The Pressure to Write: You Do You
An article has been making the rounds recently with an interview of author Danielle Steel, and my friend Sieran Lane asked me what I thought of it. As the headline points out, she’s written 179 books, about 7 novels (not short stories, but novels) a year…which is obviously a lot.
Stories (and especially numbers) like that can make us doubt ourselves. We might feel like we’re not doing enough or are failing to act like a “real” author.
But we have enough other issues causing our self-doubt or impostor syndrome feelings that we shouldn’t have to worry about measuring up to impossible standards too. So let’s make it clear: When it comes to our writing schedule? You do you. *smile*
What’s a “Real” Writer?
All we have to do to be a writer is write. It doesn’t matter if we write one story or a hundred. If we’re putting words to a (virtual) page, we qualify for the term writer.
Ever feel the pressure to write *more* and prove you're a “real” writer? Click To TweetIf we want to be fancy with our usage of the word author, we’d likely get everyone to agree that we qualify if we’ve published. It doesn’t matter if we released our book through a big publisher, small publisher, or self-published. Heck, I started calling myself an author once I started publishing this blog—I’m the author of all those posts, after all.
And guess what? There aren’t any police ready to give us a ticket for using the words either. *grin* So there’s no reason to think that we need to measure up to those kinds of numbers to prove that we’re serious enough about our work to “deserve” the title.
But…Shouldn’t We Try to Learn from That Kind of Success?
Success means something different to everyone, and the path to that success is going to be different for each of us. In addition, some claims of success aren’t always what they appear.
In some cases, authors with lots of releases brag of their extreme productivity (sometimes even selling books or workshops about how to be like them), and the truth is that they use ghostwriters.
As we’ve talked about here before, there’s nothing wrong with using ghostwriters. But anyone using ghostwriters while claiming their method of being efficient or productive is the answer to their writing output—especially if they try to sell their “secrets”—is really just being fraudulent and manipulative.
We don’t want to get in the habit of measuring ourselves against others, as their success might not be what it seems. And while we often can take lessons from others, not every lesson is about trying to emulate someone as a virtual mentor. Sometimes we learn what doesn’t work for us or isn’t a good match for our life.
What Are Our Priorities?
In addition to our different definitions of success, we all have different life situations and priorities. Some of us want more life balance than others. Some of us work multiple jobs or have other responsibilities. Etc., etc.
If our choices work for us, they’re not wrong. *smile*
Danielle Steel’s Choices Aren’t for Everyone
In Danielle Steel’s case, the answer to the question of how she gets so much done is that she writes All. The. Time.
That might sound great and dedicated until we hear the details:
- She writes 20-22 hours a day, sometimes more.
- She sleeps 4 hours a day…on a good night.
- She doesn’t have time to read and rarely “has fun.”
Obviously, her idea of work/life balance—or the lack of any—isn’t for everyone (or most). Contrary to her attitude in her interview that life quality isn’t important until we’re retirement age, many people don’t want to wait, and that doesn’t make us lazy or spoiled.
Personally, I’ve learned that chronic health issues can strike at any age, and I’ve known far too many people who die before ever experiencing the joys of retirement. But if her approach works for her, that’s what matters.
Neither Are J. Michael Straczynski’s Choices
Another writer without much work/life balance is screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (known for Babylon 5, Thor, and Sense8):
I get up, stagger into my home office, switch on the computer, and unless I have to leave for meetings or business dinners, that’s where I stay…12-16 hours a day, every day…sometimes average 5 pages per hour depending on the breaks. https://t.co/1J6cvgK9VI
— J. Michael Straczynski (@straczynski) May 13, 2019
Those exceptions stopped being exceptions many many moons ago. https://t.co/lf3E3MfvCR
— J. Michael Straczynski (@straczynski) May 13, 2019
I’ve been trying to remember, but if we’re defining a vacation in terms of going more than two straight days without writing, it was somewhere in the mid-90s. https://t.co/h7z5UZ4pME
— J. Michael Straczynski (@straczynski) May 14, 2019
In his case, he’ll admit to being a homebody, especially as a visual depth perception issue prevents him from driving, even though he lives in one of the most car-centered places in the country. Again, if it works for him, that’s what matters.
What Works for Us?
We have allow ourselves the same leeway and not measure our productivity against others’ choices or lives. If how we prioritize our writing and work/life balance works for us, that’s what matters.
How we prioritize writing is up to us and shouldn't be measured against others' choices Click To TweetWe’re not weak for making choices that are healthy for us and our lives. And we shouldn’t judge our ability to match other’s lives when their choices are likely impossible for us, given how much we all have unique situations.
In my case, I’m simply a slow writer. No matter how many hours I put into my writing, I wouldn’t reach the word count numbers of others. Maybe not even with Hermione’s Time Turner device.
We can certainly keep an eye open for insights or advice that does apply to our situation, but for the rest that doesn’t make sense for us? Don’t worry. You do you. *grin*
Did you see the interview with Danielle Steel earlier? What was your impression of her approach to writing? Have you ever felt like a failure for having different priorities after reading articles like that? Do you know and understand your priorities? Are you able to see how we all need to find our own path?Pin It
Thank you so much for this! I think sometimes we feel like we are in a race with other authors when there is honestly no need to compete. It reminds me of something I read a long time ago about training horses for steeplechase. One thing that they often have to train horses to do is *not* jump when another horse near them does, but to trust their jockey and jump at the right time so as to clear the hurdle. Again, writing is not a race or competition but I think sometimes we tend to read articles like these and get trapped into thinking we have to ‘jump’ at the same time as other authors. Instead, we need to trust ourselves and our personal methods of getting words on the page.
Thank you again ^^
ps. I don’t envy Steele at all, in fact, I pity her. I love to write but I also enjoy living life and nothing is promised us, not even tomorrow, so why deny ourselves the joy of living? ^_^
Thanks for this Jami! Just the right blog at just the right moment. I read the Danielle Steel article and felt, exactly as you said, inadequate. I don’t have that kind of drive, but then again, I like reading and spending time with my kids and fun. So I guess it’s great that she can do that, but it’s not for me.
Not related, but I’ve been reading your blog for years and years now and it’s still wonderful. Thank you for all your hard work.
I’m almost 65 and one thing I have learned – tomorrow is promised to no one. I would love to be able to write for hours at a time – but there are a lot of other things I’d love to do for hours at a time as well. I don’t let anyone make me feel guilty for not doing “A” because I felt like doing “B” instead. My life, my time. Unless it’s something that HAS to be done (like sitting down and paying the bills), I do what’s highest on my priority list. Life is so much better that way.
I’m sorry, writing (or any kind of work) 20-22 hours a day is nuts!! That is neither mentally nor physically healthy. If that’s what Danielle Steele wants to do with her life, so be it, but I sure as heck am not going to aspire to be like her!!
I write and do tasks related to my book business about 10 hours most days, and even that seems a bit excessive to me. I’m hoping to cut that down later this year, once I get certain projects done.
I’m kind of in the middle of the road in terms of production, neither a very slow nor super fast writer. My goal is to put out 3-4 stories per year (one or two of them are usually novellas).
My family’s unofficial motto is “Quality Not Quantity”. (We’re short.) I remind myself of it every time I feel inadequate about my productivity.
There may be people who can produce multiple quality books in a year, but I am not one of them. I’d rather publish one good book every couple of years than two, four, six or more potboilers per annum.
Plus, if I slept as little as Danielle Steel I’d have descended into psychosis by now. I’m more of a nine-hours-and-then-a-cuppa-sitting-up-in-bed kind of person.
Hey Jami, I’m happy to see you write about this very important topic! Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my life priorities. There are some people with a very harsh (and unrealistic) view of life, where they think that if you’re not writing right now, it means that writing is not your top priority. In reality, we don’t have to be writing 24/7. And even if I write less often than someone else does, it doesn’t mean I’m less serious or less dedicated than they are. We just have different life circumstances and personal goals. Consider the following analogy: Imagine two parents who have young children. One parent spends most of their time with their kids, and is in fact a stay-at-home parent. Another parent spends only a minority of their time with their kids, as they work long hours just to feed their family. Does this mean that the latter parent loves their children less than the former parent does? I would argue no, their life situations are just different. I’ve been pondering deeply about what exactly I want out of life. My current conclusion is that even though I adore writing, I don’t want it to take over my whole life. I also want plenty of time to take care of my health, build my friendships, make new friends (I enjoy meeting new people), develop connections within the LGBTQ community (as I’m very passionate about my community), become a wonderful psychotherapist, among other things. I’ve gotten very into Pokemon Go… — Read More »
Wonderful blog post, Jami!
I find myself falling into the trap of comparing my work output with others. Having chronic health issues and being slow as well, the challenge is ever-shifting on how much my body will allow me to do. I’m adjusting my diet and my puppy is helping with exercise. Some days the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia win, other times I manage positive forward progress on projects and I’m grateful.
Stressing about my slow progress made things worse. I’m learning Sarra Cannon’s 90 Day Method to what it can do to help me stay focused. If all of her methods work, fabulous; if not, I’ll use what does and continue on my way finding the ways that work for me.
Having positive thoughts is something I’m really focussing on this year. My words for this year are abundance and gratefulness for my writing and my life.
I love your blog posts and read them as often as I can. I always learn something and appreciate the time and effort it takes to write informative blog posts.
Hugs, Tambra Nicole
I don’t think Steele meant to say she works 20 – 22 hours a day for a particular reason, in one of her blogs she writes how she wants to get the stories done because she feels the stories need to be written.
Steele takes almost three months vacation during the summer in which she doesn’t write. This equates to roughly 90 days x 22 hours = 1980 hours or 247 ‘normal’ work days. I think a regular entrepreneur also works a lot of hours and then enjoys vacations. I think that is a pretty good balance.
Myself, I have a job (finance) and write during the day and type my notes out in the evening. Like Steele, I have most of my inspiration while I’m writing and I love it, the zone, the flow, my world. And I could probably do that for quite a few hours a day as well if only my children…, and my house… and my spouse… sigh.
Seriously, how does anyone get by on four hours of sleep and no exercise or social contact?
I can only do what I can do and I have devoted myself to writing for a few years but concentrated on getting good quality books produced. I’m currently in the middle of a degree and that leaves no time for writing. But I can stock up ideas – just make sure to note them down. Who knows, maybe I’ll get time to write over summer as well as clearing up the accumulation of other tasks that arose during the college year.
What a cool article. I know several writers who produce a lot of work, and it’s inspiring. I went and read her biography and I’m bowled away. She has nine children. I say all power to her and others like her. She has definitely found her niche, and I hazard to say, she’s already found her joy, so she doesn’t need to retire. I feel the same way with my writing. It’s not a job or a chore that I wish to retire from. It’s what I do, and I love getting up every morning and spending time with my characters. But I have other stuff that gets in the way and I do love reading other people’s books [which I do while exercising]. The most important thing is she is spending her time exactly how she wants, and I think she’s happy with her beloved typewriters. They’ve certainly stayed with her longer than all of her husbands!
“We’re not weak for making choices that are healthy for us and our lives….” – brave true words – thank u, Jami 🙂
Great post, and hopefully one writers new and old will find when in need of a boost. As creative people (especially writers!) it’s always a bad idea to compare ourselves to others, whether measuring word count, style, sales, whatever. I also think it’s a bad idea for artists to narrow their world to their art…read too many Danielle Steel books & you begin to see the danger in that. Life balance means, as you say, something different for everyone, but the keyword is balance. Thank you for pointing this out, and for reminding us all to make conscious choices about what we’re doing. That includes getting up and walking away from the computer long enough to pet the cat/dog or go out & play with the kids.