Marathon Writer, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Marathon Writer — Trench Warfare

David Jones (1895 – 1974) was a British painter, artist, poet, and writer. Born into a Welsh family living in England, he spent many years in Wales. In his mid twenties, he converted to Roman Catholicism.  His experiences in the Great War as a soldier with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, religious beliefs, and Welsh heritage helped form his work.

Recently, I read Epoch and Artist, a collection of his earlier writings, collected and republished in 1959. It was tough going. He was an extremely smart, well-educated man, who spent a lot of time thinking about art, life, spirituality, and the relationships among those three things. He frequently wandered into military metaphors, which since I spent time in uniform, I found comforting. I understood them.

In an essay on the dilemma between creating goods that were convenient and useful, but shoddy and without an artistic esthetic, he wrote

“I have no advice to offer except to suggest that the reader should make his own reconnaissances. From his own limited bit of trench he may quite possibly secure identifications which may clarify the situation on other sectors. At least he will know, by direct contact, the nature and depth of the entanglements to his immediate front. Which is more than they know at H. Q. [headquarters] for all of their revised maps.

“The contractual is essential. You have to have been there. Ars [Latin for a female personification of art, skill, and craft] is adamant about one thing: she compels you to do an infantryman’s job. She insists on the tactile. The artist in man is the infantryman in man, so that . . . all men are [by birth, members] of this infantry, though not all serve with this infantry. To pursue the analogy, this continued employment away from the unit [that is, pursuing a life not actively making art] has made habitual and widespread a staff mentality. Today most of us are staff-wallahs of one sort or another. [Staff-wallahs are people who run things for other people, but would never think of doing the activity themselves.]”

That comment, “We have to have been there” goes far beyond the topic he was addressing in the essay. In that one sentence beats the heart of being a creative person. We can read all we want about our chosen art. We can talk about it, and think about it. The absolute essence is that we do it, starting from wherever we are at any given moment.

A couple of years ago I met a man who didn’t go exploring what was in front of him. At a writing class’ first meeting, he said he so wanted to be a writer, but had no idea how to begin. The next week, his first class submission was rough and disjointed, but it had real potential, and class members told him that. The next class, he had nothing to submit. Same thing the third class. He didn’t show up the fourth class, or ever again.

I ran into him a few months later and said how sorry we were that he hadn’t continued. “Oh,” he replied, “I discovered I wasn’t a real writer,” and proceeded to give me all the reasons why he wasn’t. He’d never had the advantages that the rest of us in class had. (To this day, I wonder what he thought those advantages were.) His ideas weren’t any good. (Actually, they were quiet good.) He didn’t have time to devote to writing. (Maybe he didn’t, but he could have found some.) Writing wasn’t really important in the world, anyway. (Talk about not knowing what the nature and depth of the entanglements to his immediate front.) He’d love, just love, to be a writer, but it was obvious after the first class that future was closed to him.

It was so sad, and I knew there was nothing I could do but wish him well in whatever he chose to do in place of writing.

Insist on the tactile. Be a writer.

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Marathon Writer, My point of view, Tips, Writer's life, Writing

Marathon Writer — Return on Investment

Last year, I spend a lot of time conquering learning curves on social media. If social media were a musical instrument, I’d have progressed beyond playing scales, but no way am I ready to play in Carnegie Hall.

Then, media creep began to set in, as in just one more site, one more e-mail check, one more clicked link to the point I knew it was getting out of hand.

What was valuable? What was fun, but maybe, not the best use of my time?

I started to answer that question by dividing sites I visited into business-related or not business-related. Sites don’t have to be 100% one or the other. For some, I guessed at a percentage, for example one site was 40% business/60% not business. Then I did a couple of practice runs. If I went straight through my business-related sites, how long did that take? If I went straight through my non-business sites, how long does that take? For the mixed sites, I looked at only business messages on the business run and only the non-business on that second run.

I came up with a stunning figure that only 10% of my on-line time (how long I spent visiting sites) and effort (how much I interacted through likes, comments, pluses, etc.) was spent on business; 90% was fun, but had little or no relationship to helping me be a more successful writer.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not saying that every on-line interaction has to be all business. However, fun, especially when it’s 90% of online time, as it is in my case, runs headlong into an immovable object: 168 hours in a week. That’s all the time there is and all the time there will be. (Come Sunday we’ll be one hour short until autumn. Sigh.)

Enter Return on Investment (ROI), which is a comparison between time and effort spent versus reward.

There is a myth that every contact is valuable because it might eventually lead to a new business opportunity. As business people, how long can we wait for a return? If we’re cultivating a potential new publisher who we hope will eventually republish our entire back list, the down-the-road reward justifies this being a high ROI. On the other hand, the individual customer who might or might not buy one book, is a low ROI candidate.

High Returns

  • A high ROI doesn’t necessarily mean an easy site to visit. Material may be difficult, or take a long time to read and process, but it also returns high rewards as well.
  • High ROIs pay off quickly, within days or weeks.
  • The best high ROI is easiest to measure. We sell something. We get money. We open up new markets.
  • Other high ROIs include problem solving, skills development, and mastering our craft.
  • High ROIs don’t have to be about dollars and cents. We make or sustain friendships that are important to us. Forget networking, which is impersonal. Real networking means sustaining personal connections on a one-to-one level.
  • High ROIs are also about inspiration. If we come away from a site with more confidence or joy, that works.

Moderate Returns

  • A moderate ROI means balancing in the middle: a little challenging to use, but worth the effort because of the return.
  • I rate a lot of things as moderate ROIs when they are coming or going. Perhaps we’re auditioning a new site that we just discovered. Or our needs have changed, but a site we’ve followed for years hasn’t changed along with us. Or vice versa. This happened to me recently. An on-line newsletter to which I subscribe changed focus. I’m finding much less content that’s useful. I’ve downgraded that site from high to medium ROI, and I suspect I’ll unsubscribe sometime in the next few months.
  • Is using this resource hard, but enjoyable and I’m willing to put the time in for a lower, but still pleasing reward?

Low Returns

  • A low ROI means, at the end of the day, how much further ahead was I because I spent two hours looking at knitting patterns, or cat videos, or stupid joke sites? And yes, there are days when we need 2 hours of patterns, videos, or jokes. Hopefully, this isn’t every day.
  • Perhaps we’re on a learning curve and find this site hard to use now, but we have great hopes for a higher return in the near future.

One way to look at our time on-line?

  • Pick two average weeks to do this. Weeks where we’re not on deadline, we don’t have an unusual number of commitments, etc.
  • List all the social media we use.
  • Track, daily how much time we spend on each social media site and what we did there.
  • Rate each activity as a high, moderate, or low ROI.
  • One day’s tracking might look something like this. Do a separate sheet for each day.
How I spent today online

How I spent today online

It was a slow e-mail day. One of the ways I’ve streamlined my e-mail time is by having separate business and personal folders into which I shift mail from my Inbox. And I have strong filters to trap junk mail. Of the 2.5 hours I spent on line, most of it gave me a high return. I’m thinking I really have to make some decisions about one of my Facebook groups.

At the end of two weeks look at all the sheets. Have any patterns emerged that give us a clue of how we might want to change our Internet time?

The thing I found most helpful was that I now separate my business time on-line and my fun time. I run through my list of business-related sites and messages first. I always visit those sites. The fun sites, sometimes I get to them, sometimes they have to wait a few days.

That’s the beauty of the Internet. We can always come back to it tomorrow.

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