Happy Medium

Well, a lot has happened since we last talked. To get to the elephant in the room – yes, the novel is still alive, though it is mostly asleep. I poke at it every once in a while to make sure it’s still breathing. More on that another time.

First, I want to tell you about a revelation I had. Last Monday, I went to a Master Class by Robert J. Sawyer, part of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at Lakehead University. It was a small, intimate class of perhaps 30-40 people, and in it Sawyer talked about theme and science fiction – or really, how science fiction does such a good job of handling theme. I’m not sure it was his intent, but after attending I’m convinced it is one of the best genres for doing so. Science fiction, he argues, takes thematic metaphors and allusions, and turns them into literal constructs. Like in Planet of the Apes, where the very real species divides between gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees (and humans) is meant to be an allegory for race relations in the United States during the 1960s. Very thought-provoking, and made me think about how I’m constructing my own (not science fiction) novel.

Anyway, during the Q&A I asked Sawyer about social media – a question I’ve been asking writers lately when I’m at these types of events. Specifically, I saw a show years ago where he stated something to the effect that for every minute he is writing a blog, he is not writing a book. This was of course at the beginning of the “revolution” of writers “engaging” with their readers, and you could tell there was a certain amount of frustration in his voice about the whole thing.

I asked him if he still felt the same way, now that engaging readers is almost expected of authors. He said yes, but clarified (and I’m heavily paraphrasing and internalizing here) that he likes blogging and social media, but it takes time away from his work. He has a finite writing limit – he mentioned four hours per day, but I’m not sure he was just throwing out a number – and blogging takes away from that finite number. After four hours, the well is dry and you have to wait until the next day.

So of course, for a guy that writes for a living during the day (usually more than four hours), I took this to mean that I shouldn’t be writing a novel at all. Or I should find another job – not an appealing thought though. What am I going to do, sell TVs? I think not.

Here’s the revelation – it’s okay to feel overwhelmed with writing a novel. It’s okay to put it aside and say, “Today will not see my best writing, after everything else I’ve written.” Won’t get the novel written any faster, but should alleviate some of the guilt…

Okay, now I’m taking away from work writing AND the novel. Back to work.


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6 Responses to Happy Medium

  1. Heather says:

    Exactly how much time did it require you to post “Happy Medium”?
    It seems to have quite a lot of good advice. Appreciate it
    Heather’s most recent blog post: Heather

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hi Heather/Anton,

      Thanks for stopping by. It took me about 15-20 minutes to write. Glad you liked it.


  2. Hi Graham,
    Interesting post – what comes to mind first for me is that you and Robert J. Sawyer are not the same; that what works for him (and what doesn’t!) is different from what will and won’t work for you. This is coming from my perspective of working with individuals and knowing that because of history, constitutional type, and a bunch of other factors that make up their context, I can’t apply the same principles to each individual.
    Give yourself permission to “try on” different ways of working, within the context of the goals you have set for yourself – you’ll know pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t – your gut, your body, your family will all help to give you that information!
    And keep poking that barely breathing body of a novel – with the right energy it’ll come back to life!!!

    • Graham Strong says:

      lol – thanks Joanne — I intend to keep poking with extreme prejudice!

      I think what struck me most with Sawyer’s reply is that I now had a ready-made excuse. Here’s an acclaimed author of 22 novels giving me permission (though he didn’t likely know it) NOT to write. What a freeing thing that is!

      You’re right of course, every writer seems to be different. I did manage to write the first draft every day after working all day. Somehow though the second and third drafts are different. It takes a lot more brain power to edit and craft than it does to simply throw some words down on the page. Not that I wasn’t “seriously” writing in the first draft phase, but the process is much different. You are writing more from the gut — in fact, part of the trick is to not think about what you’re writing at all.

      Editing though, you have to consider each word in the context of each sentence in the context of each paragraph in the context of each… you get the picture. That’s a lot of threads to hold in you mind at once. I do enjoy doing it, but it take it out of me. (That was another interesting thing Sawyer said — he doesn’t actually like the writing process. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that. Funny, isn’t it?)

      The point of my post I guess was ridding myself of guilt from not working on the novel. I’m hoping too that in getting rid of that guilt, I actually feel a bit lighter about the whole thing, and be more likely to want to put some serious hours in again.


      • Hi again, Graham –

        Sounds like the editing process is one of seeing the forest & the trees at the same time – I can understand how that would take more focus and energy than getting the first draft from your brain onto a hard drive. Interesting that you enjoy the process – and I think that doing anything we enjoy feeds us, gives us energy. And that you absolutely needed to be freed from the guilt associated with not working on the novel.

        I’m continually amazed that what tends to limit us the most in working toward our goals is generally a construct of our own minds!

        Sounds like you’re finding your way with this… hope you can find a way to keep it enjoyable!

        Joanne Hudspith’s most recent blog post: Hello world!

  3. TCWriter says:

    You have to think there’s a happy medium there somewhere (hey, that’d be a great title for a post). Unless they acquired a “brand” before the digital/ebook revolution took hold, today’s authors probably can’t escape the realities of online promotion.

    In truth, I wonder if the “I write for four/two hours a day” folks are still being made; outside a small handful of writers who can sell a lot of books, it seems clear that publishing’s middle class is disappearing.

    What we’re left with are the handful who can write for a couple hours a day, and those who can only do so if they’ve got outside support.

    The rest are left to write and hustle (perhaps even in equal parts) or write around the edges of a day job. In your case, I know how much copy you’ve been slinging lately.

    When I’m writing a lot during the day, I can’t even keep up with my blogs at night. Just not enough left in the tank. Then again, my blogs aren’t that important to me; outlets for stray thoughts.

    I might feel differently if I had novel fever.

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