I am happy to host a blogger once again! Please read on for some words from Anthony T. Caplan on balancing a writing life.
The Balancing Act of the Writing Life
One of my earliest memories is my mother calling me over to the sofa where she was reading a Time magazine. She showed me a picture of a fishing boat on the sea and explained that it belonged to a man named Ernest who fished and then wrote stories and was famous for living all over the world and writing about it. “Wouldn’t that be great?” she asked. “No.” I answered. “It would be boring being in that boat all day.”
I couldn’t see it then, but as I got older, the life of a famous writer beckoned wiih greater appeal. I started writing after dropping out of film school in the late 1980s. I was 27 years old and I figured I might not get published right away, but, as opposed to making movies, all you needed was a word processor to find your chops. Boatloads of rejections later, I’m still writing. We’re in the midst of a revolution in the world of books with the decline of mainstream publishers and the rise of e-books and the Internet revolution of self-publishing. The opportunities to find an audience for your work as a writer are greater than ever. I might still be writing, and I might yet make some money at it, but leisure is a concept that is as foreign to me as fishing in a boat off the coast of Cuba.
The roller coaster of life only gets wilder with time. I went to my first funeral this morning for a fellow teacher, murdered in her home by her husband when she asked him for a divorce. We celebrated her life of service and self-less giving, and I felt guilty because I am not as good a teacher as she was. When you’re a writer you live a double life. Your service is your words on the page, and everything else is the nut you pay in order to feed “the compulsion to open your heart” as Edvard Munch put it. During the day I am a competent classroom manager, but nobody sees the midnight oil I burn trying to get the words down and tell a story that makes sense, not only to me, but to some mythical reader whom I don’t even know exists. Nobody can measure the amount of faith, some might call it delusion, that it takes to keep up that level of effort through the years. And it does take years to develop the craft of writing, make no mistake about that.
Nowadays, writers, both traditionally published and independent, must also master the world of publicity and promotion, because it’s one thing to write the work, it’s another thing to convince people to support you with their hard-earned cash.
Self-promotion comes easy to some, not to me. I suspect that’s one of the main reasons I’m a writer, because I am not naturally a vocal, outspoken sort of person. But I was able to overcome that natural introspection in order to become a decent teacher, so I should be able to get the hang of book marketing, right? Maybe. The ins and outs of convincing people to buy books have eluded the pros on Madison Avenue, so it’s not a given that anybody can get it right. I remember an editor at Faber and Faber in London showing me his office with piles of unsold books stacked against the wall. “That’s V.S. Naipaul over there. That’s Edna O’Brien in that corner. We can’t even sell their books. Why should we take a chance on you?” I had no answer for him. But if I’m crazy enough to write, it must mean I believe someone will like my book. The trick is finding those people. It’s an all-consuming task. It might even take a lifetime. Over the years I have learnt to balance my life with my writing. Now, in the interest of connecting with readers, I am learning to balance my writing life and my Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and blogging habits. Someone mentioned Pinterest. I haven’t gone on there, but I’m thinking I should. In the meantime I better check the rice hasn’t burnt.
Anthony Caplan is a writer, teacher and homesteader in northern New England. He is the author of Birdman and French Pond Road, road novels tracing the life of Billy Kagan, and the forthcoming Latitudes – A Story of Coming Home, published June 30, 2012 by Hope Mountain Press.