July 6th, 2018

Things writers do that aren’t writing

There are so many things to do with a writing career…besides write! People who think that the writing life is just me and my magic words are sadly mistaken, so I have listed out all the writing-ancillary activities below. And all this is in addition to the stuff that is a huge percentage of my life but has nothing to do with writing–eating and sleeping, being a wife and a daughter, a sister and friend, my entire other career, ballet class. This list below is the stuff that being a professional writer–someone who publishes sometimes and occasionally earns money–entails. I’ve tried to note the parts that are optional in case a young aspiring writer reads this and thinks, but I don’t want to do X. Anyway, here’s the list.

  1. Reading. This is a huge amount of my time and fits into a few categories: I read new Canadian fiction so I know what exciting stuff my contemporaries are up to and to be inspired and challenged, I read all other genres and nations for the same reason though I’m less able to keep up on the whole world. Both of those are also to keep learning and growing as a writer and human but mainly in a non-specific–I don’t know where I’m going but I like the journey–way. I also read non-fiction and very specific fiction as research for whatever is going on my own book. I try to always read stuff I enjoy, but the third category doesn’t quite make it 100% of the time. Depending on what you write, you might not have to do the third category but the first two are pretty non-optional.
  2. I do other sorts of research. When the book research in #1 doesn’t quite cut it, I have been known to actually leave the house. I don’t do a huge amount of this–and again depending on what you write you might not have to do any–but in my time I have conducted interviews, travelled on strange bus routes and investigated specific neighbourhoods and even other cities. My books thus far haven’t needed extensive out-of-the-house research, but the new one will need more. I’m feeling a bit daunted, but excited to.
  3. Parties! For anyone who doesn’t like this sort thing, I could do less; for anyone who loves it, I could do more. I’d say I go to 1-2 really big fancy parties a year, either thrown by my publisher or a big arts organization, and perhaps half a dozen smaller affairs. Very occasionally, it would be rude not to show, like if I’m being honoured for an award nomination, but often I’m just part of a mailing list and it’s very easy to say no thank you. But they are good opportunities to see people who I wouldn’t be comfortable, say, inviting to coffee, and there’s often nice food and drink. Also, I like parties. Your mileage may vary.
  4. Paperwork. A tonne, and actually less than many writers because my main income is from my full-time job and most of the paperwork is somehow money-related. “Writing income” is not a single salary, as crazy people believe it is. It is actually a million little gigs and income streams, all of which require paperwork. Every freelance gig requires an invoice and so do some speaking engagements; sometimes you have to give folks your Social Insurance Number and other info before they can pay you and sometimes not, grants require a tonne of paperwork to apply for and more if you get them (but are so worth it). Needless to say taxes are very complicated with all these tiny bits of income. Also, when dealing with all these small arts organizations, sometimes they get it wrong, and it takes a while and a bunch of following up to be corrected.
  5. Chasing money. Related to #4–and again, I do this less than most because of the full-time job thing. I follow up on past-due money on a rigorous cycle, but it takes time and emotional energy, especially when people get snippy with me (I like to think it is out of guilt but who knows). There is no rhyme or reason when someone who has promised to pay me for writing work will flake. Big organizations are bad at being able to onboard small vendors–some of the biggest have stiffed me for months–and small orgs can legit be short of cash or just disorganized. Don’t get me started on the days when I still had an HST number and someone told me they “didn’t have a budget for taxes” so I had to pay their share.
  6. Readings and other presentations–on-stage. I love doing readings, panel discussions, and other on-stage events–I’m also including guest lectures and other one-off teaching experiences like workshops, as I don’t normally teach on an ongoing basis. It’ssuch a great pleasure to be able share the work I care about and hear what others care about and think! But it takes a lot of preparation, energy, and also travel time. This sort of thing is often a big part of the publicity around publishing a book, and while I could do less, I don’t think I could do none–well, I could, but it wouldn’t be great for either me or my publisher. It’s worth the focus and energy this stuff takes, even if one isn’t naturally extroverted (FWIW, I’m slightly but not extremely extroverted–I still find being on a stage joyful but draining).
  7. Readings and other presentations–in the audience. I also really enjoy being in the audience for readings and panel discussions about literature, though with all of the other things listed here, I do less than I would like. I wouldn’t say this item is necessary but it’s what they call “good literary citizenship” to go out and support the writers and events and venues that intrigue us. Of course there are other ways to do that if going to events just isn’t your jam–like buying and reading books!
  8. Answering reader email. Obviously, a lot of the above include email in one way or another, but these emails are just from strangers or near strangers–people who no reason to write me other than they read my book. This is a tiny tiny item on my chore list but one of my faves. Sometimes folks just write me a little note and say, “I read your book and I liked it.” Those are quick to answer–I just say thank you!–but nothing less than joyful. Occasionally one of my books or stories is assigned in a class somewhere and some enterprising students might email me for extra insight. I shouldn’t help them much, I suppose, but it’s all so charming, I can’t help it. Very rarely, someone writes me to say they hate my book. It it’s just a screed, I don’t respond, but even not responding takes up some time and space in my day.
  9. This blog and other forms of social media. As I have said many times in the past, my participation in social media is mainly for my own enjoyment but there is a professional tinge to some of it. If you were looking to skip something from this list, definitely #9 is a good candidate.
  10. Favours! There’s not enough money in literature, so we do favours for each other a lot. Whether it’s reading a friend’s manuscript to offer feedback, talking up an acquaintance’s book around town because it’s brilliant but not getting enough attention, providing blurbs, talking to students about what lies ahead, etc. Each individual favour is optional–I try to put my own work, family, and health first–I think doing no favours for anyone ever would be a bad way of doing things. This industry is just too challenging if we don’t help each other out from time to time, especially those of us who have been lucky enough to meet with some success helping those who are just starting. I’ve been a recipient of many favours in my time, and while sometimes I pay those individuals back, if they don’t need it I just pay the universe back.

I suppose everything I’ve listed here is technically optional except #4 (CRA will be mad about a lot of that paperwork) and probably for most people #5 (money is necessary for food). This is just how I’ve constructed my literary life and others will do it differently.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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