Monday, November 28, 2016

Yes and No

Friday a friend called to check up on me, since she knew I had been suffering from a stomach virus. It was a short call, to the point. Before she hung up, she said “Tomorrow my guild show starts and Monday I’ll start to be a friend again.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Except for a few hurried phone calls, she has been MIA. It happens every year in the fall. She’s a ceramicist who does stunningly beautiful work. Her guild has a huge show starting the weekend after Thanksgiving. When she starts working on her pieces for the show, she closes herself off and is unavailable. I understand completely and applaud her for her work ethic.

When someone in the business world says they can’t do something because they have to work, no one bats an eye, but when a creative artist says she has to work, a lot of people pat them on the head and say, “Isn’t that cute!” Or they get huffy because the think the artist is being temperamental. One of my writer friends said a woman she had known years ago asked if she was still doing “that little writing hobby.” My gracious friend simply said yes. What she didn’t say is that her “little hobby” makes her a fine living and earns her the adoration of thousands, if not millions, of fans. What I know about her is that when she’s working on book, she disappears.

I used to find it hard to say no to friends when they wanted to hang out. That changed a dozen years ago when I took a workshop with authors Sophie Littlefield and Cornelia Read. All the participants were trying to break into the publishing world. We had practice pitch sessions, listened to agents, were taught reality by San Francisco cops—the works. But what changed my life was Sophie’s impassioned speech at the wrap-up. The upshot of it was, if you want to be published, you have to get serious.

She told us that she had written several books that she could not find a publisher for. At some point she realized that if she wanted to be successful, she had to get serious. That meant saying no to friends. She recounted the reaction of friends when she turned down a chance for a spa day in Napa because she had to work. They couldn’t believe it. How could she turn down something so enticing?

I heard her loud and clear. Within two months I had begun writing the Samuel Craddock series and I was determined to let nothing interfere. My husband and I had invited people to said with us for a week. I told him that things had changed, that I was delighted to have them with us, but that from 6-9 every morning, I’d be staying in our cabin writing. I won’t say I didn’t ruffle the feathers of our friends. One of them huffed that she didn’t know why I invited them, if was going to spend half my day in my cabin (a bit of hyperbole, to be sure). But she got over it when A Killing at Cotton Hill was published.

What I had done was declare that I was serious, that I meant it when I said I was going to be a successful writer. Now when people visit, I have no trouble telling them that I can’t wait to see them, and they should know that I’ll probably be spending a few hours at my desk most days. Here’s the funny part. People love it when you allow them free time on vacation. They are thrilled to have time to read, or go for a walk, or sleep in. I give myself days off when I have guests, but I keep my determination front and center. In a way, I’m inviting friends and family to participate in the crazy writing life I’ve chosen. Happily, I haven’t lost any friends over it.


Holly West said...

I still struggle with this. Part of it is that I just haven't summoned the discipline required for a regular work schedule (and my body of work shows it). Part of it is other people's perceptions--they know I don't have a day job so doesn't that mean I have all the time in the world? But the fault lies mostly with me. If I set boundaries, the people in my life would be fine with that. They have their own business to attend to!

Susan C Shea said...

I'm with Holly in that I know it's the right thing to do, but when family or friends beckon, I weaken. (By the way, it's "ceramist," one of those words that's so often misunderstood!)

RM Greenaway said...

I don't have that problem with friends so much as work. Hope someday I'm able to block off a few hours every day for writing!

Terry Shames said...

My three commentators: Are you ready for some irony? Last month the widower of a very dear friend asked if we could have lunch today or tomorrow. I really wanted to see him and my friends two sons and her grandsons, so of course the answer was yes. I even have to say what happened? My plan was to have lunch, enjoy myself and come home for a few hours of work. Not so fast, sweetie! The family straggled in for "lunch" starting at 1:15, and dribbling in for the next hour. We finally got to "lunch" at 3PM. I happily admit that I was thrilled to spend the next few hours with them. Work? What work? So much for my resolve!

Art Taylor said...

Great post here, Terry. Balancing life and work and all is a tricky business, but much of it can be made easier with perspective and the right attitude--both of which you show here. Much appreciated!

Holly West said...

Terry, you've already proven your resolve through the successful publishing of several excellent books! Sometimes it's necessary to break the rules.

Just not every day. :-)