One of the first pieces of advice I ever came across on the internet remains one of the best: keep writing and publishing separate. I believe it was romance writer Jenny Crusie who first clued me in to it, though many have said so since. And she (they) was (were) right.
How much time do I waste reading about publishing messes and brouhahas, saying “I need to keep up on my industry” as though that helps me become a better writer? How often would I browse agent websites before I’d even finished my novel instead of writing it?
They also say write with the door shut and edit with it open (also good advice). It’s okay to consider publishing after you have a product you’re happy with, but before that threatens to derail you. I do an entire editing workshop on making your book resemble your vision for it, and I can’t stress this point enough. Letting publishing in too soon can wreck your book. (And that includes something as simple as wondering where you’ll place the story. It’s irrelevant until you have a complete story you like.)
So while it’s obvious to see how this advice applies to the general act of writing, I’ve been reminded of it recently in a different context. There have been major debacles in my corners of the writersphere lately (YA and SFF). And they are draining. They are exhausting to read about, even if you don’t participate. Writers are often sensitive creatures, and we need to protect our emotional energy. (We need to save it for the writing.) If I’m letting it leak out because Someone Was Wrong on the Internet, I’m going to have no energy left to write, and it’s going to be as tired as I feel when I do. So part of keeping writing and publishing separate may mean shutting Twitter off for a week.
Suzanne Collins, author of the wildly successful HUNGER GAMES books, doesn’t blog. She doesn’t have Twitter. She’s still wildly successful, and she’s probably getting a lot more work done than I am, reading article after article about the Sad Puppies and the Hugos.
I recognize, of course, that it is a privilege to be able to walk away from any argument when it comes to social justice. Many people can’t, because the marginalization they suffer as a result won’t let them ignore a problem. And the SFF problem right now is partly a social justice problem. If you don’t know, a group of writers gamed the nomination process resulting in a Hugo Award ballot of almost nothing but right-wing conservative ideologues, regardless of quality, because they claim that leftist politics had overrun it in previous years. George R. R. Martin has deconstructed their arguments handily, leaving us with empty cries similar to “ethics in video game journalism” when there’s nothing to support it and only the ugly reality of a handful of people who are vocally racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc.
But it’s also a modern problem: the internet is an amplifier. It’s easy to get sucked in and stay mired. There are a lot of things in play here beyond that, which I’ll talk about another week, maybe. But the one that I’m looking at right now is that this mess is impacting my writing. I spend so much time reading about this, analyzing it, and thinking about my opinions. Discussing it with my husband. You know what I haven’t spent so much time doing? Writing the new book I started.
It’s important to stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry. But there is a balance and it can be obvious when you’re on the wrong side of it. In my case, I need to shut out the internet, the world, publishing, and get back to writing.