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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A writer's lament

Here it is:

Let's pretend you're at work. You're very busy with many things to do before the end of the day. If you don't get them done, your boss will be angry with you and it might well reflect on your over-all job performance. You want a raise one day; in fact, you hope to excel that this career and rise to the top of the ladder.

So what do you do when your mom or your good friend or your dear old auntie calls? Do you set aside your work to talk for an hour, knowing that it's going to be hell for you to catch up? Or do you say, "I'm sorry, I really can't talk now. Can I get back to you?"

Chances are, you'd do that latter if it weren't an emergency. And, chances are, your mom, your friend or your dear old auntie would understand. No one's feelings would be hurt because they would understand that you are at work. You are earning your livelihood. You are accountable to others and can't talk right then.

Let's play with that scenario a bit. Let's pretend that instead of working in an office, you're a novelist and you're working at home. Let's pretend your boss is far away — at a publishing house in New York. You still have deadlines. You're still very busy with a book that's due soon. And you have filing, research, and promotional work to do, as well. Let's say you have a day job and so the only time you can do this work is on the weekend.

Then someone calls. It's Saturday. You answer the phone because your conscience insists that you not ignore your mom/friend/dear old auntie. They want to talk about their week, your week, next week, and Britney Spears. Would you feel guilty saying, "I'm sorry, I really can't talk now. Can I get back to you?"

I'm betting you would sit and talk and feel more stressed by the minute, knowing your time to work is passing by. And if you did tell them you couldn't talk and let them go, you'd probably feel guilty.

I do.

And my question is why? Why do I feel guilty setting limits on the weekends when it's my only time to do my author work? Is the act of writing books not worthy of the same respect as the work I do at the newspaper? Is the income I earn not just valuable to my life and those of my kids?

And then there are all of the requests: family get-togethers, friends' birthdays, fund-raisers, endless events people want me to attend as editor-in-chief of the paper, my kids' special projects. I've gotten better at putting limits on these, prioritizing the needs of my kids and letting the rest fall away. It doesn't make me popular, but it's a survival technique. Believe me, I could be busy every second of every day and night just doing editor stuff — fund-raisers, ribbon-cuttings, endless receptions and so on. In and of themselves, each request is reasonable. And yet, each is like a grain of sand. Alone they are tiny. But taken together, they make a sand dune that could suffocate me if I don't watch out.

It's a real dilemma and one that I have resolved altogether well. And yet, how many women are E-in-C's of newspapers, single moms and novelists trying to produce two books a year?

Am I whining? I sure don't mean to.

I'm betting most writers have some version of this lament. I'd love to know how they deal with it.

I have fantasies about being by myself in a cabin in the mountains with a nice fire, a shot gun, good food, good coffee and my computer. No Internet. No telephone. No TV. (I don't have television at home as it is. Got rid of it years ago.) Just being alone over Christmas break made a huge difference in how much I was able to concentrate on my story.

Until then, I'll sit here by my fire, with my cup of coffee, within sight of my phone, and do my best to keep words flowing onto the page.


Debbie H said...

It's because you are a good person that you feel guilty! I feel guilty texting or calling you sometimes (and don't you dare feel guilty I said this, I mean it!)because I know how it is when you are being stretched in all directions by a mulitude of people wanting everything. Call me sometime when you need to talk or vent. You have my number.

As I have said before, you need an assistant to help you plan, arrange, and to just say no to some of them. The family and close friends you could always ask if you could call back later, agree on a time, write yourself a note and call them back, even if it's while you are in the tub! LOL (((HUGS))) girl, you are overwhelmed and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

Ronlyn said...

It's always so hard to say no. To limit the time that other people desire to connect with you. You just do what you need to do for you and let the rest move on. Again, easier said than done. I know, I speak from experience.

And I've heard many an author complaining of the same thing. I think it was KAren Hawkins who was talking about it last. something about being asked to do favors because she works from home and her family translating that into meaning that she's available to sit at their house and wait for the cable guy or whatever.

I think the only thing you can do is set hours that you don't answer the phone or the door or whatever while you're working. Those hours can be flexable depending on your muse, but you can say, "for the next 5 hours I'm unavailable because I'm working" and don't answer the phone. (I regularly get in trouble with my family because I won't answer the phone if I'm otherwise occupied.) *shrug*

Love you honey!

Bo said...

I don't think you're whining,and even if you were,so what! We are ALL allowed to whine sometimes when things get to us.

I agree w/Ronlyn,you may just have to designate hours that you absolutely don't answer the phone/door,unless it's family,of course.And reiterate to them that your work as an author is just as important to you as being an editor,if not more so.I can't stand it when there are distractions while I'm trying to read a book,I imagine it's much worse when you are actually trying to create it.

Make it happen,for yourself & for your characters.Tell people,if you must,that in order to breathe life into your book,that you have to spend quality time with the people who live there.Anybody thinks that sounds crazy or silly,too bad.You can draw on that 'All writers are a little nuts' thing(or whatever the saying is,I forget exactly how it goes,but close enough)if you like.But don't feel like you have to justify your writing time to ANYONE!!! It is your time,it is what you love to do,what you have chosen to do,and you're damn good at it.

I think any of us would love to stand guard at the door/over the phone and run interference while you write.Of course,you would feel like a piece of meat in a room full of lions after just a few minutes.I can just see everyone licking their chops,waiting for the next paragraph to be finished,then elbowing you away from your own computer.Hmmm,I see,that won't do at all,LOL!

Introduce the interrupters to ytour friend NO.


Cheryle said...

I agree with what the other ladies said. You are not whinning at all. It is stressful, you are doing this all by yourself and a great job at might I add!

Set your limits, make your boundries. Everyone needs them!


Aimee said...

I'm so sorry your feeling so pressured Hon, you know I love you right? And if I ever call when you are busy, feel free to tell me to take a hike LOL

You know J and I can share a hotel if it would help get the pressure off you a little, it would break my heart if I thought we were going to be adding to the load!

J said...

My sentiments exactly, Aims. PC, if it is going to be a pain having us land on you, then a hotel is absolutely no problem. You gotta focus on what you need and it has taken me a long time to get to where I came to accept that my needs are just as valid and important as everyone elses and deserve as much respect.

Not, that you are of course, but feel free to whine and moan and even have the occasional bitch *grin*.
We are your friends hon and as such as Bo said, we are prepared to run interference, as all the others have said in one way or another, we are here for you. Feel free to say what you want and don't worry for a second about being judged by it.

Did I mention that I plan to cook when I come over? I am not too shabby in the kitchen, either....

MWAH!!!! J xx

J said...

also, you know that there are two chances of Aims cooking....buckleys and none. Though, fair enough, she can hunt it down and then I will cook it up!
*grin* It's gonna be cruisy sweetie, whatever you need to do, you do it and as I said, I will bring my Lonely Planet, my ipod and do my thang while you write and do whatever you like. K ?

J xx

Sue Z said...

I like that cabin in the woods idea!

Is it possible for you to turn the ringer on your phone off from specific weekend hours? Voice mail is a good option too (besides the answering machine). I think that you can have calls go straight to voice mail without hearing the phone ring.

You can decide when or if you want to return the calls at a time when it is convienient for you.

However, if I should happen to call you when you are working, I expect you to drop everything to run to the frickin phone!!!!

Thanks, everyone.

I really appreciate your supportive comments.

I laughed my butt off at the thought of any of you running interference. I can only imagine the shocked looks on people's faces when you inform them, "She is NOT availab. She is writing!"

The funny thing is it's readers more than anyone else who understand how compelled writers feel about writing. Why? Because readers want to read the next book. For everyone else, writing is just thing thing a writer does. For readers, it's, "Finish that damn book! I'm waaaaaiting!"

I wish I had time to comment on each and everyone one of your posts, but I'm in a bit of an open-records tussle with someone right now and may need to go legal on their ass. As I just told SueZ, I feel like one of my I-Team characters, except -- d'oh! -- I think they feel like me. LOL!

Ronlyn said...

uh-oh. LOL.
You go get 'em

Thanks for the good wishes, Ronlyn.

Victory is mine. :-)

Coming soon to an I-Team novel near you: "If your staff can't black out the names on fifty emails in less than an hour, perhaps it's time to hire new staff or to let the editorial staff come down and do it for you."

Go Fourth Estate!

Ronlyn said...


Going back to a previous topic we've talked about...I'm waiting to hear back from a smarmy PO who is trying to send a 17 yo patient to juvie for not coming to an appointment with the dr. *rolling my eyes*

fun times I tell ya.

tammy said...

No is the hardest word to say.
Do not feel guilty. You have to do what is best for you.

JennJ said...

I know I'm way late in posting but I just wanted to say the others are right hon. You are not whining at all. You have to vent sometimes or you'll explode. Just tell them I'm really sorry but I have this deadline and I'm not going to be avalible from .... to whenever they should understand. Your a great author hon and a great editor and a mom so you have a very full load it's hard to make all the ends meet I'm sure. Hang in there and tell them to leave a message at the BEEP>>>>>> LOL.


I wanted you to see my cover model (we are actually dating)

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Favorite Writing Quotes

"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale