Wednesday, August 1, 2012

So... Why Pulp?: What Else Do You Do When You’re Not Writing?

“Sleep,” was the answer I quipped recently when someone asked me this question. Well,
I do have to sleep after all! I’m past the age where pulling all-night writing sessions on
a regular basis is appealing, let alone healthy. Oh, I still do that on a rare occasion—
generally with some sort of crushing deadline involved. Since I can no longer have
much in the way of caffeine, I’d rather skip out on housework, shopping, or cooking,
and devote the daytime hours to a project than stay up most of the night, bleary-eyed
and struggling to make the words come out right. But it got me thinking about just how I
chose to do what I do, and why.

I’ve covered the other interests and hobbies I have outside of writing in this column
before. I’m a reader, crafter, gardener, cook, and a generally artsy kind of person. I
love hunting for bargains in junk piles at flea markets and thrift shops and taking lots
of wildlife pictures. I sometimes make music. I think it’s very important to have other
interests because you bring from them additional ideas and a fresh perspective. In my
experience, a lot of the problems with ‘writer’s block’ have to do with sitting in front of
a screen or piece of paper with a vague idea, and no clue how to turn it into a finished
story. Do that enough times and it starts to affect you psychologically, and you begin
to seriously doubt your ability to write at all. Getting up and tackling something else
creative that holds your attention for a while at least reinforces that you can actually start
and finish a project. That’s a reassuring feeling to bring with you when you sit back down
at the keyboard.

Like everyone else reading this, I need to apportion time to different aspects of my life.
I don’t have an outside job, but I do have responsibilities around the house and to my
immediate family; and I want to make sure I get a chance to pursue at least a couple of
my other interest areas. Currently I have a large garden and a small dog, and both need a
certain amount of TLC. Gardens are seasonal, so you must plant and cultivate
now. Pets need to be fed, watered, groomed and exercised regularly. A certain part of
each day needs to be devoted to both. Yet I still want to write, too--so time management is
crucial. Weather-dependent activities and appointments get first dibs on my time, though
I make sure to use every moment of downtime for at least brainstorming stories, if not
sitting down and writing. Rainy days when I don’t have to go out are generally spent by
splitting the hours between housework catch-up and writing. The cold months see more
of me indoors, so I do the bulk of the year’s writing then.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years—and this pertains to life in general and not
just my recent stint as a published author—is that I can afford to say no a lot more often
to opportunities that don’t excite me. And that doesn’t just cover baby showers, picnics,
and parties, but online invitations as well. I may not be the most popular person on Earth,
but I do get asked to participate in plenty of things both in cyberspace and what we call
the ‘real world’, and they all tend to cut into available hours. I don’t mean to sound like
I’m snubbing anybody, but I’m a heck of a lot more discriminating these days in what I
choose to do with my time. I no longer sit around at some gathering, trying to make idle
conversation and wishing I was somewhere else. If I don’t want to be there, I don’t go.
Generally with family or friends, it’s a 50/50 thing. If there are as many people there that
I want to see than those I can’t stand, and my presence is vitally important to someone
I really care about who makes an effort to stay in touch with me, I will show up. If the
balance tips the other way, and I’d rather be home writing, I respectfully decline. I don’t
compromise myself much anymore.

Fiddly things online, like feel-good email attachments requesting a resend, must-see
video links or jokes, and social networking site apps or gaming requests; I almost
universally pass over. Besides the fact that a lot of that stuff is connected with spyware,
and some of it has been making the rounds for months if not years, I don’t want to waste
a good part of my day reading material that doesn’t have any personal message. Send me
an email or private post instead, telling me how things are with you. Otherwise I’ll be out
weeding my garden or writing a juicy scene. Cleaning the toilet, washing dishes, and
folding laundry doesn’t sound as much fun as goofing off online, but they are necessary
chores that are still going to have to be tackled after I’ve looked up from the monitor
and noticed three hours went by while I was mesmerized by something. I’d rather
that ‘something’ be a story I’m working on than the latest Farmville request or finding out
what happens when you microwave vacuum tubes. At least then I’ll have something to
show for my lost hours.

Writing is a lot of work, but it’s also a passion of mine. Otherwise I’d go get a paying
job, because up until this point, it’s been far from lucrative. Of course I’d love to be paid
to write (and edit) but down here in the New Pulp world, we’re just managing to squeak
by without going deep into hock. Most, if not all, of my peers share the same passion
and frustrations, and so we’re like a small community. I do spend some part of each
day reading what they tell us about their current projects and experiences in the field,
because it’s informative, and supportive to me (knowing I’m not alone out here). I don’t
always have the time to participate, but I will join in whenever I can and I do my best
to encourage others too. I try and cluster my time of going through email, newsgroups,
bulletin boards, and social networking sites first thing in the AM and toward evening,
rather than monitoring all day long. Since my online presence is the same wherever I go,
I can hop from one site to the next very quickly, checking on friends, family, fans, and
peers. They can also see what’s going on with me, because I generally post a couple of
(admittedly boring) daily updates. Unless I wind up in chat with someone or have to write
a lengthy email, the entire whirlwind visit takes less than an hour. I don’t read everything
though; just what I feel is important to know.

I do have a hobby blog ( that I share with two
friends, and it predates my pulp publishing career. I try and get out there now and then
and update it with pictures from my everyday life or things I love to do and collect.
Having three of us sharing that space makes it a lot easier to keep it lively without anyone
feeling overwhelmed. One friend works full time and has several hobbies including
writing, and the other one is a published author too. The posts run the gamut because
we’re an eclectic threesome. One of these days I’m going to set up my own personal blog
or website devoted solely to my career, but not right now. I have enough work to do as
it is, and whatever folks need to know about me, I am already sharing on Facebook and
Google as well as the aforementioned blog.

Self-promotion is important, but it only does any good if I have time to actually write
something. If I have to give up the other things I do around here to focus solely on
advancing my writing career, I’d better be making enough money to hire a housekeeper
and cook! I am not ready to sacrifice the more interesting parts of my life, or the things
that make me smile; at least not to chase some pipe dream of critical acclaim and
monetary success. What I might lack in quantity of effort, I try and make up for in quality
of output. When I write something, I give my readers the very best tale I know how
to tell. I pour every ounce of creativity I can wring out of my heart and soul into those
stories. I labor over each word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Afterward,
I will do what I can in order to let the world know about my work, but I’m not going
to sacrifice every waking moment of the day to blowing my own horn. I love writing,
but when it becomes no more than another timeclock to punch and one obligatory
promotional opportunity after another to chase… where’s the joy in that? Sure it’s
a business, and I conduct myself as professionally as possible. But I chose to write
because I love what I do, and I am not turning this into another mindless McJob with long
hours and a hamster wheel to nowhere to run on. Been there/done that, and not going

I still take on a certain amount of special projects and non-compensated work when the
opportunity presents itself. This column is a prime example of that. But the workday has
to end somewhere, and I refuse to focus solely on just a single aspect of my life. I am a
writer, have no doubt; but I’m also a woman with a family and a lot of other things on
her plate, and I intend to enjoy some of my time here on Earth. When I leave this world
someday, I’d like it to be with the satisfaction that I crammed as many happy, fulfilled
hours and interesting situations into my lifespan as I could.

That’s why it’s important to me to do other things besides write. Heck, I would love for
my writing to become so popular that it starts selling well, and I could attract an agent
to represent me. It would be worth a percentage of the income to have someone else
handle the marketing and promotional aspects, so I can focus more on the creative end of
the business and not as much on making sure everyone knows who I am. In the meantime
though, I’ll keep plodding along the way I have been, maintaining some kind of balance
between my writing life and the rest of my activities. Maverick that I am, I flat refuse to
fret over how much more attention I’d get if I slept less and gave up two or three more
hobbies to work harder at building my own brand as an author.

I’d be a lot less interesting and contented person if I did.

1 comment:

  1. One thing I have noticed in having interests outside of writing is that moments from a lot of the other stuff I like tend to make it into my writing. The readers and fans know these today as "Easter Eggs", little references to something else without coming right out and naming the original source.
    There are 3 intentional (so far) in the book I'm working on, but sometimes when I go back over my text, I discover a couple of more that I didn't actually plan.
    Lee Houston, Junior


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