When the effort involved in getting people to know your writing exists becomes almost as much as the writing itself (or more), is it really worth it?
What have we lost when we constantly update Facebook and Twitter at every free moment instead of sitting or standing in silence, thinking?
Is productivity killing your creativity?
It’s easy to convince yourself all those updates matter — and for a small handful they do. But most writers I’ve asked admit they do it because they feel its expected of them, that their “platform” matters just as much as their writing. Really, though, isn’t your time better spent thinking about stories and writing them — not making noise in a desperate attempt to bring attention to what you’re doing?
Silence is something; it’s quite a powerful something if you allow it to be.
The Little Cabin in the Woods
I have an online writing friend named Paul Lamb. I like Paul’s blog, and I like Paul’s writing because there’s a sense of quiet thought that comes through in the things he does. He doesn’t stagnate, but he’s also in no hurry to crank out stories because it’s expected of him.
Sometimes, instead of writing on the weekends early in the morning when he prefers to write, Paul goes to his little cabin in the woods and thinks. No electricity, and no distractions — just a guy and his brain hanging out in the woods…
This quiet that Paul isn’t afraid to lose himself in shows in his writing; there’s a classic feel even in his more fantastic stories. I’ll go as far as saying that Paul’s the kind of old-school writer whose books I’d want on a shelf — not just on my Kindle. I have to believe at least a big part of why I feel the way I feel about Paul’s writing comes from the sense of calm confidence that comes from him spending time just thinking.
A Place to Think
Paul has his little cabin in the woods; I have my couch and my car. There are few things I like more than a quiet Saturday afternoon, when all the cleaning and other things are done and my wife is busy doing other things. I may take a favorite book from a shelf and read a passage…and then lose myself in thoughts. Just lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, and thinking.
More times than not when I drive to and from work, the radio is silent. No chatter of DJs or random music; no CD playing the music I actually want to hear. I take the long way to and from work because it allows me some time on back roads free of traffic. It’s peaceful; it’s a time to think.
I also think while waiting in line. Now, I love my smart phone, but…I don’t always turn it on and see what’s up in the world at every free moment. I can’t imagine how my writing would sound if I were afraid to spend moments just being silent. When I read the writing of people who can’t spend a moment without doing something, it shows in their writing — and not in a good way. It’s like cheap chocolate: it looks appealing enough, but tastes like…something I don’t want in my mouth anymore than I don’t want hurried words in my head!
In recent years, I’ve thought about cutting out all the extra effort. I’ve thought about dropping the Twitter account and everything else, except this blog. (Because I like this blog…quite a bit!)
I’ve thought about not submitting things ever again and just offering everything on my website for free.
There’s something freeing in the thought of writing for the sake of writing — no distractions and feeling like I have to do something because that’s just the way we do things now. No tension because something doesn’t make as much money as the last thing, or fall short of my hopes for something new.
In those little thought sessions, I’ve gone as far as considering not just putting my stuff out there for free, but releasing all claim to the rights.
“You want to turn that story into a movie and not pay me — fine!”
And I’ve also thought about writing stories just for a select few, or no one at all…just writing something that will sit until I’m gone.
But here’s the thing: I like the effort — at least aspects of the effort.
The Effort of It All
I may not always go the traditional route, but I like the thought of my stories being things people can read if they desire. I really don’t care about “platform” and what sells on formula; I don’t care that blogging/SEO “experts” say, “Keep it under 500 words!” when blogging. (Maybe I lose some people with longer posts, but I’ll take the interaction I have with the regulars, here, over 25,000 hurried people ready to jump when I say so.) With few exceptions, blogs following that formula reek of a certain desperation because if they don’t write daily (or several times a day), no money is made. A large percentage of their content is throwaway content spilling from hurried minds.
Sitting alone for hours with just one’s thoughts and doing the best they can as a writer is an effort that’s more than worth it to me. Maybe that’s the best it will ever get for me; if so, I’m fine with that. I’d rather write the best books I can and share them with a handful of people who appreciate them, than spend almost as much time screaming into the void in the hope of creating my “platform.”
Because really, the best platform is a damn good book! Not something hurried — something that comes from quiet reflection and effort.
There’s a lot of power in silence.
Jan Wristen says
Silence soothes the soul and allows problems to bubble around with solutions until the pairs find each other. I can’t do without silence in my day at some points.
Christopher, if you’re interested in a way to make posting on social networks more effective as advertising and yet take you less time, email me. I just learned about a service in a workshop on marketing.
Christopher Gronlund says
Thank you for the comment, Jan! Since childhood, I’ve been okay with silence. I’d go as far as saying I’ve liked it all my life. While I was a hyper little thing, I was always fine just sitting there with my thoughts, or a clear head. And you’ll get no argument from me that so many times, those problems many people devote so much time to thinking about find a solution if you let your subconscious do its thing. I think many people want a solution “RIGHT NOW!” and rush to what may not be the right solution in an attempt to check it off a list. I’ve always been fine with, “Eh, sometime this week or next, this will work out…”
As far as social networking, I like Twitter and Google+ because I have more of a connection with people into creative things, there. My personal Facebook page keeps me in touch with friends in other places, and I like that, but other than that, it’s not a place I like. I may not be able to send out a tweet and see it turn into sales, but that’s never been my goal with social networking; I just like seeing what people are up to and letting those interested in what I’m up to know what I’m doing. The most satisfying thing for me, though (aside from writing stories, that is), is this blog. There have been times in the past that I felt the urge to put social media and other things before The Juggling Writer…and then I just decided, “I like writing whatever I want, here,” and have enjoyed spending more time with posts here.
I usually block out a good two or three hours a day that’s just “think” time. Not research time, not listen to music and let my mind wander time… just straight thinking. It’s… well, it’s pretty awesome. One’s own brain, properly maintained, is pretty good company. And it kicks in pretty great ideas now and then… so that helps.
Christopher Gronlund says
Shawn: If I’m driving, I get that time to think. If I’m working from home…I guess I get 1-2 hours to just sit in silence or think. A lot of times, I wake up and think about the day’s writing…then get up and write a bit before work. I also think before bed (unless I’m totally sleepy — then I just crash). I know a lot of people who lie awake stressing about things, but I usually just clear my head and stay awake for half an hour or so, or I think about stuff. Usually not writing so much before bed because then I want to get up and, you know, write! 🙂
“One’s own brain, properly maintained, is pretty good company.”
I like that! I’ve always been more than fine with my thoughts. I know people who have to fill every second of their lives with something: checking their phone, television, or just getting out. Now, I’ll admit that there have been times in my life that I’ve been a bit…reclusive. I’m not that bad anymore; I get out and do things instead of just writing. But even at my worst, I still did things and saw people. I can understand the draw to “doing things,” but when one does something just to avoid time alone with the good company of their brain…I feel for people like that.