Thursday, April 25, 2013

So... Why Pulp? - My Unconventional Writing Life

I was supposed to go to Pulp Ark 2013 this weekend. That’s been the plan for months now. If you don’t know what Pulp Ark is, well then you can find out all about it right here: or here:, and I urge you to check it out if you have the means to do so. Unfortunately circumstances beyond my control—namely health and financial issues—forced me to cancel my trip. You have no idea how much it bothers me to write that. It was the only convention I planned on attending this year, since we don’t have a budget that allows lots of vacation expenses in this one-income household. Writing isn’t exactly very lucrative for me at this point, and with a mortgage and other bills, plus some unforeseen expenses over this long, cold New England winter, it just wasn’t going to happen. I would have attended as a staff writer and editor for Pro Se and I had planned on sitting in on, as well as participating in, numerous panels, and having a rousing good time rubbing elbows with my peers and catching up with how things are for them. Well… maybe next year.

It’s kind of a let down when you read all the exciting news about what is going on in preparation for or during such a madcap event, and you know you’re not going to be part of it. While I wish everyone attending good luck, and hope they all have a great time and wonderful sales, I am very sad not to be there with them. Yet I have to keep my focus on my own work, and continue plugging away at it. It would very easy to get caught up in the woe and slack off this weekend, since no one will be expecting much writing or editing to get done on the convention floor anyway. Add to that ‘doctor’s orders’ that I need to get away from this sedentary keyboard banging far more often, and the fact that it’s spring and the garden is calling me. Unfortunately, I still have deadlines and commitments to meet, so the work goes on here. For this unconventional weekend, I plan on splitting my time between writing or editing, and getting my gardens prepped for the season ahead.

There’s no secret to the fact that anything involving writing requires long hours sitting in one place, which is really not healthy for you. While I’ve been word-smithing seriously for over twenty years, the last three have been incredibly busy at the keyboard. I’ve been primarily sedentary all during the day, and have put in some very late nights pounding away. Whether that is the reason for my recent issues with racing heart, shortness of breath, and some sort of tremor, I have no idea; but it seems a likely culprit, given that we human beings are not designed to sit around staring at a monitor and living wholly inside our brains. It certainly hasn’t done my waistline any favors! So as we are testing this and poking that, hoping that by process of elimination we find some identifiable root of this sudden malaise, I’ve come to realize just how far downhill my health has gone lately.

The last month was a real wake-up call, because I’ve had to look at a lot of mounting risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other ugly things that could send my life into a tailspin. The fact that I couldn’t even cross my driveway to get the mail without gasping and my legs shaking forced me to realize I can’t keep this ridiculous pace up at my age. I just turned 56, and I have a new grandson on the way. I want to live a long and healthy life and teach him things. That means I have to pay attention to my health now, before it’s too late.

I started with diet, cutting back on the crappy convenience foods that made long hours of writing doable, and eliminating meals taken at the keyboard. I began forcing myself to be in bed each night by 11:30, no matter what was pending or left undone. I began to get outdoors daily, even if just long enough to grab the mail or newspaper. I took regular housework breaks during the day, where I’d get up and do something more vigorous than typing. I napped if I felt I needed it rather than trying to plod through the day yawning. As we have progressed through testing for this or that, I started monitoring blood sugar, pulse, breathing, dietary stuff, etc. I became aware of how much my living habits had devolved to allow all the time for writing, editing, and the self promotion I felt compelled to do, and just how rotten I my health had become. I love writing, and I could sit here for endless hours spinning tales, but not at the detriment of my well-being. Clearly things had to change, and some sort of balance needed to be struck.

Believe me, when you are hooked up to an EKG monitor to rule out an impending heart attack, or getting your lungs scanned for possible blood clots, you start thinking hard about what you’ve been doing and why. Lying on those tables with the big scary stuff being hunted for, I knew I had to go back to living my life as a whole, not solely to write. I know; sacrilege, huh? We all joke about how we’ll sleep enough when we’re dead. All of us stress over deadlines that come too soon, and yet accept additional commitments that pile up like snow in the winter. But this was not a joke; it was very much for real, and I’m just not prepared to sacrifice the second half of my life to another chronic condition. I already have a bad back, high blood pressure, glaucoma, and widespread arthritis. That’s enough!

Fortunately, none of the big scary things were going on, but I took this last month’s unconventional health issues as a chance to reassess how things should be done in this New Pulp Writing life of mine. I did a lot of soul searching, believe me! I still want to crank out the best stories I possibly can, but I’ve had to scale back on how many projects I can reasonably expect to take on. I need to get off this computer more regularly and attend to other aspects of my life indoors and outdoors, so I’ve cut down on the amount of email, social networking, and promotion I do to focus on writing and editing while I’m at the keyboard. I’m not volunteering for much of anything these days, because those additional projects do cut into productive time. In short, I put writing back where it belongs: not the entire focus of my existence, as it has been the last three years, but as one more fascinating area of pursuit in a well-rounded life.

With all that in mind, I managed to write (and edit) all through this small crisis, albeit at a far slower pace. I’ve stopped beating myself up for being human, and started listening to that inner voice that wants to get outdoors and play in the soil, or go walk down by the pond with the camera and take pictures. I turned down a couple projects to focus on what I have promised to do, and I’ve said no to things like Pulp Ark. I’m not out of the woods yet, but I am making progress—sleeping more soundly at night, feeling more rested and energetic during the day, and not as worried about what I haven’t accomplished yet. I use my time wisely now. I’ve cultivated the notion that 500 words done well is far more significant than pumping out 5000 that are going to need serious revision to be readable.

I think anybody who wants to write with a crowded schedule and multiple issues demanding time and interest could take a page from my unconventional writing life. I don’t care what the beer commercial told you back in the 80’s, you can’t do it all. So you’d better do it smart, and spread yourself around in all parts of your existence, because you want to experience as much of life as you can, as long as you’re able to. As for getting your work out there, do whatever you can, but don’t stress over it. Don’t think you can continually shrug off your health and pull another all-nighter without consequences.  Keep in mind, the pulp heroes are on the page, not behind the keyboard, and sick writers don’t produce very good work.

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