Life Changes When You’re a Writer

October 31, 2017
Hysterical Fiction Tour
July 8, 2017
Visit to an Amazon Bookstore
April 29, 2018

O n the flight back from the last literary festival on my calendar, I thought about 2017, all the activities, but most of all how differently I regard the writing life now compared to three or four years ago. There are so many ways writing changes your life - especially if it's a second career, as it has been for me. After 20-plus years in high tech I felt established there – knew how to get help, what to read, which professional relationships to nurture. In the book world, even with two novels and a third underway, I'm still feeling like a newbie. So I've had to make room for writing and the writing life, and some of those adjustments I did not expect. In no particular order ...

 
 

Your relationships change. Author Lauren B. Davis dishes out some of the best advice of anyone in the business. It’s hard being friends with an author, she told me. We’re hardly ever around and when we are, we’re living inside our heads. This is so true. Especially if you have an obsessive streak. OK, more than a streak. I know I'm sometimes oblivious to those voice and body language cues. Over the past few years The Husband and I have recalibrated our relationship. He’s fine if my response to his question is a blank stare. He doesn’t expect full participation in real life from me when I’m writing. But once the manuscript is done, or when I hit a major milestone, we take a holiday together, even if it's just a road trip. It’s full-on work and then full-on together time. Hey, works for us.

By now most of my friends understand that writing is my job and of necessity, I approach it as a business. An author is self-employed. Lit fests are work. Readings, book tours, and book clubs are work. Writing is definitely work. I see less of friends I’ve known for decades and I miss them, but I also crave time with writer-world friends because I value their perspectives. I’m trying to learn about this industry as fast as I can. And also – sometimes only other authors understand what you’re whining on about.

Your world is simultaneously smaller and bigger. I don’t get out much anymore because the world I’m trying to create can be so all-consuming that the world shrinks down to this room, this house, this garden.

At the same time, when I do get out and meet other authors, it’s like adding entire other worlds to life – the worlds they write about and the worlds of their previous/other professions (so far I haven’t met anyone in the writing world who used to be in high tech). I’ve ended up with a more diverse reading list, each title a new world, thanks to meeting other authors, liking them, and wanting to read their work. And all the reading I do for research has let me discover other lives through biographies and memoirs, journals. In grainy photographs I see worlds now lost to living memory.

You don’t get as much time anymore to read for pleasure. This is so ironic since writers are also big readers. As proof of how little I get to read, my TBR stack is shoulder high (see above, on meeting other authors). I divide my reading time between research, fun, and inspiration. The ‘inspiration’ category suffers the most. These are the books that require time, calm, and focus to appreciate. These are the books that make you think you have no business writing because you’ll never be able to write so well. There are many days when I feel under-achieving and undeserving of such books, but in the end, they inspire me to do better.

You’re better at solitude. This writing thing definitely brings out the introvert and inner hermit. In previous jobs I would attend conferences and felt quite relaxed talking with strangers. Now most of my days are spent in isolation and I’ve lost the practice of social chit-chat, those conversational gambits that break the ice, the art of asking questions that probe for common ground. I don’t read or respond to body language as well anymore. At parties with lots of new people, I’m in 8th grade again, a wallflower with my back to the wall.

You get better at coping with criticism. OK, strictly speaking this isn’t true. I just avoid it. For example, by filtering Goodreads to see just the 5-star reviews. Writing generates so much insecurity as it is, why voluntarily subject yourself to more criticism? In the end it’s a matter of taste anyway. There are Booker prize-winning novels I’ve hated and virtually unknown novels that left me gasping in disbelief that they didn’t win major acclaim. The main thing is that my publishers and agent like my writing enough to keep working with me. So there, she says.

You don’t get full value from Netflix. I fear getting sucked into a show and then binge-watching until my eyes boggle out (see comment above on obsessive streak), filling my brain with a world that isn’t the one I’m writing about, and most of all, using up time I should spend writing. I especially avoid multiple-season TV series. Game of Thrones. Orange is the New Black. Walking Dead. One day, I’m going to binge-watch Mad Men. But today is not that day. I remain staunchly behind the times in pop culture.

Your wardrobe becomes low priority. Except for when it’s high priority. Most days, I stumble between office and kitchen in sweatshirt and jeans. Real pants -those are the good days. Sometimes it’s PJs until 2 pm. Then your newest book is released and you wake up to the fact that you have literary festivals coming up and Nothing to Wear. It seems so futile though. I own a lot of black (so slimming!) and navy (attempts to get away from black) and our cat is mostly cream. Covered in cat hair, an Armani jacket looks like a Sally Ann special. (NOTE TO SELF: next time the cat should be black. Or navy)

I just read one of those books that inspire and it was exactly what I needed to read right now. Birds Art Life, a divinely beautiful memoir by Kyo Maclear, packs a lot into elegant essays about a year in her life when she takes up bird watching. The book is about so much more than birds. One of its recurring themes is creativity, its pleasure and seclusion. It’s a marvel of a book and a great comfort to read.

What I've learned though is that the greatest comfort of all is working on the next book. To know you still have stories to tell and that the struggle to find the right words for those stories is worth all the insecurity, all the self-doubt. See blog about self-doubt.

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