Keeping Things in Perspective
There are very few things I’d rather do than write. When my chores are done or I’m dodging an unpleasant task, I write. Numerous other interests have come and gone over the years — tropical fish, gardening, video games, and paint-by-number to name a few. Writing has outlasted those and many other activities and has been “something I do” for all but the first few years of my life.
Personal letters to out-of-town family and friends comprised the bulk of my early writing — through my teens, twenties, and into my thirties. This is how the whole “I don’t have anything else to do so I may as well write” thing got started. I’d sit down with a stack of lined notebook paper and kill a few hours and about as many trees entertaining some lucky recipient with often hilarious descriptions of my exploits and adventures. At least, that’s how I saw them.
Except for the phase everyone my age and older went through when notebook paper first came out in colors, I’ve always preferred tablets of white, lined paper — not hole-punched. Think legal pads, only regular size. Except for this sunshine bright shade that’s hard to find, I’ve never been a fan of yellow paper, but adored blue and even purple for a while.
I’m picky about the pen I use, too. Aside from the decade or so that my fine-point Flair marker was color-coordinated with my selection of colored paper (my favorite sunshine yellow paper with either an orange or a lime-green Flair, for example), I prefer medium ballpoint pens with blue ink. But using black doesn’t twist my panties into a knot. I’m flexible like that. Yup, that’s me. Bend, bend, bend.
The first few paragraphs are always the hardest. Trashcans full of wadded up false starts preceded each and every letter. But once I got going, the words came without effort and free of any scratch-outs. A short letter from me is anything less than three pages. The standard, back in the day, was more like ten to fifteen pages, with a few monsters topping out at twenty or more.
My chatty letters were all about me. To make that fact less obvious, I’d throw in a question or two about the recipient and some wicked gossip about a mutual friend. Knowing me, I also offered lots of advice and even made clear what the recipient needed to do to fix his or her issues. Helpful is my middle name. Michael Helpful Rupured. My first long-distance lover received wheel barrels of these letters, including a bunch splashed with enough patchouli oil to fumigate the post office.
For those who wrote back, I threw in comments about something they’d written, a few more questions, and some extra juicy gossip — manufactured if necessary. What do they know? They don’t live here anymore. But very few people wrote back, and it’s much worse now. This pissed me off until I figured out writing an entertaining letter doesn’t come easy for most people. It couldn’t possibly have been something I said.
Since my writing was all about me anyway, in 1979 I cut out the middle man and started journaling. The real beginning was sometime before then, but entries were rare, and I threw out most of that before the ink was good and dry. I might go months without adding any new entries, but never longer than nine months. I’m well into Volume 20 now.
Writing my never-to-be-published memoir helped me see the value of my journals. Huge portions are what I’d call procrastiwriting. Aimless, pointless, and in the end, worthless meanderings providing nothing of interest to anyone but maybe a psychoanalyst with nothing better to do. I’ve tried to include more information in entries since then, but don’t know that I’ve succeeded. I write in my journal for me. It’s the one time I can say what I want without worrying about what someone else thinks.
The journals are for my eyes only, though my most recent ex- knows where they are and has instructions to make sure my family never gets them. He’s the only one of my ex’s who I’m sure never snuck behind my back to read them. Knowing him as well as I do, I’m very comfortable saying that even when I’m dead and he has the journals, he’ll never read them. They bore the hell out of me. Nobody has the stamina to make it through even one volume — much less all twenty or however many volumes there will be when I can write no more.
Aside from my journal and the occasional letter, I’ve spent the last twenty-five years writing scholarly articles for professional journals. Blogging provided an opportunity to explore less formal styles of writing, and was fun, too. With practice and feedback from my wonderful friends and a few crank-assed bitches, I got better at it.
Somewhere along the way, I became a real writer. I found my voice and saw that there was an audience for my work. I wrote the memoir, joined the writers group to make it better, and ended up with a contract and an advance for my very first novel, Until Thanksgiving.
Getting published made me feel like I had to write all the time. Blogging became a chore. Besides posts for my own blog, I needed guest posts for dozens of other writers’ blogs and review sites. Another self-imposed rule made it worse — each of my guest posts needed to be unique and original. I came close to trying to kill myself, just to have something to write about.
The kind and generous writers I’ve met through my publisher email me every few days with opportunities for more guest posts and other promotional activities that demand still more time. There are seven hundred trillion discussion groups, message boards, and the like I need to be a part of to reach a wider audience.
I just finished pushing After Christmas Eve through my writers group 5000 words at a time, critiquing an equal number of words from two to five other group members every two weeks, and somewhere in there, cranking out something like 20,000 words of another novel. I was an effin’ writing machine.
Did I mention I have a demanding career for my day job? How about my desire to hit the gym or run every day? Throw in an overactive bladder and visits to the fleet of doctors it takes to keep my ass on this side of the grass and there’s not a lot of time left.
I hit a wall and froze, like a deer in headlights, unable to move. Writing had become a chore. Just one more thing I had to do. And what if I did find time to crank out new novels the way other writers do? I’d never find time for all the promotional stuff I see so many other writers doing. Skipping the promotional work means accepting my place among novels with seven-digit rankings on Amazon.com’s list of best sellers.
A wise friend helped me to get things in perspective. If my book sells, great. If not, I still eat. My day job provides for a very comfortable lifestyle. That gives me the freedom to pick and chose which parts of the writer’s life to embrace, and which to leave behind — at least for now.
I don’t write for the money. Yes, becoming the next James Patterson would enable me to retire earlier than planned. I’m not ruling out that possibility, but I ain’t counting on it either.
Writing floats my boat. That people take the time to read my ramblings is payment enough. That even one person would fork over good money to buy my novel blows me away. Not that I think you shouldn’t. In my opinion, there should be a copy of Until Thanksgiving on every toilet tank in America. Stock up. At only 232 pages, you’ll probably wipe your way through a copy every few days.
The pressure is off. I’ll finish the rewrite of After Christmas Eve…one of these days. I work on revisions every chance I get. So I’m not going to beat myself up for failing to be more productive. Writing isn’t a chore that I have to do. It’s a pleasure–something I want to do for a million different reasons. And money isn’t even in the top one hundred thousand.