A reader just wrote that she heard I was retiring. Who said that?
No. I’m not retiring. Let’s be clear about it. I. Am. Not. Retiring.
Not that I haven’t considered it in moments of frustration. Life for a writer has changed. When I started – more than 30 years ago – all I had to do was write. Ha ha. That’s funny. I was a full-time mother of three young sons, a full-time wife, a full-time homemaker. And all I had to do was write.
Consider it, though. A mother’s work is often mindless. Crucial. But mindless. Folding laundry? Driving car pool? Making school lunches. Cooking every other meal. Waiting at the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office, the hair dresser? Supervising play in the back yard? Physical presence is required in these things, far more than intellectual presence.
Writing filled that void. It was an ideal escape for me at a time when I was wondering why in the devil I got a bachelor’s degree, why in the devil I got a master’s degree, if my destiny in life was to match socks. I set my mind to plot and character development, and when the kids were in school, I wrote. It was very simple. The most challenging times were when I had to choose clothes – and make arrangements for my absence at home – in advance of a two-week author tour.
Enter computers, e-mail, the Internet, and social media. Suddenly I had to create a website and keep it current. I had to answer email from readers – well, I didn’t have to, not all writers do, but my readers are important enough to me to want to answer each note. I had to write blogs and reading group discussion questions and promo materials. Like email arriving at 10 at night, the work seemed to be never done. It was, frankly, exhausting.
So I took a little break. This was last June, was right after Blueprints was published. I had put off signing a new contract, because I didn’t want a deadline. I had already written a proposal for my next book, The Make Up Artist, and had even written the first three chapters. I put it all aside and did nothing for eight months.
Actually, not nothing. My days were full. If I wasn’t meeting a friend for lunch, I was playing tennis or spending time with my kids or learning Spanish or knitting or reading. It was kind of nice getting up in the morning and making a little list ( I’m a list person) of what I would do that day, and feeling no stress at all.
After a few months, though, a funny thing happened. I started thinking of The Make Up Artist more and more. The characters remained vivid, and I missed them. I missed the writing itself. I even missed the discipline that came with having a contract, discipline which in turn gave structure to my day.
I did not miss the deadlines or the pressure or the gazillion chores that came with being a writer in 2016. So I restructured things. I gave my agent the go-ahead to negotiate a contract for The Make Up Artist and a second book, but the deadlines are more generous than I will ever need, hence no pressure. I set the goal of two pages a day for myself – a far cry from the ten pages a day I consistently wrote, or tried to write and failed – two pages or three hours, whichever comes first. I put limits on what I am willing to do where social media is concerned. LinkedIn? Nope. Snapchat? Pinterest? Too much. I do Facebook and Instagram, and I do them well. Enough said.
So. I’ve taken control of my writing life. I will not retire because (a) I have too many good ideas to write about, (b) I love the art and craft of writing, (c) writing is my identity, the scaffolding that keeps my life in shape, (d) I love tennis and my kids and my friends, but I like having something totally apart from those, and (e) I have a cadre of loyal readers who wait for each book, and, if that’s so, why would I let them down?
Perhaps I was too driven before. Perhaps I’ve simply come to a place where I know myself better. Whatever, please trust that I am not retiring. You all will get your books, and I’ll get my writing satisfaction, and we’ll stay best of friends. Yes?