Because this is a blog devoted to publishing, we try not to stray too far from our book-related mandate. Today, however, as I follow the heart-rending coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the “concerns” about an unfolding nuclear disaster, not to mention events in Libya and Bahrain, I’m struggling to find a way to draw a line between the events I’m paying attention to and the topic I’m supposed to write about.  The best I can do is point to indie publisher Melville House, which is donating proceeds from sales this week to Japan disaster relief. Somehow, discussing anything besides the assorted catastrophes taking place around the world feels like fiddling while Rome burns.  I realize that this is a poor excuse for a once-a-week blogger. But the fact remains that today I’m stuck. For all you out there—you who (unlike me) are actual writers—to what degree does the news cycle crush your capacity to get words on the page? The fact that the computer is both tablet and a portal to the broader world complicates the task mightily. An author with an internet connection is no longer alone at her desk, so how do you keep the real world from intruding on the one you create? Disconnect? Dust off the Smith Corona? Or simply display better discipline than yours truly?

8 Responses to Stuck

  1. gmf says:

    I struggle with this a lot. I live in Wisconsin and thus I’ve not only been distracted by the news from elsewhere, but have found myself feeling like organizing to defend worker rights is a far better use of my time than sitting at my desk and writing. Then when I do sit at my desk to write, I first check the news and again feel like my purpose is too small, like my writing is a distraction from the world and not vice versa. The one thing that really keeps me at least somewhat focused on writing is the belief that there is no single correct way to contribute to a better world. We need EMTs and we need writers. We need scientists and we need musicians. If we can find two or three ways to contribute that is in accordance with our temperament and beliefs, we should do them all. I try to make my writing one of those things. And we need literary agents who remind us to step back for a minute to think about whether we really are focusing on the right things.

  2. Rowenna says:

    I admit that I have to disconnect. Even something as simple as disabling my network connection on my laptop keeps me from habitually clicking over to that sneaky internet icon and delving into the whirlwind online. I bracket my time–let myself read news for a set period–and then, for the sake of my sanity as well as my work, move on and get productive. Productivity–even if it doesn’t relate to helping with the horrors unfolding elsewhere in the world–helps me cope. If I wasn’t productive, I would stew. And if I stewed I would be constantly depressed. And being a depressed stew-y mess doesn’t help Japan, Bahrain, or anybody at all.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I lived in Japan for four years and only returned six months ago, so this particular tragedy has been exceptionally difficult for me. I’ve watched the news, I’ve cried, I’ve worried over friends and students I left behind. Thankfully everyone is okay, but the worry is far from over, and this feels so close to me.

    I haven’t written since it happened. I’m planning to get back to it today, but I admit it’s been very tough. I’ve had a hard time focusing through the emotions, so I just gave myself a little time off. Considering I tend to write very light, humorous scenes, it’s especially hard for me to find the right tone at the moment.

    So yes, this sort of thing does affect me. Maybe more this time than usual, but sometimes I have to stop and take a break and get my emotions back together and then I can write again. I’m going to start editing what I’ve already done today just so that I’m back to work, and I’m hopeful that the process will help me focus again as well. It’s definitely been a bad week, though.

  4. The most touching and flattering fan mail I’ve ever received was from a woman in Mississippi who told me that she’d spent a terrible day and night, huddled in her kitchen while Hurricane Katrina barreled down on her home. The only thing she’d had for company was a copy of a book I’d written and a flashlight to read it by. According to my dear fan, she’d felt less terrified when her walls shook, and her dishes rattled and holes began to appear in her roof because she’d somehow managed to escape into the story. Needless to say, I was blown away, (no pun intended of course…)

    It dawned on me after reading her letter that we storytellers are here to serve a very real purpose to those wonderful people who purchase our books, and that isn’t just to provide them with a form of entertainment; it’s to provide them with a bit of escapism when the walls – both figurative and literal – are crashing down around them.

    So, even though my heart aches for all those poor souls suffering in Japan, Bahrain, and Christ’s Church, I focus on pounding out the very best story I possibly can, because it’s my job and my purpose, but also, because it helps me find a little temporary peace too.

  5. I’ve been able to get words down on my manuscript, but as a fellow approximately once-a-week blogger, I too struggled to come up with a post and also just posted a note about Japan. Doing otherwise just seemed disingenuous to me.

  6. Matt Beier says:

    This is going to sound like a plug for my pathetically not-updated-often-enough blog, but I honestly don’t mean for it to be. Before the quake in Japan but right after my home away from home (New Zealand) had their quake, I wrote a blog entry about this topic at http://www.epicality.com.

    As a film lover (a story lover, really), I had been asking myself the question, “How can I justify celebrating the Oscars every year when so much bad stuff is happening?” I remembered the first Oscar ceremony after 9/11, when I had asked myself this question for the first time. But Tom Cruise said something then in his opening speech that has stuck with me ever since: “Should we celebrate the joy and magic movies bring? Dare I say it? More than ever.”

    This applies to all art, I think, even when tragedies are happening. The value is in the human spirit, the drive to create. It’s in the willingness to embrace art as a positive force and accept that humanity doesn’t just have to destruct itself; it can also share itself and inspire. We can create products out of nothing that change lives, that spark dreams, that promote hope, similar to the awesome story Victoria just shared above about her fan during Hurricane Katrina.

    Not all important things in the world are bad. Art is a positive force. It is not just our human footprint but also a glimpse of the collective spirit that animates us. Whether you call it divine or simply a fluke of nature, that spirit is what keeps humanity going. It is the single thing that inspires people to help others out of earthquake rubble or rise up against injustice.

    Maybe my viewpoint is naive, but it’s what keeps me working, even when all these tragedies and atrocities are happening. At the moment, I can’t do much else.

  7. Jessica says:

    As ever, thanks so much for the thoughtful, articulate replies. I should be stuck more often. I agree that writers and writing (indeed artistic expression) are inherently valuable and I don’t really mean to question the utility or relevance of the writer. These posts are a terrific reminder that books buoy the spirit.

  8. Just at the time I said to myself, I don’t need to watch the Rachel Maddow show EVERY night…won’t I be more productive without that interruption (I’m a “midnight writer”)- Scotty Walker struck. Then the triple disasters in Japan…I was starting to wonder, what is wrong with me, why can’t I turn away from this? It was like after 9/11, right after I found out, I had to drive somewhere, and I kept looking at the faces of the drivers going the other way (it was a 2-lane road) – do they know? Why don’t they look more upset? And then one woman I saw was crying/driving, and then stopped at an intersection, someone else had their window all the way down, blaring their radio…so we all knew, even though mostly you couldn’t tell, because we had our “driver faces” on…

    And now I think, every huge event – it’s like there’s the physical tsunami right there and then, and simultaneously, an invisible tsunami – emotional, synaptic – relatively slow motion – that hits the rest of the (watching) world, thanks to (nearly) instantaneous global media…our brains have to rewire themselves, let a little more grief in…”tangential” though it may be to our “actual” lives…

    Robert Frost has a poem, where he says about mourning (I paraphrase): Eventually the living find their way back to the living. Also reading Marina Tsvetaeva (who had a tragic ending) helps, because…she staked her claim in words. So what are you waiting for? Stake it.

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