain.

For some reason, writing seems to be a popular passion for people to lay claim to, then place on the altar, give it up, then sigh nobly and walk away from it.

The truth is that writing and publishing require all kinds of sacrifices, including things like ego, to keep going. Remember how I said it's hard? In some ways, walking away from it would be the easy way out. (I can't count the times I've said or heard writer friends say something along the lines of, "Why do I do this? Seriously, am I crazy?")

So I get a bit uppity when I hear people (especially mothers) claim that their children and their calling as a mother are why they never wrote. I don't buy that reason. (Or, rather, that excuse.)

I'm betting that most of those same people are probably investing time, money, and energy into something else (running marathons, quilting, photography, gardening, jewelry making, greeting card design, an Etsy shop, PTA, community theater, whatever). You could be putting the same time, energy, and money into writing, but choose to spend it elsewhere. Please don't pretend that your children are why you don't do it.

The truth is that to write, you'd have to give up your other passion. Is that a choice you're willing to (or are supposed to) make? No one can make that call but you.

All of those things can be worthwhile endeavors. They all require time, energy, and, often, money. Yet whatever is your priority you find time for. (This list his skewed toward women, but I could come up with another list for men that's just as valid.)

I used to be an avid scrapbooker. You can tell pretty easily by looking at my scrapbooks when I signed my first contract.

A friend of mine was a fantastic seamstress. She let her sewing machine get dusty and instead and picked up her laptop. Yet she's a fantastic mom, often skipping critique group and writing events to be at her kids' games (they're freakishly talented in many sports, and therefore have seasons that overlap and last just short of eternity). Beyond attending games, I see her always putting her role as mother first. Yet she still finds a way to write. In fact, I hope to be as prolific as she is some day. She's multi-published and multi-award winning.

I could go on and on with other examples: friends who write in spite of chronic illness, family crises, full-time jobs, and a thousand other potential roadblocks. (Note I said potential.)

Part VI: If you're meant to be a writer but are making excuses, stop it and get writing already.

But if you prefer the dream, the idea of writing and publishing, far more than the rigors of the reality, something else is probably more up your alley: maybe it's some other form of writing, like those mentioned earlier. Or it could be something else entirely. Everyone has a passion, a talent, a mission. Find yours.

I once heard a novelist speak to a church group and answer the question, "How do you find time to write?" This guy has since quit his day job and is a very successful, full-time writer who supports his family with his fiction, but back then he still had a regular, 40-hour a week career that paid the bills.

He asked the audience how many people had watched 30 minutes of television the day before. Most hands went up. He asked how many had watched one hour. A few hands went down, but most stayed up. Two hours? Fewer hands stayed up, but quite a few remained. Three? Still a good number of hands in the air.

Then his point: "Instead of watching any TV last night, I wrote."


At the writing retreat I recently went to, we had 20-minute sprints, contests where we wrote hard and fast to see how many words we could get in. My record was over 1300 words. That's about 6 pages, double spaced, in 20 minutes. Do that several days a week, and you've got a book in a few months.

Yes, my sprint pages need revision, but the point is, you don't need 8-hour blocks to write a novel. If you want it, grab it and find a way to do it. If you think you want it, but you don't really, figure out what you're here to do and do that.

But no more excuses, please.


Jordan McCollum said...

Agree, agree, agree. And agree.

Sarah M Eden said...

At one of my last book signings, I had someone say to me, and I quote, "When I was young, like you, a lot of us women thought about writing books. But back then we actually took care of our kids instead of spending all our time on less important things."


I just smiled and bit my tongue. I figured attacking customers in a bookstore isn't good for an author's career.

Josi said...

Well said, Annette. I couldn't agree more.

Emily M. said...

Annette, what if I say that right now, I personally can't write the way I would like to, because of my family obligations, but I realize that others can make it work? Is that too much excuse making? That honestly feels like where I am at right now. I blog, publish an essay or poem (or story, that Monsters and Mormons anthology) once a year or so, but for now that is it. I have not yet figured out the way to juggle things to make writing work for me and my family, but I respect those who have.

Heather Moore said...

The other day I had someone ask me what my favorite TV series was. Honestly? The last one I followed was ER. I had to give up 99% of TV to write novels, and I wasn't watching that much to begin with. But my other hobbies went down the drain too, although I do play catch-up (a little) between manuscripts :-)

Annette Lyon said...

Emily, This is exactly what I meant about times and seasons.

Ten years ago, I couldn't do as much as I do now--but I wrote as much as I could.

Which is what you're doing. You're doing what you can, not throwing your hands in the air and giving it up altogether.

Ergo, you're a writer. You're being realistic--not making excuses. Big difference. And when the time comes, you KNOW you'll do more.

And therein lies the difference.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Excellent post! I greatly dislike the insinuation that because I write, I must not be a good mom. That's very offensive. Thanks for sticking up for us writing moms.

Jenny P. said...

I'm not sure if you read my last post Annette, but these thoughts have been on my mind a lot lately. With five kids ten and under, and number six on the way, I'm still in the tiny kids craziness stage of life and while I'm still writing, I'm not writing as much and as quickly as I like. I often get frustrated and feel tremendously impatient that I don't have MORE time to put into my writing, but then I remind myself that in this particular season of life, there is only so much that I can do. That's an important thing for me to remember. I won't let myself give up and I fight to make writing a part of my life. But I also can't beat myself up when my pregnancy makes me too tired to stay up late and reach my word count goal.

You're right about sacrifice though. There are a lot of things that I choose not to do because I'd rather spend time working on my writing.

Susan Anderson said...

Very good points you make here.

I (and I think I'm not alone here) am compelled to write because I can't help myself. I need it, like breathing. It's how I make sense of the world, part of my process.

So...not writing isn't an option for me...but my interest in publishing waxes and wanes, as does caring enough to place my poetry or essays. I published three books from 1997-2004 but haven't made a submission since. The blog seems to fill that need for me, for now at least.

You are doing a good job of carving out a place for yourself as a novelist. I love when people make their dreams happen.


Diana said...

Thank you for posting this. I love to write, but the publishing, etc, not so much. This makes me fill a bit better about my choice to write without publishing.

Annette Lyon said...

Here's a great blog post by Ben Crowder about why he dropped out of NaNoWriMo--and it's EXACTLY the kind of thing I'm talking about here.

He's seeking after what HIS purpose and mission are--and while they include writing, novel-writing and publishing isn't on the list.

His post is here:

Melanie Jacobson said...

Holy crap, Annette.

Way to lay it out there.

And as for part II especially, Preach it!

Lara Neves said...

I think I love you.

And I'm not even a writer, nor have I "given up" writing. But man, I sure have been judged by many women who say they can't do what I do because they have kids. I use the TV example quite often when I'm presented with that argument because the only time you'll find me watching is when I'm folding laundry or sick in bed.

Thanks for saying what needs to be said! Did I mention I love you?

Emily M. said...

Thanks, Annette. I need that vote of confidence.


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