Thursday, January 9, 2014

One-Question Interview with an Unsuccessful Writer

Over the past few years of posting on this blog, I've done several one-question interviews with people who know about things like drama, poetry, and presenting papers, things I know very little about. 

I've wanted to do another one-question interview for a while but couldn't think who to interview or what it should be about. Finally, I came up with a question. And fortunately, it's one I can answer myself. Here goes:

What's it like being an unsuccessful writer?

Everyone's got 24 hours a day, right? But most of the people around me have their 24 divvied up much differently than I do. For one thing, most are raising a family. That is major. My friends with kids still at home spend massive amounts of time doing parenty things because, well, kids need to be taken care of and, from what I gather, parents really like being with their kids!

Then there's the job thing. Most people I know (including the hubby) are either working full-time or working full-time and raising a family. Around here, that means a long and hellish commute as well.

I, on the other hand, am an adjunct. That means I work 20-30 hours a week. My commute is about 15 minutes each way. On a busy work week, that leaves 136 hours a week not working or commuting.

If you take away time spent doing the necessities--sleeping, showering, and eating--I've still got about 63 free hours a week to fill. Take away a few hours for exercising, that's 60. A few for walking the dog, 57. Grocery shopping and errands, 54. Hanging with Jonathan in the evenings watching Dr Who or Sherlock or chatting or going out, 40. Taking care of house and home, 35. And going to school myself, 30. Approximately 30 hours a week to do with as I please.

As a writer, as that girl back in grad school who wanted to be a famous author with deeply loved stories, this is a fantastic situation! How lucky! 30 hours a week to write as much as I want, chip away at the ugly parts of my manuscripts, read, do field research for my stories, come up with new ideas, get better and better and better at my craft!

The thing is: I don't actually do much of that. The most I do with my writing each week is to edit a chapter on a working draft and post a blog. Granted, posting a blog can take me hours, sometimes a full day, depending on the topic. But with three or four posts a month, and with time spent editing working drafts, I probably average 5 or 6 hours a week at most on my writing. Once in a while I'll send in a submission to an editor or agent, go to a conference. But that leaves a whopping 25 hours a week to do…well…whatever I want.

You've probably seen Ben Franklin's daily schedule. If not, here it is:


Show off! Jerk! Perfectionist!

Only kidding. But let me tell you why I have all this time and don't use it writing, even though becoming a known writer is still a dream of mine.

First of all, writing is performing, and being a performer requires an audience. Performing without an audience for years and years, trying to break into a business based on marketability, and collecting rejection letters slows one down. I was so gung-ho in school. I made promises to myself about spending so many hours a day writing, about how I would get traditionally published, whatever it took. But lack of response to my work, a growing callousness toward the business, lack of skill in some areas of storytelling, and, this one's a little harder to communicate but, realizing the world is just absolutely full of words and ideas and opinions already, have all cooled my enthusiasm. They've put me into a position that's less, "Please know me! This is urgent!" and more, "God it's loud in here. Everyone just calm the hell down."

Secondly, and most importantly, I'm good at my job, I love my job, and that fulfills me. Teaching provides immediate feedback, has a built in audience, and helps people--all the things I wish my writing could do. After graduating, I needed writing partly because I needed something to fulfill me--some good work to put my hand to that would make the world a better place and make me feel I had a purpose. I thought writing was my one and only gift. It isn't. Teaching is my gift. Writing stories is my creative pastime. Instead of needing to write, now I just really like to write.

Lastly, life sometimes goes a bit quiet and lonely. That stifles my head and heart and therefore my writing. For some, it's not bad to live a quiet life. For me, it is, after too long. The 25 or so hours I've got left in the week have not been very well spent a lot of years. Part of the reason was because I became socially and physically isolated. Without life experiences, without friendships, without movement and challenge, my imagination, drive, and ideas shrivel up and die. For a long time, I spent too many hours alone and secluded, and I'm still feeling the effects. However! I'm getting better. Living on the outskirts of one of the busiest cities in the country helps. Having a great job helps. Making friends helps. Traveling helps. One must live life to write about it, and one must find the way her hours are to be best spent, which I'm discovering more and more every day.

It's very teacherly of me to say so, but let's review: I'm fulfilled by my work, I'm building up my life stories again, and I'm less gung-ho to get into an industry I don't necessarily respect, and not willing to add just any old words to the countless words already bombarding us every day from all directions. I'm not traditionally published, that's certain. Almost everyone is completely oblivious to my existence and therefore to my writing. My stories aren't known, well-loved, or making me any money. But, dear interviewer, I have to take issue with the original question. Because I'm not actually an unsuccessful writer. To answer what that's like, you'll have to ask someone who doesn't write. As far as I've learned, the only way to be unsuccessful is not to try at all.

Success is finding your path and walking it, letting old dreams evolve, learning to stop looking for validation in the wrong places, in the places you've been told hold meaning. Success is writing period. And, as you can see if you're still reading, I'm writing along just fine.