Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Dos and Don'ts I Do and Don't

Enter the drawing for Whirlwind by Alison Hart by midnight July 10! Scroll down two. :)

This may not be earthshakingly new, but I've been thinking lately about what one trait is the best predictor of writing success, by which I mean writing a good book, having it accepted for commercial publication, and, hopefully, repeating. Of course there's always more than one key to any professional success, and talent, study, and perseverance all count. (As do grammar, punctuation, and spelling.)

Is it the mental game that makes the difference? That IS huge, and it's very close to what I mean, but I think I'd state it more like this: The trait that best predicts writing success is a state of being: being someone who negotiates life mainly by means of writing. Writing is at the core of who you are. You live, therefore you write. You might say "It's a lifestyle" and mean basically the same thing, but I wonder if the trendiness of that buzzword keeps us skating on the surface a little. I'll take another stab at it: The telling trait is immersion. Trying to stuff writing into an already overstuffed life, putting everything else first...these do not bode well for the would-be writer. Nor does it work well to consider writing "me" time. Not only does it mean you put writing last (isn't that where the "me" time goes?) but if you seriously want to pursue a career, any career, you don't do it on "me" time. You do it on "career" time. (And that's one way to get people to take you seriously.) Writing is no different. You aren't just indulging yourself or your creativity; to publish, you must produce a product that a publisher wants to buy. Getting yourself to that level takes immersion. It takes being someone to whom this is life.

How do you immerse? By sacrifice, I think. At the very least, by realizing your life has a number of Roads Not Taken. By being not just selective, but sometimes brutal, about what you do and don't do. The writer Anne Tyler said, "I will write my books and raise the children. Anything else just fritters me away." So what don't I do? Here's a list. With the exception of occasional family-oriented activities that involve the following, I don't:
  • Watch TV
  • Watch movies
  • Facebook or Twitter
  • Play computer/video games
  • Do crafts
  • Pursue hobbies
  • Shop
  • Volunteer
  • Do church work
  • Staff others' projects
  • Talk on the phone
  • Have a social life
However, I do:

  • Spend time with family
  • Teach writing
  • Cook two or three times a week
  • Clean house with my husband biweekly
  • De-clutter
  • Read, read, read, read, and read
  • EXERCISE! (lest too much BIC lead to simply too much B)
  • Pray and study my Bible
  • Leave time open to think, dream, and reflect
  • And, obviously, blog
How about you? What have you had to let go of -- whether it be mainly a time waster or a true case of the good being the enemy of the best? What could you let go of that you haven't yet? What can you not let go of, because it either nurtures your family, wins the bread, or contributes directly to you or your writing?


Vijaya said...

What a great post. It is about knowing your priorities and making sacrifices. I always thought I'd return to playing the piano and folkdancing, but there simply enough hours in the day to do it all.

Btw, my list of specifics is very similar to yours. Hee hee ...

Lisa Gail Green said...

Um, now I feel bad. But I kind of Twitter ALL THE TIME and sort of don't clean the house enough. He he. :)

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Thanks. I've left counted cross stitch behind, although it's a do-it-with-your-hands art form I'm actually good at. There are only so many hours. And the other thing is the SITTING. Writing, teaching, reading and any other computer stuff is already more than enough sitting.

Lisa -- It's so easy for computer time to get away on you, isn't it? It's the main reason FB and Twitter scare me to pieces. Maybe the next time I have a book out I'll do ONE of them...maybe.

Laura Pauling said...

I let go of almost all television shows. I let go of going back to teaching after being home with my kids(which means giving up extra money)

I do teach the children at church. And we do have a social life, but not as much as some people. I blog and twitter but it never consumes my writing time. I exercize and put my family first. Great thought provoking post.

Andrea Vlahakis said...

Great post. I blogged on a similar theme several days ago. I love your concept of immersion. That's exactly right.

Mary Witzl said...

I watch almost no t.v. (it used to be none, but I cracked in North Cyprus and started watching Frazier). My tweeting and Facebooking are only the barest efforts, but I sometimes do watch movies and volunteer. Otherwise, our 'don't' lists are almost identical. Most people have no idea what a huge time suck watching t.v. is until they give it up. The most important thing on my 'do' list is making time to day-dream. Having time to wool-gather is absolutely essential!

Marcia said...

Laura -- TV seems to be the universal bugaboo! Great point about letting go of returning to teaching, something you probably thought you'd do. And hats off to you for controlling your blog and twitter time! I think that's so tough for most people. We don't realize how much time is passing.

Andrea -- I loved your post and the close timing of our similar posts made me smile. Maybe this concern is "flying through the atmosphere" right now. :)

Mary -- Oh yes, woolgathering, like reading, is another of those yummy sidelights of being a writer. Sadly, I'll bet it's something a lot of aspiring writers don't allow themselves. And that works against them.

Margo Berendsen said...

Yeah I understand about the no social life thing. Sometimes I really hate that. I want to feel included, but I realize I can't accomplish my goals and dreams if I want to be included in everything else!

Rena said...

I don't watch TV either. If I do, it's a news show, usually political, or a movie on DVD. I do spend way too much time on Facebook and not enough time reading blogs. :(

Christina Farley said...

Wow. Very very interesting list you have. You are right. To be a good writer you have to make sacrifices. Big time. I'm about to start teaching again full time rather than part time so my nights and early mornings will be dedicated to writing. But I think my biggest issue that I have since I started writing is that I drink caffine. Not the healthiest of things but it helps me get the job done. And there are worse things right?

Marcia said...

Margo -- Writing can be lonely, can't it? I'm a homebody and cocoon-er, so I don't mind that aspect. But there's still a degree of isolation.

Rena -- Time spend on FB scares me to pieces. I'd rather not get into it than try to wean myself off.

Christina -- Yeah, I can definitely see caffeine helping. I'm reading a book right now that's saying it's NOT the way to pick up energy, so currently I'm not tempted. Now, if only we can all SLEEP the way the author wants us to...