Like a Gargoyle

This week I had a really crucial insight.  Before I tell you what that was, I need to lay a bit of a foundation.

Agnes Garbed in Snow

Agnes Garbed in Snow

A lot has been said lately – by me and by others – about how many of the jobs that used to be done by the publisher have fallen on the writer.  This is not to say that writers – especially those who write and sells what they write – have not always had business-related chores.  I’ve mentioned before that when I sold my first short story, Roger Zelazny – with whom I was then corresponding on a more or less regular basis – mailed me a tax organizer, and encouraged me to keep track of my earnings and expenses.

However, except for taxes and choosing whether or not to answer fan mail, a writer’s main job was to write.  Yes.  The writer did participate in publicity by doing book signings which might – for the lucky ones – include going on tour.  However, most of these publicity events were organized by someone else.  True, SF/F writers have always had the option of attending conventions, but the smart ones realized that, to make these conventions worthwhile, they also needed to have new material to present.

This has changed.  At the very least, writers need a website and/or a social media presence.  A good friend of mine commented recently that, since his current available material consists of one short story collection and one e-published novella, he doesn’t feel he needs a website.  However, he does have a Twitter feed and a Facebook account.  And he is fully aware that when he publishes the novel he’s finishing up – whether self or through a traditional publisher – he’s going to need to expand to a website.

I currently have a blog for which I supply substantial content three times a week, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed.  While these latter two do help “push out” the material I write for my blog, they also require a certain amount of individual attention and new material.  I have a website – the recent reformatting of which has made it a lot better, but has also taken a great deal of time.  In this case, I didn’t even do the actually formatting, just provided consultation as to design elements and the like.  Once it’s up, the maintenance will be up to me.

Lest you think I’m whining, let me tell you something you may not be aware of…  Many writers now have an assistant of some sort.  Only rarely is that assistant an unpaid family member “helping out” a little.  Nor am I talking about hiring an accountant, agent, or lawyer for specific jobs.  I’m talking about someone who maintains the writer’s website, handles their social media accounts (which is why some writers brag “it’s really me”), act as liaison with conventions and publicity people, and take care of the business paperwork.

Yes.  I’m serious. Compare this to Roger Zelazny who never had a full-time assistant.  He did have an agent and accountant, as well as a friend who he occasionally hired to retype a manuscript when a publisher required electronic as well as print manuscripts.  But otherwise he managed it all solo – as was the case for most writers I met at that time.

So that’s the foundation.  Here’s the insight.  I worked steadily all last week on various projects.  My tax paperwork is off to my accountant.  My website update is nearly done.   I answered fan mail and dealt with social media.  I’ve consulted with various professionals on future projects – none of which, by the by, had anything to do with being creative, but had to do with raising awareness of what I currently have available.  I wrote my Wednesday Wandering, expanded the Thursday Tangents, and wrote the Friday Fragment.

I should have felt good by the end of the week, right?  Why then on Friday evening did I sit down on the sofa, bury my face in my hands, and wonder why I felt so depressed?  It took me the entire weekend (during which yet another more or less administrative-editorial job cropped up unexpectedly) to realize what was wrong.

I realized that, if I don’t make time for creative work of some sort, no matter how much I accomplish during that week, I will feel completely flat and frustrated by the end.  The last original story I wrote was in December.  I did feel creative as I worked on selecting stories for my forthcoming short story collection, including writing the introduction and afterpieces, but that manuscript has been my proofreader’s hands for the last couple of weeks.  Writing the Wanderings and Tangents (especially the Tangents, because Alan seems to stimulate the oddest trains of thought for me) can be creative, but it’s not the same.

And the list of things I need to do this week stretches before me, editorial in some cases, but even that not particularly creative.

Looking out my window the other day, absently studying Agnes the Gargoyle in her new hat and cape of snow, I realized that a writer’s life is very much like a gargoyle.  Part of the appeal of gargoyles is how they combine moods.  They can be fierce looking or ridiculous or a bit of both.  One reason they are recurrently featured as monsters, animating and the pouncing on the unsuspecting, is that on some level we suspect that (unlike most statuary) they really are alive.

Once upon a time, a writer’s life was mostly writing, secondarily business.  These days the business demands are so great that they threaten to take on a life of their own and gobble up the very thing they are supposed to support.

I made a decision.  No matter how much the business piles up, I’m not going to be sitting on the sofa this Friday wondering where my creative time went.  Even if I don’t get that bit of my website fine-tuned or do a bit of checking out that person someone else told me might be an excellent contact, I’m going to know that I did something creative.

I’m going to know that, no matter how many or few see what I’m doing, I will have been a writer…

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7 Responses to “Like a Gargoyle”

  1. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I’m not a full-time writer as you are, and even I have run into this situation – the other stuff taking time away from writing. It’s frustrating, and you’ve articulated it well. I’m going to try and emulate your approach.

  2. Debbie Says:

    I so relate to this post, Jane. Starting a new business has been so time consuming, and now I’m buying small press tables at conventions. If it weren’t for Paul’s help, I would get any writing done. I’ve had those Fridays and have come to the same decision you have. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    The only upside is that sometimes, the frustration of not having time to write can inspire a lot of creative material for when you do have time to write again.

  4. Emily Mah Tippetts Says:

    Ditto on relating to this! If I’m not writing, I need to be playing with polymer clay or designing covers or something. Otherwise, I am just wiped out by mid-week.

  5. JM6 Says:

    On gargoyles:
    One of the college courses I took in the last 3 years was called “Religion and Its Monsters” (which was, I suspect, just an excuse for a religion professor to do a bit of literature teaching, although usually with a religious theme). In that course, we studied gargoyles a bit and, apparently, the original precursors to gargoyles were shaped with faces (animal, human or monster) in order to scare away birds who might nest in the roof and bring in insects that would escape into the woodwork or leave droppings to stink the place up. Eventually, the seals around the roof and wall became tighter and the gargoyles evolved into new and interesting forms. I guess we’ll have to wait and see into what new and interesting forms the creatures known as “writers” will evolve.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Thanks for the information… I knew that one reason for the shapes (especially the gaping mouths) was that they served as rain gutters, but I had no idea about the other aspect.

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