Are the Demands on the Modern Writer Growing Unbearable?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Whenever I bring up the possibility of adding in more social media (like Pinterest) or increasing our writing production (like the last post: Can Writers Earn a Living Writing Just One Book a Year),  inevitably some friends will say, “How in the world can I possibly add one more thing to my already crowded calendar?”

I can relate. My writing schedule and my life are jam-packed. I really don’t have time to add a new social media or write a novella between books.

The truth is, a LOT is expected of the modern author. In the New York Times article I mentioned in my last post, Jennifer Enderlin, the associate publisher of St. Martin’s Paperbacks said: “I almost feel sorry for authors these days with how much publishers are asking of them.

Sometimes I compare what’s happening to the modern author to what happened to musicians in Venice in the 1600’s, during a time when people wanted to hear first performances only.

Music was performed at all kinds of celebrations including elections, weddings, anniversaries, and births. If a musician played something he’d already performed somewhere else, then he’d lose his popularity. That meant musicians had to be constantly writing new material. The shelf life of any one musical piece was very short.

Antonio Vivaldi became a well-known musician during this era. He lived for approximately sixty years and wrote 48 operas, 78 sonatas, 100 arias, 2 oratorios, and 456 concertos. Lest you think these are easy to compose, then you really need to listen to The Four Seasons (a set of 4 violin concertos). Classical music is amazingly complex.

Surprisingly, Vivaldi also worked for forty years at a girls’ conservatory as a teacher and orchestra director. He did his composing on the side. He couldn’t give up his day job.

Now if we were to add up Vivaldi’s compositions we’d reach a total of 684. If we were to divide that number over forty years of working, that meant he wrote at least 17 different works a year.

17 different works per year.

Again, if you’ve never listened to a piece of classical music, you really need to. In fact, here's a performance by David Garrett. Take a minute to watch his rendition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons - Summer.

Beautiful, isn't it? Classical music is incredibly complex, involving numerous instruments and movements. Creating 17 compositions a year is no easy feat.

But the target audiences demanded it of their musicians. They wanted new, fresh, wow-me music. Every. Single. Time.

The musicians were constantly working. They had to stretch the limits of their creativity all the time. They were juggling multiple responsibilities. And they were under incredible pressure to perform.

Does that sound just a tad bit familiar?

To me, it sounds eerily like the modern author. More and more demands are being placed on the author’s desk, including participating in social media, doing a large bulk of our own marketing, networking with other authors, always trying to keep up with the to-be-read pile, writing our novels, and then even more writing in the form of novellas or short stories.

Just like the 17th century musicians, writers today are pushing themselves to produce more in order to keep up with what everyone else is doing (and to be able to make a living at writing). Writers are constantly looking for ways to increase our output while multi-tasking with marketing and other demands.

In this modern age of high demand for struggling artists, I see writers taking two extremes. In the quest to keep up, we can take the extreme of trying to do it all. Or we can take the other extreme and decide we can’t keep up, so why bother doing anything.

I’d personally like to try to land somewhere in the middle, where I’m courageous and willing to try new things, but also wise in how I use both my time and my talents.

Here are a couple of Pinterest Pins I really like that serve as guardrails for keeping me in the middle:

“Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.  (And Antonio Vivaldi!)

“It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius

My summary: We all have limited time. So we need to stop making excuses. Use our time wisely. And keep moving forward. Maybe some of us will sprint and others crawl. But if we’re being diligent with the talents and time we’re given, that’s what matters.

What about you? Do you think the demands on modern authors are increasing? Are we being pushed beyond what we can bear? Are you trying to do it all and increasing your output? Have you felt like giving up because you can’t keep up? Or are you falling in the middle?

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