Thursday, December 22, 2011

So... Why Pulp?

Stepping Back, Stepping Away

With what is arguably the biggest holiday on the calendar looming, and the end of the year nigh, sometimes its good to stop a moment and reflect on what it is that drives us to do what we do when we set out to write; and how we should go about it. It’s very easy to get so lost in both the creative and business ends of this crazy indie kaleidoscope world we call New Pulp and let the rest of life go by the wayside. And that, my friends, is not entirely healthy. In fact, it is an all around very bad idea.

You know, writing is just that sort of an insular craft where you spend a lot of time locked up in your mind, with not much more than imaginary people as company. And these days, with conferences, email, local writers groups, social & business networking sites… well it’s easy to do nothing more than associate with those who understand why we do this crazy thing that has us losing sleep to get one more chapter done and one more deadline met. The problem is, you sacrifice some very important parts of yourself when all you do is focus on writing or hang out with writers and talk shop. You lose your sense of humanity outside the group. You forget why we had this dream in the first place. You get stale.

Oh, I know all about deadlines and having too many plates to spin. I’m looking at this year’s goals for my books and stories and wondering how the heck I am going to meet them all, let alone handle the editing I’m taking on, read books for review, network with my author amigos, chat with fans, and still have enough time to eat and sleep. Add in that I want to spend quality time with family, see some friends now and then, plant a garden, get out and do interesting things, maybe even take in an occasional movie... And I absolutely must do some housework because I can’t foist all that on others (and I can’t afford to hire anyone). I have to shop. I need to cook at least a couple times a week. All this will be happening in the midst of chaos because of ongoing renovations to the farm and other family members moving in with me here. So where will the time for all that stuff come from?

I honestly don’t know, but I will either find it or make it. I may need a Tardis, or H. G. Wells’ Time Machine. A few 40 hour days wouldn’t hurt either. But those are my goals for this year, and I am determined to see them all met. Somehow, I know they will be. They always do get met, after a fashion. Some things will be done remarkably well, others will be sort of cobbled together, and the orphan goals will follow me around like limping beggars with tin cups; but I’ll manage. I always do. Pulp hero style, I’ll stomp right up to each of those objectives, grab them by the short hairs, and drag them kicking and screaming bloody murder into existence. At least, that’s the plan!

Realistically speaking, I understand that there will be times when I’m going to have to be woman enough to realize I can’t be all things to all people. The trick is, knowing when to charge uphill with your guns blazing, and when to wave a white flag and let someone in a higher position know you are in over your head and need help. Or just simply say no to something and move on. I still have trouble with that, but it’s getting better.

I am, by my own admittance, a tough old broad. Most of the time I have no problem spitting out what’s on my mind, though I will be as tactful as possible about it. When I turned 50 a few years back, I realized that even if I inherited the best genetic combinations in my family, my life was likely half over. That’s a sobering thought, and troubling too, because I used to be such a simpering people-pleaser. For far too many years I did the things I thought I should do, the way others wanted me to do them, including writing. Well, I’ve gained some exterior crust and a whole lot more backbone to support it, and so now I plan to fill that next half century with things that make me happy. So now I’ve stopped doing things I don’t like that I’ve decided that I don’t need to do, and I concentrate on things that really matter to me. It helps sort things out if you filter your goals through that type of one-way lens.

I love writing; it’s my passion. I have other things I get excited about too, but this is the one that gets me up in the morning even when I am stiff and hurting, and after the necessary chores are done and the family has been greeted and looked after, roots my butt in the chair and gets my fingers to dancing on the keys. The amazing worlds I go to in those self-absorbed hours are hard to break away from. Like a siren on the rocks, they ceaselessly call to me, and it would be very easy to forget who and what I am, and simply devote myself to nothing but my art. Certainly plenty of others have done that over the eons.

There’s a problem with that though, and it’s not one easy to explain to those outside the field. In fact, a lot of us on the inside—myself included there—are in denial about it at least a good part of the time. The fact is, you get dull and boring if all you do or think about is writing. People get tired of hearing about it, so they change the subject or walk away. And that’s often when the dreaded writers block sets in.

A creative mind needs more than one activity to focus on, more than one thing to be lusting after or wistful for. Otherwise you are going to peak and burn out awfully early. It is that very multiplicity of ideas that feeds into the writing muse, and turns her from a harsh mistress into a doe-eyed lover. Don’t limit yourself then; get out and have a life.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Taking a day off from writing now and then, on purpose, and doing something else is healthy! Like these holidays that are on the horizon for instance... It’s perfectly acceptable and I wholeheartedly encourage you to set pen and paper, tablet and keyboard, aside for at least one day. Just dig into some everyday reality for a while, savor the time off, forget about all the damn deadlines. Hug your loved ones, kiss someone under the mistletoe, go serve a meal in a soup kitchen, call an old friend, or just sit and watch the weather change. Do something different for a day or two. The work will still be there when you do get back to pounding out words, but the difference is, you’ll be more ready to deal with it. Trust me, this works. A mental health break for writers should be written into every contract and part of every proposal that goes out.

Life is something that you need to experience firsthand, so that you can draw some of it back into your writing. It’s not good to remain too long at the keyboard or in lockstep with the competition. We all want to live the dream and be that big successful author with the instant name recognition and the perks to go with it. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of sacrificing all the other things we hold dear.

The best part of the writing life is to be able to share it with others; our readers and our peers yes, but most importantly, our loved ones. While the folks at home may or may not be able to understand what it is that drives us, they do want to see us happy, and I don’t think anyone can be truly blissful if they don’t have both the wings to fly with and a secure foundation to stand on. Even if you don’t have any family at all, certainly there is someone or something out there that you can build your imaginary world upon. Without that bedrock below, your house of dreams is not going to stay up very long. We may work in bubble universes of our own imagination, but we have to come out of there once in a while and meet the rest of the world.

So yeah, go be that hermit writer of the pulpiest action adventure tales you can wring out of your guts. But then, be a real hero to those around you who need to see your face now and then, and want to hear some of what you’ve been up to. And while you’re at it, give them a chance to talk about what makes their world go round. Listen to them all: the grannies, the little kids, the bachelor uncles, the homeless guy on the corner, the lady at the cash register with the long red nails and poofy hair. Get into real life now and then. Step back, step away, take a deep breath and relax. Tomorrow is another day, so don’t throw away today just to rush out and meet it.

Now you go have a great weekend, and then get back to that project feeling refreshed and ready to mow those bad guys down and save the world from evildoers. And I’ll do the same, after this weekend is over.

Happy Holidays,


  1. While I agree that getting away from writing for a day can be a good thing (I try to take a day off once every 2 weeks or so), it can also be a trap. It can easily set up a person to get too relaxed and to set up a system of avoiding rather than doing. I'm pretty sure any writer can agree with how easy it is to not write as compared to how hard it can be to write.

  2. Nice I totally agree, which is why I didn't suggest taking a week or a month away. It's very easy to fall out of the self-discipline of good work habits and let other things fill your time. Like any other career, writing has to be approached with the attitude that it is a priority and that things need to get done. Now and then though, a day off is refreshing—especially at this time of year when there is so much else going on. Your point is well taken though.


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