6 Musings on Writing

January 2016January and a new year. A time for reflecting, for planning, and in my case, a time to think about writing. Last year’s overarching goals were: (1) Novels that are recognized as excellent quality and read by many people, and (2) Become known for analysis and insights on historical fiction.

Musing #1 is taken from Lorin Stein’s recent article in The New York Times Book Review titled Words Unwired. Stein, editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, wrote: “Over these last few years all of us, readers and writers alike, have developed a growing appreciation for what the Internet wants to take away: our time alone with the written word.” To that I would add, our time alone to think and to be, plus our time with others to work, play and converse.

While some of my online time centres on productive, writing oriented activities like research, blogging, and those lovely surveys I do, I probably spend one or two hours a day checking emails, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Even one hour a day represents 365 hours or 15 whole days.

Musing #2are my two overarching goals compatible? A Writer of History with its emphasis on analyzing survey data, conducting interviews, and developing insights is a time intensive activity. I do at least two posts a week, most requiring two to four hours of effort and I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I’ve spent surveying readers and presenting the information in digestible chunks. The good news: blog readership continues to increase and the historical fiction community is definitely appreciative. Maybe I’ll eventually reach the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell refers to in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

But hang on a moment, aren’t I supposed to be writing novels? They’re the spark that defines me, excites me, keeps me awake at night. Shouldn’t I spend those hours – more than two years of effort assuming a twelve hour day – on my next novel?

Musing #3no one cares more about my writing than I do. While family and friends encourage and celebrate, only I can decide to devote the necessary time, creativity and angst to write each novel.

Musing #4writing is hard. At the moment I’m conducting research into late 19th century France for a new novel. The research part is easy in one sense. It takes time, of course, but the essence of the task is reading enough materials to gathering the necessary facts. Defining a story requires imagination and elusive elements of serendipity. You can’t command such elements at will or find them in a repository. And I’m daunted by the fact that this next story has not yet emerged and depressed by the possibility that it might never take shape.

Musing #5planning and priorities are critical. Without a plan, I don’t know where I’m going. Without priorities, I have little sense of the tradeoffs I’m making.

Musing #6each year marks a new beginning. I can decide to shed some of the behaviours and habits that intruded on 2015 and make a fresh start. I know how to do that and I know it always makes me feel energized, ready to tackle the world.

All I need to do first is check Facebook 🙂

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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14 Responses

  1. Ditto #3 & #4. These are at the top of my musing list this year. I rather expected you to come to a conclusion that perhaps your plate is too full? Good luck with your many ventures, Mary. You do them all well, so perhaps your plate is filled just right.

    1. Hi Carol – my conclusion centres around time allocation. I’ve made a commitment to myself to dedicate 75% of my time to writing and 25% to things like the blog and social media. Hopefully that will help! And there will be NO SURVEY this year 🙂 Thanks for your support!!

  2. Charles Handy wrote extensively about “Portfolio Living” which seemed a good idea to me 10 to 15 years ago until the portfolio grew too large with all those tasks which were supposed to take up half a day a week actually taking double or triple the expected time because I always wanted to do a good job. I am now facing being over whelmed with reading, writing, home administration and maintenance through age and health issues. Perhaps a skip, downsizing and minimalist living are answers. I hope you find a way of working smarter to carry on what you do on this site.

  3. “Hard work, yes.” Had a meltdown 🙂 earlier today and your comments helped me get over myself. Thanks! It IS hard, but then, there is courage and perseverance to think about, too.

  4. Too true. I can’t read a novel right now, much less write one. When I can get back to it I will have similar questions. I have four blogs – all with different purposes but much cross posting, so not as bad as it sounds – but all currently on ice. Day (and night!) job out of town, older parents and in-laws at home requiring mad dashes down there, tax forms, health forms, husband overwhelmed with his day job, overseeing the parents, and 2 major home reconstructions in order to take care of everyone in the short and long term. I work, commute and try to get 7 hours of sleep.

    So many voices saying we must do this and this and this in order to succeed at writing. How? When do we do the real writing? Hard choices. And yet, you know I appreciate what you are doing here!

    1. Wow, Lausanne. Sounds like you have way too much on your plate. I hope things will ease in 2016. And you’re right about the ‘must do’ and ‘should do’ weights we work under, some years heavier than others. Many thanks for the words of appreciation. I plan to carry on with A Writer of History – hopefully with a little more productivity this year 🙂

  5. Thanks for this post. I appreciate hearing how other writers take stock of things and plan for a new year. Your musing on how to guard your time alone with the written word (and other precious time) against the time-suck of social media/Internet use, really hit home for me. It’s a constant battle. I’m in the home stretch of finishing my first historical novel, and will be publishing it independently. It’s tricky to balance the need to revise and edit and make the novel the best it can be with all the tasks required of publishing and marketing. Your list of musings reminds me how helpful it is to make lists, and just check tasks off one at a time. It’s all possible.

    1. I know where you are, Amy. And great congrats for getting to this stage. So much fun ahead of you as readers begin to respond to your book. Let me know what you’re writing about. I’m always open to guest posts 🙂

      1. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement, Mary! I truly appreciate it. My book, The Girl From Oto, is a historical thriller with a contemporary twist, set in the medieval Pyrenees. It’s due for release in May. I will definitely keep in touch about writing a guest post — I would love to do that one of these days.

  6. Oh Mary, this really hit home for me. I am angst-ing about the same things. Marketing stuff has overwhelmed me. I want off the merry go round, but am assured I do so at my peril as a writer. 🙁 Thanks for at least making me feel not so alone. TK TKThorne.com


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