This week I finished the first draft of my fourth Camilla Randall mystery, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, and sent it off to my editor. What a relief!
All my books are comedies, but they have a darker subtext, and this one, dealing with homelessness here in San Luis Obispo, CA— "The Happiest Town on Earth"—took a lot of soul searching. Finishing it left me feeling drained. But satisfied. I'd succeeded in doing some writing I was proud of, and I could enjoy the feeling of job well done.
For about 8 hours.
The next morning, I was confronted with a pile of procrastinated projects that literally brought me to tears. Huge, already-overdue writing projects, this blog, guest posts, plus falling fences, overgrown gardens, put-off doctor visits, unpaid bills, neglected family and friends. And my inbox is crammed with requests to help newbie authors, new literary magazines, and start-up reader/author sites. All worthy enough to be set aside for "when I have time"--whenever that may be.
No rest for the weary.
So I asked myself—when did I sign up for "weary"?
Do I really have to live this frenzied life that is taking such a huge toll on my health and home and friendships...and seems to get me no farther ahead?
In the final three months of last year, I launched five novels and two anthologies--all while keeping up this blog (which I couldn't have done without the wonderful Ruth Harris. Thanks, Ruth!) But it was pretty much the most exhausting thing I've ever done. I thought I'd get to rest afterward. But after a bout of pneumonia in January, my pace went back to frantic. I had a nonfic book to co-author and launch in June, the new Camilla mystery to write, plus dozens of guest posts, bloghops, blogtours, radio interviews, daily Tweeting, Facebooking, etc., and presentations at a seminar and a writers' conference to prepare
I know my schedule is nothing compared to what most authors face. In fact, I'm constantly hearing the message that I should be doing more. Lots more. And I have a wonderful, helpful publisher--so I have nothing like the workload of most indie authors.
But I know I can't keep up this pace for much longer without facing another health crisis. And a health crisis will eat up any profits I might make from producing and marketing more books.
On the morning I woke up to the tsunami of procrastinated tasks, I saw a tweet from a reader who has taken my Slow Blogging posts to heart. The wonderful Marcia Richards wrote a plea for blogging sanity that reminded me of something kind of important:
I'm a "Slow Blog" person, not a "work-24-hours-a-day-and-sleep-when-your-dead" person.
My nonfic book is called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…and Keep your E-Sanity! (co-authored with Catherine Ryan Hyde.)
So why have I been willing to give up my own "e-sanity"?
I think I started to forget who I am.
I call these crazed times "White Queen Days," after Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, who ruled a chessboard kingdom where "It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place." (Yikes. I stand corrected. it's the RED Queen who said this--the picture above should have been a clue, Anne. The White Queen did say the quote below. She also said, "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today,"which is almost as good. Thanks Lexi Revellian for the correction! Yet another reason why we shouldn't write when were're on burn-out.)
The White Queen offered Alice this advice for surviving in her "Looking Glass" realm: "Speak in French when you can’t remember the English for a thing; turn out your toes as you walk, and remember who you are!"
Pretty good advice for the surreal world of 2012. Well, the French and the toe thing—not so much—but “remember who you are” is true wisdom.
Wisdom that I’ve been ignoring. I hope to remedy that.
The dictators of the new publishing paradigm say the average author should have followings in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, RedRoom, Libararything—and all the new and wonderful sites emerging daily. (There's a new reader site that looks like a nice alternative to the sometimes cumbersome Goodreads, called Readmill, which really does look intriguing if you've got more time than me.) Oh, and then those are those book trailers we're supposed to be filming...
And we're also supposed to blog three to five times a week.
All while we churn out twelve novels a year
Plus keep a day job and a tidy home, exercise daily, contribute to the community, and perform all the duties of the perfect parent/spouse, of course.
I think it's wonderful so many authors out there have the remarkable superpowers to be able to do all that.
But I'm not a super-hero. (You do not want to see me wearing my underwear over spandex pants. Seriously.)
I'm not even "the average author."
And you know what? Nobody is. We're not machines. We each have our own gifts to bring to the table.
I remember an old folk song from the pre-Civil War South I heard as a kid. It had a verse that resonated in my small, way-too-sensitive soul:
Blue jay pulled a four-horse plow
Sparrow, why can't you?
Because my legs is little and long
And they might get broke in two.
Yes, there are blue jays out there doing the work of four horses. They are amazing and due all the credit in the world.
But a lot of us are sparrows--and we're quite good at being sparrows.
The fact we aren't horse-impersonating blue jays shouldn't be held against us.
I think Harper Lee made as important a contribution to our culture with her one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as Prentiss Ingraham did with his 600+ books. (Note I had to provide link to tell you who Mr. Ingraham was, but not Ms. Lee.)
I think we all benefit from diversity. I know I learn more from reading books by a lot of different authors than I would reading the same number of books by one author.
Agent Rachelle Gardner reminded us recently that it's going to take quality, not quantity, to stand out in this rapidly expanding marketplace. She says "The quality of your writing is going to determine if people want to read what you write."
And after telling us a year ago that all authors should have daily blogs with 15K hits or more a month, she's finally come around to the idea that blogging may not be for everyone.
I'm not saying that some authors can't produce a huge number of quality books in quick succession while blogging and Tweeting brilliant bon mots every fifteen minutes.
But personally, I can't.
Natalie Whipple, a successful children’s author, has a popular blog. Last year she wrote wrote a post about what she wished she’d done differently in her career. It was enlightening.
Here are a few of the things she’d do if she had a second chance:
• Spend less time online
• Spend more time reading
• Spend more time with her family
• Spend more time “living”
• Spend less time “waiting”
• Spend less time on news
She realized she’d been running in place so long, she’d been missing out on the things that mattered. I re-read that recently and it really hit home for me.
Maybe we can keep running like Alice, clinging to the White Queen, for a certain amount of time. But every human has to rest sometime. Hey, even the Lord rested on the seventh day.
We are bombarded with constant White Queen messages on the Interwebz: What—you’re not on Pinterest yet?! There’s another blog hop you’ve GOT to join!! Social media is 24/7!! Look what you missed while you slept, you lazy slacker!!! Whatever you do will never be enough!!!! Look at all the people who are writing/selling more than you!!!!!!
But yanno--I'm pretty sure all that tech is supposed to be here to serve us, not the other way around.
So if you're feeling as pressured as I am, be brave: shut out the noise. Write at your own pace. Ignore social media for a while. Read the “Slow Blog Manifesto”.
Compare yourself to no one. You may not be keeping up with Prentiss Ingraham's stats, but you may be creating the next To Kill a Mockingbird.
Take the White Queen’s advice: remember who you are…and keep your e-sanity!
I'd love to have writers at all stages of their writing journeys weigh in here. Are you feeling pressure to do endless tasks that get you nowhere? This is NaNoWriMo month, so a lot of people are busy trying to access their own White Queens. I think NaNo is a fabulous exercise if you've got the time to do it--at least once. But for the rest of us, maybe it's good to remember that we don't have to be in a state of frenzied activity to be productive...and that slow and steady can still win the race. What do you think, scriveners?
TO ALL THE SURVIVORS OF SUPERSTORM SANDY: Our prayers are with you. I hope you have your power back or that you will soon. A catastrophe like this gives all of us a reminder of what's really important. Ruth Harris lives in Manhattan, but she seems to have come through it relatively unscathed. I thank her for being such a trouper and keeping up with the blog last week in spite of everything.
When the Manners Doctor, Camilla Randall, flies into Robin Hood airport with a suitcase in one hand and a book contract in the other, she thinks she's leaving all her problems behind and is about to start a new life. If you look very carefully you may just spot the Sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marian and even Little John hidden away. But as for Robin Hood himself... You'll just have to read it and find out.
COMING UP ON THE BLOG! On November 18th, we'll have a visit from the dynamic literary agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada, talking about the exciting new happenings in the publishing world. And on December 16th, we'll have another visit from uber-blogger Roni Loren talking about how authors can best use Facebook and Twitter.