Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 14 May 2012

Don't waste my time


Time equals life; therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life. – Alan Lakein

Time is precious. I say that and it reads like a cliché. Time is valuable but most people aren’t willing to pay us a fraction of what our time is worth. I know what the government says the average wage is—currently that would be about £26,000 per annum—but I’ve never earned anything like that. In fact when I was on £15K I thought that was good money, about £7.70 per hour before taxes. So what is you spare time worth?

I am going to die. Not soon. At least I hope not soon. But we all die. If I live as long as my parents that means I’m two-thirds done. If I read a book a week until the day I die that means I have time for just about 1200 books. I’m two-thirds done and I’ve not read 2400 books. I’ve not read 1200. 600, maybe. As I write this I feel very, very guilty that I have wasted decades of my life. From a scholarly perspective I have and I have to live with that. But I’ve lived an interesting (if not exactly an exciting) life that I’ve been able to draw from. Living takes time and if you don’t live what have you to write about? I met a girl once—androgynous-looking thing she was—a Canadian, who was visiting the UK with her fiancé who was a family friend with latent gay tendencies—an odd couple; let’s put it that way. She just finished university after doing two degrees back-to-back and although she was clever—Christ, was she clever—she was also completely ignorant about life; all her life up till that point had centred around academia and her fiancé was literally the first boy she’d dated. I wonder if they’re still together.

My dad told me that when I got older time would speed up. Now I’m the first to admit that I’m no science geek but I knew that that wasn’t going to be the case and yet the older I get the more time feels as if it is speeding up; weeks scurry past as if they were days and I am always—always, always, always—always behind in my goals. Milligan and Murphy came out three months behind schedule and yet when I look back on those three months, although I know I was busy for every single day of them, I still have this huge list of things to do. I had planned to do another mass submission of poems and stories like I did in 2010 but it’s now 2012 and I only sent out a handful of things last year. What have I been doing? And more importantly was the return on my investment worth the effort involved?

Time management, at least according to Wikipedia, “is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase efficiency or productivity.” I’m clearly very bad at it. And, despite the success I’ve had in every job I’ve ever done—shop work, office work, training—I don’t think I’ve ever been especially good at it because I’ve always put in extra hours in all of them; it’s the only way I’ve ever been able to maintain my own personal standards. That’s always been the problem with me. I’ve never been content with ‘good enough’. Good enough was never good enough.

Now I only have my writing to worry about and, unlike so many writers—hell, I used to be one of them—I have all day every day to be a writer. Luxury. Ab-so-lute luxury. And yet I hardly write and it’s starting to annoy me. Honestly I wrote more when I was working sixty hours a week. Writing has never been a job for me. I can’t treat it like one. Not the creative side of my writing. I can sit down—I do sit down—faithfully every day and hammer out articles like this and book reviews no probs—1000 words a day average which is perfectly respectable—but I am finding that I can’t do that when it comes to my fiction. And I think that’s because I see the art of writing as something quite different to the craft of writing. I can sit down any day and write on any subject you give me and it will be competently done, possibly even entertaining and informative but I won’t care about it. Many people say about what they do to earn a living, “Oh, it’s just a job.” And I’ve had just jobs. But my fiction-writing doesn’t feel like it could ever be just a job.

It’s easy to identify where all my time is going. It’s gobbled up by reading blogs, newsfeeds and Facebook entries and I’ve been thinking about a lot of the stuff that I’m reading and it is a complete, total and utter waste of time. Facebook is the easiest to illustrate. In some of the groups there are people who will say something like:

While writing, do you ever find yourself making the same facial expressions your characters do? Like furrowing your brow?

I picked that one purely at random and no offense to whoever posted it if you happen to read this; I could have chosen from a couple of dozen easily. It is actually a fair question. I’d never thought about it before. And I’m not sure I can say categorically that I don’t but I suspect I don’t. So far eleven people have stopped what they’re doing to answer that question. Who knows how many people have read the question, taken a minute to think about it and then decided as they couldn’t think of anything witty to say they’d not say anything at all and they probably spent more time trying to think of something witty that those who actually left a comment. The thing is on its own that question will have only wasted a minute or two of anyone’s time and so you could say, “Where’s the harm?” It’s a cumulative thing though, isn’t it? Ten questions like that will waste ten minutes and then there are the cute photos—which I am guilty of posting—and the blogs telling us what they did on holiday last week and once you add it all up an hour of your life has vanished that you will never get back. I easily spend an hour every day just weeding out the stuff I’m not even going to bother reading. It’s probably more. I should really time myself.

XoomJust before Xmas I got a Motorola Xoom tablet to replace my Kindle which I’ve not been happy with since I got it. Kindle is supposed to read PDFs and it does read them but not very well and, as I have hundreds of articles saved in PDF format (most about Beckett in case you wondered) I really was looking for something that could handle them. That was why I bought the tablet but I discovered that it had other uses that I had not anticipated: I could use Google Reader, e-mails and check Facebook on it and so that’s what I’ve started doing, often while watching TV or while taking a break for a meal or a snack. I scud down the list, identify the stuff I actually want to read and pass on. Most things get my attention for about a second. It seems very harsh but it’s practical because I don’t have time to waste and—and I’m being deadly serious here—if I can’t organise my life so that I’m in a position—clear-headed and refreshed—to do some real writing then I’m going to take an axe to all these other things I’m doing to try and keep up my public profile. If I could see the benefits of putting in all this time—i.e. I was starting to sell a few books—then I might feel that it was justifiable and it’s okay not to write for a couple of years while I attend to this but that’s not the way it’s going.

Why do we do what we do? Before I started blogging I spent a long time—weeks, literally—reading about how one blogged. I knew it was never going to be enough to write and readers would miraculously appear, eager to read what I’d written, so the question was: How was I going to attract them? I found several approaches, different places to list my entries, places like Digg and Stumbleupon, and the fact is after religiously listing my blog I can now boast hits exceeding 8500 per month which works out to about 1400 per individual post since I only post six times a month. That said, only a fraction of those stay on the site for more than a few seconds; it’s terrifying to see how many don’t even hang around long enough to read more than a couple of sentences. I wonder why because, without being cocky about it, I write good stuff most of the time: well-researched and pondered over. The problem is not me. It’s everyone else. We are all so acutely conscious of how little time we have that we quit on things before we give them a chance and I think that’s a terrible shame.

A lot of people, like me, have a regular blogging schedule and that’s recommended. Some hardy souls post daily, others weekly but the frequency isn’t really as important as the regularity. That’s what people say. What I say is that there’s only about two blogs that I subscribe to (out of a total of about 250 currently) that I actually look forward to and both of those individuals (who I will not embarrass by naming) only post once a week. If I didn’t see a post by them in my feedreader by Sunday night I’d go and check to see if there was a problem with the program. Most people could stop posting for weeks and have done and I’ve never even noticed. I feel bad about that but the bottom line is that so many people don’t post stuff that really matters. We post because it’s time to post. Because we think people expect us to post. And they don’t. They really don’t.

The old adage says: If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all. I say: If you don’t have anything meaningful to say don’t say anything at all. Don’t waste my time. Don’t waste your time. Time is precious, especially if you’re a writer, especially-especially if you’re a 21st century writer who has to do all the ancillary crap that, in the good old days, other people did for you like arranging promotional material or reading tours or posting out review copies. We don’t have time to waste. So you really need to ask yourself if you’re investing your time wisely. What is the facebookreturn on investment? Return is a hard thing to measure but let me illustrate. I belong to a Facebook group for self-published writers and for a while there the group discussions were being clogged up by incessant promotion: Read my book! Read my book! Will someone please read my goddam book? And a few times I chipped in and pointed out that these people were all frittering away their time marketing to the wrong people. As you all know I do regular book reviews. Mostly I review books by traditional publishers but if I get an interesting offer I’m game to plug anything I think is worthwhile; it would be hypocritical of me not to and I do often feel guilty that I don’t have more time to review some of the excellent independently published material that crosses my path, but there you go. The thing is most of the people in the group do book reviews and all of us have more books in our to-read piles (or shelf in my case) than we can ever get through unless we do nothing bar read those books for a straight year because that’s how long it would take me to read my pile. So why market to people like that? It’s a waste of time. The people we want to locate are those who are looking for something to read. And that’s the hard thing. That’s where investing time in a site like Goodreads is probably a better idea because there will be people there actually (and possibly even actively) looking for stuff to read.

I think all of us would do well to step away from the keyboard for a few minutes and just have a wee think about how we fill our time but especially how we might be guilty of contributing to the burdens of others. My mother had a favourite expression (it’s not new but she liked it): You are what you eat. I have another one: Rubbish in, rubbish out. If we fill our minds with crap what are we going to produce? More crap. Crap begets crap.

This post will fall on deaf ears mostly as is usually the case with good advice but if I get even one of you to stop and think then this post has been worthwhile. That’s me said my piece. I have an hour and a half left this afternoon and I aim to use it wisely. Starting with a fresh cup of coffee if only to stretch my legs.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me, Jim, that one of the material returns on your investment is a pile of books that will take you a year to read. When I speak of material returns, I am assuming that all those books were sent to you free of charge - by writers who want their books to be read - with hopes that you would review them; since you are clearly very good at writing book reviews. Please forgive me if my assumption is incorrect. If I had a book to sell, I would want very much for you to review it.

But what if I were to propose that the writing of book reviews (as opposed to being inundated with stuff to read) is the greater waste of your time? You could be putting all of that analysis, thought, and dissection - which you do with such great distinction - into the production of your own fiction and poetry. That seems to be what you are saying you really want to be doing.

I've just this year started contemplating writing a fiction novel. I'm stuck on the opening sentence. Perhaps I could start by making my protagonist log in to Facebook, then promptly furrow their brow. The rest of the novel could revolve around the mystery of just what they saw that caused them to furrow the brow. The trouble I have now, of course, is that I can see the seed of a haiku developing out of that. There's a fair chance I'll end up posting it on my blog too. If someone reads it and gets a kick out of it, the last couple of hours I spent responding to this post will have been doubly worth the investment.

Thanks Jim.

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.)

seymourblogger said...

I'm 78 and have had this problem all my life. I have done an incredible number of different things but could never seem to put them all together. I have been kicked off numberous blog sites for being too intellectual, too critical, basically disturbing the Dominating Discourses of whatevery blogs I comment on. Of ten I have provoked getting kicked off. The last time it happened I bit the bullet and started my own blog. It morphed into another and another until now I have a series of blogs. I write on post modern thinking reading through the media and all of a sudden my art, my psychoanalysis, my experiemental psychology, my years as a therapist, my obsessive film viewing and reading books has simply merged and I find myself doing exactly what I love doing: integrating it all. It started with Foucault for me as he cleaned up and scrubbed my mind, reordered it so I could think clearly. Then Baudrillard entered and with him Nietzsche and I have been obsessed ever since. It is like an awakening. I hope some of you visit me and leave a comment or two. I'd love to hear from you. I really love the people who read me regularly and am thrilled when comments get left and when conversations just happen. Truly it is wonderful and I can't imagine anything that could possibly suit me more. I was just waiting all my life for the technology to happen for me.

Jim Murdoch said...

You’re quite right, Brad. I couldn't tell you the last book I bought for myself. The one or two that I don’t think I can do without go on my Amazon wish list, turn up eventually and will be read eventually, maybe when I get tired of all this blogging malarkey. That said I’ve been surprised by the writers who have not offered me a review copy and I have to say that of late I’ve wondered what I might be doing wrong (or right) that might put them off. Perhaps it’s the fact that I do talk about the book. I see many ‘reviews’ as nothing more than book announcements. On one side I’m fine with it—I have a shelfful (literally a shelf completely full) of books, enough to last me a year—to keep me occupied so I’d be fine if I didn’t get anything for a month or two; I have one from Canongate and one from Alma Books that I need to do in the next couple of months and that’s all the urgent stuff from the traditional publishers but that can change very quickly and there are a handful of others who offer me something every now and then. It’s a nice position to be in.

I do occasionally offer to do a review. I was never asked to review Verruca Music or Magnus Opum. If I can fit a book in—especially if it’s been self-published or published by a small press—I will. There is good stuff out there that needs a platform. I don’t do much poetry. I find reviewing poetry really hard work. I’m working on one at the moment and I’ll probably spend three times longer on these twenty-eight little poems than on any of the novels I’ve written about—if you’re going to do it properly you have to.

I estimated that I spent twenty-four hours rewriting the opening sentence to my first novel and when, years later, the book was finally published I dug out the very first draft of the novel and compared the sentences; they were identical. I had spent hours upon hours rereading that sentence, adding in commas and then taking them out again, and all that work had changed nothing. And, by the way, I still hate it but I’m clearly incapable of improving it. There are some novels out there with great opening lines—to my mind the first sentence of The Crow Road has never been bettered ("It was the day my grandmother exploded")—but that leaves millions upon millions of books with fairly average opening lines and that includes some truly great books.

You quoted Siddharta. Let me toss Lao-tzu back at ya (at least the quote is attributed to him): The longest journey begins with a single step. Actually it usually begins with months of planning, a backpack, a compass and sturdy pair of walking boots.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m impressed, seymourblogger. I only know one other septuagenarian blogger and he’s also quite prolific. Clearly you don’t me to teach you anything about using your time wisely and I hope I’m as active when I’m you age. I enjoy stumbling across blogs that make me think. And I have to say it looks like all the youngsters have buggered off to Facebook and Twitter meaning that the age of your average blogger has taken quite a hike. And a good thing to. People need a few years of life experience under their belt before they’re worth listening to. My dad once asked my why Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was thirty, surely he was perfectly capable in his twenties. The answer was, apparently, that at that time anyway, you weren’t considered to be a man before the age of thirty; no one would have taken him seriously. I have never heard that explanation from anyone else but I’ve also never heard a better explanation.

I think you’ve done the right thing starting your own blog, a place where you can have the last say. I shy away from boards myself. Usually two things happen there: either all they do is tell you how wonderful you are and expect you to tell them the same or they think they’re under some obligation to cut you down to size. Neither is helpful. With you own blog though there’s the problem of how to attract readers and that takes a long time. The best way is to go looking for them and, of course, they are there writing their own blogs, saying their own thing and you end up following them and they follow you and five years on, like me, you find yourself trying to follow a couple of hundred blogs and wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea.

Foucault, Baudrillard and Nietzsche are basically just names to me. It embarrasses me to say that but I’m afraid when I started that journey I was just talking to Brad about I had planned nothing. I just set off into the beyond and let everything and anything distract me. Suddenly I was approaching fifty and realised that a course correction was needed before I wandered off some cliff. I only discovered Ayn Rand, who I also see you have an interest in, a couple of years back; I watched a documentary on her and made a point to see the first part of Atlas Shrugged which didn’t particularly impress me. God alone knows if I’ll ever get round to actually reading her. I am not, never have been, a voracious reader and even though I’m a regular reader I’ve learned to accept my limitations. I don’t like it but whinging about it won’t change anything. The important thing is not to waste my time and the definition of ‘waste’ has to be a subjective one. One of the things I find myself asking so often these days is: Is what I’m doing right now a worthwhile use of my time? When it’s not I then ask: Am I doing the best I can do just now given my current physical and/or mental state? That is usually the deciding factor. We do the best we can with what we’ve got.

who said...

I like to read, but not write. But often feel like I pissed off some angels that hold grudges eternally and I am forced to read things I don't want to which is a shame because I really do love to read.

But that's why I don't understand why whatever makes me feel forced to read doesn't leave me alone and go where it would be appreciated. I love to read things I don't understand, so that I can. I am fine with my understanding of how time passes, esp pertaining to slow and fast. It's probably the ONLY thing I appreciate from having this enemy of mine pester me day and night. Although gets paid to be pestered would admittingly make things a whole lot more tolerable. Here's what my a$$hole little friend says about time:

It exists more than just the now. The smallest "now" is a 23hour 55minute day and after that, it's just repeating, at least where there are no seasons. Where there are there are bigger picture repeaters the cycle in 360 todays=year

That the only reason they (time keepers/angels pissed off at me) label it anything more past the 23hours 55miniutes revolution is to account for the changes in season. They (TK/APOM) tend to live out near the poles and when at home they are traveling through a linear time that is shorter and circular or repeating time that is slower (smaller concentric circles) where they keep track or Earth hours(years) At the Equator there are no years to keep track of and time only exists there as rapid fire life repeating every 23:55. But for those who being zinged around there isn't quick enough to see the reoccurring patterns, the most dialed in they can get on earth is to inhabit a place aligned somewhere where there are no seasons, and along the Celestial equator.

Loren Eaton said...

I have a theory that time seems to move faster as we age because each section of it increasingly composes less of our life lived. For example, a week is a massive portion of a newborn's existence, while to some who's eighty it's almost nothing.

Jessica Bell said...

I often find six months has passed without "writing", so you're not alone there. The Internet has significantly screwed up my writing momentum. BUT, I wouldn't have a following without the Internet, and then the logical reason for writing (other than I can't live without it) would not matter nowadays in a technologically overwhelmed society.

I see where you're coming from with the silly FB comments and whatnot. But you might want to stop and think that some of these people are aspiring writers and are just feeling their way through the process (and so are the commenters too), looking for other writers who share something in common. Perhaps they are not aware that every tom dick and harry that writes goes through these things. Perhaps it they haven't been networking very long, or communicating online very long. Everybody starts somewhere.

And as silly as it sounds, writing random stuff like this on the Internet shows there is a 'person' behind the profile. Readers nowadays like people, not just names. So even it it's someone established posting 'crap', there is a usually a reason for it. For every person like you who rolls theirs eyes, there are 20 who don't and join in the conversation. Maybe you'll be lucky and one of those twenty will be intrigued by you and by your book(s). In my case, I post random comments on Facebook and Twitter, not only to interact with others, but to market myself. It's a glimpse of my personality. As I said, readers want people not just names.

Regarding how long people look at your blog, I think I've mentioned before that most people read their blog feed through other avenues, such as Google Reader, and then only click onto the actual blog to comment. That is one reason why this might be happening to you.

All in all, I just think you have to remember that everyone is different. And there definitely isn't another Jim Murdoch out there, that's for sure ;o)

Jim Murdoch said...

If I did get paid it would make things a whole lot different, who. I don’t consider a book as payment even though I could sell it on and convert it into cash in most cases. I don’t. I like being surrounded by bookcases full of books. Carrie to a load to America the last time she was there to pass onto her family. I have to say a part of me didn’t want to see them go.

We can’t blame grudge-holding angels for the choices we make when it comes to what we read or write. I’ve always been acutely aware of the fact that I was wholly responsible for what I took into my head which is why I can spend three hours in a bookstore and come out with nothing because what if I got it wrong? It doesn’t happen very often but it did happen once in John Smiths in Glasgow. My wife gave me a £30 book certificate as a part of some present and, after watching me struggle to spend it, swore she would never put me through the experience again. There are just too many damn books. I ended up spending most of it on the hardback edition of Dustcovers: The Collected Sandman Covers 1989-1997 by Dave McKean and regretted it right after and ever since because, although I love that I own it, I’ve probably looked at it twice in fifteen years. I would have been just as happy to download the covers off the Internet and display them on my desktop until I got bored of them.

As regards your e-mail—I’ll just tag a response here if you don’t mind—it takes a lot to offend me. I don’t look to be offended and I don’t automatically assume that offense is intended; I’m always happy to give people the benefit of the doubt. Not proofreading is just bad practice. I have to reread my comments several times to catch all of them especially on a bad day and no blog ever goes live without Carrie editing it and it is often embarrassing what she catches but at least she catches them.

And, Loren, that’s as good an explanation as any. It is not new, however. It’s called the ‘proportional' theory and seems to have been first put forward in 1877 by Paul Janet, who suggested the law that, as William James describes it, "the apparent length of an interval at a given epoch of a man's life is proportional to the total length of the life itself. A child of 10 feels a year as 1/10 of his whole life – a man of 50 as 1/50, the whole life meanwhile apparently preserving a constant length." Wikipedia, predictably, has a whole article on the subject. My own opinion is that it’s all to do with the speed at which we live our lives. Time is an illusion after all. Children run, they don’t walk and so they can fit much more into the time they have available. Older people take longer to get around to doing things and take longer doing them and yet they remember what it was like to be young and to scud through life. Time hasn’t changed; we have.

Jim Murdoch said...

There was another comment that someone made that annoyed me at the time, Jessica, more so that the one I picked. This one was: What’s NaNoWriMo? Now, on the surface, it’s a perfectly valid question. Why didn’t they google it? Why waste the time of others? I have seen dozens of questions exactly like that. The Internet is a wonderful source of information, wonderful, and people like me have gone to a lot of trouble to research stuff and post it. Whenever I want to look up some HTML I never, never think to ask someone on Facebook what the rules are for using such-and-such a tag. If I want to know what the rules are for using an Oxford comma I do exactly the same.

So I’m in my fifties and grumpy, I accept that, but I can still remember what it was like being nineteen and without a clue and, most importantly, without an Internet. The feeling I got when I first logged onto Lycos or whatever search engine it was back then, and typed in ‘poetry’ cannot be put into words. The best way I can describe it as a feeling of coming home. I was suddenly among people who regarded writing poetry not only as normal but necessary. And I had loads of questions but I learned quickly that the information was already there; all I had to do was become adept at using search parameters. And, let’s face it, it’s not hard and Google has got very good at looking as if it’s reading our minds.

I do get what you’re on about when it comes to peeling back the mask a bit. I do try on Facebook. I share links to artworks or music that have piqued my interest, things I can’t discuss on my blog because of my self-imposed restrictions on what I write about there. I believe very strongly that a blogger should stay on topic 95% of the time. People come to my site to read about literary things and I include this rant as very much on topic; it’s about what it’s like to be a writer in the 21st century. I have 146 ‘friends’ on Facebook. Of the 10 groups most only trouble me with a couple of messages a day. I just cannot cope with this wall of data mostly from people I know next to nothing about.

I use Google Reader to filter out the blogs I’m not going to read and these days I’m quite brutal in what I reject. So, yes, I’m subscribed to 250 blogs but I only properly read a few of them. There are a variety of reasons for this but the biggest problem for me these days is brain fog. I’m not depressed or anxious; I have virtually no stressors in my life whatsoever. I don’t have to work. I have no debt, no addictions, I don’t take any medications bar blood pressure tablets (thanks Mum); I have no pressures other than those connected with my writing [inserts tongue firmly into cheek] career. I should be in seventh heaven. Yet I wake up six days out of seven with my consciousness clouded and I’m lucky if it clears by the afternoon and I can get three or four hours work done. That’s now. Six months ago I was fine and tearing through work. It will pass. If I go to the doctor he’ll likely want to try to psychologise the problem which wouldn’t be unreasonable considering my past history.

The way I feel just now is like I’m trying to fold these fifty random names and numbers in my head but someone’s talking to me and the TV’s on and the bird’s jabbering at his reflection and I keep going back to the start of the list, get six or seven in and can’t remember what comes next. It’s very frustrating. I said to Carrie on the phone only a couple of days ago, “If only I could think straight I could get so much done.” I may not agree with Loren’s perception of time theory but I am acutely aware that my time is running out; losing even a day bothers me which is why I’m probably less patient than perhaps I ought to be. BTW I actually wrote this post two months ago so this has been building for a while. It has a lot to do with the last post about how people perceive the Internet which I wrote about six months ago.

And if it turns out there is another Jim Murdoch out there then all I can say is: Poor bugger.

Ken Armstrong said...

I've found, to my benefit, that a very little time every day spent in doing what I really should be doing builds quite impressively into something worthwhile.

Thinking about the converse of this, that 'thing' that gets built by all this faffing-around we do, well it's a scary thought. Perhaps there's a 'monster story' in it, a horrible creature which slowly grows out of the time we waste, which ultimately turns on us and consumes us.

... good drugs, these. :)

Kirk said...

My nephew turned 10 recently. I asked him if he remembers when we first met. Of course, he doesn't. He was like a month old at the time. He doesn't even remember meeting his own sister, though he could walk and talk (though just barely) at the time. Of course, to me, they're both VERY recent additions to my extended family. Odd how that works. Odd how I can remember thing 20 years ago, not so much that I can remember, but what I do remember, seems to have happened only a couple of years ago. Yet when I was 20, 20 years ago was beyond the limits of my memory. Anything that happened durning the part of my life that I can recall--going back to maybe 1969--seems relatively recent--but something that happened only a couple of years before, like the Kennedy assassination, well, it might as well have taken place during the Roman Empire. Et tu, Oswald?

Art Durkee said...

Hmn. Ah. What to say. Dunno. Hmn.

Okay, that was 15 seconds you'll never get back.

I'm probably one the most impatient people around. I have even less patience than I used to, following recent brushes with death that taught me, first, that life is limited in duration, and, second, that I have a lot more that I want to do (not accomplish, DO) before my duration runs out. I've completely lost patience with most things and people that turn out to be a waste of time. I have a much higher value set on my personal time than I used to, and a lot less interest in engaging with someone who is a toxic waste of time.

Which is the main reason I haven't gone back to any of the poetry boards, which in fact I have been invited to do, and devote my writing time to my blog(s) and songwriting and music and poetry and photography. When you know that there is an end to your personal duration, you feel less like wasting time on things that don't matter. That's not to say that I'm anxious about time, or that I no longer stop and do nothing for awhile. I view Do Nothing as an active, not a passive, activity.

I don't post every day on my blog, I post when I feel like it or have something I want to write out, or say. Right now I've posted more videos than poems, which has gotten almost no comments. Posting one's writings on one's blog has so often been like shouting down a well and getting no echo back, that I basically don't give it much thought anymore. I like it when people do comment, but I don't spend my days anxiously wondering why they haven't, when a post gets no comments. I just move on.

Why are we so invested in being heard? Perhaps the anxiety is that no one, after all, is seriously listening. I frequently feel misunderstood even when I am listened to. There's a wide gap between thoughtful and thoughtless responses.

I do think you maybe spend more time than you ought to on writing reviews. When I was a music journalist, at first I believed that accepting a CD meant I had an obligation to review it; but I got over that.

Life is too short to spend all of my creative energy talking about other peoples' art, rather than making my own.

That's not to say I don't like reviews. I think that every writer must write reviews, from time to time. But maybe not that often, if it takes away from the time we could have spent writing our own poems.

Jim Murdoch said...

The question, Ken, is: What should I be doing? I have conflicting thoughts on the matter. Bottom line: why am I here online. To drum up readers. That doesn’t mean one spends all ones day flogging dead horses—the hard sell really doesn’t work online—and so you have to attract people in other ways and hope they take enough of an interest in you to maybe click on your website and see what kind of other writing this loquacious bugger does. I’ve been reading articles for five years now and they never say anything different so no one as yet as come up with a magical way to sell books especially if you’ve chosen to go down the route of self-publishing and especially squared if you don’t write mainstream fiction. All these articles tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing and I have used them as my bible. Some of the advice I struggle with. I struggle especially with social media being an antisocial pig. I don’t understand Twitter. I don’t know who I’m talking to or what to say to them, how to say it in 140 characters or less or why they might have even the slightest interest in anything I might have to say because I don’t have that much of any interest to say. (That last sentence was 234 characters with no hyperlink.) Facebook I can cope with a little better but the only people who really interest me on it are people whose blogs I already follow and the only benefit there is we can go off-topic and have wee touches without getting embroiled in lengthy discussions which none of us have the time for. When we see that someone has liked something we’ve posted we all get that nice feeling for thirty seconds: such-and-such thought about me. The longer term benefits of being on Facebook are harder to gauge. Is this what I should be doing?

Another part of the problem is understanding how other people use the Internet; we assume everyone looks at the world through our eyes. I assume, for example, that no one reads ezines because I don’t have the time to. I have no idea how true that statement is and I have no way to prove if I’m in the majority or the minority. I never search for books to read because I never have to; I always have stuff to read but I used to so I imagine there are people out there who still actively look for new reading matter but I don’t think too many of the people I mingle with are amongst them because if they were when I offered them my books to review they wouldn’t moan about their to read piles.

Although I have all the time in the world bar the few minutes it takes to do what few chores I have to (and, frankly, the bird makes more mess than we do) I am always consciously aware that I take too long to do everything; I have never been an especially efficient person but I’m even less so these days and that bothers me.

I have been watching a BBC2 series chronicling the 1970s recently, Kirk, the decade I feel most strongly attached to since it encompasses my teenage years and, as always, I’m appalled by how little I can remember. Of course my daughter can’t remember any of them because she wasn’t born until 1980, the day the Olympics started to be precise. I remember years later talking to her about punk rock and she had to remind me that she wasn’t even alive then which for a second made me stop and think, Christ, neither she was. Quite often when watching TV Carrie and I’ll see the date of birth of some actor or actress and we always say the same thing: “No one was born in 19-whatever.” Like you when I was young and looked to the future the idea of having to wait hours for something was a burden. I had absolutely no patience when I was a kid in fact I used to have a saying: I know three definitions of ‘patience’ – a girl’s name, a game of cards and a opera by Gilbert and Sullivan; I know no other. How things have changed. The idea of having to get something done in a few hours sends me into a panic. It takes me days usually to psych myself up, if not weeks.

Jim Murdoch said...

Despite the fact that I’m infinitely more patient than I used to be, Art, I do understand why you might be becoming less so. In some respects I am too only I think of it as less tolerant. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I never have especially but I think in that regard I’m getting worse.

I look at how I spend my time and there are a lot of things I do that I’d rather not do but it’s a matter of balance. I’ve been exchanging a few e-mails with Jessica Bell recently talking about her new poetry collection and about the relationship between thought and feeling. Here’s a part of one:

“There are feelings and there are feelings… A mother will do things that don’t feel right, things that even injure her for the sake of her children because her feelings for her children are stronger than her feelings of self preservation. I think most if writers these days were given the opportunity to do what they felt like they’d sit behind their desks writing novels and leave all the publicity and marketing to people who have some talent in that regard. But they don’t. They go to book signings and tweet all day long because they’ve been told that that’s what they have to do to promote their writing IF they care about it. So they fix their smiles and get cramp from signing their nom de plumes over and over again for hours on end and all the other stuff because their writing matters more than their comfort.”

Would I rather not be on Facebook or do any of the other things I do to keep up my public profile? Ab-so-lutely. If I was to do what I felt like I would jack all of this in as soon as I’ve finished posting this comment and spend this afternoon rereading my Swamp Things. But there’s no one else out there who cares enough to do the rounds and say: “Hey you have got to read this guy.” So we do what needs doing. That’s what work is about. And I do treat my writing as a job of work. When my head’s clear I put in more hours writing (in whatever forms that writing takes) than I did when I worked full time. When I’m fogged like I am right now, well, you might sit there for hours and hours but you only get done what you get done.

As I was saying to Ken I’ve read a great deal about how to behave online if you’re trying to promote yourself. Some I am better equipped to deal with than other. I always leave a meaningful comment and I try to be helpful and although, yes, I have an agenda that doesn’t mean I don’t care because I’m not that kind of person.

Why am I so invested in being heard? It’s a good question. I believe very strongly that my poetry and fiction has a power, that it can affect people in a positive way. I’ve written before about what drives me as a person and top of my list is that my life should matter. There are a lot of things that I’m ill-equipped to deal with but I can write. I don’t have a great deal to say but I have enough to say if only people will listen. Even a post like this. It’s not just me having a moan. I honestly and truly believe that every single one of us needs to step back from the keyboard and thing about the effect our writing has on others. Are we guilty of wasting people’s time? If I thought that anything I wrote was just peddling water I’d think seriously about stopping. I post on a regular schedule because that’s what the ‘rules’ say you need to do.

My wife has an expression she is rather fond of: What goes around comes around. I believe that too. So I review a lot of books. I don’t expect the people whose books I review to necessarily reciprocate although it’s nice when they do. The main reason I started doing it was that I was finding it harder and harder to write the literary articles in the time I had allotted myself which is also why I cut back on posting to once every five days and I’m thinking about cutting back now to once a week, three reviews to one essay. When I can think they’re not a burden. I can write 3000 words in a day no problem; even fogged I can sometimes squeeze out a thousand.

BTW, you owe me fifteen seconds.

Art Durkee said...

I'm all for "what goes around comes around." The business-model version of that is "you have to invest to get a return." Right now I'm investing a lot in building new websites for marketing my music and photography. I've got a desire, since getting the new music commission last year, to get more commissions, and I have a lot of marketing I know I have to do. The brain is currently fogged at times, which isn't helping—as you know only too well. I've even got a FaceBook page started, albeit not finished yet, but not a personal one, an arts business one. I know I have to do it, but I can't say that I desire it greatly. I too would rather sit around and make the art, and if possible have someone else do the publicity and business ends of things. But I do know that I have to do it—because no one else will. That's just life.

If I could figure out how to pay you interest on that 15 seconds I owe you, I would. You deserve it.

As for reading, and reviewing, the one thing about reading to write reviews is that, for me anyway, most stuff that people want me to read really IS a waste of my time. Because of my new awareness of my limited time, I've become less likely to let someone else control how I spend that time, and that includes letting other people control in any way what's on my stack of books to be read. I limit that stack to books that I really am interested in reading. I pick up a lot of cheap books at the thrift store, read them, or read part of them, then sell them or donate them back. I've got a house full of books, and I am getting picky about what I add to the pile. (The burden of Stuff.) A new book someone might sent me to review might very well be very interesting, and I might even want to write about it, but I need to be clear that the choice is always mine. So I've gotten firmer about my need to say "no" to a lot of things that I no longer feel I have time for. The reviews that I do write of late are all on books that I discovered, one way or another, and was moved to right about. Again, entirely my choice, with no sense of obligation.

I guess what it comes down to, both as a writer and a reviewer, is that I have gotten clear that I am living for myself, not living for others. I am far less casual about saying I'll do something for someone than I used to be. I am a lot more careful about what I invest my time in.

That's not to be rude, or mean, or whatever; it's just that my time is just as valuable, to me, as theirs is to them. Some of these requests for me to use my time to do something for someone else have become very clear that other person thinks their time is a lot more valuable than mine, and they obviously think it's okay to waste my time. I no longer put up with that. It's about respect.

Jim Murdoch said...

Some schemes are safe, Art, and return very little on the investment; others pay big but there’s more risk involved. And when you use a word like ‘investment’ it evokes banking and, despite the fact they’ve all recently blotted their copybooks, we still basically trust the banking system. Now, were I to talk about gambling then that’s a whole different ballgame. I don’t mind investing a few thousand quid with Bank of Scotland because they’ve been around since 1695 and aren’t going anywhere soon. I don’t care what the odds are on Flummoxed Missing Science in the 2:30 at Ayr I’m keeping my pennies in my sporran. And it’s the latter that comes more readily to my mind when I think about where I spend my time online and whose favours I court. I don’t know most of these people from Adam and one can only take so much time to study their form. So you assess the risk factors and make a judgement call. A guest blog or a Q+A might take me three hours to write but what am I going to get back for that time? Mostly my experience is nothing. A few of my regular followers might find their way their but I’m preaching to the choir with them. And that’s the biggest problem I find with most promotion efforts online, people are selling to a small market. To find potential new customers we have to keep moving our cart to new corners of the marketplace.

Part of the problem is that I’m not just a novelist. I also want to market my poetry and these are two different audiences. Yes, there is some crossover but I still see them as quite different markets and so I have double the work at least it feels like that. You have music and photography and, again, two separate audiences with little overlap. It’s where to set up that stall. I could open up a stall out the back door selling lemonade but how much would I sell? Most people I imagine would regard a grown man selling lemonade as most suspicious.

I do turn down books by the way. The two main publishers that I review for just send me catalogues now and let me pick which is nice because if I create a rod for my own back then I’ve only myself to blame and it’s been a while since anything’s popped through the letterbox uninvited. I don’t get nearly as many requests from self-published authors as I might have expected after this length of time. Maybe the length and depth of my reviews scares them off. If so, good, because it’s a level playing field here. I don’t care who wrote the book or who published it. I do like to offer when I can and that’s another reason not to take on too much. I know how soul-destroying it is to keep asking and either getting turned down politely or ignored completely.

Anonymous said...

I've always been obsessed with the fact of time passing. Even as a child I had an almost febrile consciousness of the finitude of all sequences of events. The weird thing is that ever since becoming father to three kids in age, my own sense of increasing
temporal speed has been moderated by my kids' complete unawareness of time as a sequential process. When I'm operating within their time-frames, I'm liberated from any awareness of time-slide. These brief 'time-outs' are exhilarating!

rhymeswithplague said...

I just read this entire post and some of the comments, and it was a complete waste of my time (I'm joking! I'm joking!). This is my first visit to your blog, and unless something catastrophic happens at my end I know I shall be back from time to time. I too am a septuagenarian (what a wonderful word!) like seymourblogger, except that I don't have multiple blogs like he does unless two counts as a multiple, which I suppose it does. I'm rambling.

The real reason I came here was to let you know that while reading Elisabeth's latest post at Sixth in Line I ran across your comment and learned that you and your second/current wife have the same names as my Albanian parents-in-law, God rest their souls. Jimmy and Carrie. I haven't spoken those names in years. Jimmy was actually Dhimitri in the old country, and Carrie was Ksanthipi, but on their U.S. naturalization papers they became Jimmy (well, James, actually) and Carrie. This wonderful coincidence could not go undocumented, ergo (and voila!), here I am leaving a comment on your fascinating blog, making a pest of myself, and completely wasting both your time and mine.

If I may say so, and I mean this in the best possible way, you will have a lot to answer for.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure what I was like as a kid, Dick, other than impatient; I was terribly impatient. Life was to be filled to the brim with stuff, with experiences and so I suppose, like you, I was very conscious of wasting time. No one taught me that. Mortality was not something I dwelled on. Even as a teenager I didn’t really go through that death-obsessed phase that some do. But the thought of not maximising my time—of multi-tasking wherever possible—was something that bothered and still bothers me. I always listen to music when I work and I’ve got into the habit now I’ve bought a tablet of checking my news feeds, e-mails and Facebook entries whilst watching TV. I only follow one person’s tweets and that’s my daughter. I resent that I have to sleep; I’ve always considered it a terrible waste of time.

And, Billy Ray, I’m glad that you found me. It is often the oddest things that catch our eye, isn’t it? And that’s something I hate about the Internet, the fact that you never quite know what you’re going to find when you click on a link. Much of it is a waste of time but every now and then you discover a wee gem as I did with Lis. I had a wee look at your sites, as you do, and I note you fell on your head as a child. I also lay the blame/credit for the way I am on one (or possibly two) events from when I was young. My entry into this world was a reluctant one and I didn’t show much interest in it when born; all I wanted to do was sleep apparently. My mother got into the habit of leaving me lying around here and there because I never moved, not a muscle. Once she left me on the kitchen table and, to her horror, came back to find me asleep on the floor. I have no idea if I landed on my head but the romantic in me likes to think so. The other thing was, having survived until I was three, I caught meningitis, the bad variety; three years later my brother caught the not-so-bad variety. So between these two attacks on my brain I have always maintained that this is why I’m ‘broken’ the way I am; I also secretly believe that all artists and writers are ‘broken’ in some way. Neither of my parents was remotely creative, never read, never owned a long-playing record and showed no interest in art; my father didn’t even much care for paintings on the walls of his house by I suspect my mother overruled him there.

Only family members call me Jimmy. All my childhood I was ‘Our Jimmy’ although not ‘Oor Jimmy’; despite being born and raised in Scotland my parents were of good English stock and retained their strong Lancashire accents until they died. At school I was James. At work I was Jim. And there was one family friend who insisted on calling me Jamie which I never cared for much. I also dislike Jimbo which people use always in an affectionate way but I’d rather they didn’t. Carrie’s parents call her Priscilla, her middle name; her father also uses his middle name; not sure about the rest and she’s not here to ask at the moment.

Art Durkee said...

I guess the idea of the "rules" of posting is one I'm skeptical of. I worked in marketing and advertising for years, and in my experience most rules are just preferences, and success often came from breaking the rules, not following them. My point would be: if following the rules doesn't yield any results, then break them. They're not the Bible, even if someone says they are.

I'm also only too aware of exceptions. I'm usually in the minority or exception in most things, including medically. Stumping the doctors is nothing new.

So if following the rules of self-marketing yields no change in results, why bother? The "rules" themselves become a waste of time. Unless having a set of rules to follow provides structure and order to life, if they make no real difference, you might as well just follow your heart and your instincts.

Food for thought, that's all.

Jim Murdoch said...

When I talk about ‘rules’ in this respect, Art, my tongue is in my cheek slightly. Most of the ‘rules’ are just common sense: post regularly, keep your posts to a high standard, respond to comments, don’t be belligerent, don’t spam, etc etc. The thing about some of the advice is that it’s good but hard to follow, e.g. find your niche. If all you write are paranormal romances then that’s not so hard but I find it exceedingly hard to say what niche I would fit into. So how do I locate potential readers and market to them? The same goes for things like Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure for some people they work perfectly but I don’t have the right kind of friends for that; most of my Facebook friends (at least the ones who belong to my niche) follow my blog anyway and I’ve no idea who reads my tweets or how any of that works.

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