Saturday, March 25, 2006

Persistence; How Much is Too Much?

If we're trying to publish, persistence is the key. But how much is too much?

I once read an article by a published author (I don't recall his name) who said that during the writing of his first book, his wife left him. He shrugged it off by saying that, "at some point, the novel takes you over, and everything else has to go."

I used to be an entertainer—singing, stand-up, all strictly low-key—and almost all of us in the group I associated with eventually wound up divorced, including myself. It's nice to have ambition and believe you are destined for great things, but how much are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Like all of us, I need to carve time out of my day to satisfy my writing fix. But should I allow my paying job to suffer, risk getting fired, lose my house and my current wife? I like to think I'm doing as much as I can yet still maintain a balance, but I could get my novel finished quicker if I worked in the evenings as well as the mornings, and if I devoted my weekends to studying the markets and writing queries. And, no doubt, I'd find myself alone before too long.

Understanding spouses, partners and friends are essential to the writer, and I suppose you could say that if they don't understand your devotion to writing then you are better off without them. But would you expect the same devotion if you were spending as much time fishing or bowling?

I'm not questioning the need for devotion and persistence, or hinting that my marriage is in trouble (believe me, it is not) I'm just pondering the need for balance. After all, a healthy family/social life is necessary for a writer, unless you want to be the type of writer who writes about writers because they don't know anything else.

Lawrence Block once told a story about a friend of his who thought he might give this writing thing a try. He started a novel and, about three weeks into it, decided it was going pretty well, so he quit his job. Not long after, and not surprisingly, his girlfriend left him. He persisted and turned out a totally horrible book. The second one was awful, too, but the third one was better and the fourth one sold. In the end, he became a successful writer, but at what cost?

These thoughts were prompted by a discussion going on over at Joe's blog about persistence. I think it's certainly a requirement, but I also believe balance is just as important. Otherwise, your success may be hollow, and you may find yourself on top of the mountain all by yourself.

How you do feel about your writing life? Are you willing to take the chance of losing your family, friends or mental health over it?


  1. Mike, I think I'm a first-time commenter here.

    I couldn't agree more with you about the notion of balance being critical for writers. And that balance should go in all directions:

    Just as the writer would hope (and expect) his spouse/significant other and friends to be understanding, the writer himself should be expected to be understanding as well. The sacrifice shouldn't be one-sided.

    I suggest that if a writer asks himself how much persistence is too much, he should also ask himself how much is too little, then make sure he stays in between.

    One point about something you said though:

    But would you expect the same devotion if you were spending as much time fishing or bowling?

    Actually, I would. If it's a hobby that's important to the person, those close to him should be understanding, and he should be understanding when it comes to respecting their hobbies.

    The difference here is that many of us who write hope one day to be published and make a living out of our "hobby," whereas I would imagine that most who bowl or fish aren't doing so with the hope of turning those efforts into anything in the way of careers.

    In any case, for me, I certainly wouldn't risk losing my friends and family to writing. I think that kind of loss would make me resent the writing that took it away, and I can't imagine that my writing would be better for such a sacrifice.

  2. Patrick,

    I really like your idea of deciding "How much is too little?" instead of "How much is too much?" and working up from there.

    Most of us could do with spending more time at the keyboard instead of less.