"Hey, can you take a quick look at this summary I wrote for my book? It will only take a minute."
"Hey, you're good with words. Can you help me with this idea for a story I have?"
"Hey, can you please read my draft and tell me what you think? I so need your feedback!"
"Hey, I want to send you my book for a review, and you can send me your book for a review in exchange. It'll be a good deal for both of us."
"Hey, so how do you self-publish your books? Can you help me?"
"Hey, I'm in town! Let's have coffee!"
This is just a glimpse of the messages I'm getting bombarded with daily, and in my 3 years of writing I have gone through three stages of responses to them.
"Sure! I'd love to help!"
Then later, "I will gladly help you. Only it will take me some time to get back to you, okay?"
Then later still, "I wish I had the time to help you, darling! Unfortunately, I'm already spread thin."
And finally I have arrived at the fourth where I WILL STOP RESPONDING TO REQUESTS ALTOGETHER. Unless it's from someone I know or something that I want to spend my time on.
My time is not a free thing to grab, but it doesn't seem people understand that. Once you're a writer and visible, all kinds of strangers creep up on your doorstep with requests for this and requests for that and if, God forbid, you decline their request they bitch about you being arrogant and if, God forbid, you dare to not respond at all, you're labeled as too fucking full of yourself and too egotistic to stoop to the "simple people" and do them a courtesy of your response that really won't take a minute.
"Can't you fucking spend a minute on me? Who do you think you are??"
I'm a writer and I like to be alone, thank you very much.
My time is all I have. My time is my writing tool. My time is only given me once and is gone by the end of each day and that is how my life slips through my fingers and then it ends and I have to time for you in it, dear stranger, I'm sorry but I'm not sorry. I can't just up and read everything you want me to read and critique it and be your pillow and wash your feet and spoon-feed you vodka and hold your hand 24/7. That doesn't mean I'm selfish or stuck up or mean or hostile or uncivilized or whatever other epithet you want to slap on my face. No. II SIMPLY MEANS I HAVE NO TIME. If you badly want my time, you can pay for it and you will get it.
The thing is, even composing a response to a message takes an effort for a writer. We don't do things lightly. We can't just "shoot a line." We have to think and to compose and to edit and to polish before we send. At least I do. All of it is writing for me. That's easily about 20 minutes gone. I take pride in my work. I even take pride in my emails. THEY ARE WRITING TOO. And when there is no room for them in my head, that's it, there is no room. I can't magically conjure it out of nowhere.
Time runs fast when you write. A thought can consume an entire day. If you have no respect for that, for my time, why should I have respect for your request and bother with an answer? Would you bother? I didn't think so.
And yet...it breaks my heart that I can't help everyone and everywhere. I want to, and I get caught on a hook and then I can't wiggle off it. That is why I'm now practicing the no-answer method. These little things pile up, and my writing suffers because of it. The very thing people come for me for is depleted of my full attention because I'm cutting my time short!
However, my not responding doesn't mean that I don't love you or don't want to help you or am acting like a fucking star or whatever. This method has, in fact, enormous benefits, and I suggest you try it on for yourself, that is, not answering demands that you know will retract from your writing time.
- You don't get involved and so you save time plus your emotions which you can use for writing instead of for empty drama.
- Whoever is bugging you can moan and complain all they want but because they have no response from you, they have no leg to stand on. They can't only invent stories, they have no facts.
- People who do understand why you're protecting your time will come to protect it for you and when they talk to you, they would've done their homework and it will be a pleasure to help them.
- The pressure of having to do shit for other people will be gone and with it the feelings of guilt and fear and apprehension.
- You will bring spontaneity back into your life and with it a burst of creativity. You will have enough time to get bored and think about nothing and it's in those moments that our best ideas strike us.
- You will watch people's problems resolve themselves without your help and learn from it to resolving your own problems but simply letting them sit for a while. It's a valuable skill.
- YOU WILL GET YOUR SANITY BACK. But then you will lose it again while writing, but that is another blog post.
Here is the paradox. The more you focus on your craft, the more stuff people want from you, the more you want to run away from them, the more they demand and demand and demand. Learning how to deal with this pressure is a skill that will eventually help you shoot to the stars. Or not. If you won't develop it, the pressure will break you. That's why writers are such recluses. They choose not to deal with it and like Henry David Thoreau run away to a nice quiet lake and contemplate life in solitude but then secretly have visitors bring them homemade cookies and, well...that's a whole another blog post too.
You choose what you spend your time on. IT'S YOUR LIFE. So next time you get poked to do something that will take you away from your writing, just click DELETE and write on. And if you feel bad about it then poke me, and if I have time in that moment I will drink with you a virtual shot of vodka and cry with you and we will both feel better. Deal? Deal.
Now get back to writing. You've wasted enough time reading this blog post already.