Writing in the Digital Age: An Island in the Crowds

A Muse Upon Independence, Interdependence, and Blessed Solitude

Every writer is an island among crowds — Kelly McClymer, BVC Blog 2013

picture of man holding child's space suit

Stuck in airport over holidays and found the perfect gift for our soon-to-be grandson. Looking to the future even before he’s born, of course!

I’m feeling pretentious this morning, so be fully warned. After a too-long hiatus, I am back to give my perspective on the still ever-shifting sands of our new publishing realities.

The reason for my hiatus has to do with my subject matter — I exhausted myself trying to be everything and everywhere for the last year and a half. New books, new writing models, new partnerships, a trip across the United States, a wedding, three funerals, a conference….

…and yet, I don’t regret a minute of it (well, I’d change the need for the funerals, but that’s just me; Damon Knight once told my Clarion class that no one would really want to live forever — I still disagree, even 25 years later).

But something had to give, and naturally that something was me. I’ve been struggling to get words on the page, and then struggling to appreciate them. I’ve set deadlines and blown them up more times in the last few months than I can count. And yet writing is still the single most important thing in my life, outside family. So I’ve been looking for the magic fix (yoga, staying away from the computer, cutting back on things that take away my creative spark, writing in coffee shops, writing longhand…).

Cut to the beginning of 2013 and resolutions made in spirit but not committed to word or print for fear they’d be instantly broken. A jumble of good intentions spurred by the insane amount of opportunity that exists for writers nowadays. Only now, after a month of sifting through resolutions both petty (remember to brush my hair every day) and grand (turn my writing enterprise into a full fledged business with one foot in the future), do I really understand what I want to do (not how I will do it, mind you): build a business model that protects my writing time.

In the olden days of publishing, this involved a lot of writing feverishly late nights and weekends, then querying until the writer found an agent and editor who believed in her (the writer, not the book) and helped her build a career, find an audience, and get paid enough to be able to both sleep, eat, and write in the same day.

Traditional publishing nowadays calls for highly polished books (I know many aspiring writers who are hiring editors before they submit to agents, never mind before they get an agent and submit to editors). And the editorial faith tends to be put in the book, not the author. More than likely, this is because the marketing department trumps the editor in acquiring books nowadays. Books are big business. Even then, authors are expected to put in quite a bit of time marketing and promoting their books (blog tours, FaceBook pages, Twitter, etc.).

As someone who has decided to release my books on my own, I completely sympathize with the plight of big publishers, who really only want big successful books and don’t want to waste a lot of time nurturing authors. We writers can be unreliable. After all, unless you’re James Patterson and giving your ideas to other writers to write, there’s this little hard kernel of truth at the core of everything: there are only so many hours in the day. That was true in the olden days of publishing and is still true in the digital age. If I were a publisher, I’d have fired me along about December 1st of last year. But, given that I’d still have to live with myself if I did, I decided to give myself a second chance.

My inspiration for the one resolution for 2013 that I will share aloud is Stephen King. I have long envied his revelation that his writing time is a protected island of blessed creative solitude that deserves respect and armed guards.

King’s writing island has nothing to do with an office door that locks (or a door period). After all, when he was just starting out he wrote Carrie (I think it was Carrie) in spurts at his job at a laundry. His (open) secret is that he respects his writing time, and — with the dedicated help of his wife Tabitha — made sure that his family members and community understood that he wrote, everyday, just as if he were going to a day job. He created his island, first by isolating it from the crowds on the mainland, and then by filling it with books and tools that all led to the creation of a finely crafted bellows to fan the creative ember.

I want that. I’ve always wanted that. Over the last year and half I lost sight of how important it is because there were so many seductive sirens to lure me off my island with promises of “faster!” “easier!” “more shiny!” Yes, I need readers (and want to talk to them, it’s fun for me). Yes, I need to create support teams (BVC rocks at this, btw). But first of all, I need the island.

I have role models besides King. Good friends who have learned to step into their rowboats and row themselves out to their islands every day. Not every writer does that physically, but we all do it mentally. I remember writing my first novel when I had two young children, one of whom had a mild form of autism and could not be left unsupervised for a second, unless I wanted to discover what new uses a carelessly placed screwdriver could be put to. My island was found in the nexus between a computer screen and a pair of headphones that drowned out the sounds of life at my back late in the evening and on weekends when my husband was in charge of screwdriver patrol.

Where do you find your island? Is it faster? easier? shinier?

No, wait. I shouldn’t get started down that path again this year.

Kelly McClymer has written historical romance (the Once Upon a Wedding series); YA fantasy (the Salem Witch series); romantic YA; chicklit (The Ex Files, on sale for 99 cents through February); and is now embarking upon a momlit cozy mystery series featuring super secret shopper Molly Harbison — to be released in the next few months, depending upon how reliably she commutes back and forth from her island to her support team world every day).





Writing in the Digital Age: An Island in the Crowds — 4 Comments

  1. When I was freelancing, I protected my writing time by going elsewhere–a coffee shop, usually–to write. There no one could bother me, and since I did this while the kids were in school, I could keep my phone on me without worrying that I would get sixteen calls in a three hour period–unless the school called to say one of the girls had exploded. I wrote five books in coffee shops.

    Now that I’ve returned to standard employment carving out that time has been harder; I got into the habit of writing on the train to work (I have an hour commute) but the holidays disrupted that and I am just now trying to get back to it. This is not protecting my working time from Others. It’s protecting it from me: from inertia, from fatigue, from “I don’ wanna.” And like everything else about writing, it’s a process.

  2. Lunch time is useful, and also gives me good exercise since I have to lug the writing materials to work and then to lunch, and back each way.

  3. I decided to take the self-publishing route for several reasons. 1. I didn’t want to spend years seeking a traditional publisher at this point in my life. 2. I have a story to tell that can benefit others. 3. I have more control, and less expense.

    In time, perhaps I’ll seek traditional publishing. I do still have an editor, but he’s quite hands off regarding the actual story. I think it’s good to have an editor, even as a self-published author. My first book, “A Train Called Forgiveness,” was released last spring and my second will be out this spring. I’m refining my craft and getting my work out there. I love it! The hard part is marketing.

  4. I am job hunting, in hopes that having regular income and defined hours will allow me greater freedom to say “THIS is the writing time, and woe to those who intrude.” How I will balance precious writing time with the demands of promotion remains to be seen.

    Right now, the trick is finding a job I can do well that will not bore me to tears, and yet leaves me enough creative energy to write fiction. I may have to get up early and write fiction in the wee hours. Also — a job that only demands forty hours.

    Wish me luck.