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e_moon60

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The glamorous life of a writer [Sep. 18th, 2016|10:03 pm]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |contemplative]

Before I was published, I had pretty much the same romantic vision of the writing life that I'd had in high school and college and after, based on books and TV shows like _Murder She Wrote_ (or, more recently, _Castle_) in which a writer had a nice house or apartment, always "interesting" in its location, design, or decoration, lots of friends, and--most unrealistic--lots of time to go do interesting things (solve murders, take the handsome dog in the picture on long walks, travel all over (often on book tours paid for by someone else), and so on.  None of the writer characters were married with children or caring for aging parents.


I knew that prior to publication, writers "suffered," in various interesting ways.   They worked long hours at uninteresting jobs; they lived in garrets with inadequate heat, a shared toilet one floor down, and not enough food.  They had demanding wives (most of the writer characters I read about early were of course men, except for Jo March in _Little Women_, who had a surprisingly demanding husband ("Let's go be poor together and have a school for runaway and troubled boys...though I really do like what you write when you write what I tell you instead of those stupid adventure stories...")  ANYWAY.

What I didn't know and hadn't considered (even though there's a hint of it, in terms of academic publication, in Sayer's great mystery _Gaudy Night_, was the non-creative part of a writing life.   The creative part is what everyone knows about...the image of Virginia Woolf with her head in her hand, clearly thinking Creative Thoughts expresses it.   And that part is, of course, the fun part, the part without which no actual writing is ever published.  But there's the other part.  Nine parts out of ten.  And it starts with the plain old boring everyday, mundane, routine aspects of everyone's life:  the need for daily sleep, clothes, food, and some minimal standard of organization and maintenance.  Often complicated, in real writers' lives, by the other people with whom the writer shares space.  Sleep goes better if you have a half-way comfortable place to do it, indoors, with a roof that does not leak onto you.   And that means a house or apartment, however small and humble, and that means...well, the broom and mop and bucket and hammer and screwdriver and pliers and a sink to wash things in  and someting to hang the wet things on while they dry (or, of course, washer and dryer but I'm starting small here.)   And money.  Because whether rent or own, a roof over your head isn't free.  Or not often or for long.   Even your tent needs mending from time to time, and mending takes tools and materials which...cost.

I will never forget the idiotic New Yorker review of some new young male novelist's book in which the reviewer, after pointing out certain shortcomings, then consoled himself by mentioning that after all, novelists shouldn't be looked to for guidance about any life issues because their kind of work was so solitary and so protected, that they just didn't have the experience.  I read that review after a day that had included hauling the autistic kid to and from a country day school, a trip to the vet to take the cat for an overnight since the termite guy was coming that day, grocery shopping (since I had to be out and about anyway),  and working on book of that year in the day school's parking lot, because....termite exterminator fumes at home.  And when I'd read the review and muttered, there was supper to cook, laundry to do and then fold, and...more.  Lots more.

What brought up this topic was the thought of tomorrow's chore list.   I'm in mid-book again, and in day-dreams imagine that every day will afford me the time and energy to write a significant number of words on it until the first draft is done.  But.  Not So Quick, writer-brain.

Tomorrow I need to be working on the book, yes.   And I need to be working on a story that's also on-contract.  And there's the laundry.  And the kitchen floor is begining to feel crunchy when stepped on.  And the hand-knit socks that need to be hand-washed (a quick chore, a nice break from writing, but alas the other laundry will not do itself.  Certain small tiled rooms must be tended to.   There's the personal hygiene aspect, too: writers at home alone may skip some of these (perilous but they do it) but writers who need to go pick up a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a bag of carrots, four onions, some garlic...and "something for supper" ...need to be at least reasonably clean and clothed.  Medical issues will need attention several times a year, lest the writer be laid low with flu just when a deadline looms.  The larger the family, the oftener medical issues come up, never conveniently for the creative process.

Add to this the non-creative parts of writing.   There's the revision the writer does on her own.  There's the revision the editor asks for after the writer turns in her absolutely-perfect-best-ever-no-word-punctuation-needs-changing* manuscript.  (The * refers to the chimaeric nature of the absolutely-perfect-best-ever manuscript.  This is a mythical piece of writing not known in real life.) (And NOT just because "editors want their stamp on it.")  Revision can actually be fun if you have enough time...time between finishing something and doing the revision, and time for the actual revising.  Usually, though, writers don't have enough time.  They're on to another project as soon as the one just finished is off to the editor.   Beyond revision is copy-editing, about which much has been written by many people, including me.   I am firmly on the side of "let writers check the copy-edited manuscript" --a standard in The Old Days, but now some publishers won't let writers check the copy edits.  It does take more time, because to do it right the writer will compare the copy-edited manuscript word for word with the approved revised version and make (one likes to think) intelligent choices where the CE has changed, or queried, something.   And beyond that is the page-proof stage, when the manuscript is "set in type" (even though it's all done electronically now, not actual pieces of type racked into a form) and the writer gets to see for the first time what the book may look like.   Page proofs need to be checked against the final copy-edited pages, also word by word.  Both hand-set type and electronically set type are prone to certain errors (not the same errors.)  For instance, early in the electronic typesetting days, there was some program that--when working from a word processor's output--would smuch together two paragraphs of dialogue into one, burying the double quote marks of the joint in the middle, if one of the dialogue paragraphs crossed the word processor's page break code.  It was hard to see, if you didn't learn to look for the double-double quotes or actually read every paragraph.  And that was only one of the systemic mistakes that used to show up.

So...I'm in mid-book, and the story's running freely...and in comes a non-creative part of the writing life.  I have to detach my writer-mind from the book, beg the book not to die while I'm neglecting it (and books will do that sometimes; they're like small children--scant patience for being ignored), turn the mental gears from "Make story" setting to "Find mistakes" setting.   The alternative is to allocate the time available for writing to the different writing-related chores, which takes the nimbleness to jump quickly from Make Story to Find Mistakes and then back to Make Story and so on.  Meanwhile, that kitchen floor...and checks to write for LifeStuff, and getting a flu shot, and keeping track of various family members' medical appointments, and the growing grocery list, and the laundry, and...so on.

It's my life and I like it, but glamour--the imagined Writer in the Ivory Tower, or the plush study with lovely bookshelves stuffed with books that I thought of when younger and unpublished--is not a part of it.   When my first book sold, the muffler fell off the car the next day.   Another book, and the hot water heater line burst in the middle of the night and flooded the hall.   Getting a new contract doesn't cook supper, or get the laundry into the washer, or keep the car from needing repairs or the septic tank from needing a pump-out.  The writing life is just life...life plus writing.  Which is why so many of us say, to someone who says they'd like to write but will have to wait until they're not so busy and can find some time to write..."You don't FIND time to write; you MAKE time to write."  And that explains the crunchy parts of the kitchen floor.  It's not glamorous, but the writing will get done (with as much of the other as can be squeezed in as well. Which is quite a lot, actually.)

1. Get up, dressed, personal hygiene
2. Breakfast eaten at computer, checking email without spiling cereal on the keyboard.
3. Wash dishes and at least sweep whatever's crunchy off the kitchen floor.
4. Write on the new book and new story
5. Grocery and flu shot run (20 mile drive there, 20 mile drive back)
6. Laundry (could be started earlier, but realistically....) and putting up groceries
7. Sandwich.  Pay bills.  Check email, Twitter, Facebook, etc *briefly*
8. Post Office if not included in Grocery and flu shot run (should be but will I remember?)
9. Check to see if FedEx delivery has come.
10. Prescribed rest perior in afternoon.
11. Check to see if FedEx delivery has come (branch here--if it has, clear kitchen table, change supper plans)
12. Prep for supper (the chopping of onions, peppers, celery, carrots, and garlic is heard in teh land.)
13. Write on new book or story, whichever is moving best OR (if FedEx delivery came) start on page proofs
14. One hour from sunset, actually start supper (husband comes in from outside work at sunset.)
(you get the idea...totally glamor)
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: asher63
2016-09-19 05:23 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this un-glamorous - yet totally awesome in its mundaneness - view of a day in the real life of a professional writer.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 12:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for enjoying it. There are days I wish for the imagined "special writers' edition" life, when I have the uninterrupted hours and can simply let the story roll, but...it's the interruptions that shoved me out into the dailyness of days that have added most to the work. When I look at the few examples of my early fiction still extant, I see the intense inward focus and the unreality of the characters and situations that results from it--all learned from reading, not from living. But I'm off schedule now and must get offline and start doing other stuff, writing and the daily routine both.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-09-19 06:24 am (UTC)
True words, especially the part about creativity dying if left unattended or ignored. I sometimes write music, and if I don't, or can't, drop everything and document an idea now, well.. let's just say many beautiful things go into the ether, never to be heard again. Even a documented idea can lose steam or capacity or become lost and empty if its full progression isn't brought in being while it's still fresh in the creative mind.

And then you can never fully rest until it's completed, in case some special part/s of it go/es away; it stays there in your mind, working and working (not only at the risk of being lost, somehow, but of being overworked before it goes through its natural process).

People get these notions of an artist (of whatever kind) throwing everything aside and going into their own world, but it's not so free and romantic when you're grasping not to lose a hold of this small thread of possibility forming in your mind.

Edited at 2016-09-19 06:35 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 12:39 pm (UTC)
That's certainly true of the creative idea/impulse: it will take over your life if you let it. I have lost stories to the need to deal with the ordinary stuff, but the ordinary stuff also connects me to other people, something writers need if they're going to write things that other people will read. (Lose stories, gain readers? I don't particularly like the thought of that, and yet..)

Writers, in particular, need to have a lot of people living in their heads to write fiction/drama/ and maybe even poetry that will make sense to those who buy their books/watch their TV shows/ go to the theater and watch their dramas. Otherwise they run out of character types, and create within a narrow slice of human possibility. Feeding the story-cauldron requires knowing, listening to, interacting with, more people of more different kinds....and that is most efficiently done in the course of an ordinary life with ears and eyes wide open. Every encounter may spark a story, provide some details to enrich the story already in work, or simply fall into the story cauldron and rise to the top as it's stirred--days, months, years later. Reading widely and deeply is also important, but even the best-written books offer second-hand evidence, strained through another writer's mind. First-hand experience is necessary.

Composers need to be swimming in a sea of music, just as writers need to read, but I suspect that all sounds fall into their music-cauldron, just as overheard conversations, chance remarks, incidents, fall into a writer's story-cauldron.

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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-09-22 10:24 am (UTC)
So true, and I guess -- like everything -- it requires balance.
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From: (Anonymous)
2016-09-19 01:08 pm (UTC)
My kitchen floor tends to get fluffy before it gets crunchy - two long haired german shepherds - and that has to be dealt with because even vey small tumblefurs on a hard service are very slippery if you step on one. That makes it sound like I never clean, but when they are moulting they can put out a shopping bag of fur a day, add in open doors in summer so they can go out into the garden and you get tumbefurs every day. Off to sweep hair/fur (we both have long hair which doesn't help) off the carpets before vaccuming, even with a 'cat&dog'vaccum cleaner this is necessary if I want to be able to vaccum for more than a coule of minutes at a time before cleaning the hair/fur combo off the roller wheel ...
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 03:54 pm (UTC)
I produce a LOT of hairs (all long) that definitely clog up a vacuum cleaner roller or a sweeper roller. Now that my hair's mostly gray, it matched the mottled gray carpet perfectly and I can't *see* it. I do try sweeping in little circles to make it tangle and come up into the broom where I can yank it free and into the waste basket it goes, but...when I can't see it, it's hard to do. (Whine, whine, whine...stop it, E.)
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-09-20 10:36 am (UTC)
I use a yard brush with stiff bristles and just do the whole floor.

I am currently trying to persuade Mr sheff_dogs that we should not replace the laminate with carpet. The laminate does have to go, it's breaking up in places and is very slippy for the dogs one of which has athritis and really doesn't want to be on slippy floors. But a hard floor with rugs would mean I could easily sweep up the tumblefur that gathers around the edges of a room. Vacuuming is always a pobleem, the older dog was kept in a shed for her first five months and at eight is still frightened by the vacuum, the younger who was taught not to growl in his first home (yes that means his only way of telling you 'no' is to snap, though he is learning to growl again)just tries to kill the vacuum and keeping him out of the room isn't always possible. Ah well it will be a while before the other work is done and we need to make the final decision.
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[User Picture]From: songblaze
2016-09-24 01:28 pm (UTC)
A disabled woman with thick hair down to mid-thigh with a big service labradoodle (who sheds like a lab, but it's typically 4-6" long) makes for the worst of both worlds. It's a wonder the hair around here hasn't killed someone.

By the way, for getting hair out of a rug, three possible suggestions. One is that rubbing your bare foot in circles will pull up more hair than any device. One is that a rubber squeegee is surprisingly effective. And the last is a very stiff but short-bristled broom designed for removing hair from rugs that I found on Amazon that works very well; if you are interested, I will look up which one exactly I bought, but it works much better than I expected, especially as it was about $12 if I recall correctly.
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From: geekmerc
2016-09-19 01:32 pm (UTC)
To be fair, aren't the perfect dressed up writers also supposed to be the extremely successful and overflowing with money types? I don't think _Murder She Wrote_ actually discussed it. It would have been improper at the time, I think. _Castle_ definitely implied that he had money to spare.

Even writers have their 1% that takes more money than the other 99%. Such things usually have little to do with the books themselves.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 04:15 pm (UTC)
If you want to have your fictional writers do things other than write, then they need to have enough sales success or inherited wealth to make that work for readers. For escapist entertainment, the rich are a more popular topic than the poor. (This is not a slap at escapist entertainment, just a comment on the practicalities thereof. Aristotle pointed out thousands of years ago that stories about kings and princes do better in the theater than stories of the common man.)

Real-life writers are just as likely to have families--spouses, sometimes with jobs that help with support, sometimes (like Jessica Fletcher) widows or widowers with some assets inherited from their spouse, sometimes very poor and supporting children or aged parents.

Reaching great wealth may be a lucky break (writing the right book at the right time to grab a huge audience--like Harry Potter, but also think back to Tom Clancy and other explosive bestsellers.) It may result from multiple factors (a moderate inheritance, a previously successful career in something else, marriage, excellent investment luck, no unusually large expenses...plus writing books that sell well if not explosively.)

By the time a writer is my age, there are certain to be a variety of reasons for their financial status (income and total wealth), because even a very lucky person who hits the bestseller stratosphere year after year will be affected by poor money management, investing in a scam, medical problems in self or family that lead to immense costs of care (can be a disabled child, cancer treatments, AIDS treatments, catastrophic trauma, etc.), embezzlement by employees or "managers." The wealthier the person is known to be, the more other people want to get some of it. Those are some of the negatives that can destroy income, but as mentioned above the person my age often has had (and may still have) a decent income from multiple income streams acquired at different ages.

So yeah, income isn't all (always, mostly) about the books themselves. If we get into why some books become bigger bestsellers than others...somebody's going to start talking about quality not being adequately rewarded and I'm going to mutter loudly about academic smugness and we really don't need another quarrel in the world right now.
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From: geekmerc
2016-09-19 07:10 pm (UTC)
Well, in this day and age, movie and merchandise rights can often eclipse book revenue. Certain types of stories adapt better than others to the screen. I was definitely going to avoid the quality argument. The market has long dictated that "quality" is variable.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 11:04 pm (UTC)
I don't think of mine as particularly screenable, though I can vividly imagine them in my head and "watch" as if they were a movie. Private screening in its strictest form...
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From: geekmerc
2016-09-19 11:20 pm (UTC)
I tried and tried to figure out how to convert some of your novels to a screenplay. Unfortunately, the story loses too much in my opinion. There is a huge separation between books and the big screen. It concerns the fact that books often allow you access to a character's thoughts. You lose a lot if you strip that from the screenplay. However, narrating thoughts doesn't work so well, either. In novels that have a huge focus on character thoughts, it becomes almost impossible to properly convert them. I find you to be that type of writer.

It's what I love about your writing. Sadly, it makes it impossible for me to convert it. Perhaps someone better will succeed someday. Perhaps when we have future VR systems where you can see the story through the eyes of the characters and hear their thoughts. Hopefully someone will kindly black out the screen and just go to narration for some parts. The new era of entertainment is coming, though. :)




Edited at 2016-09-19 11:21 pm (UTC)
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From: paulliver
2016-09-19 11:21 pm (UTC)
Mystery writing is a logical choice if you want the writer to be both rich and capable in those TV shows. Only people writing thrillers and romances make more money (on average).
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 11:31 pm (UTC)
An advantage mystery writers have is the name recognition that comes with writing series--get people interested in your detective and setting, and people will come back for more over and over and over. And that generates sales.

Other series writers (including SF/fantasy) also have that advantage, but while you can do dozens and dozens of mysteries in a detective-based series, SF/fantasy readers want an ending and closure of an overall story arc, whereas mysteries have the advantage of a satisfying ending (assuming well-written) in every book.
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From: geekmerc
2016-09-19 11:36 pm (UTC)
Dresden(while fantasy, it is told in mystery format), Drizzt. Nuff said. :)

Edited at 2016-09-19 11:37 pm (UTC)
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-09-19 03:14 pm (UTC)
I have posted an anonymous post about kitchens, because Windows 10 logged me out of some things I stay logged into when it updated. Sorry.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 03:51 pm (UTC)
Understood.
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From: paulliver
2016-09-19 11:22 pm (UTC)
I do a lot of those chores when I get stuck in my writing. Don't know what will happen next? I go do dishes. Half the time I figure it out by the time I finish.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-09-19 11:28 pm (UTC)
Physical work definitely helps. Picking up manure, for instance, often worked for me. So did going out to check the waterers. (Busy hands seem to loosen the kinks in the brain.)
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[User Picture]From: karalianne
2016-09-20 03:02 am (UTC)
My husband is away this week and leading up to it I kept thinking "with him gone at this conference I'll be able to do lots of writing!" Except that's wrong, because I still have an 18-month-old to wrangle all day (except when he's down for his nap) and all the same household chores that I normally have.

Seriously considering taking my parents up on the offer and going up to visit them for a few days later this week. I can do some writing while my parents get time with their grandson. :) (Huge benefit to them living 90 minutes away.)
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-09-20 10:40 am (UTC)
Sounds like a win all round so why not go?
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