I don’t normally read books on writing, and I don’t recommend many books on this site. But if you are a writer, or interested in the life of being a writer, then stay tuned because I’ve got a good one for you (there’s a hint up top!).
It’s not that I have anything against writing books per se, and I have come across a few that were highly recommended and proved to be worthy of praise (Stephen King’s On Writing, comes to mind). I just usually approach my own work in a “if I look at it too hard it might disappear” sort of way, and therefore tend to avoid books about book-making.
But some personal background first: recently I found myself in a bit of a professional pickle as a perfect storm of overcommitment, poor stress management and a whopping illness knocked me back on my bottom. And how.
I’d just pitched for, and been offered, a job working a series of books for a Very Cool Publisher that I’ve always wanted to work with when I started to feel a little unwell. A bit of the flu, no big deal. And this new writing gig was going to be so much fun that I ignored my physical self and focused instead on the work. It was a tight deadline, and between teaching, my commitments to Knopf and this new Very Cool Publisher, I was working somewhere around 80 hours a week (the wife did the math just prove a point. Turns out she didn’t have to.) 80 hours a week, plus family and I just got sicker. And sicker.
Eventually, I broke. A battery of medical tests later, plus a bunch of medicine and doctor-ordered bed rest brought it all to a skidding halt. Luckily the Very Cool Publisher was very understanding, and they let me out of my commitments to them with little fuss, though it was the hardest time I’ve ever had saying “no” to anything. Heartbreaking. But my health recovered. My family forgave my lunacy. The rest of my work, thankfully, did not suffer (although my students had to put up with a couple weeks of subs. Sorry guys.)
See, my private booklife was out of balance. Dangerously so. When you are a new writer it is soooo hard to say no to anything. In my case, I always feel like someone might come along tomorrow and take it all away, so I’d better do it all today. Before I’m found out and they realize that this blog and those books belong to someone else. Someone who’s a real grown-up.
Booklife. It’s the title of Jeff VanderMeer’s book on balancing a writing life and it’s superb. In my own situation, some of the damage is done, but I still have a very full plate ahead of me, and Jeff’s book is a great, no-nonsense guide of how to manage a crazy career like writing. How to balance your work with your life is a question that applies to all of us, not just the writers out there. In the interest of full disclosure, Jeff was a teacher of mine a few years ago at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and I’m just generally a fan of the VanderMeers all around (Jeff’s wife Ann edits the terrific Weird Tales). But I wouldn’t put fingers-to-keyboard if I didn’t sincerely mean the praise.
So for any writers out there, or really any creative types that put something out into the world, I recommend this book. And I recommend sleeping. And if you feel sick, go to the doctor. I mean it.