NEW YEAR (WRITERS’) ANGST ON
FOCUS VERSUS FRAGMENTATION
WORK VERSUS NETWORKING
E-MAIL VERSUS WRITING
The Atlantic—one of my favorite publications as regular readers of this blog will know—has just run a fascinating but disturbing piece called The Death of the Artist—And The Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur.
Hard-working artisan, solitary genius, credentialed professional—the image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it?
- by William Deresiewicz
- Dec. 28, 2014
It is fascinating to me because I’m deeply interested in creativity—and how it can be harnessed for the benefit of mankind and the joy of those involved. And yes I do mean ‘joy.’ Satisfaction and pleasure certainly feature in abundance, but they don’t adequately convey the exhilaration of the creative process. I just love to think and then convert such thoughts into the written word. That’s nearly as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned. Add a woman and some wine—and I desire nothing more. Heaven can wait. It is right here on Earth.
It is disturbing because it so reflects and describes my own situation. On the one hand, I rather fancy the notion of being a solitary genius (not that I think of myself as a genius, let me stress) whereas a combination of my analysis and circumstances is pushing me—apparently inexorably—towards being a creative entrepreneur.
When I say ‘my analysis’ I mean that in some ways I feel betrayed by my own mind. Emotionally, I would like to do nothing but write in productive solitude (with maybe a little company now and then), yet my inner voice says—quite firmly—that I cannot ignore the realities of the marketplace, but must reorganize my life to both write and deal with the commercial aspects.
I have been working on that for some time in the fashion of Sisyphus. I am not finding the transition easy. I have come to terms with the entrepreneurial aspect—I was in marketing before I became a writer and I am a serial entrepreneur—but I’m extremely concerned by the extent to which my focus is being fragmented. I like to do one thing really well—which is to write—and I’m not a good multi-tasker. Indeed, I don’t even believe in multitasking.
When I’m making love, I don’t write (the other way round, there have been some exceptions).
However, I seem to be living in a world which is pulling me every which way—and where focus is practically becoming socially unacceptable. Here I am referring to the vast array of social media and other tools of distraction at our disposal which—if anything—seem to be making communication even more difficult. There was a time you could phone someone and talk something through. Now the chances are that you will just get voice mail. And then—if they reply at all—they will text.
Texting is not the same as talking.
Personally, I love e-mail (as well as hate it)—but apart from the fact that many people can’t write (or choose not to) the volume is so great that its advantages are substantially negated. And then you have the problem—if you, personally, take the trouble to express yourself with style, vigor, and clarity—that your opus isn’t read. At best, it will be skimmed.
Skimming is not reading.
Skimming is what agents and publishers do so that they can find something they can buy cheap and sell dear. God forbid they should read. Skimming is about the first few pages—followed, in most cases, by the delete key. Skimming is fast, efficient, effortless—and, not infrequently—mindless. Reading requires engagement—really paying attention.
To exaggerate to make a point—reading is becoming virtually un-American (no, of course it is not really).
In fact, I’m increasingly beginning to think that the art of comprehension is vanishing. That means, in many cases, we/they don’t understand. It helps to explain why so many issues—which are totally solvable—go unresolved. I am also noticing that people are becoming truly lousy at following through—even when they stand to benefit. And I’m far from the only one to notice.
Something is going seriously wrong in the U.S. with how we think and behave to the point where it is becoming cultural—by which I mean that it is generally accepted as being normal.
For instance we seem to be quite relaxed about being permanently at war. Have we given up questioning this sort of thing?
We seem to think it is acceptable to ignore facts. We fight shy of reasoned debate. We let issues fester instead of evolving solutions. We are politicizing just about everything. Education is much blamed—and it is certainly a factor, particularly where the less affluent are concerned, but it is much more than that. We don’t feel it is necessary to keep well informed. We seem to think democracy will take care of itself. We work because we have to—but then our primary focus seem to be on keeping ourselves entertained or otherwise distracted. We seem to be highly successful at it.
I am rendered near speechless by the findings expressed in the Pew Research Center graphic below. Or maybe the gains of the internet compensate for the distractions of e-mail. Or perhaps we are deluding ourselves.
Or maybe people don’t always tell the truth to interviewers.
A further complication is that even if I exclude the distractions of social media and e-mail—a near impossibility—I find myself being torn in different directions creatively.
Creative limb from creative limb! Creatively painful!
Part of that is my own fault. My first love is writing researched action thrillers (full of gratuitous sex and violence) but I also feel the need to write non-fiction as well (a desire to make a difference, perhaps)—and more recently I added satire.
The characters sort of appeared and ordered me to.
And I also research, follow, and write about military matters and the economy. But, at least most of that comes under the banner of writing books.
Now, I am blogging in a fairly serious way as well—and have moved on to screenplays. And, if that wasn’t enough, it has been suggested that I present a TV series.
And I could go on—but I’m frightening myself!
If all of this meant I was an enormous financial success it would be one thing—and it may lead to just that.
Pigs may really fly.
Nonetheless, for the time being, the primary impact is the sense that I am going to have to make some hard choices—and a New Year is a better time than most at which to make them.
My great fear, as far as far as society as a whole is concerned, is that we are trivializing life, replacing work with networking, and losing a great deal of social stability in the process. However, that is at the macro level—and I doubt that there is much I can do about it (except write).
At the micro level—my own life—my general feeling is that I need to play to my strengths and eliminate as many distractions as possible. If that means that I filter my e-mail more, don’t use social media or network as much as I should, so be it. Some choices have to be made.
My son, Christian O’Reilly (you can Google him—he is an award-winning playwright) once told me of an incident that has resonated with me ever since. Seeing him somewhat distracted by the necessity of making a living, his wife, Ailbe said? “Remember, no matter what, you are a writer, Christian.”
I, too, am a writer. Important to remember that fact. It’s why I get up in the morning. It’s why I breathe.
I write best when I am so focused, I’m in the zone—so intensely absorbed, I’m relaxed. It took me years to learn how to get into the zone virtually on demand. These days, I sit to write—and I’m in it.
The sight of a keyboard makes me react like Pavlov’s dog. Well, not exactly. I don’t think the dog wrote. Perhaps he blogged.
I value focus over fragmentation. I think what we are doing to ourselves at present is insane.
Will I continue to blog daily? Yes, I will. I have an open mind on the form and the frequency.
VOR words 1,366.