Thoughts on Booklife Part I: The Pillars of Private Booklife
I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff VanderMeer last week and talk books, fiction, and inspiration. He also brought copies of Booklife and Finch. I haven’t yet jumped into Finch, but man, I’ve got to say, Booklife is the book I wish I had two years ago. I am envious of all the writers out there who have access to this book now, because they have so much essential information in one place. They won’t have to make as many stupid mistakes as I have, nor feel as aimless, floundering around trying to figure out what to do once the book is finished (or even begun, in some cases).
No, I don’t mean to imply that Booklife is magic. It’s not. What VanderMeer makes clear is that establishing a healthy Booklife takes a ton of work. There’s a great deal about VanderMeer’s book that speaks to the individual and their own contribution to their career; in other words, just because you have the manual doesn’t mean you’ll figure out how to run the machine. It takes lots of elbow grease and, over the long haul, lots of resilience.
But through all the talk of hard work and determination, of coping with rejection, of building networks, VanderMeer never loses track of what brought him to writing the book in the first place: a passion for writing. But even that is measured most cleverly. In the “Private Booklife” section, VanderMeer defines the “Pillars of Your Private Booklife”: curiosity, receptivity, passion, imagination, discipline, and endurance (167).
He’s right, absolutely, and I love the flow of those concepts. Curiosity is a willingness to seek out; receptivity a willingness to absorb–passion, in a way, synthesizes the two by stoking the flame. Imagination, then, processes all three into something new, into a creation, while discipline grants perspective and focus. Lastly, endurance for the long haul. Because it gets hard, and if you don’t keep at it, those earlier pillars just won’t hold.
It occurs to me that many writers have weak pillars. I know I do; namely receptivity and discipline. I can get so wrapped up in my own research, my own stories, that I forget to find space to be inspired, and to reach out and help others. A bit of writer’s myopia there. And discipline, yeah. I’ve gotten much better, but since having my own Booklife-type epiphany a little over a year ago (i.e. treating my writing process like laying a foundation for a career instead of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy) I still struggle with discipline (Twitter, I’m looking at you).
I’ve also struggled with endurance a great deal this year. I am a patient person, always have been. But certain events this year have really pushed my limit, left me feeling really lost. Admittedly, being faced with my first novel rejection had a big downer factor. Then there’s all the uncertainty surrounding the state of some of my current work, which I can’t really get into at length (because I’m not a public person in that respect) but I can assure you is frustrating. Beyond. Frustrating. But, yes, a seemingly endless lesson in endurance. The hardest thing for me has been to keep writing in spite of it. I’ve done it, to varying levels of success, but it it has been hard won.
No writer is perfect. We’re all terribly flawed, and we have to be to write well. To be aware of ourselves, our process, our approach, makes us better writers and brings us closer to our characters. But it all starts with work, within, and turning our creative inclinations into a solid foundation.
For more discussion, check out Booklife online, too.
(I’ll be writing more about Booklife and reflecting on the reading, etc., a little later. Stay tuned!)