Anyways, finished my book a few days ago. A few months behind schedule, but given everything, who cares, whatever. “Finished” is the wrong word anyway, it’s a draft; but it’s out in the world and my readers can read it (or not!) and I can move on to the next book, which I think will be the third in this series. I’m still figuring it out (1974-present).
Lot of hand-wringing online lately about creativity and productivity in the year 2020. Memes encouraging people to not feel bad if they haven’t worked on or finished any creative projects this year, since just surviving this year is a huge accomplishment (which I agree with). Authors pondering the meaning/lessness of their work in a year when so much is so at stake. Like Hey sorry about the apocalypse, here’s this book I wrote, please review it on Amazon, which incidentally is a terrible company, and also Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon. The sudden seeming insignificance of a single book in a world on fire.
But life isn’t black and white, even though our experience on the internet often makes it feel so. You can be an author who moves deep within themself to build interesting worlds, while also remaining caring and engaged in the world around you. And you can be a very creative person who sometimes doesn’t create things.
Anyways the work of being an author is different from the work of being a writer, or even just a creative person generally, and it involves skills that I straight up do not have, and do not have the capacity to cultivate. For my entire adult life as a writer I have second-guessed and self-doubted my choices, wrestling with this idea that success as a writer means publishing & physical books & book tours, things I have never had very much interest in. But a lot of people (who I know! and like! and are great writers!) think: I have to be a published author in order to be a successful writer. And in the past year I’ve seen this manifest in different ways – authors whose social media was so exclusively focused on their identity/branding/self-promotion as a writer that they failed to ever publicly or meaningfully acknowledge the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the terrifying media/political shift towards totalitarian capitalist dictatorship. I unfollowed a lot of those people this year! I wish them well as writers and social media isn’t real life but that’s not where I’m at. And I’ve seen published authors (who I know! and like! and are great writers!) deeply interrogating their life choices, like: What is the point of my career in a landscape like this? Which I think is a great question!
For me it goes back to the essential difference between “writing”/”creating” and “being an author”. Writing is important, full stop. Everyone can do it and everyone should do it. It is crucial to the health and wellness of the human race that people put their stories out into the universe and share them with each other. But when I think about my dream anarchist/socialist society, where there are no billionaires and everyone has to contribute in meaningful ways to the success and betterment of their communities, are there full-time authors? Probably not! There are just people who make things, and their creativity is just one of the myriad ways they define themselves.
There are a lot of ways to be in the world. I hope the writers I love will continue to share their stories (unless they don’t feel like it! Which is also fine and not something they should feel one second of shame about!) and continue to be engaged in the world – not just via hashtags and social media, but in a genuine, meaningful, deeply interrogative way. You can definitely do both.