Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is Writing Selfish?

I recently skipped a family vacation to write.

This made me wonder--am I being selfish?

For a successful, best selling, multi-millionaire writer, this is a no brainer. For a mid-list author, this is a good question, and for an aspiring writer (like me), it is kind of a daunting question.

Having mulled it over a while, I have not found a good answer.

Let me know what you think, and how you balance writing with other parts of your life.

The cost to others

To be successful, I must write often. My strategy is to write every day. In the last year, I have only missed one day. However, these daily writing nuggets are typically small -- 1/2 an hour, an hour, two hours if I get lucky.

About once a week, I get to supplement these nuggets with a larger block of time. I try for 4+ hours, my wife often pushes back trying to limit this to ~2 hours. These large blocks are vital, necessary to work through especially difficult bits and to tie together the accumulated nuggets.

Here are a couple articles that articulate why writers (and other makers) need these big blocks:

A discussion from a writer’s point of view If you hate meetings, and the original article, which is from a programmer’s point of view: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

So what impact do these writing habits have on other people in my life?

I get up early to write. Sometimes I stay up late to write. I do not write during family time. So, the net effect is that I spend less time with my wife in the evening, and give up TV primarily, and sometimes sacrifice sleep or exercise. A small but noticeable impact on others.

The big block time has a larger impact. This time is squeezed out of time typically used for family or social activities, as well household projects and (gag) shopping. If you look at a weekend as having 4 periods: AM/PM, AM/PM, then my weekend only has 3 periods because one is absorbed by writing.

And, as previously mentioned, I use a part of my vacation time to write instead of, well, vacationing.

Add this up, and there is definitely a cost to the other people in my life, especially my wife and children.

The benefit to others

But what do they get in return, and is this a fair value?

So far, not much. Writing makes me happy, relaxed, and agreeable, but I have not made much money, nor do have anything published that would impress a non-writer (so my wife doesn’t get to brag at dinner parties...yet).

When I have more published, there will be three benefits for other people in my life: a bump in income, status/recognition, and the one I think is most important: a life lesson that dreams can be achieved with persistence and hard work. This last is an important lesson for my children, as I hope to inspire them to take charge of their lives and live their dreams.

There is also a benefit to the readers, the consumers of my writing. Entertainment at least, but hopefully more than that. I try to pose challenging questions, try to offer some insights on life, and try to offer a message of hope...but it will be a while before enough of my writing is out there for this to be assessed, and as the producer I am not the one who will judge this value.

So, I am undecided. My writing has a cost incurred by the people around me, very little benefit to them so far, but it has the potential to reward them for putting up with it for so long. Is writing selfish? I don’t know.

What do you think?


gruchall said...

On verge of completing my own multi-year project, which has been all-consuming at times, my best advice to recognize that your writing cannot exist in vacuum. You have this entire support system that is making the work possible, and you should recognize the work as being as much theirs as it is yours.

In other words, you are not the only one making sacrifices to complete this work. Celebrate the completion of the book as the family's achievement, not as your own. Let your family and your inner circle of support bask in their achievement -- viewing this solely as your work certainly would be selfish.

gruchall said...

Ugh, where is a copy editor when you need one.

"On the verge... in a vacuum..."

Mark said...

Well said. Well enough I echoed it on facebook (hope you don't mind).