What is “Real”?

by Janis Patterson

Writing is a time consuming occupation. Not only do we have to spend time plotting, thinking, and constructing our stories, we spend time putting them into a concrete form and then making them as polished a form as we possibly can. Then – if we want respectable sales – we must spend egregious amounts of time doing publicity and interacting with our readers.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

It wouldn’t be easy even if life didn’t intrude. Writers have families and jobs and lives, to say nothing of accidents and incidents and attacks of the unexpected. There are writing gurus who say you must write every day for a certain amount of time. That’s great, if your life allows and that works for you. I’m certain that somewhere there is someone who does this, but I don’t know any.

So what do we do? My answer is, the best we can. It’s not only a matter of time management, it’s a matter of priorities. When your granddaughter is in a life-threatening accident your focus should not be on writing. When the laundry reaches Matterhorn proportions or your living room needs dusting, that is no excuse not to write. (Of course, The Husband says I take that last dictum much too much to heart, and lately he has started muttering about finding a sharecropper for the parlor.)

The question devolves down to : Are you a writer or a hobbyist? Assuming that there is nothing life-altering going on (dust does not count) you have to decide just how important writing is to you.

In my case, it’s very important. I am a professional novelist, and a few days ago finished my fifth book this year. Because of this job, I miss shopping expeditions and luncheons with girlfriends, theatre trips and even some family gatherings – as tempting as such frivols sound – and have to plan my books around the trips The Husband and I make. (And I have never journeyed anywhere in the last decade that a laptop or tablet did not go with me!)

I also have a life. While I am blessed not to have to have a regular-in-an-office job, there are still lots of things that must be done. Groceries must be bought and eventually cooked. Pets must go to the vet. The car must be attended to. Extended family needs attention. The minutiae of living must go on, whether you work outside the home or not. My family is very important to me, as is my activism for animal welfare and conservative causes. The Husband’s happiness is always paramount in my priorities, and there is no way either he or I will ever give up our interest in and studies of Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. Health issues also raise their ugly heads from time to time.

But I am a writer, and after the really important things – family, beliefs, home – writing comes first, before nearly all social events, before frivols, before self-indulgences. Most self-indulgences. Some of my friends become insulted when I cannot go to lunch or take the afternoon off to go shopping, though they would never have such a reaction if I worked a 9-to-5 in an office. It’s disheartening to think that after all this time so many people still think that if you work from home you don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re a self-employed writer, you still don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re self-publishing and don’t have a big contract with a major publisher you really don’t have a ‘real’ job. After all, aren’t all self-published writers just wanna-bes or hobbyists who couldn’t get a ‘real’ publisher?

Yes, I have heard almost those exact words from people who are otherwise intelligent and sophisticated. Some of them I have given up trying to convince that I do have a ‘real’ job. Some truly do equate writing with lounging around, tossing off X number of words in a string, having them published immediately and then sitting back while unbelievable riches roll in.

Don’t we all wish!

Enough!

by Janis Patterson

I have gone into full rebellion mode. Yesterday afternoon I hadn’t gotten anywhere near my daily word count and that upset me, as I am very serious about my writing. But I couldn’t write. Actually, I was doing pretty good to breathe and sit upright. All I could do was sit at the computer, staring fixedly at the screen and moving around the puzzle pieces on my favorite jigsaw site. Usually I restrict myself to one jigsaw a day, two if The Husband is watching something on TV in which I have absolutely no interest. (For reasons I won’t go into right now my work computer is in the family room…)

Yesterday, though, I went from one puzzle to another, mindlessly putting the pieces together, all the while telling myself I’d get to work right after I finished this one… I lied. Finally I knew if I didn’t lie down I’d fall over, so I left the computer and laid down on the couch and watched a little mindless TV until it was time to get up and fix supper.

And had an epiphany. I was exhausted, pure and simple. Between the holidays, getting ready for the holidays, cleaning up for the holidays, shopping for the holidays, wrapping gifts for the holidays, baking for the holidays, holiday parties, plus some family issues, and writing my regular group blogs, starting a newsletter for the first time, doing a couple of promotional appearances and arrange more, and – oh, yes – working on my new book, all on top of regular life, including cooking, cleaning up, laundry, looking after our furbabies and keeping The Husband happy… I was forgetting something.

Me. In the rush to get everything done, I was forgetting that I am no longer a spring chicken with boundless energy and stamina. I was forgetting that if I go down, pretty much everything else goes down with me and probably won’t get done. I was forgetting that this is my life too, and while there are things that must be done, I deserve to have a little fun as well.

So – learn from my mistakes and don’t pummel yourself into the ground like I did. The things that are essential will get done. Learn to enjoy again. Take your time. Prioritize. I’m not going to freak out if the wreath doesn’t get hung or if we have sandwiches for supper two nights in a row. This selectiveness is not only good for your heart and your stamina, it is good for your soul. You will learn what is important – family, friends, the joy of the season, a good day’s work. You can’t do it all (at least for any length of time or with any quality of life) so enjoy what you can do.

Life is short – make the best of it. And, most importantly of all, be good to yourself, for you are the best gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones.

Merry Christmas! Or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, may you have the happiest of holiday seasons.

Why Do We Write?

by Janis Patterson

It’s just about the greatest mystery of all – why do we write? Oh, let’s be honest – we all have great dreams of becoming rich and famous, hitting every list made, having screaming fans lined up around the block just to buy a book with our autograph in it… all lovely dreams, but I think that most of us are savvy enough to realize that such things happen to only a very few. (I mean, it could be me, but most likely not…)

These days the vast majority of professional writers are not getting rich. Some make a decent living, some make money on the hobby level. Only a few are truly prospering. Almost all – save for the fortunate few – could make much more money in some other field of endeavor. A great number do have to work at another job to survive.

Of course, there is the indefinable cachet of being ‘an author,’ of having written a book.

Perhaps that accounts for some of the people writing today. They aren’t that interested in writing a book, but they positively salivate at the thought of being known as having written one.

And therein lies one of the main problems of self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong – self-publishing is one of the greatest things to happen to both readers and writers. It expands the market, gives power (and money!) to the authors and gives the readers a much wider choice of reading materials. On the downside, it also allows people who should never be allowed near a word processor to publish a ‘book’ and become a ‘published author.’

Stringing a requisite number of words together does make a book – sort of – just not necessarily a good one. There is no magic pill to turn an idea into a good book. Writing a good book is not easy, but just about anyone can do it, if they put enough work into it. Talent can make it easier, but mainly it’s learning what makes a good book and how to create one… and I repeat, that is a lot of work.

Usually the ‘I am now a published writer’ crowd stops with one or two books. Even good writers sometimes stop with one or two books after they learn how much work it takes to get their ideas decently on to paper – or how little remuneration most of them can expect. If the writer is holding out for traditional publishing, the wait can go on for years before the bland negativity of a rejection letter appears. Even if one is lucky enough to be picked up by a trad house, the money usually isn’t all that good and there’s even more waiting until release.

So why do we write? It’s pleasant to create a world and a population out of nothing but imagination and caffeine (and on occasion chocolate). It’s pleasant to talk about ‘my publisher’ and ‘my new release.’ It’s pleasant to see one’s name on a book, and – should you have a book signing – enjoyable to talk to people who like to read and then to write your name into the copy of your book they just bought. And to receive the checks, however small, is nice too.

Still such minor triumphs can’t justify why people continue to write and submit and self-publish for years with minimal returns. It is made even harder when their books are of decent to very good quality – but the lightning of good luck strikes a badly written story, dousing its author with fame and fortune.

So why do we do it? The answer is simple. There’s no choice to it. Anyone can write, given enough time and study and dedication. Writers cannot help but write.