Friday, May 31, 2013

Want to Write a Book? Let Your Yes Be Yes and Your No Be No

I've been reading an interesting little book called Chapter By Chapter by Heather Sellers. I call it a little book because it is compact in size, but there's nothing small about the impact it's been having on my writing life. As writing-advice books go, Chapter By Chapter is not so much about how to write a book as it is about how to set up the rest of your life to make book-writing possible.

One section has set me to squirming, though. In a chapter called "Limits," Sellers writes, "The number once reason books don't get finished is this: Writers say yes to other things." [emphasis hers]

That got my attention, champion yes-sayer that I am.

Sellers continues, "Successful book writers are very rarely also: historical society presidents, garden club secretaries, book group members, room mothers, rumba instructors, feng shui consultants, yoga expert students, and leaders of the town's spring clean-up committee. When you're writing a book, you do not have time for: meetings, grant writing, sonnet competitions, sprawling vacations, breeding dogs, renovating a bathroom, honing your poker skills for the circuit, or starting a nonprofit. . . . Most of the book authors I know limit themselves to one 'extracurricular.' The key difference between successful book writers and failed, not-finishing book writers is this: When they're struggling with the book, the successful writers let the extracurriculars go, not the book-writing effort."

Wow, says I, wincing at my scribbled-on calendar where, in a typical week, choir practice vies for space with critique group and book group and museum volunteer work and church activities and manning phones at a telethon, not to mention fun things like Bunco and movies and lunch with friends, and emphatically not mentioning un-fun but necessary things like weeding the garden and scrubbing the tub. And I don't even have kids!

Let us be clear. Typically, writers don't write well in a vacuum. To write about life, we first need to experience life, which doesn't happen when we're glued to our computers.That said, when is enough enough? When is too much, too much?

I say that writing is one of my highest priorities, right after God and husband. Yet when I see a calendar filled with non-writing-related obligations and commitments, leaving little time to write more than a brief jotting here and there, I have no one but myself to blame. Me and my people-pleasing, agreeable, yessir-you-can-count-on-me ways. And my slothful "you-deserve-a-break-today" ways.

And yet, when I survey the calendar for places to cut back, there is nothing that I want to drop. Everything seems So. Very. Important. Or So. Very. Fun.


What do you think about Sellers' advice, recommending that a writer stick to one "extracurricular?" Reasonable? Extreme? What are your best tips for juggling myriad obligations and also getting your writing done?


Jennifer Rova said...

I agree with you that a dull life breeds dull writing and makes it harder to find ideas. Paring down my activities to one extra curricular interest I enjoy would make me dull thus my writing dull. But, writing does take a long time, so writers who want to be published have to devote rather large segments of time to it. I write in a better frame of mind if I know I have blocked off 4-5 hours at one sitting for writing. Writing isn't a driving force for me so I do come at this with a different perspective than a lot of writers.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

I find it is a constant battle. I always say no, so you would think everyone would stop asking, yet they don't. Book club, yes, writer's league, yes with no duties, film society yes, with no duties, and that is it. I will not win any awards for good citizenship and I will not win a popularity contest, but I will finish my memoir and keep up with this blog and that, my dear, is that. Thank you for this post.