Every so often something comes along and hits me right between the eyes. Sometimes it changes my behavior, and other times it changes how I think. Occasionally it does both.
This past week, I think I found something big enough to do both. But the choice isn’t as clear-cut as it might appear on the surface, and there are a lot of underlying matters which are either causal or affected by the choice.
Last week, DWS (that’s Dean Wesley Smith) posted something on his blog about writers making sacrifices for their writing. WMG Publishing, the publisher they founded and help run (I think), hosts something they call Coast Workshops. It’s a writing workshop where they accept a dozen writers who come from all over the world, and they hold a class in a couple of sessions (day and evening), teaching writers some aspect of craft. (This particular time is Mystery Writing, taught by Ellery Award multi-winner Kris Rusch.)
DWS spoke of how much they understand, and appreciate, the sacrifices those writers made to be at the workshop for the week. And, reading that, it made me understand a few things, while not being able to wrap my head around other stuff. It’s weird, because it’s all in the same thought, sort of.
I understand the need to sacrifice for your craft. When I wanted to build furniture, I had to sacrifice a lot of money (!) and time to get the tools and skills required to become a good craftsman. And of course, spending a fortune on good tools and materials still won’t make you a good craftsman, but it does go a long, long way toward helping. (Try getting from novice to master using bad tools and equipment.)
With writing, the expenses can be lower, but not necessarily. Attending writing conferences is difficult (and, depending on who you ask, not worth attending) from a time/expense standpoint. Workshops? Well, they get silly in cost too. And if you collect craft books, as I have over the last several years, well, the totals get pretty high.
But sacrifices do need to be made if we want to grow. I think it’s inevitable. If you want to become a better storyteller, you have to learn how to do that. You need to practice doing that. And those things – learning and practice – might cost you.
Time is precious to me. I have very little free time when I get home from my day job. It’s not an eight hour block of time like most people think when they do these sorts of calculations. It’s much more like twelve to fourteen hours, frankly. I get up and get ready for work. I don’t have the liberty of a lot of free time beforehand. I get to work about an hour before my “shift” begins because I have a lot of things that are easier to do when fewer people are around. Then I work my allotted work day, and then sometimes I have stuff that requires I stay longer.
I’m generally tied up from about 5:30AM until roughly 6PM, five days a week. I can’t do much in the car, so I generally try to de-stress during that time. I could, in theory, listen to a podcast or an audiobook, I guess, but there are other things I try to do with that time, including pray.
When I get home, I have time before dinner’s on the table, and I try to spend that time catching up with the kids. My wife is busy in the kitchen, normally, so I don’t get to catch up with her. Dinner takes another block of time, usually an hour. So I have about two hours a night to check email, try and touch base with my wife for the day, and get ready for the next day at work.
When I write, it’s really special to have the time. My family works hard to give it to me, and I’m grateful. But in terms of sacrifice, there simply isn’t a lot of time each day to sacrifice.
I could try and force it, but you get the idea. And arguments can be made back and forth about excuses. When I read DWS’s words, I was convicted. I’m not making any sacrifices to get the writing time in. I’m not making many monetary sacrifices – and I’d start with DWS’s and KKR’s online workshops for education if I did – for the learning. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’m stagnated in my career.
Moving up the stages of a fiction writer’s life happens in steps, but we can accelerate the steps with focused learning and enough practice. Telling a good story and losing focus on the words will happen, but everyone goes through the stages of being obsessed with the words. I’m at a stage where being aware of the words isn’t tantamount anymore, but I still have one eye on them. I can’t write crap, and I can’t justify that by using the excuse of being a better storyteller. That hasn’t happened yet.
So to get to the next stage I’ll have to invest in a few learning tools. But life – and for me there are three other people in that – doesn’t often allow us to make the same sacrifices we might if we were on our own. My children come first; any sacrifices I make will be in the stark light of raising them in a godly and upright way, keeping them safe and sound, and healthy and as happy as I can. My wife has rights too, and since she’s not a writer, she’s not going to benefit from those tools I’ll need. What about her desires and dreams? Shouldn’t she be allowed to sacrifice for them too?
And I guess I should point out, all sacrifices, much as I’m learning about blessings, are not financial. I can sacrifice some time, but dare not risk a job it took me twelve years to get. Twelve years of worry, fear, anxiety, tension, cheap food, no car insurance, no car, homelessness…no, I can’t sacrifice so much the job God was gracious enough to give me is at risk.
Or, perhaps the better word isn’t can’t so much as won’t. I won’t risk my job. I won’t take any more time from my kids. I can and will talk to my wife about financial sacrifices, but won’t disregard her wishes. If I wanted to be single and live that way, I could have stayed single.
So, sacrifices are a bit different depending on the road you’ve chosen, and the path to the top of whatever mountain you’re climbing might be more circuitous than you wanted or hoped. I know that’s it for me. I have things I can and will sacrifice for, and the Lord God is one of them. So far, He’s not asked me to do anything. So far.
On the one hand, I understand, and am convicted by, the wisdom of making sacrifices for the writing. On the other, I don’t know how willing I am to make the necessary sacrifices, because the cost is great from my viewpoint.
But I do want to become a better writer. Actually, a better storyteller. I can’t do that without making some sacrifices. So seeing where this goes will be very, very interesting.