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The Influence of Anxiety: The Modern Writer’s Neverending Race

I’ve been feeling pretty productive lately. This morning I had an idea for a story, and managed to do some edits on a video for a friend before leaving for work.  Last weekend I sketched out a very, very rough outline for the novel I haven’t started. I sent out my first manuscript (chapbook manuscript) to some more places.  And all this around a really busy work schedule, too! I felt great.

Right up until a few minutes ago, when I grabbed a quick bite to eat in my office between meetings and logged on to Facebook and Twitter to catch up.

Suddenly, what had seemed awfully productive to me now seemed like pure laziness and inefficiency. This person wrote 3 million pages of a novel yesterday. That person stayed up all night long writing six essays for various prestigious publications. This friend was somehow interviewed by three publications while managing to read and review four books simultaneously and dash off a few dozen short stories and her sixth novella to boot.  They’re giving readings! They’re planning readings! They’re selling books! They’re stacking up publication credits like cord wood! The as-of-late familiar feeling came rushing back, and I found myself panicking, thinking, I’m so behind! I need to catch up! I found myself thinking about pulling a few all-nighters myself (as if my old-ass body could handle that anymore), about all the books I still need to read, about the growing list of story ideas and the novel that I have no time for and the short story collection I need to put together–and then I glanced at my giant, mutating to do list for work and I was totally overcome by the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing what my writer friends are up to and reading their stories. Facebook and Twitter are the best way for me to connect with them and find out what they’re working on and what new books they’ve got coming out. So it’s not the medium I blame, nor the promotion, which I engage in just as much as anybody.

It’s the whole entire system, particularly devastating in its loops and feedback. Destructive in what is reinforced. I found myself thinking, and not for the first time, I started too late. I’m too old, too slow, too lazy, too shitty at networking. Writing is a different game now than when I was doing it years ago. Back then it was a point of pride to nurse a short story or a poem like a glass of scotch, slow measured sips in between lots of good conversation with friends. Back then everyone was working on a novel, and it was their first, not their tenth. Back then, there was no Facebook or Twitter and hardly even email to check, a tiny fraction of what is now the web, and thus no reminders of the pressure of what your peers are doing. What were my peers doing back then? Same thing everyone was: hanging out, talking, drinking, reading, smoking, eating, going to concerts, getting stoned, and occasionally writing.

Yes, this is probably not the best way to become an actual writer. Discipline and focus and actual, I don’t know, output are probably good things. But it was just so much more laid back. There was a sense that you had time, lots of time, that everyone went at their own pace, and that was cool. It was more than cool–it was the way we thought writers had worked since writers began to work at all.

Now it’s publish, publish, publish, be constantly, constantly publishing, and better be constantly writing about your writing and talking about your writing and while none of that is inherently a bad thing (and it obviously works for some people) does it make anyone else but me a nervous wreck? I would suspect, yes, it does.  And believe me, my output has not been slight. I’m very proud of how hard and how much I’ve worked to write, and of the stories I’ve had published. I’m very proud of my body of work so far.

But despite that pride I hate the way the modern writing world works. I feel endless, ceaseless pressure and I doubt I’m the only one. I suspect more people write flash fiction because it’s fast to dash off a story and get it published. I suspect people write shorter books as well as shorter stories, and don’t take the time to do the research and the editing and the soul-searching that should accompany any artistic endeavor. I suspect people send off stories that aren’t that great, or as great as they could be, because they are desperate to increase their output. I suspect some people dash off a first novel because an agent generally won’t take you without one.

I’m not suggesting that all of these things are true of all or even most writers. I know I’m guilty of some of them. I’m not suggesting that shorter fiction or flash fiction is bad, or that many first novels aren’t great. I’m just suggesting that maybe we’re making a lot of our writing decisions nowadays based on what we feel we need to do, rather than what we want to do or what we feel capable or even more, inspired to do. And I’m suggesting that maybe we’ve lost, or are losing, something important as a result of what isn’t done, what isn’t tried.

That’s why I’ve decided to say the hell with the race and the anxiety.  For a long time I’ve been struggling with whether or not to go forward with the novel I have planned, which is an unwieldy and ambitious project, to say the least, and lord knows how many years it will take me to finish. I know if I don’t write something fast, I will probably be sealing my fate as a writer with no agent. This will not be fast.This will not be easy. This will probably keep me from writing or publishing on the same sort of scale that I have been, for a while. And it will not be an easy book to sell.

But that’s okay. Because I have to keep reminding myself that I didn’t have to become a writer. I didn’t start writing because I wanted to see my stories online, or my name pop up in someone’s Facebook feed, as nice as that undoubtedly is. I started writing because I love to write. I started writing for myself, and I’ve been the only audience for that writing for most of my life. I started writing because I love to read, and the great, often epic books that were my favorites should stand as models for where inspiration comes from and what it must produce.  I’m not in competition with anyone but myself. And so who cares if it takes three months or three years to write my book, if I take my time in finishing my story collection, if I don’t have the books under my belt that some other people my age might? It’s all about my pace, my path, and I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

I picked up a pen when I was five and started my first story, a little thing about princesses who don’t need princes. (I’m sure I ripped it off of a story in Free to Be You and Me.) I’ve continued to love writing ever since, even when I wasn’t actively pursuing publication. And on the day writing starts to feel like a burden or a chore, I will put that pen down like it was covered in plague germs.  It may be futile to try to completely escape the anxiety of the publication race. But I’m going to try. For the sake of what greatness may be germinating inside of my head, just waiting to be slowly born, even if it takes until I’m 95–I’m truly going to try.

  • Amber Sparks's work has been featured or is forthcoming in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Annalemma and PANK. She is also the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and lives in Washington, DC with a husband and two beasts.

80 thoughts on “The Influence of Anxiety: The Modern Writer’s Neverending Race

  1. I hear you, boy do I hear you. I’m 43 and getting my MFA this year. I feel about 20 years behind. I’m constantly writing stories, and trying to get work out there, but I still feel inadequate. My friend sent me his CV and it’s TEN PAGES LONG. He’s a God. And the world hardly knows he exists. The real world I mean, not our world of writers.

    Don’t worry about any of that crap. Write what you want to write, what gives you pleasure, and have fun shopping it around. Every time I look at the acceptance rates for places I want to publish, I seize up. Who the fuck am I kidding? I’ll never get in. And then…against all the odds, somehow I do. To be the 1 story in 100, or even the 1 in 50, hell, the 1 in 10 stories that makes it, that an editor deems BETTER THAN THE REST, well, that’s just crazy.

    Try to have fun, experiment in different genres, write those sex scenes you were freaking out about before, write from a male POV, a boy, a girl, an alien, a hot dog, whatever. Send the stories to the places you think would be cool to publish. I send out mine in tiers, and when they get rejected by the top places, I aim for the second tiers. And I’m okay with that. As long as somebody reads my story(ies) and enjoys it/them, then I’m good.

    The novel, well, that’s a different commitment. I’ve had days where I wrote 10 words, and days where I’ve written 10,000. If the story is there, and you’re having fun, writing scenes, telling emotional truths, and it feels good…then keep doing it.

    You’re good enough, have published enough, that you know you have the chops, Amber. Deep down, while you are simultaneously thinking that you suck, you know you can write. I go through the same bi-polar moments every day.

    I’m excited to see what you do next, and I’m not the only one. Every time a new editor deems my work acceptable, I glow for a little bit, and that’s a nice feeling.

    Keep at it. You rock.

    PS-If I’m one of those on FB or Twitter that annoyed you, I apologize. This month a lot of stuff hit, three stories out, but that’s very atypical for me. :-) I’m lucky to get one a month.

    1. Thanks, Richard. Bi-polar is a good way to describe it, for sure. And don’t worry–I’m really not annoyed by anybody on Facebook or Twitter–certainly not you. Mostly I really appreciate knowing what people are up to, and that’s the honest truth. It’s just that certain days, especially, it can get a little…overwhelming. ;)

      1. And on those days, go see a movie. Or watch bad tv. I’ve been loving this stupid show on the History Channel called PICKERS about guys who go salvaging and the cool stuff they find. Since I write darker stuff, I tend not to watch a ton of dark tv, but I’m a big fan of DEXTER and JUSTIFIED and DAMAGES. I usually seek out funny stuff though, 30 ROCK and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and lots of cooking shows like TOP CHEF.

        Some days you just have to shut down and give up. Just let the day go. I’ll find myself ignoring my wife, or even worse, my kids, to respond on Facebook or Twitter or post something up on my blog and I pause and go, “What the hell are you doing?”

        My kids call it my “computer wife” and that’s both hilarious, way too accurate and naughty, and also kind of sad.

        I find that making lists, or lots of short term goals, that helps me too. It’s better to write four short stories in a month, polish them up and have them bouncing around the Duotrope universe then sitting on a novel. I like to have some things in motion, and checking off a box, crossing something out, that always helps me a little bit.

        Just some ideas. :-)

  2. Thanks so much for writing this post – it’s so rare to read something talking about writing that’s got both feet firmly in the “real world,” where it’s simply not true that everyone is writing a novel with their right hand, twenty-seven short stories with their left, giving a reading, doing some editing, etc etc etc. I too often feel that pressure of seeing seemingly everyone I follow on Facebook and Twitter doing all this “stuff” – though perhaps I’m a bit less fair than you, because I do think there’s a certain degree of one-upmanship, or showing your fellow writers how busy you are and how productive you’re being. Not that they’re necessarily even doing it knowledgeably, but it’s just the atmosphere they’re (virtually) socialising in. It’s not as if you see many plumbers on Facebook updating their status with “repaired 27 u-bends today,” immediately followed by his friend (also a plumber) updating with “repaired 27 u-bends today and fitted 17 water heaters.” Maybe this kind of need to demonstrate how industrious one’s being is peculiar to writers?

    I do find myself growling inwardly when I read status updates in which people appear to have gone to work for eight or nine hours, come home, submitted twenty-seven short stories to various publications (and had half of them accepted, natch), made a home-cooked meal, done some editing on their novel and yet then somehow got enough sleep to do it all again the next day. At that point that inward growling becomes more of a screaming of “Where do you find the time?!” – when I, meanwhile, find it a struggle to stay awake beyond 10.30pm on a weeknight. But then again, yes, I’m also perhaps a bit older – 40 in July. And maybe it’s an unhealthy grudge against them on my part, when I find it an almost unheard-of achievement if I manage to write a few paragraphs in a week and have something accepted by a literary magazine once every six months …

    1. Thanks, Vaughn. It is really hard, isn’t it, when you’re not so young anymore? Add the general anxiety to the fact that half of these writers are in their early twenties and I just want to scream HOW CAN THEY HAVE WRITTEN THREE BOOK ALREADY? AAARGH! But then I just calmly think about how much fun I had being twenty-something, and how I wouldn’t trade that for all the hard work in the world. You go at your own pace, right?

      And I would love to see a plumber war of one-upsmanship on Facebook. That would be amazing.

  3. But despite that pride I hate the way the modern writing world works. I feel endless, ceaseless pressure and I doubt I’m the only one. I suspect more people write flash fiction because it’s fast to dash off a story and get it published. I suspect people write shorter books as well as shorter stories, and don’t take the time to do the research and the editing and the soul-searching that should accompany any artistic endeavor. I suspect people send off stories that aren’t that great, or as great as they could be, because they are desperate to increase their output. I suspect some people dash off a first novel because an agent generally won’t take you without one.

    Ah-ha! It’s refreshing to see a spade called a spade. Thank you for this, Amber.

    My first novel took me ten years to write. It’s a sprawling, dense, complicated thing, rather long. I think three people besides myself have until now read it, and I doubt that number will skyrocket anytime soon. (It’s coming out later this year.) I think it’s a good and rewarding book, and I’m proud of it, but it’s not a slim & sexy 80-pager with lots of white space that someone can skim through in half an hour. But it’s the book I needed to write. I wouldn’t write it again now; I got it out of my system.

    Best of luck with your novel, Amber, and all of your writing! Remember that most of what’s out there is…probably irrelevant (to put it charitably). Hype dies—rather quickly.


    1. I’m excited to read your novel. I like big, sprawling, dense, complicated things. They’re hard but I find them so rewarding at the end of the read. I like that you wrote the book you needed to write. I suppose that in a perfect world, that’s what we would all be doing. That’s what I hope I’m doing.

      1. John better read it, too. John! You’ll like it! (Giant Slugs)

        …No, seriously, if anyone does check it out, I’ll be most humbled.

        And I rarely follow Facebook for precisely the reasons you mention, Amber. And I’ve never even so much as looked at a Twitter.


  4. Oh lord, thank you. I abandoned Facebook last year when I realized how crappy it made me feel every time I logged on. And I rarely use Twitter anymore, but I still have the same overwhelmed, too-little-too-late feeling every time I check the blogs I’m subscribed to, and there are 200+ new items to read, and how do all these people have all this time and energy?!

    This year, which is supposed to be a writing year for me, has been a, as Richard said, bi-polar roller-coaster of “I did a lot today” to “I suck and will wallow in mediocracy for the rest of my natural life.” But unplugging, and regulating my internet time, has helped a lot. Now I only feel crappy on Tuesdays, which I use to catch up on blogs I follow. But you have officially redeemed my Tuesday. Thank you.

  5. excellent post. by way of suggestion, what i do when i feel this way about technology and internets and facebooks is i go away. i mean i go in the woods for while or i walk along some train tracks. if you don’t have these things, a small stream of some kind or perhaps a hike to a wayward barn would work. that probably sounds corny and stupid but it helps to remind me of something.

    in semi-response to mr. jameson and his novel, can’t wait. no slamming on short books though! i very much like them. i have sitting on my computer a 160-pager that took me several years, etc.

    1. No, no! I love short books too. And not all books need to be long. And some of the most difficult and rewarding books are not long (like The Age of Wire and String.) But definitely thinking some of the shorter novels I see these days could have been better if more fleshed out.

    2. I love many short books, didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I do have a beef, though, with those short books that are obviously “I wrote this quickly to get another book out there.”

      Unless it’s good.

  6. Amber, good post. I’ve been having that exposure anxiety, but more from a “getting into the game” place, with a couple things out/coming and this massive tangle of hype&promotion that I see so many writers use to their advantage.

    It’s good to hear that someone “in it” has a similar reaction. I have this overwhelming impression that if I don’t publish rapidly (or blog, maybe write some reviews, or even comment on blogs like this one), I’m not giving myself a fighting chance. Not that I’m uninterested in doing those things, the idea is just complicated by the way others seem to employ promotion and persona-pruning at every opportunity.

    It’s even more daunting when the things that get accepted are quick-process pieces under 2k words. It’s definitely hard to slow down and stay focused with the “modern writing world” always chattering. Doesn’t help that I have almost no business/marketing sense!

    1. I think it’s a good point you make, Ryan–that it’s not like many of us don’t enjoy reading and commenting on blogs, FB, etc. It’s just that when you maybe don’t feel like it, you kind of feel like you have to anyway, just to keep up. And by the way, I work in communications! I have a background in PR! I can only* imagine* how uncomfortable it must be to have to keep pimping yourself if you have no experience in doing it.

  7. Great post, Amber. I can relate to many of the anxieties you discuss here. I always feel like I am trying to catch up, that I cannot keep up, that I’m not doing enough and social networking (which I generally enjoy) only amplifies these fears.

    1. Wow, Roxane. If even you feel like that, it must be a pretty common thing. I can only imagine how it must be for new writers. And I think you have the same thing going that I do: like you, I really like social networking and it’s a punishment to have to withdraw from it, as some suggest.

  8. This is fantastic, Amber. Bell and I were just talking about this the other day: how I was feeling a bit of pressure because I have about 6 different projects going, which is awesome on some levels, but often enough, I feel like I’m going nowhere and producing little.

    Then Matt said, “No way. I mean, sure you’re not pubbing a lot right now, but in 2012, you’re going to come out with 6 books.”

    And it sort of clicked that yes, I’m not publishing much, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being productive. I’m producing a good volume of work, and taking the time to be careful with it, to clean it up and polish it shiny and tidy.

    I want to be proud of the stuff that’s out there, and I know I wouldn’t be if I sent it in the shape it’s in now. I’m much happier feeling truly proud of the 10 things I published last year, than merely okay with 25 things that could’ve been published had I pushed them before they were ready and accepted some edits that I didn’t agree with just so they’d find a home.

    We should talk more about this next week. Next week in D.C.!

    1. Yes! I think you’re very much in the same place I am in my thinking on this. And Matt’s a good example of a writer who’s been focused on writing and not worrying about publishing a ton the last year or so–and I can’t wait to see the novel he’s going to get out of all that time and hard work.

      DC! Yes! Oh my lord that’s soon.

              1. I dunno Rebekah, don’t you think winter beaches are lovely in bleak “time to think about death” kind of way. Maybe that’s what Adam was implying. That Amber should come to Chicago and they can go to the beach and think about death together. That’s a kind of nice day.

                Great article. It’s great to see the internet used as a means to fight what the internet does to our minds! I’ll be working on my long-ass epic novel slow and steady, as I have been (between bouts of “I need to be doing other things” anxiety).

  9. Amber: Thanks for saying what I (and so many others, apparently) have felt, but not declared quite so publicly. With both of us fighting (often losing) battles in public policy, it’s extra-frustrating to try to balance the need to connect with like-minded people, while not drawing comparisons to fb statuses, etc., which faithfully report impressive daily word counts. I don’t have those; I know that’s my own issue. But I do recommend taking periodic breaks from social media. Really, you wouldn’t believe how quickly those feelings of pressure and comparison will dissipate, plus you’ll have more time to do whatever — write, read, sing karaoke… Despite my best efforts, I started to get stressed about not having anything publishd before AWP (though I have a few things in print … my online preference is a topic for another day), but concluded i’d rather take awhile to write something decent than to write something quickly that doesn’t make me happy. Anyway, rock on, sister. I’ll see you very soon (yay!) and remind you of how amazing and accomplished you are. Seems to be the general consensus. Don’t fight it. Thanks again!

    1. You’re the best, dude. It’s true–a large part of my social media need centers around commiserating with my fellow policy and labor nerd friends, trying to find solutions or just bitch about the right. So it’s hard to remove oneself from the Facebook without removing yourself from something that’s essential to your job. (And actually, the Facebook and the Twitter ARE part of my job.) But yeah, I need to take a break every now and then for sure…

      You’ll be awesome at AWP. I need to find something to read that’s five minutes or shorter. I’m kind of panicking.

  10. Everyone has said it already, but YES! Every blog or LiveJournal by writers that I follow seems to consist entirely of stats. Wrote 2,700 words today, just signed a deal on the next book but 10, here’s my schedule of public appearances for the next five years. My god it’s enough to make you stop reading!

    And it’s not just short books. There are long books where nobody took the time to do the editing that they need.

    It’s time that’s an issue. Basically it seems that the only way anyone can make a living out of writing these days is to produce at least two books a year. On that sort of schedule, something has to give.

    But the other issue is that writers seem to have to be their own publicists now. Which means they spend every moment when they aren’t churning out words, churning out other words to tell the world about all the words they are churning out. As if writing 2,000 words a day is necessarily a good thing. But hey, it’s publicity, it keeps people aware of you, it tells the world that you’re writing, and that’s what counts. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

    1. Thanks Paul–and I COMPLETELY agree on the editing thing. I confess I haven’t read Freedom yet, but everyone I’ve talked to who has mentions that it could have been a million times shorter had it had a proper editor. It’s like editors don’t want to do their job anymore, because there’s so much more respect for the giant tome. But you still gotta rush it out there, so possibly it shouldn’t be a giant tome at all. :)

  11. Revision is the imposition of a new consciousness on the expression of the old. And as time goes on, the layering of those consciousnesses produces something much more life-like and relatable than the original. It does not simply become clearer or more effective, it actually begins to take on the characteristics of its author.

    It follows, then, that the less time spent on any one project, the less of its author it has in it, the more artificial it will seem. It is much more likely to adhere to conventions, even when “unconventional,” and the idiosyncrasies that mark it as the product of that author will not have had time to develop.

    I feel your anxiety, Amber, all the more acutely as you have been rather busy lately, certainly relative to my own scanty output. But I seem stubbornly to be writing longer and longer, and, frankly, the work seems more rewarding to me, more satisfying. It can also be intensely frustrating, but of course, that is only me — my stubborn, glassy-eyed reflection looking out from the page.

  12. “It follows, then, that the less time spent on any one project, the less of its author it has in it, the more artificial it will seem. It is much more likely to adhere to conventions, even when “unconventional,” and the idiosyncrasies that mark it as the product of that author will not have had time to develop.”

    That is a really excellent point. Sometimes my best stories come out quickly and are quickly published, but my secret favorite children are the ones that I’ve sat on and sat on, that’ve gone through a hundred revisions, that are absolutely and indelibly “mine.” Probably because I’ve taken what was an amalgamation of lots of different floating around thoughts, some mind and some not, and really shaped it into something of my own by that time. It’s a good thing to do, especially with a full-length book, I would think.

  13. Certainly the internet is exacerbating what you’re talking about…I’m sure every writer with a computer thinks about these things or, for better or worse, has to encounter this writerly culture of (hyper-)productivity. I was chatting with Greg G. not too long ago about Facebook (since I don’t have an account) and he mentioned that writers will frequently post things like: “Just turned out [insert large number] pages…”

    I think it might be worth mentioning in this context that the great George Oppen took a 25 year hiatus from writing. It puts things in perspective.

    1. I read an interview recently where George Saunders said he takes (I think) six months to write a story. That made me feel a lot, lot, lot better. Also a lot worse, because I started thinking, oh, man, I need to spend a lot more time on my stories…:)

      And didn’t Wallace Stevens take like 5 years off or maybe even longer? Though 25 is pretty amazing. How do you get back into it? Was that because he had kids or something?

      1. My prof at Murray State, Dale Ray Phillips (Pulitzer nomination) is the same way, and yet, I have to turn in a story every month. I think when you get to be a George Saunders, you don’t have to rush anything. Six months though, wow, I might go insane. I can only spend so much time editing, then I have to send it out. If the idea is good from the beginning, if I can find that emotional truth, then it should be pretty tight in a couple of weeks. But then again, WTF do I know, I’ve never made it into TPR, TNY, TMR, Harper’s, Atlantic, etc.

      2. Oppen’s choice was political — he joined the Communist party after publishing his first book _Discrete Series_ (1934).

        I don’t know about Stevens’ hiatus…I do know that William Carlos Williams was always anxious how productive Stevens was. And Williams wrote a ton!

  14. Ah. Yeah. Yes. As everyone’s chimed: I feel this. I feel it as a writer and, differently, as a yoga teacher, lost in the cyber-flood of blogs and nicely crafted “essays” on topics I’d just been wanting to write about or teach. I have to remind myself that you don’t have to be a great blogger to be a great writer (or yoga teacher).

  15. i’m working on my first post for Big Other since october. OCTOBER. about all i can muster these days is a “literary” tweet now and then (while nursing my baby to sleep–terrible, eh?). fighting the pressure to DO DO DO instead of wait, think.

    it’s not just the internets, it’s also the new york climate. this is a town where it feels like if you sit down, someone will step on you to get ahead. the pulse of the city is thrilling but makes me want to scream sometimes.

    “how are you!?”


    1. I can imagine NYC is like that–DC is the same way. You’re useless if you’re not DOING something all the time.

      And oh, man, motherhood–that’s a topic for another blog, but let’s just say it’s a major anxiety right now for me. I’m at the age where I’d like to have kids soon but terrified of the time suck they may be on my already time-drained life. How’s that been for you? For your writing?

  16. Amber, I can relate to this on, oh, a million different levels. Great, smart, spot-on post. Thank you so much for writing this.

  17. Yeah. You’ve hit on it, Amber. I always feel a mile behind and a year late. I went through a stretch this fall where everything I wrote was a failure (often long, colossal failures) and I ended up getting mad at myself for “wasting” so much time when everyone else was busy being brilliant and acclaimed. As if failure isn’t allowed. As if any misstep (or any missed day of writing) puts me further behind everyone else. Silly to get so worked up. We’re not making products for Wal-Mart here; the goal isn’t output.

  18. Thanks, Amber, your honesty captured the sentiment from this man’s island as well. I started writing at 44. I’m not MFA, don’t want to teach, never will be part of the literary “it” crowd. I write when I can. I write for me. My readings are held at my kitchen table. I try to keep my expectations realistic. I felt happy last week just because I broke my 0-for-10 streak at elimae. I’ll never be a David Foster Wallace; success for me will look something like a Karl Marlantes track. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had found writing younger, but then again, I wouldn’t have been able to write back then what I do now.

  19. Wow. Three days since I commented on this post and this will be the 50th comment. I’m glad it struck such a chord with so many people – as much as it did with me.

    The thing I wonder now though, is: will this sudden outpouring of “me too” about the subject change people’s behaviour? Will it stop that anxiety of trying to keep pace with everyone, and everyone then trying to keep pace with everyone else, meaning that we all end up trying to pedal uphill at ninety miles per hour?

    Small steps: I took a look through people I’m “friends” with (i.e. the kind of friends I’ve never met) on Facebook, and quietly unfriended three or four whose constant use of that social network as merely a tool to tell everyone where they’re being published and what they’re writing and where they’re reading had frequently driven me up the wall. It’s got me wondering about dropping Facebook altogether, though. The next task is to do the same weeding-out on Twitter, which will be more difficult because I enjoy Twitter rather more than Facebook …

    What about anyone else, though?

    1. I’ve been wondering the same thing, Vaughn. I like your idea, even a small step, weeding out the true abusers. I don’t expect people’s behavior to change–including mine!–but I hope that people will see, as I have, that this anxiety is a much more universal concern than they’d thought and that maybe that means we can all feel a little more free to just do what they’re doing.

  20. Yes, Amber totally agree with you and the above comments. I’m old too and detemined to enjoy my writing – when it stops being enjoyable – I’ll stop doing it.

    So let’s all try to relax…

    All the best for your writing –


  21. I have been feeling this way a lot lately but could have never expressed it as well as you have, Amber. Thank you.

    It’s funny that you reference in the comments the seemingly-super-productive writers in their early twenties you’ve noticed on FB and Twitter. I’ve personally been floored by how productive writers several years older than me tend to be (I’m 23). I’ve been reminding myself that they are more experienced/educated/blah blah blah so of course they’re producing higher quantities of higher quality work, but that only makes me feel more anxious about submitting my stories anywhere when I know I’m up against scads of writers in their mid-thirties with MFAs and a couple books out already (or at least several dozen publications and they’re working on a novel). This seems so pathetic now that I’ve typed it out, but it’s true.

    1. That totally makes sense to me, Dawn. Everybody’s got their own version of these worries and I’m sure a lot of young writers feel just like you do–in fact I remember feeling like that when I was writing in college–that surely I’d never stand a chance with such a lot of talent and experience ahead of me!

  22. Great post – I’ve seen a few great writers recently starting to express a sort of writer’s burn out. Not so much from the writing itself but from the intense discussions that go on around it, the blogging, the discussing, the comparing…
    There’s so much positive networking for writers going on these days, but its very hard to keep pace with everything we want to. I get anxious when I’ve not had a chance lately to see what my twitter/fictionaut/52250/Voices/facebook/other friends have been writing, to read it and take the time to comment.
    I think when it comes down to it we all understand, and we all know that what’s important is that we write. Good luck with your novel.

  23. Excellent article.

    I’m curious to see how writing will change and evolve. Our brains must be changing, too, to have less attention span and process more information. And the changing platforms (from books towards ebooks, etc) will affect things too.

    Ah, we live in interesting times!

  24. Excellent post, Amber, and yes, many of us are feeling this way. It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to give notice on Facebook of a published piece, and that was only because I saw how others were self-promoting. While I’m grateful of the support and camaraderie of social networking, I also feel that so much time is spent on promotion and communication that the writing time is suffering for it.

    I haven’t read all the comments here–all that I have are point-on–so I don’t know if this has been brought up, but I wouldn’t blame the surge of flash fiction on the need to be published as much as I’d include the move in all arenas towards the immediate, the quickly read, the short attention span of the populace due to the internet way of life today.

    1. Thank you, Susan. I think you make a good and valid point about flash fiction–a style I love to read and write, but one that I fear has turned into the lazy way out for problem stories at times–certainly for me, anyway.

  25. This is the single most inspiring article I’ve read in a very long time. It has been printed out and now lives on my wall.

    I thank you.

  26. Excellent post. The internet world has def speeded everything up, and the fear of falling behind certainly is high on my stress-o-meter. Guilt, too, of not READING everyone’s updates and newly-pubbed pieces. Which makes me feel selfish for putting out mine. I wish I had the courage to unplug my blog, unplug from my forums. I rarely go to fb, though, and rarely use twitter. There’s no time. I have 1-2 hours a day max to write/edit/read for the mags I read for; blog-hopping and visiting my writing hangouts (fictionaut, 52/250, fridayflash) are my dessert after I’ve written what I need to write.

    Good writing is like good eating — slow. Remember that it’s NOT a race, but a journey. Peace…

    PS. Kids are a time suck. But oh, what fodder!

  27. I am glad you voiced a feeling that has been within my head for a long time. Judging from the comments to your post it appears many people agree as well.

    As a poet the emphasis once was stressed to be get as many poems in quality, high-end magazines. Now it seems to be skip the courtship aspect and just self-publish as many books as possible… then network them from Facebook, or whatever social media outlet available.

    The craft has shifted focus.

    More than likely I am only repeating what you already stressed. Over-all, I am glad you spoke out. Here’s hoping a positive thread can develop.

  28. I feel ya, Amber. Sometimes Facebook makes me want to quit and hide in a closet. I applaud the whole essay. It’s true. Sometimes I think about Flannery O’Connor when get daunted about how many people are putting what out and with whom, etc. I think: The woman’s collected stories can be housed in one book. I love that book so much I could carry it into my grave with me and feel comforted in the afterlife. Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has kept her famous for years. Melville died thinking Moby Dick a big, stinking failure into which he blew much of his profit from the earlier successful books that no one now reads. Honestly, O’Connor’s Wise Blood, though I love it because I love her, is clearly a first novel from someone who excelled in short form–and I think of this too, each time I think I want to shit out a novel to get an agent. I will try, eventually, to write a good novel, but I will not do so just to compete with others since my preferred genre, the short story, is considered by many to be the red-headed stepchild of more elite publication and those writing in this form are consistently undervalued. Again, I breathe. I think: What do I love? What do I do this for? AND Why do what I don’t love when my time is limited enough? I have to trust the art to bring the vehicle when the time is right. :) I totally applaud your honesty here–competition makes me curl into a fetal ball and want to die. The creation of art, however, makes me want to stand up, experience, and live. xoxo

    1. Heather! Yay! This made me really, really happy. All so true, yes, yes. I might have to steal your O’Connor trick–every time I think about my anxiety, think instead of how much I love love love her short stories. Salinger, too. We do this because we love it, not to impress or compete. YES.

  29. Damn right, Amber. :) You know what’s silly, sometimes I think to myself: I don’t need to win every award, or any award, to feel good about what I do–because I can remember receiving messages from people that say, “Oh, I loved your story in xyz” and it came out ten years ago. That’s when I think: I’m the f-in’ bomb, man! :) Somebody remembered one of my stories for TEN YEARS! *happy dance* Hallelujah. And I celebrate the little stuff like that, stuff that makes me feel like writing. (Because there’s a lot of unfair nepotistic promotion of lukewarm talent out there, let’s be honest. And there are brilliant people whose work is sidelined and never sees the big press. And so I like the weird eclectic measures of success that mean something to me.) A guy wrote me after I had a piece come out in Night Train a few years back and said, “I haven’t written in years, and I read your piece… and it brought me back to my work.” I knew him years previous, on a writing site, so this meant doubly more to me. I sent him a reply message right away, like somebody was going to die if I didn’t reply right away, because the message was urgent and his own message touched a deep chord in my occasional desire to pack it in: Keep freaking writing! Remember you love it. Don’t ever stop. Love, H–So anyway, the little things that matter. :) Let’s love those. And be slavedrivers on our muses, but not ourselves. xo

  30. Slow food. Take your time. It’s all valid. The only battle we have is with the inner dialogue. Forget the rest. Focus and push, but go with the flow. Comparing ourselves to others = not taking full responsibility for our own insecurities. No one else is involved. Go through the process. It’s not all about production and end result. It’s about process, and the end result is just proof of your process. If you don’t see the proof you want, change your process. Try something new. But that’s what it’s all about. Art mimics life mimics art. One and the same. Live it.

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