Work, Life, and Balance

So, by now everyone’s likely read the NYT thing about how Lisa Scottoline had to up her output to 2000 words a day and made it sound like she does this from morning to late night every day of the year. (I’d link to it, but it’s behind a paywall now and, really, if you haven’t seen it already and you’re here, you’re probably lost.) It’s all about how writers have had to up their output to keep up with the insatiable demand of readers with e-devices who must be able to download your next book the second their done with the one they just bought or they’ll quit reading you forever. Or something.

Thing is, that’s party choice and partly, it’s not. Lisa Scottoline writes a lot of stuff that’s not the thrillers she’s best known for. And those 2000 words? Are those in the articles she writes? The books? Does it include emails and blog posts and business letters? It seems an arbitrary number in that sense. No one in today’s world does just one thing anymore and expect to eat. We’re all expected to be writers and insurance investigators and doctors and lawyers and bankers.

(Which is a whole other rant: That at one timeĀ  you could pretty much trust your banker to help you get the best loan because his kid went to your daughter’s school and if he screwed you over he had to look at your angry eyes in church every Sunday…so you didn’t have to be a loan expert to buy a house, as self-righteous people on the internet and news media seem to expect these days. The same goes for insurance and beef and roofing. If you don’t know enough about it to know you’re getting screwed, you’re gonna get screwed.)

Chuck Wendig is pretty vocal about all this. This non-stop writing and writing everything and anything he can talk people into paying him to write. And that’s great. Works for Chuck. I guess it works for Lisa. Except he also spends a good amount of time whining, tongue in cheek, sure, about how writing is an occupation of flab and heart disease. Apparently it involves eating copious amounts of bacon, washing it down with rotgut whisky, and never leaving your chair.

Hyperbole aside, America’s never been so great at work-life balance. We had to form unions and fight and threaten and pitch huge ugly fits to get little kids out of sweatshops (and they’re still there, on our soil, and in our fields, but now they’re illegals mostly so the iron-fisted ones don’t seem to think they matter or that they only matter in that they’re wrong), to get fire escapes and weekends and a handful of national holidays so we could remember vets with charred animal flesh or shooting AKs at the sky or blowing off our fingers with Mexican gunpowder. Took forever to get even the whiff of equal pay for the sexes. Took massive effort to get companies to accept that having women squat in the parking lot at lunch and bring the baby back in to prop up on the desk for the rest of the day wasn’t exactly “civilized,” that they might need some time off.

And of course, we’re sliding backward with all that. We’ve got people waving their crazy fist shouting about how that poor guy who defaulted on his loan is an evil son-of-a-bitch (yet they keep surprisingly quiet when American Airlines declares bankruptcy as a calculated financial move or when Donald Trump backs out of a massive half-finished hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach and refuses to pay the people he’d promised to pay). We’ve got people rabidly foaming for a bite of police and fire and especially teachers, all those highly (ha!) paid pubic servants who put up with years of lower wages in exchange for better benefits only to find those benefits being used as a weapon against them. We’ve got people who claim holidays and sick pay and comp time and equal pay and family leave and anything else are an un-American abomination even as studies continue to show that a balance results in better productivity.

Which brings me back to the writers. Personally, I need some balance. If I churn out 2000-3000 words in a day, it may only be 200 the next. If my day job that keeps me in food — barely — eats up too many hours, I may get down 3 words like I did last week. If you miss dinner with your family, your son’s first words, your grandmother’s 90th birthday, so you can hurl words at the “great hungry maw,” you’re fucking up. If working from home churning out words lets you see your kids more often, gives you the flexibility to take a notebook on that 10-day hike and jot down some notes to feed your “write what you know” later, if you make it to grandma’s party, you’re doing it right. If you need a day job so you have inspiration or health insurance or indoor plumbing, that’s okay, too.

Because, I don’t read James Patterson for a reason. I’m sure his tales are passable. They certainly seem to entertain a lot of people. But I don’t shop at Wal-Mart either. I don’t want another cheap one-off that is only passable. I don’t mind paying a little more if it keeps the local shopkeeper in business, if it means the book’s going to be a fucking awesome read instead of passable.

When it comes to clothes and shoes, I find I don’t need that much of it. If clothes are good quality, I don’t need more very often. I’ve been wearing this pair of flip flops for well over a year. And books, frankly, sometimes just find me. Paper, electronic, used, new…books find me. Hell, a book I was told I should read sat down on my plate at breakfast one morning while I was looking the other way.

I get that I’m not most people. But I think eventually most people will come back around. Or a certain faction of people will come back around.

Why? Because Miami is on a list of most-reading cities because they download a lot of e-books. I’ve been to Miami. I’ve been all over South Florida in general. I don’t see a lot of reading. I don’t see that many books on the beach. I see bookstores empty of people except for the Starbucks counter. I see closed signs on independent bookshops. I see about three people a month with an e-reader and they’re either the same woman at my school or the same dude walking his dog. South Floridian’s love a good gadget and they love a bargain, but I suspect they aren’t actually reading all that stuff they’re downloading.

Which goes for a lot of other cities and a lot of other people. My friend, the reading teacher, loves her Nook. Her coworker, the reading coach loves her Nook. Together, they’ve read three books since August. They’ve downloaded a combined 200 since August. Which means, you’ve got two book markets now. You’ve got crap people download because it’s free or cheap, but they don’t read it because they aren’t really readers. They’re gadget owners.

And you’ve got readers. Readers want to read books that are fucking awesome. Readers will tell other readers about books they thought were fucking awesome. Books find readers, too. Which means, I think there’s a place for writers of the fucking awesome and writers of the sorta passable. And I don’t think it’s necessary for one to become the other.

But then, what the hell do I know? I’m un-American enough to wear the same shoes for a year.