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Are the Demands on the Modern Writer Growing Unbearable?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Whenever I bring up the possibility of adding in more social media (like Pinterest) or increasing our writing production (like the last post: Can Writers Earn a Living Writing Just One Book a Year),  inevitably some friends will say, “How in the world can I possibly add one more thing to my already crowded calendar?”

I can relate. My writing schedule and my life are jam-packed. I really don’t have time to add a new social media or write a novella between books.

The truth is, a LOT is expected of the modern author. In the New York Times article I mentioned in my last post, Jennifer Enderlin, the associate publisher of St. Martin’s Paperbacks said: “I almost feel sorry for authors these days with how much publishers are asking of them.

Sometimes I compare what’s happening to the modern author to what happened to musicians in Venice in the 1600’s, during a time when people wanted to hear first performances only.

Music was performed at all kinds of celebrations including elections, weddings, anniversaries, and births. If a musician played something he’d already performed somewhere else, then he’d lose his popularity. That meant musicians had to be constantly writing new material. The shelf life of any one musical piece was very short.

Antonio Vivaldi became a well-known musician during this era. He lived for approximately sixty years and wrote 48 operas, 78 sonatas, 100 arias, 2 oratorios, and 456 concertos. Lest you think these are easy to compose, then you really need to listen to The Four Seasons (a set of 4 violin concertos). Classical music is amazingly complex.

Surprisingly, Vivaldi also worked for forty years at a girls’ conservatory as a teacher and orchestra director. He did his composing on the side. He couldn’t give up his day job.

Now if we were to add up Vivaldi’s compositions we’d reach a total of 684. If we were to divide that number over forty years of working, that meant he wrote at least 17 different works a year.

17 different works per year.

Again, if you’ve never listened to a piece of classical music, you really need to. In fact, here's a performance by David Garrett. Take a minute to watch his rendition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons - Summer.



Beautiful, isn't it? Classical music is incredibly complex, involving numerous instruments and movements. Creating 17 compositions a year is no easy feat.

But the target audiences demanded it of their musicians. They wanted new, fresh, wow-me music. Every. Single. Time.

The musicians were constantly working. They had to stretch the limits of their creativity all the time. They were juggling multiple responsibilities. And they were under incredible pressure to perform.

Does that sound just a tad bit familiar?

To me, it sounds eerily like the modern author. More and more demands are being placed on the author’s desk, including participating in social media, doing a large bulk of our own marketing, networking with other authors, always trying to keep up with the to-be-read pile, writing our novels, and then even more writing in the form of novellas or short stories.

Just like the 17th century musicians, writers today are pushing themselves to produce more in order to keep up with what everyone else is doing (and to be able to make a living at writing). Writers are constantly looking for ways to increase our output while multi-tasking with marketing and other demands.

In this modern age of high demand for struggling artists, I see writers taking two extremes. In the quest to keep up, we can take the extreme of trying to do it all. Or we can take the other extreme and decide we can’t keep up, so why bother doing anything.

I’d personally like to try to land somewhere in the middle, where I’m courageous and willing to try new things, but also wise in how I use both my time and my talents.

Here are a couple of Pinterest Pins I really like that serve as guardrails for keeping me in the middle:

“Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.  (And Antonio Vivaldi!)

“It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius

My summary: We all have limited time. So we need to stop making excuses. Use our time wisely. And keep moving forward. Maybe some of us will sprint and others crawl. But if we’re being diligent with the talents and time we’re given, that’s what matters.

What about you? Do you think the demands on modern authors are increasing? Are we being pushed beyond what we can bear? Are you trying to do it all and increasing your output? Have you felt like giving up because you can’t keep up? Or are you falling in the middle?

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37 comments:

  1. I think demands are definitely increasing. One of the things I sometimes ponder, is if I ever get so blessed as to make it all the way to committee, how on earth I will convince them that I will be able to contribute just as much marketing wise, not living in the USA, as a US based author.

    Blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc, thank goodness, all cross borders but I'm pretty sure my advance won't be big enough to fly myself to the States and send myself on a Barnes & Noble tour :(

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  2. Kara, Fortunately you won't need to worry about doing a Barnes & Noble tour. The days of book signings/tours are pretty much over. Yes, I think many authors have a launch party with friends and family. But beyond that book signings are not what they used to be (more on that in a future post!). Anyway, the bulk of what authors can do to help with marketing can be done from the comfort of home: skyping with book groups, sending out postcards/emails, hosting online contests, FB advertising, etc., etc., etc. Hope that eases your mind!

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  3. I am a self-published author and while I've never wanted to chuck my writing - I've certainly wanted to chuck the marketing. I don't know how people do it or afford it, both time-wise and money-wise. I may be doomed to obscurity!

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  4. Ahhh, Vivaldi was brilliant!! SO is that violinist. I wonder if he's single, my daughter needs a new man...
    I have found my balance and although some days I do more than others, I cannot give in to book/blog crawl/book/writing/research ALL DAY! I have a list an arm long of what needs to get done. When, someday, I am published, I'll re-group, but for now? I have to balance alot! And I *only* have 4 kids.
    Jody? You go, girl!

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  5. Goodmorning, Wendy and Jennifer! Wendy I think most writers feel the same way. We'd much rather just stick with the writing aspect of this business and not have to do so much of the other stuff! So you're definitely not alone!

    Jennifer, you're too funny! David Garret is handsome, isn't he? Oh yeah, and talented too. ;-)

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  6. This is in part why I believe it's called a calling.

    Hobbyists will quit. Those who try to do it all will go mad. And those who are called will keep sifting through what works and most of all keep at it.

    ~ Wendy

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  7. WPM-excellent point, it is a calling, isn't it?

    Oh Jody?
    *I* said "brilliant" YOU said "handsome".
    I was referring to his musical skills.
    ;)

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  8. I'm an introvert. I find the pressures of social media to be mentally draining. Blogging is the only format I'm on. Things like twitter and FB move too quick and choppy for my comfort level. So no, I haven't felt like giving up b/c I've never entered that do-it-all realm. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd rather keep a day job (that is, when I get a paying one—not as a SAHM) and not have the stress of the marketing lifestyle. I've already experienced burnout thinking about blog platform, yada yada, before I've even submitted for publication.

    Vivaldi may have had pressures to constantly create new material, but I'm not sure you're comparing apples to apples with modern authors and composers. Teaching music and directing music is not equivalent to marketing yourself socially... With teaching and directing you're still in the creative realm. Networking and reaching out to make new relationships is exhausting to me and not where I want to spend my mental energies.

    I'm not begrudging anyone who thinks social networking is a calling (like Wendy says), but for some, it's just not our thing. I don't think that puts me in the category as a hobbyist (i.e. that I'll quit), but rather, I have different priorities.

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  9. Although....I never did say he wasn't all that and a bag of chips too.
    My daughter is 21, can you arrange something?

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  10. Great post, Jody! I totally agree that falling somewhere in the middle is definitely the way to go. It's impossible to do it all (and if we try, our creativity will suffer badly), but we can't ignore our responsibilities outside of actual manuscript writing either. So we aim to fall gracefully in the middle, and, hopefully, we'll make it!

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  11. I sometimes get a little frustrated. Publishers and writers---in the not-so-distant-past---were all whining that people didn't want to read books. Woe is we! No one reads anymore!

    Now, with the digital revolution? People can't get enough. The demand for books and more books and new books is only picking up speed...and writers and publishers are complaining. It is all too much! How can we keep up?

    Here is a motto I use even on myself. "Less whining, more doing." People have more time than they realize, we just don't always use it wisely. Many writers simply are unfocused, and they also have an unrealistic view of how much they really need to be on social media.

    We actually don't have to dedicate all that much time if we will focus on relationships and meaningful activity.

    And here is the thing, if we aren't going to focus, our competition will. This is the point when we need to ask two critical questions.

    Do we REALLY love to write?
    Do we REALLY want the job?

    If we answer "yes" to both? Should be a no-brainer...and get back to work.

    I love this post. Really excellent parallel.

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  12. Hey again, Barb, just to clarify I don't believe social networking is a calling, I believe being a writer is--in any era. Living up to and taking on the challenges it presents at the current time.

    And here's a shocker for you...(hear me whispering) I'm an introvert, too. Social networking doesn't always come easy for me, but I'm called to write and I see how it's part of the package. I put my game face on and get out there for the sake of my story having a shot of doing the same. There are some wonderfully innovative ways for introverts to become involved in networking (Pinterest being one). Barb, I do believe you've inspired me to whip up up a post on this subject.

    Such a great conversation-churning post, Jody!

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  13. Great post, Jody! As a violinist I especially appreciated the musical composition analogy.

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  14. Wendy, thanks for the follow up and clarification. I'll look forward to reading your post. :)

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  15. Well-said, Jody. I think the key you've hit on here is that it's always about the work. The writing is what matters. All the promotion, Goodreads reviews, and Tweeting doesn't amount to much if the writing isn't there.

    Keep moving forward.

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  16. Gorgeous song and a helpful post. There is so much on an author's to-do list that it can be overwhelming. Especially as a home schooling mom. There are just never enough hours in the day. I keep reminding myself that there are seasons to it all and to enjoy the moment, do the best I can with promotion, write the best book I possibly can to promote and leave the rest up to God so I can enjoy plenty of time with my family.

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  17. As for social media, sometimes I think of it more as a distraction than a duty. While it's important to maintain a wide presence, I think you have to figure out what you like and what works for you, and then stick to that.

    What boggles me is the idea of how many books I need to put out a year. So I'm devising a way to do that with short story supplements. It means a lot of work and probably less sleep, but like Kristen said, if this is what I want to do, then I have to do it.

    Great post!

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  18. First off, I LOVED the Vivaldi rock concert. Makes me want to pick up my violin again.

    I also loved your conclusion to land in the middle. I find myself swinging on the pendulum from doing to much, then burning out, and crash landing into doing nothing.

    If I make my goal to move forward, even at a snail's pace, it's better than the pendulum.

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  19. Okay, so here's the thing. I'm obviously not a published author yet...not even agented...so I probably have no clue how much work it is, other than what I've heard from others. Right now, I work full time, and write in the evenings. I don't have kids, and I can see how that will totally change things when I do. But I've really, really enjoyed everything so far about the writing life. I love blogging. At first, it was something I wasn't sure about. I thought, "Who in the world is going to listen to what I have to say?" But I just had to find my voice, find my audience, figure out what I wanted to blog ABOUT.

    I also just love the interaction I've had with others on social media. I haven't even met all of you in person, but there are so many I feel like I've known forever. I also love Facebook and Twitter.

    Now, I'm definitely an extrovert in many ways, and I love making deep connections with others (something blogging fosters, imo), especially when it comes to writing, so I can see how introverts would have a harder time with all of this. And sometimes, it IS hard to put myself and my thoughts out there. It's always a risk. But one I like taking.

    Ask me this question once I have an agent,have kids, and am published, though, and who knows what I'll say! :P

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  20. Great post, and great comments here, too. I just wrote my first book last year, but I've done a lot of research on publishing and social media. I've already tried to beef up my social media presence, and it feels really overwhelming. I've been trying to set up a schedule, so that helps. I never feel like I'm doing a good job with ANY of it, sometimes (writing, blogging, social media, not to mention my family and taking care of the house!)

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  21. I agree with Wendy, when this is a calling the work becomes something you are given the grace to do - it doesn't make it easy, but it makes it worthwhile. I'm still a little shell shocked by what I'm learning about the publishing world. Before I began pursuing this dream I had no idea what was required. Now that I am in the thick of things it would be so easy to back out slowly (or turn tail and run!) but there is this nudging and urgency pushing me forward that I can't explain - I can't even imagine giving up. My hubby and I were talking about this very thing last night. The pay (at least at the beginning) seems incredibly ridiculous for all the work - but at this point I am not doing it for the money (although it would be nice to supplement our income). I will keep going one day at a time and do the thing God lays before me to do. I'm so thankful for this community of authors willing to share their wisdom and insights! Thanks, Jody.

    -Gabrielle @MeyerGabrielle

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  22. I LOVED the summary!
    Bless you Jody, I needed that today. I'll be praying for modern authors, because I never thought of it that way. So thank you!

    Ps: Excited to read U.D, it's going to be GREAT!

    Ganise

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  23. Gabrielle said it very well.
    When I started two years ago,I had no idea how complex the writing industry would be.I was quite naive and honestly still feel that way at times.
    I think this writing journey is like training for a new job. Yes, there's a lot to learn and at times it's overwhelming to try and absorb all "requirements" of the new position, such as blogging,Twitter, Facebook etc. But if we are called to be in this job, then He will equip us with the skills and knowledge to fulfill His purpose. But we have to patient with ourselves, we won't get the hang of any dream job in one day.
    Blogs like Jody's are extremely helpful in dissolving old misconceptions and delivering true realities of a successful writer. Thanks for your help, Jody.

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  24. Interesting as always, Jody. The Vivaldi piece felt like my pace on some days. :)I've been tweeting this am about the discussion going on in UK's Parliament today related to mental health and stigma and more.Winston Churchill had his black dog (depression) and multiple writers living and dead struggle(d) with depression, bipolar, and alcoholism to name a few.

    I've just finished book 3 in my first series. I'm at a place where you probably were recently with what to do next. We do have to make those all important choices.

    I'm definitely a turtle when it comes to writing, but after 3 novels I'm figuring some things out and the most important for me is that I am a one novel a year gal at least for now. Not even a really long novel. I'm happy with 75,000-85,000 words.

    I'm not going to make a lot of money on that kind of schedule, but I do like sanity and the students I counsel would probably like to see me sane this coming semester, not to mention my family. :) So moderation is the key when possible. There will always be days when we keep pace with that awesome music in the video. Blessings, Jill

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  25. Thanks for introducing me to Pininterest. I know I can't "do it all" but I'm starting to juggle things where I spend 2 days a week doing this social media website, 3 another and then switch around as needed. I do think as writers demands are high, but if we want to be in this business, we have to learn to meet them.

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  26. That violinist was incredibly talented and totally hot! :)

    It's funny how one day authors are fine writing one book a year or just trying to find an agent and then boom everything changes. And I'd say epublishing has everything to do with it. Pressure yes. I like the idea of landing somewhere in the middle. Not going crazy but being willing to try new things.

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  27. Laura, I admit. David Garrett's hotness was the main reason I put the video up on the blog today! His talent was just a side benefit! ;-)

    And Jennifer, I wish I COULD arrange something with him--for my next book launch, that is! LOL!

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  29. This is a well-thought out post and one that definitely touches writers. There always is a 'new social media outlet': there on the horizon, right around the corner, or just whizzed by too fast to grab hold of.
    I agree, we do need to keep moving even if we can't move in all directions at once.
    It's good to take a look at the choices and then make decisions about to best use the resources (time, treasure, talent) we have.
    Karen, Black Pepper Visions/FolkHeart Press

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  30. I totally agree with what you wrote in your post. I think that actors and musicians today, among other people, also feel pressure to constantly produce new material; even after they come out with new movies or new songs, they're asked about what they're working on next or when their new work is coming out. I think it's partly because a lot of audiences today have short attention spans. I know I do.
    And thanks for the quotes by Brown and Confucius! I copied them into my journal to motivate me to write.

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  31. Good morning, Jodi,

    Great post.

    Like so many others, I've "been around", so to speak. I've written stories about horses that are tucked into my childhood scrapbook, I've got at least a dozen not-quite-finished books in various forms of media (even have one that's only a hard copy from the days of type-writers!), I've edited and edited and edited until I simply want to murder every one of my characters - and it was supposed to be a romance, not a thriller, I've jumped into the fray of social media with all limbs flailing only to end up shredded and withdrawing to the side-lines to lick my wounds. I've walked away in frustration (accidentally closed a black pen in my black laptop and cracked my screen so had to wait for the means and energy and courage to do a DIY replacement screen), started a blog a few years ago...then got discouraged because no one cared but me, (my mom wouldn't even sign up because she didn't understand what a blog was).... The tales of a writer's journey go on and on as you well know.

    But here's the thing: I keep picking up my pen again (or my laptop with it's lovely screen) because writing is like sustenance to me. I must write. I don't know how to live without writing. I can go without for a day or two, maybe even for a season, but I'm always drawn back to it. Which is it: a deer panting for water or a moth to the flame? Some days it feels like I'll die if I do, other days it feels like I'll die if I don't. But no matter what, I write. I must.

    All that said, I've learned that even though I'm a bit of a pantser in pretty much every area of my life (not just writing...) I still must have a schedule. The schedule changes month to month, but as long as I post that schedule, I seem to able to stay on track.

    Maybe I need to start posting my dreams/goals, hm?

    Thanks for your encouragement - it's good to read real words from a real person who lives in the real world.

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  32. Balance is tremendously important. At the same time, I don't think we know what we're capable of until we strive beyond what we ever thought possible. I look at those 17 works in a year and I think, "Yea, gods, that man must have been a live wire of creativity!" I think creative work is exactly like that - the more you do, the more you can do.

    Great post!

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  33. So much for the idea that this frenetic pace so many of us keep is modern! Interesting post and I enjoyed the concert. Thanks!

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  34. Whew, I loved what you said to Kara about book signings/tours.

    What a relief to know such things are on the way out - hopefully here in England too.

    I've just finished polishing my first - so I am dreaming of people twittering and skyping to ask me how I did it ;P

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  35. Yes, gone are the days when you declare, "I've written a book!" and it's a hop, skip and jump to publication.

    In between, you probably need to nail an agent (could take a year or more), then revise, then submit, then wait (maybe half a year), then revise, then get the book all set...BUT in the meantime, you do learn a lot about writing.

    I'd prefer to write all the time, but, like Joanne, I'm homeschooling, so that always takes precedence.

    Then we have the whole self-promo/platform-building angle. The benefit of this is that you meet tons of other great and friendly writers in the CBA. The downside is that you spend way too much time coming up with blogposts, commenting, etc.

    I could go on and on, but I won't! I think you're doing a great job getting your name out there, Jody, via Pinterest or twitter and your blog. I think we cut ourselves short if we neglect to do any social media.

    I think the coolest thing I've ever seen is older authors who have determined to figure out how to make technology work for them. It shows that stick-to-it-iveness that Wendy mentioned. Many wanna-be authors will fall by the wayside, but some will never give up until that goal of publication is reached. No matter how inconvenient and no matter how many sacrifices must be made.

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  36. Eeeek! And by the way - one of my FAVORITE classical songs - and was used in a great movie as well, by the same name, "The Four Seasons."

    Now back to my 'eeeek!' I do get overwhelmed with how many things I'm doing and feel, at times, they take away from my own writing...FB, LinkedIn writing groups, my own blog, others' blogs, Yahoo Contributor Network, Fanstory...I'm sure I've missed a few.

    You start to feel stretched after a while...and yet, if we DON'T do all of this 'building a platform' stuff, we won't even be considered when we submit to a publisher. It sounds crazy, but yes, this is what it's come down to.

    I wish others could understand what we all go through, and that writing is NOT easy! lol

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    Replies
    1. Dawn, the writing life is definitely NOT easy! And most non-writers don't know exactly how much is on the plate of the modern writer. But even if social media has grown in importance, the story and writing skills are still paramount to a publisher. So, we can never let the crazy social media climate take away from what matters most. :-)

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