Eat Your Heart Out

April 3rd, 2008

Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have survived? Could you hack it under such conditions?

Oh, don’t pretend you’ve never thought about it. I mean, how did Dickens pull it off? What about Austen or Bronte? They didn’t have laptops for mobility, or word processing for easy editing, or iPods for drowning out the screaming babies and clattering horseshoes, or…Well, for that matter, they didn’t have thermostat-controlled work environments or soft reliable lighting.

I write at a desk upstairs, separated from my bed by a bookshelf. I write, preferably, by daylight, but the overhead light and fan do their job when necessary. I have slippers for winter time, but my toes still get cold despite the nearby heater vent.

Would I have survived? Would I be doing this for a living if I’d been born back then?

All modern comforts aside (give me a moment to turn off the cell phone ringer and put my computer on standby), I see a general lack of creative discipline all around, and I worry that it might rub off on me. Each time I prepare to cuddle with my muse and conceive another novel to push through my artistic womb–there’s some gender-bending for all who’ve followed recent blogs–I wonder if I’ve lost whatever it is that keeps me going, that keeps me coming up with new turns of a phrase or nuances on deep-seated fears. Will I fail to come through again? Will I answer the critics from the last go-around? Will I please the fans of my last literary effort?

In the midst of such pressure, I make myself a fresh cup of Sumatran (no wood-stoking or hand-grinding necessary), and wiggle the mouse till the computer comes back to life. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a new email or review to brighten my mood and send me skipping back to the upstairs work desk.

And then it happens. I spot two messages on myspace. Three more on facebook. Friend requests and comments. I realize there’s a misspelling on that silly new website I’ve been building for the past week, all in the name of saving myself a heap of cash. Will fans like it? Have they noticed my faux pas? (Hey, when you’re done reading this, feel free to visit the site and see if you can spot it.) As I mull such things, I go to one of my email accounts and see a fan letter, a request to speak at a local writers conference, an enquiry about discussion questions for my latest title–as if I’m trying to write literary masterpieces here…c’mon!–and a slew of other correspondence.

I question how I get anything done. Really. I feel pressured to keep up with the cyber-savvy Jones, especially all those writers whose web-presences loom larger than Hemingway. I’ve gotta stay on top of this. Gotta stay sharp. Stay hungry. Stay aw a kk kke e eeee.

Boy, I wish I lived back in the days of Oliver Twist, when there was at least a smidgen of Sense and Sensibility. It was easier then; I see that now. Fewer distractions. The simple life. I bet none of those hacks could’ve made it in today’s world. Those literary wannabes would’ve been locked away, disconnected from cyberspace, out of touch, and irrelevant. They would’ve gotten nowhere. Nowhere! I tell you.

Smug in this realization, I peek at my bookshelf. I spot Bram Stoker’s name, Dickens’, Hawthorne’s, Poe’s, and Verne’s. I wonder why it is they have new editions around when my first two novels are already out of print.

A new email pops up on my screen, erasing my questions with its synthetic appeal. I’ll work on my latest manuscript after lunch. After I tend to my Internet concerns. I’ve got a slew of things to keep up with.

Eat your heart out, Stoker–you would’ve never made it in these days of endless distraction.

  1. Robert Jones
    April 3rd, 2008 at 08:03 | #1

    Eric,
    An interesting perspective that sent this reader in a direction back in time with convincing evidence of how difficult distractions of the past must have been to overcome. Then a reversal of direction back to the present with convincing evidence of how difficult distractions of the present are to overcome. Those clever bits back to back and then a smoothly entered reminder of the durability of some writers of the past whose books remain among us. Well done indeed.
    R C Jones

  2. April 3rd, 2008 at 08:54 | #2

    Thanks, Mr. Jones. I had fun with a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I really do struggle with the social networking inundation online. How do people get anything done? Especially creatively?

  3. April 3rd, 2008 at 11:23 | #3

    It is a challenge. And yet, in today’s environment, you can’t ignore it completely. I have no MySpace or FaceBook … just a WordPress blog site like this one…I try to keep it current and relevant, and I network on boards where people who buy and read books are known to hang out.

    Not sure about the typo – but you are an official novelist? Is there a card? :) It could be that it should read Novelist’s Website…with the apostrophe…but…STILL I want a card. :)

    David

  4. April 3rd, 2008 at 11:31 | #4

    Nice catch on the website. Not quite what I had in mind, but I did change the wording. Thanks for the good eye.

    Your official novelist card is in the mail!

  5. April 3rd, 2008 at 12:28 | #5

    Absolutely agree the marketing through social networking thing is out of hand. I’ve had a MySpace page for over a year and did manage to make a sale through posted announcements, but I can barely manage to get back there once a week these days. Facebook is overwhelming with its extra applications and demands to actually be, um, social. I have no idea why I joined LinkedIn. Message boards depress me. I’m still trying to think of something that would “feed the blog/journal” on a regular basis.

    I think there’s value in marketing the old fashioned way — putting the best work possible out there, trying to get reviews and people to post their comments wherever possible, putting in some face time with editors and publishers (which includes being social and not talking about your own work every moment with them).

    Bottom line is that marketing is a salesman’s job. Nobody’s asking salesmen to write novels or make movies or art. And yet artists have to be salespeople in this too fast too furious age or be ignored and perish. It ain’t fair, I tell ya…

    As for getting anything done — sometimes you just have to shut the chatter down to let imagination breathe, speak and inspire.

    good luck!!

  6. April 3rd, 2008 at 12:38 | #6

    We’re on the same page, Gerard. I am not a salesman. This is always the challenge between marketing/sales and the creative sort. I do my own site, keep up with emails, and do a few blogs. Other than that, I’m trying to focus on writing the best stories I can.

  7. April 3rd, 2008 at 15:38 | #7

    This sounds soooo familiar.

    You want to email me so we can talk about it…?

    oh, wait…

    [firmly buries nose back into manuscript]

    I’m working. Yes, I’m working. Scout’s honour.

  8. April 3rd, 2008 at 15:47 | #8

    If even a kurmudgeon like me is drawn onto the blogs, I don’t get how all you social savvy types can avoid things like Facebook and MySpace. Sooner or later there is someone you have to respond to when they query you from the blogs, and in order to do that you inevitably have to start an account. I do so but with as few connections as possible — no networks etc. Like Davey, I prefer working off my own site or with email, but you just have to be there in those other places some times. Keeping up is the problem, and I don’t do that well, but it seems to be an inevitable tide. Sink or swim — glub, glub. My next column will touch on some of this too.

    – Sully

  9. April 3rd, 2008 at 16:15 | #9

    Just some points to ponder:

    I met John Ordover on the old GEnie boards – sold my Star Trek novel to him online. Also, same boards, met Stewart Wieck which led to 6 or so White Wolf novels…

    Almost every truly notable success I’ve had has come through social networking. In the old days we had to spend hundreds of bucks every few months to be at the important conventions…now it’s easier, but addicting.

    There are limits in all things…but I’m all for the new social networking. I don’t do Myspace because of viruses, and because for all the hooplah, most of the folks I know who have sites there can’t claim to have sold any books they wouldn’t have sold anyway…same with Facebook. But having a blog and a good solid web page (as Sully says) is an important part of remaining relevant.

    In any case, folks, what do you think you’re doing HERE?

  10. April 3rd, 2008 at 16:18 | #10

    Good point, Dave. I benefit greatly from online interaction with authors, editors, agents, etc. As with anything (TV, books, movies, food, beer…), too much of a good thing can become a trap. That’s why I tried to show both sides of the “good ol’ days” and the modern times in which we live. No matter what generation we live in, we deal with life and its complications.

  11. April 3rd, 2008 at 16:20 | #11

    I know what I’m doing here…enjoying every bit of the collective creativity. You guys and gals rock!

  12. April 3rd, 2008 at 17:19 | #12

    Dave, I also realized I had no link to this blog. Gasp! I’ve added it on the site, under Author contact.

  13. April 3rd, 2008 at 17:45 | #13

    Because of physical and time limitations, I only do scrabulous on Facebook and this blog. I receive two daily newsletters from Israel and email my daughter and a few close friends and relatives. When I’m tempted to do more, I look at my shelf of all-time favorite books and remind myself that most of them used pen and ink. –Janet

  14. April 3rd, 2008 at 21:36 | #14

    Janet, I get newsletters from Israel too. I hope to go back. I loved my trip there last year.

    Now, see here I go, social networking online…and this part of it I love!

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