Committing one’s lifestyle to writing is, of course, a complicated affair. I find myself today wondering about how it unfolds for different people. Some will leave the embrace of public education (let’s say we’re talking about Americans here, since that’s what I am, and the only system of living that I know happens to be an American one) …leave the embrace of public education and enter the private sector immediately. You find that unless you have established a voice writing materials that pay quickly (I’m thinking like ad copy here), you need a job of some kind just to make rent. Or parents willing to put up with you in the basement being an antisocial troll (read: trying to write that magnum opus).
Alternatively, you come out of public education, go on to secondary education, a baccalaureate or something even more involved, or vocational training, and you step into a paying career as soon as you land that first job. Unless your education was in writing (MFA? Communications? Journalism?) and you can’t walk onto a job right away. But let’s stop calling out the exceptions to the formula and just understand that exceptions exist.
Apart from the familiar little gap between school and payday, these routes are dissimilar, and demand a host of different things from the aspiring author. My route was a little combination of college and vocational training, and it landed me nestled in the steamy crotch of technology, working on the nodules where diagnostic imaging meets oncology and radiation therapy. If you click the LinkedIn link for my professional self, you’ll get a much more concise vision of my curriculum vitae – not that you care, or should care; it isn’t the important factor.
I wonder – now that I’m pushing forty – if I have an advantage: life experience and a career – it equates to money. I have the things I need to keep my life operational: I can pay rent, buy groceries, even afford a luxury taco from time to time. It eliminates the day-to-day worry of making ends meet. The question of where my next check is coming from is answered. I have strategic investments in the form of retirement and profit-sharing accounts, and the little stock market dabbling I started doing back in 2008. I have a plan and it is in the execution phases – so far so good.
It also equates to experiences piled up on experiences. I have deep wells to draw from: I’ve met people from all over the world, who are very, very deeply weird and so much more interesting as a result. I have been to, uh, a few places. Mostly places around the US. Okay, I need to work on that. But I have a couple stamps in my passport too, and I can say I’ve seen this thing or that thing, and smelled some other really disturbing things. If I’m compelled to write about them, the writing isn’t entirely bullshit. A lot of bullshit contained therein, but not all bullshit.
I’ve got these advantages that should help me write well.
Also, I wonder if I have a disadvantage: life experience and a career – it equates to cynicism, deep, dark, jaded cynical nastiness. I am embittered at a young age against the machine of living. I’ve an open, objective mind, I soak up input and synthesize it and re-synthesize it and draw conclusions. Most of them I don’t like. This is probably a pathology we’ve all heard of at some point in our lives, we all know this person or that person who is so dark you pretty much can’t stand them for more than five minutes. That’s me. I use social lubricant (read: alcohol) to make myself tolerable, and that works for me. Relating to people and working with them is difficult beyond the most superficial levels.
It also equates to security. I have security, therefore I don’t have to push myself to get anything else done. It takes very little for me to interrupt the meager flow of writing to take out the trash, sew up the bills for the month, wash the dishes, and play with my daughter…and then I don’t come back to writing for WEEKS.
Is also equates to time deficit. I have only the fleeting couple of hours when I am not working or being a husband and father – let me tell you how rare those hours have become. I started getting up before the sun with the intent of sneaking into my writing space for at least an hour before work, and that yielded some results. Now my infant is turning into a toddler, and she likes to co-opt those minutes she knows someone is awake. It has only been in the last week or so that I’ve started seeing an opportunity unfold to renew my soft-shoeing around
And then there’s this obstacle: this weird trend out there happening to us all! What is it? Its the degeneration of our attention span. Really? Yes. Media has given way to advertising over the years, and mainstream news stories have continually shrunk smaller and smaller and, as my father complains, they all end with: “for the rest of the story, visit our website.”
But it doesn’t end there. You go to the website, and you are blitzed with ads. The actual pith of the story you’re after is only 200 words, counting the headline. There’s no depth of investigative reporting; at best you get some references and a few more ads.
Even worse, social media dominates our attention. Twitter is nothing more than the threat of having to read blurbs. 160 characters? This is brevity at its best, and it can certainly be entertaining, don’t get me wrong. The really good stuff sacrifices characters to include a link. But do you really want to devote attention to that when you can move on to swimming around in the stone soup of damn near everything in snack-sized bites?
That’s the trend – consuming diverse data at an accelerated rate by diminishing content.
Diminishing as a verb. That phrase sucks if you’re a writer, but its the trend for the world at large.
I’m struggling with this on a personal level. I used to be a voracious reader. I could easily eat several books a week, even factoring in lazy-brain-vegging-out-on-video-games syndrome. Now? It takes months to finish a novel. I can’t blame this on poor quality writing or anything external like that, because I’m seasoning my input stream with tried-and-true work from authors of old, as well as the new undiscovered country.
My mind, usually at night, feels like an ad-stream. No one topic stays in focus for more than a minute or two. I feel like as a younger person I didn’t have to focus on relaxing; it just happened when the work was done. Is it that as we get older the work is never done?
In my (advantageous? disadvantageous?) professional world, brevity is more successful. Long presentations put people to sleep, long emails get TL;DR. Short, short, short to the point, and sweet – that is the rule of professional communication. RTFM? Hell no. Not that my ultimate goal is to produce florid, paid-by-the-word fiction full of purple, but the opposite of the extreme here is also extreme.