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03/15/2010

A Writer Wears Many Hats

I am a writer. I can say this with all honesty because I write, or at least I used to. Being a writer doesn't have anything to do with being published. It has everything to do with writing. But, since most of us equate writing success with publication, I'll include writerly hats that deal with the publishing side as well as the writing side.

So, what's the first hat the writer wears? The human hat. Seriously, you are a mother, daughter, son, father, sister, brother, uncle. You have some connection to other humans on the planet. Even if you are a solo act, with no one else in the world that depends on you, at some point you have to interact with other humans on the planet. Okay, you don't have to, but if you're squirreled away in your hermit's cave subsisting on roots and berries, and scraping out your writing in pictograms on the rock walls of your cave, your writing is going to suffer a lack. If you want to broaden your writing, you have to get out of your cave and interact with the world.

Hat number two is the family hat. If you're not living in a cave alone, you probably have some family. They are a rich source of writing material, but they can't always be relied on to leave you alone when your muse is speaking. Children want to eat, need rides to school and occasionally you have to keep them from leaping from tall buildings or killing each other. Husbands likewise want to eat and need help with simple household chores like finding the salt shaker or their car keys. Other family members expect you to show up for family gatherings even when your on deadline. 

The work hat steals a writer's time, and sometimes his soul. Unless your name is Stephen King, Janet Evanovich or one of a few other's that routinely sign for gazillion dollar advances, you probably have to work to provide the essentials. You know, just the little things, like electricity and running water. 

If you've managed to convince your family to give you writing time, and you've found a job that keeps the lights on and doesn't beat your muse down to a jibbering idiot, congratulations. You've written, you've slaved, you've queried, and wonder of wonders, now you are published. In your elation, your mind bubbles over with ideas for your next book, and a couple of short stories, but there are other hats you have to wear. Now that time you've carved between work and family isn't just for writing anymore. You have to put on a couple of other hats. You need a web presence.

You can hire a webmaster, so you don't have to personally wear that hat, but websites need content, and unless your webmaster is psychic, you have to provide that. It's still writing, in that you are sitting at your desk and typing on your keyboard, but it's not creating stories, it's basically creating ad copy. If you are a copywriter under your working hat, this part is easier than for most of us, but it's still time away from creating stories.

Your website is up and running. It's beautiful, but wait, you're not done with that web presence yet, your agent, editor and all the members of your writing group, say you need to have a blog. The blog itself is relatively easy to set up. Most blog engines are set up for people that don't code HTML for fun, but you have to post often. There should be at least three to five posts a week. Again, technically this is writing. And it can be about anything. What you're cooking for dinner, what you're going to write about, where you're going on vacation. It doesn't matter, but it needs to be compelling enough for people to want to stop in and read it. So that's five or six hundred words, three to five days a week or more. Thats five or six hundred words that aren't going into your work in progress, but blogs help sell books and you want to sell books, so you put on your blogger hat and do it.

Now your web presence is complete. The website is great, the blog is time consuming, but fun. You've got a few posts stacked up ahead and you're ready to get back to that work in progress. But wait, there's a new hat perched on your keyboard. It says social networking and a quick note from your agent assures you that if you want to sell books, and keep your publisher interested enough to buy the next two books in the series, you need to get on facebook. Oh, and while your at it, Twitter is a great way to connect with readers. You really need to be doing this. So, you pick up your new hat and go find your kids, or borrow one from a friend or neighbor and have them show you how to facebook and how to Tweet. It's takes a while to get the facebook thing set up, a couple of hours, but no big deal. The same with Twitter,and it's kind of fun. So now in the morning, you grab your coffee, open your laptop, check your email, send one back to your agent assuring her that your manuscript is going well, and you'll have the pages to her by your deadline, no problem. You post on your blog, tweet a good morning to the world. Check out the blogs of a couple of friends. Take a quick look at the news to make sure intergalactic war hasn't broken out, though you're sure you would have heard if it had. Someone would have tweeted about it. Finally you open up that file and start writing. Your stomach growls and you realize it's lunch time and you haven't eaten yet. That's okay, you grab a sandwich, sit back down at the computer, and write for a blissful few minutes, until you glance at the clock. It's after five. Hubby and the kids have just gotten home from their hike, and you realize, you have to take off your writer hat, because you have an event this evening. It's time to put on your promotion hat.

No, the website, blog and facebook aren't enough. You have to actually get out in the world, talk to readers, sign books, give speeches. Oh yes, that promotion hat comes in multiple colors and you have to wear them all. One for scheduling events locally, a different color for speaking to libraries, reader's groups, and classrooms. You need a hat for writer's conferences and book fairs. Because, you know, people can't buy your books if they don't know about them.

I won't even go into how many other hats you need if you're working with a small publisher, or are self published, but there are probably at least five more.

And what's happening to your next book as you frantically work, cook, blog, email, facebook, tweet, speak, sleep and eat. Well, it's just sitting there. Your muse has taken to curling up on the keyboard like a sleepy kitten while she waits for you to come back. Your characters have started yelling at you in your sleep. You're pondering waterproof pens to use in the shower, or installing a shelf in the bathroom so you can write while taking care of those mundane but important tasks. 

What's the point of this hat filled post? Well, what I've discovered is time management is the most important part of my writing life. I've been able to shelve a few of my hats. My work allows me months at a time to be home with my computer. My Children are grown, and I don't have the care and feeding of a husband anymore. I probably drove him nuts talking in my sleep. What have I found as my life has rearranged to allow me more time with my muse? I don't get near as much writing done as I did when the kids were home, and I worked fifty weeks a year. See, when I had fifteen different hats to wear, I managed my time better. I wrote during lunch breaks, while dinner was cooking, while the kids were at ball practice, and late into the night after everyone was asleep. Now I sit down at my computer in the morning with my stack of hats, check my email, blog, read the news, blog surf, piddle around Amazon to see if there are any books I want to read. I pet the cat, shoo my muse away, check twitter, turn on the weather channel, stare out the window at the birds and the squirrels. I return phone calls, set up author events, stop for snacks or a quick workout, and suddenly when I look at the clock it's time for the infomercials to start on television. My muse is snoring on the corner of my desk, I'm sick to death of my desk and my computer because I've been sitting there for hours. But it's okay, I'll write tomorrow.

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