Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing or Wasting Time?

Kevin Killiany's column on August 19, "I Was Just Getting To That", touched on a sore issue for me: disrespect for writers' time. Except for the big guns—who I assume command respect based on their impressive royalties and resultant lush lifestyles—nonwriters regard your writing as a kind of sneaky self-indulgence at best, or an affectation at worst. The expression "I'm working on a novel" has somehow become synonymous with pie in the sky or dereliction of duty.

I tend to write late at night because that's when the house is cool and quiet and I can string two thoughts together without any kind of intentional or nonintentional interruption. My mother knocking on the door to ask for the five millionth time if I might have purloined her car keys or reading glasses just for the fun of it, and if not, whether I happened to see them anywhere unusual, falls under "intentional interruption". The man cutting the grass outside my window with what must be the loudest weed whacker on the planet falls under "unintentional interruption". But whether one or the other, these things interrupt the flow of my thoughts and sometimes it's hard to get back in there.

One of the problems with intentional interruptions—and part of the reason there's so much disrespect for writers' time—is that the writing process looks like wasting time or just chilling to others. Writing is hard work, but nonwriters think we're having them on when we say that. Case in point: back in December I achieved what I think is a personal record: I wrote roughly 8,000 words, the first draft of a short story, in one day. I was in the flow and I just kept going until I reached the end. I don't recommend these marathons although they sound impressive, and the reason is that I was completely fried: I spent the day after my marathon in bed, firing up the laptop for short stints to work on the edits for another project. To anyone who saw me in crash mode that day, I was just lying around doing nothing. They have no idea that I crashed because I did four days' writing work in one.

When I taught high school, no one visited or intruded on my work unless there was a real emergency. A call during school hours was rare—like that time my brother whacked off several of his toes while mowing the grass barefooted, or the day he was found alive after being lost at sea for three weeks. Now that I'm a home-based writer, however, everyone thinks I'm accessible all the time. It's really annoying.

The question Kevin raised about whether the writing or your family is more important should not even arise. It's unfair, a straw-man argument that has no correlation. No one ever suggested I should abandon my students back in the day to run errands, do laundry or clean the house. I did what I could manage around my workdays, and what I could not do had to be postponed. The hours the job required were inviolate. Not so a writer's hours.

I don't expect that nonwriters—and especially the families of writers—are going to develop respect for what writers do anytime soon. It's therefore up to us, the writers, to respect our own writing time, to growl, bark and bite when we need to so that we get the point across: writing is a job and trying to do it around the edges of other people's expectations of us and demands on our time won't cut it. Be strong. Be firm. And eschew the guilt.


Charles Gramlich said...

I believe Lana understand much better what I do and gives it respect than my first wife, who interrupted me constantly while I was trying to write. Lana is a creative artist herself so I believe she does understand it. Definitely a weird balancing game though, and writing too often takes a back seat.

Neil Waring said...

I do well except when we have company, then my writing gets pushed back. I tend to be a late night writer also, not sure why as I do not have, or want a day job. (retired teacher) Distractions can make things tough, especially if I am on a role. I tend to create most of my own distractions, need to get better at staying on task. Too often I hear the
call of the golf course or garden.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Gosh Liane, I commiserate. My family feels as if I am sitting home doing nothing, except of course when I go to teach my college classes. And it's not just the writing. It's the writing, the editing, the promotions and planning promotions. It requires a lot and they just don't understand.

My the demands of my family is a little elevated because of the age of my kids, so I just try to work around the distractions. I can pretty much write anywhere at this point in time. I used to do late night, but others still have dibs on my time late at nights so whenever I get it in, I write.

Linda Thorne said...

I understand totally. I work full-time and when I'm home there is one interruption after another and it's just me, my husband, and our two dogs who keep coming in to get me to let them out, get them food, water. No respect. Writing is extremely hard work. Interruptions fry my nerves as I have to start all over. Last weekend we had someone over who helps with projects around the house that my husband can no longer handle. We are lucky to have him, but doors were swinging open and closed, ladders being moved in and out, loud talking, and both my husband and he kept asking my opinion on things I could care less about. If I were wealthy, I might ask our friend to build me a safe room I could lock myself into. :)

KeVin K. said...

Respect for writing time starts with the writer. We have to be engaged in the writing process - whether editing, plotting, reading, typing, making notes, whatever - during our writing time. Avery big danger for me during the political season is, well, the political season. I'm a political junkie. For other people it's sports or cat videos or video games or cat video games.
If I waste my writing time watching the curling playoffs, for example, that writing time is gone. I cannot make up my lost writing time by skipping dinner with the family or not doing the laundry. To do so is to put my family and my responsibilities after not only my writing but the curling playoffs.
On the other hand, if my writing time is eaten up with favor requests or running unscheduled errands or the like, then I have spent the time on my responsibilities and can leave the laundry or vacuuming or both an extra day in good conscience.
Of course, real life being what it is, I always get a second bit of writing in late at night, the better to work undisturbed.

8000 words? Impressive. Exceeds my record.