You would think by now—at the age of 70—I would have worked out how to work to best advantage. As befits an experienced professional, I would have a practiced routine which I would follow religiously. It would probably contain an eccentric element or two to give it color. I would obsess about pencils like Steinbeck, or write on index cards like Nabokov, or write standing up like Hemingway said he did (though most photos show him sitting down).
Damn it! I would do something different—stand on my head or practice pistol shooting for half an hour (something I used to do daily) but then set to work with absolute focus. I would be in the zone. I would laugh at distraction.
The reality is that I’m still working out how to work—and how to fit in what needs to be done.
To be fair, I probably would have a fairly standard routine if what I had to do had remained much as it was when I started full time back in 1986 (after numerous false starts). But back in those days, household chores apart, all I really had to do was write. There was no internet in general use. There was no e-mail. There was no blogging. And, all in all, life was a great deal simpler.
Further, the sales and marketing aspects of book publishing were left to one’s agent and publisher. A real writer didn’t have to soil either his hands or his mind with such crass commercialism. He could focus entirely on being creative (brilliantly creative, of course).
Whether the agent and publisher served the writer’s best interests is another matter entirely. Mostly, they did not. Change in the book business was both necessary and long overdue. But flawed though the structure of traditional publishing was, it at least had the merit of allowing the writer to concentrate on his primary mission.
But the gods don’t like us to have such relatively stress free lives, so they came up with all kinds of good and interesting things which could—and would—overload the writer and distract him from what he was meant to to. Then having set all of this in motion, they laughed like drains and settled down to watch. They chuckle a great deal. Our struggles, as we try and cope with the impossible, are hugely entertaining.
Back in July 2010, somewhat late in the proceedings, I finally accepted that writing was no longer just about writing and set to work to try and reorganize my working day so I would be two to three times as productive—and thus able to do the myriad of other things a writer is supposed to do today—in addition to writing.
More than four years later, I certainly have had some successes (and a few colossal failures—one of which eventually turned into a success) but the supreme irony is that primarily the successes have had to do with writing—and the research that supports it. I focus faster and with even more intensity. My endurance has improved. I can find the right word with greater facility. I have learned to write screenplays. I can now blog at speed with relative ease—and enjoy a process I used to hate.. I have become significantly better at using the internet for research—and my data handling is superior. But where other matters are concerned, my progress is more modest.
I do have a much greater understanding of—and feeling for—social media in general, though regard much of it with deep skepticism. As for Facebook, in particular, I feel it is best approached with a very long spoon (and have yet to find one long enough). I do rather like LinkedIn. It’s mission—business networking—seems more clear-cut, and I prefer the way it is organized.
I have yet to succeed in keeping e-mail under control. As fast as I manage to master one area, another seems to flood my Inbox. I feel like King Canute endeavoring to order the sea around. Though I love e-mail because it is a writer’s medium and links me directly with my readers and friends (often one and the same), it is a time thief—and remorseless.
I have made huge progress in terms of understanding economics in general—and the U.S. economy in particular—and I write about such matters regularly—but the practical purpose of all this escapes me. I am supposed to be a thriller writer. But practicality was never my strong suit.
I can report similar progress re military matters—to which I continue to give a great deal of attention—but here I can at least argue that such an interest is directly relevant to my books and my writing
I have yet to become comfortable with website building and maintenance—though I am determined to do so.
Am I yet fully comfortable with that basic tool of the modern writer—the computer? ‘Fully’ would be a stretch. Where computers are concerned, I am a bear of little brain—and even less natural aptitude. But, I persevere—and they fascinate me. I lack adequate expertise, but I’m comfortable with them.
But, in truth, mostly, I write. It is joy through effort. It is the best of things .
I’m far from sure that I’m cut out to lead a balanced life.
I can hear the gods chuckling. They seem to agree.