…Keeping Your Ass in the Chair (for a Non-Artistic Reason)

Posted on June 10, 2008. Filed under: The Writing Life | Tags: , |

The grass is always greener. 

It felt terribly romantic to be a completely unknown author with a few stories here and there, but without a book. Life was all about pure creativity and hoping for that maybe someday big break. But now, being an almost completely unknown author with a book coming down the pike in a few weeks is definitely messing with my head in ways I have to write down in hopes of dispelling them. No, I haven’t become any more of an egomaniac than I was before Wifeshopping started to become a book. I haven’t succumbed to delusions of grandeur because I’m too old for that now. I haven’t spent money I don’t have on clothes I don’t need. I’ve simply become more sucked into the computer as part of the self-promotional process: writing emails, blogging, checking out websites, constantly updating my own website and wondering whether it’s good enough, Googling myself to see what stores are carrying my book and who’s reviewing it, etc. 

It’s exhausting, it’s unfulfilling, and it generally sucks. 

And my impulse is to say stop this immediately because it’s not your art. It’s marketing, it’s publicity, it’s obsessive, it’s beneath you. But the days in which a first-time writer with ambitions of a writing career can take that kind of lassiez-faire approach are long gone. You simply can’t afford to not be involved in the promotion of your own work—nay, to spearhead it—unless you don’t want anyone to publish your further books. Publicity is not beneath us; it’s part of our job, and increasingly we have to do it ourselves. 

And it can cut into the writing time, no doubt about it. 

I’m glad to say that, so far at least, the need to get on Facebook, to Google myself, to blog, etc. hasn’t significantly damaged my writing time. (Emphasis on the word significantly. As I write this, I feel a jinx start to dangle over my head like the Sword of Damocles.) Each morning I manage to get up and get my work done, for which I am quite thankful. Hiding the toolbar on my Mac so I can’t constantly glance down and see how many emails I have helps my focus immensely; in extreme cases, such as when I’m waiting for an email or a review, I have unplugged my modem and stuck it in another room. But somehow I manage to keep my ass in the chair, following the dictum of famed writing teacher Dr. Howard Stein, here wonderfully explained by David Boles. 

But I find that it’s the self-promotion for which I really need the help of Dr. Stein’s dictum. Once the writing morning ends I want to go outside, stretch, play with the kids, hug my wife, dance, etc. 

But I can’t because my job is half done. The task of writing is done, but the task of being a writer isn’t. It’s a sobering distinction to make, and I never would have thought of it before I had a book coming out. When I close the novel file and look at my list of people to contact, things to do, books to review, etc., I just want to run away from the computer and into the bygone days when a writer could just be a writer, dammit! But the writers who don’t have to worry about anything other than their writing have already hit the jackpot and become stars—and who knows, really, what their lives are like day-to-day. The rest of us have to grind it out and earn one reader at a time, and only after we’ve earned enough will our publishers really, truly get behind us the way we dream about.  

It’s the second job that requires Spartan discipline to keep my ass in the chair. The first job is about joy, and if it’s going really well I lose track of the clock. The second is about stamina, and the clock has to be my master. I’ve got to punch in, sit my ass in the chair, go about the business of being a writer, and punch out. 

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