ROW Check-In 8: Elizabeth May on Writerly Misconceptions

Hello gentle reader,

so I had a tough week. I was jet-lagged and I was having doubts about this whole “let’s get my book published” thing. So I didn’t write. Instead, I read great books and decided to postpone my writing until next week. And I found a post by debut author Elizabeth May. She posted it her blog on November 22d, 2011. Since then she has sold her YA steampunk novel THE FALCONER and it will be released in May 2013.

Here is her post:

Writerly Misconceptions: YES, YES, YOU DO WORK

Basically, I’ve come to understand that aside from the other things I have to do (that dissertation to finish, that photography business to run, that teaching anthropology thing I do), I have to write sometime.

Have to.  Because, while it might have been a hobby before, writing is now one of my jobs.  I have a trilogy to plan.  A sequel I should probably be writing as I type up this blog…  I am doing things!  Important things!  My heroine is a mess and I have to FIX HER.

So when I take a day and sit on my ass in front of the computer for hours, that’s not me being lazy.  That’s me bringing home the bacon.

The other day I asked Mr. May to do some task that I really can’t recall right now because I’m only on my third cup of coffee.

His response?  ”Wait, weren’t you home all day?”

Subtext?  ”You totally could have done this thing because while I was out working, you were sitting at home.”

It’s a totally innocent comment.  He’s right.  I was home all day.  I made two pots of coffee, clicked around on mah laptop, answered a few business e-mails, worked a bit on my dissertation write up that my supervisor is demanding — and oh yeah! I wrote some of that sequel.

Now, before anyone judges Mr. May (remember that I love him and he is not a writer), he totally didn’t mean this to sound dismissive of my work.  He is voicing a very common misconception about writers.  That writing a book is easy work* and that because most of us work from home, we are ”lucky” not to have to “go to work.”

Basically, that we are less busy because writing is dependent upon the rules and hours authors set for themselves.  If we all had offices away from the home, perhaps this misconception wouldn’t exist.  But because we prefer comfortable spaces (homes or coffee shops or cafes, or my favourite place of all, the couch) it’s perceived as, essentially, laziness.  Because I could be cleaning instead of typing.  I could be doing something active.  I could be going out to run errands.  Instead, I’m being sedentary.**  Some people believe writing is not a “real job” for all of these reasons.

Because this is my significant other, I had to set this straight.  I said, “Assume that whenever I’m staying home for the day, it is my designated ‘work on book’ day. It is not my ‘clean ALL THE THINGS’ day.”

And maybe, if I finish a chapter and feel like cleaning, I will clean.  But not before!

Mr. May, of course, apologized.  Because when people make comments like this, they don’t generally realize they’re speaking from this socially engrained idea that “work” equals “being active,” or that a “real job” requires “leaving the nest, staying out from 9-5.”***

So I’m clarifying this right here, right now.  Writing is work.  Writing is a job.  Writing is not for lazy people.  We don’t write because it’s easy.  That is not why we sit in front of a laptop or a blank sheet of paper for hours.  That is not why we spend years writing practice books that no one will ever read.  That is not why we spend all that time querying and getting rejections.  And that is certainly not why we write book after book.

Because we’re lazy?  No.  It’s because we’re compelled to.  It’s in our nature.  That is the only explanation for spending years writing unpublishable, crappy manuscripts to get to that point where our work is good enough to put out into the world.

So if you’ll excuse me, I will continue to sit on my couch and work.  Because this is how books are made.”


* Has anyone heard this? “I could write a book if I wanted!”

**  I’m being sedentary because I’m writing a damn book.

*** I’ve also heard the phrase used in reference to “non-career-like jobs” — the conceptualization of “real jobs” is limited to a few vocations, and let’s face it, it’s a shitty thing to tell anyone.  Right along the lines of “write a ‘real’ book” or “read a ‘real’ book.

How are you other fellow ROWers doing? You can visit them here.

10 thoughts on “ROW Check-In 8: Elizabeth May on Writerly Misconceptions

  1. Mike Paulson says:

    I have to sometimes remind myself that writing is work, and I am a writer. There are days, like today, that the words flow like water from my fingertips, and I’ve written 1200 words before I even know what’s going on. There are other days, though, that it’s a struggle to even sit in front of the computer, much less force myself to type that which doesn’t want to be typed.

    My wife is supportive to a point on writing. NaNoWriMo last November was pushing the limits of her supportiveness as I came home from my “real job” and spent the majority of my evenings writing instead of engaging with my family. Otherwise, she understands the deep passion I have for my writing, and that, someday, I must just earn a small paycheck from it.

    Don’t let anyone get you down… writing is work, and if we’re lucky, it’s work that we just can’t wait to do. Good luck on RoW in the coming week!

  2. Thanks for sharing this post! I wouldn’t have come across it otherwise.

    I’m not published yet, but I can already tell this kind of thing can be tricky to negotiate with the people close to you. You can’t go on autopilot and think about being a writer like you think about any other job.

  3. Juliana Haygert says:

    Oh, that post is so for me. I’m a writer “full-time” … and that is in between quotes because of what she said: you’re home and there are tons of things that need to be done and when hubby gets home from his work, he asks “didn’t you do this why?” … I know he doesn’t mean it in a bad way, or, like Elizabeth said, to bellitle my writing job, but we’re home and that’s easy enough right? So wrong …
    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  4. She really hit the nail on the head. Writing is hard work. Parts of it are thrilling, but there are a lot of just get ‘er done parts, too.

    I wish it wasn’t such a sedentary process, because it certainly isn’t good for our bodies. I try to be active for parts of the process. I’m going to post on that soon; incorporating part of your world-building and plot work into “complementary activities” that don’t take up all your brainpower, like cleaning, cooking, gardening, walking. There’s a certain state of partial focus where I make my best connections, as I’m doing something else with most of my brain.

  5. I get this from my fiance all the time! He doesn’t mean it in a bad way. He just doesn’t get what keeping up a blog, writing, taking care of a kid, and going to school full-time entails. So I remind him 🙂

    I go to an actual campus only one or two days a week so he likes to say I have five or six days off. Then I remind him how long it takes to feed a child, change diapers, etc Then take my own lunch, work on schoolwork, THEN write and the blog.

    Yes, writing is real work. I treat it that way. I’m up by 9 and ready to work. I take my lunch and end the day at 7 and sometimes work on the weekends as well.

    • EM Castellan says:

      Wow, you’re busy! I hadn’t realized you were still going to school full-time… that’s pretty amazing what you manage to do in a week! Have a great writing week 🙂

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