Faye Rapoport DesPres

Where is the time?

Yesterday I met writer Cindy Zelman for coffee (or Earl Grey tea, in my case) at a Starbucks in Newton. Cindy had spent the morning in a cubicle at the financial company where she works. I had been at a car dealership, waiting to hear that the “check engine” light blazing on my Subaru dashboard means that I need new catalytic converters (well, my car does). I waited quite a long time for this news, while the mechanics ran the car through various diagnostic tests. Thankfully, I don’t really mind waiting at this particular dealership, because there is a quiet area upstairs with a long desk, plugs for laptops, and free Wi-fi, all within reach of a free coffee machine (thus the Earl Gray tea later). I used the time to complete four issues of an e-newsletter for pedorthists in advance, in preparation for my vacation in April. This is the life of a freelancer: writing e-newsletters for pedorthists upstairs at a car dealership, hoping those e-newsletters will pay for catalytic converters.

At 3 p.m., Cindy and I met over a little round table, and set aside our jobs and other worries to discuss writing. And one of the things we talked about was the whole concept of being present on the Internet as a writer, or building a professional platform for yourself.

Some publishers are stressing the importance of an Internet presence; they like to see that you are out there, because it’s a good sign that you will be able to promote whatever book you might publish. The days when publishers had the financing to supply publicists are largely gone (except, perhaps, in the case of the really large houses); these days, you have to do a lot of marketing yourself.

The problem is that all of this takes time. Between posting and reading others’ posts on Facebook, blogging, updating your Twitter account, and trying to read everything that friends and other writers are churning out, you can find yourself spending a lot less time actually writing. Both Cindy and I are experiencing this problem. Cindy has decided to take some time away from posting regularly on Facebook and writing blog posts so that she can focus on her current writing project. I’m wondering if I should do the same.

It’s a tough line to walk. I think it’s important to share information about writing and literature in general, to participate in the ongoing dialogue with other writers, to help other writers promote their work, and to get the word out about your own projects. There’s no shame in marketing yourself or your good work; even someone like me, who generally resists such things, has come to understand the importance of getting yourself and your work out there. Few writers are satisfied with stuffing their work in a drawer; we write for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that we hope to reach readers. And you can’t reach readers if no one knows about your work.

Still, there are disadvantages to spending time creating a “presence,” especially if you have a “real job,” too. If you find yourself checking in on Facebook, your blog, and Twitter all day, frankly you’re not getting much else done — especially if you start reading all of the interesting blog posts and things that other people are writing. That’s one of the problems with this Internet age; there’s so much information out there, and it’s so accessible, that you could drive yourself crazy trying to read everything people send you, or clicking on every interesting link posted on Facebook. And while you’re doing all of that, you’re not spending time alone, outside, quiet, apart from distractions, focused, reading a book, or writing.

I’ve seriously considered putting a timer in front of my computer. When the timer goes off, so will the computer.

It’s a dilemma. How do you handle it? And I’ll stop right there, before I use up any more of YOUR time.

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5 thoughts on “Where is the time?

  1. Faye Snider

    Faye, as always, you are willing to put the issues out there, to assert your struggle, and in so doing, to tap into the ambivalence, the choices I struggle with daily. Here’s my shorthand conclusion— if we don’t take the time to think, to write, to struggle with the quiet and empty spaces that eventually will bring the work forth, then all the visibility (and the effort to manage the visibility) will be naught.
    This week, I have been working on a very long poem —in the works for since 1990—and I have had to cut myself off from friends, phone calls, etc. to dig in and focus. It was easier during Pine Manor days, even though friends constantly complained about my unavailability. Bottom line, I am happiest when writing & feeling that I am chipping away at a work I want to bring to fruition.
    I experience Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Internet, Newspapers (we get three), television both as resources and distractions and like a foodie buffet, to be managed carefully.

  2. Joely Black

    Thank you for putting the issues out there. This is a major concern, and I’m sure everybody has a different answer to it.

    There’s something I don’t think you’ve mentioned here, which is also important, and that’s life balance beyond the regular job, the writing and the promotion. It’s crucial that you’re able to fit in the rest of your life and everything else.

    It’s something I struggle with, because I’m involved in a few groups not directly related to writing but which are important to me socially. Since I’m often out in the evenings, it’s a squeeze making sure I get everything done. I tend to find that internet stuff can be done in writing breaks, when I really can’t find the inspiration to write something.

    But I’m still learning, and it’s a constant struggle!

  3. Linda K. Wertheimer

    Great on point post. It’s a struggle for every writer I know. One accomplished author, who blogs very little, advised me to focus the most on writing for publications – and I do that, even as I keep up a blog and occasionally tweet, Facebook, etc.

    I generally do no more than one blog post a week, and often, I do less than that. I try to post quality work even on my blog, but also use my blog as a sounding board in a way for ideas that may blossom into articles later.

    Of course, here I am, using my one available time on the computer reading your post and commenting. And yet, I see that as an important part of being a writer – networking, sharing. It’s a daily juggling act for me, but first and foremost, writing work with the aim of publishing it for the biggest audience possible – or in a key publication – is my priority.

    I do enough on the blogosphere, Internet to keep myself connected. I don’t set a timer, but I seem to have an internal timer. 10-15 minutes max a day is generally what I give to tweeting, etc. – if that. An hour or so a week – sometimes less, I give to my blog.

    Author Jenna Blum writes humorously – and yet usefully – about this perplexing dilemma at this link http://grubdaily.org/?p=411

    Good luck, and let me know how the timer thing works out!

  4. Cindy Zelman

    Hi Faye,

    We had a good discussion yesterday and your blog really illuminates the essential points. I’m not surprisedl; you listen so well.

    I think I’m taking a break from regular blogging and regular Facebook updates now that I see how capable I am of drawing an audience. It was wonderful to get all that attention and realize that I can spark so much interest in my writing.

    Then it occurred to me that if I didn’t finish the writing project at hand, what good would a platform do? It’s the writing that soothes my soul and the promotion that feeds my ego. For right now, I need to do the soul work. The ego can always resume its work later.

    Faye, I think your efforts online to bring writers together and share ideas has been phenomenal. Your writing wall on Facebook is one of the few places I plan to venture.

  5. Jim


    Try this: total abstinence for a month from all computer (and TV?) activities, other than writing, of course. Then fully return to the world, which of course blogging, facebook, twitting is a major part of, and I’ll bet, having appreciated some aspects of solitude and self-discipline, you’ll be able to strike the right balance going forward.