Category Archives: Writing

The Work-Life-Art-Sleep Balance

lilacs for decoration

People (and companies) talk a lot about a good work-life balance but that phrase has started to annoy me. Sometimes I wish that was all I was striving for, but the life of an artist is not that simple.

First of all, let’s face it. The forty-hour work week is dead, at least for salaried workers in professional service industries. No matter how hard you work while you’re at the office, the to-do list is never done, and most companies expect salaried employees to put in late days and weekends when necessary. Some companies and some industries are less prone to fifty and sixty-hour weeks, but that has become the norm for many, in a lot of different industries.

Second of all, life is a lot of things. The life in the work-life balance is supposed to be time with your family, time with your friends, and time to relax, but no one ever talks about the time it takes to call the insurance company about the claim they just denied, or the time it takes to do your taxes, keep your house clean and cook dinner. And these days, the administrative side of life is more frustrating, and more time-consuming, than it has ever been.

That’s why sometimes I wish it were as simple as a striking a good work-life balance but for artists, we are driven by some inexplicable creative engine and we struggle for more than a work-life balance. We struggle to achieve a work-life-art-sleep balance and frequently the sleep part of the equation gets seriously short changed.

You know your art has a hold of you when it hurts in some way not to do it. Maybe a bad mood creeps up on you when you neglect your art. Maybe you end up distracted by the artistic thoughts which you don’t have time to realize. Or maybe you just hate life when it doesn’t include whatever kind of art drives you. I have stopped trying to explain why I am simply happier when I am making progress on a writing project, but I do believe artists everywhere know what I’m talking about. I have also stopped wondering where anyone’s well of art flows from, but I am constantly trying to balance my art with the rest of life, work included.

At this point in my life, here is what I’ve learned about my own work-life-art-sleep balance.

  • I would rather make less money and spend more wisely if it means I have more time to write.
  • Sleeping less is okay but there are limits and you have to pay attention to how well your brain is functioning.
  • It’s impossible to strike the work-life-art-sleep balance if you don’t make time for your friends and family.
  • The early morning is your friend if you use it wisely and actually get up when you alarm goes off.
  • If you are going to burn the candle at both ends, real food will improve your stamina and bolster your immune system.
  • Taking the time to prepare real food and eat it with your friends and family is as nourishing as the food itself.
  • The nine-to-five (or more accurately now, nine-to-six) workday is the death knell of efficiency but it cannot always be avoided.
  • Productivity begets productivity if and only if one’s categories of productivity are varied and well-rounded.
  • Whether it’s mail, laundry, or dirty dishes, you’re better off not letting anything in your life pile up, even if that means you get a little less sleep that day.
  • For me, making time to write is not optional.
  • Art includes more than just the creative part so you have to make friends with all the rest of the business and logistics that go into being a working artist.
  • The more you do, the more you get done.
  • Everything in life takes longer than you thought it would.

Unless you decide some day to give up your art entirely, the struggle to find your own work-life-art-sleep balance will never end. And unless you strike it rich, the best you can hope for is some sort of zen acceptance of this constant battle. Along the way, you can make choices in life which will tip the balance one way or another, forever or only for a time, but that’s a pendulum you have to keep tapping every now and then if you’re going to maintain your happy place and keep a roof over your head.

If you’re like me, I wish you the best of luck finding your own work-life-art-sleep balance. And let’s maybe start calling it the life-art-work-sleep balance because that’s really how we all feel. If you’re not an artist, then I encourage you to call it the life-work balance instead, because shouldn’t we all be working to live instead of living to work?

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


A Few of My Favorite Sentences

book page

I read a lot but occasionally I read a sentence that stays with me – and I’m pretty sure I just stumbled across another one. I recently read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles who is new to me. I made a sort of random reach for the bookshelf but I got lucky and I am sure I will never forget this sentence. In describing a scene of forbidden attraction between two characters in Victorian England, Fowles wrote the following five simple words which I found running through my mind long after I put down the novel.

“The moment overcame the age.”

My other favorite sentences include the first sentence of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

“Mother died today.”

This sentence which appears multiple times in The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

“Shit or get off the pot.”

This sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur.”

And then, there is one really long sentence in A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was going to include it in this post but I went back to look at it and it’s nine hundred words long. I even typed it all, but it’s not nearly as awesome out of context as it is when you stumble upon it. I’ll never forget where I was when I read that sentence, and found myself flipping back to find where it started. In the edition I have, it starts on page 323 and ends on page 325 and it is really great when you get to it.

Do you have any favorite sentences, sentences you’ll never forget?

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Why Indie Literature

Adirondacks October 2009 029

While some writers are still driven by anger and rejection, for me, going indie was business decision made after a good deal of research and soul searching. It was not a decision I made lightly, and it was not a simple decision, but in the end it was not a difficult decision. Here’s why I decided to go indie:

Because I realized I could.

There was a time when I thought it was impossible to self-publish literary fiction successfully, but I gradually became aware of the advances in technology that are empowering writers in the same way film makers and musicians were empowered by technological advances in their respective fields.

Between print-on-demand technology and the social media revolution, I realized there was nothing standing between me and my audience. Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming At Amazon clued me into the wonders of Lightning Source Inc.’s international printing and distribution services and my friends were beginning to drag me kicking and screaming into their 21st century, social media based world of uber-connectedness. Despite the fact that the majority of self-publishing success to date has been in the non-fiction and commercial fiction arenas, I could see that there was nothing between me and my audience expect my laptop and an internet connection.

Any doubts I had once I realized what was possible were rooted in the bad reputation self-published fiction has amassed which is not unfounded.  It’s true that many self-published novels are downright embarrassing but I saw an opportunity to bring a new level of quality and professionalism to the self-publishing arena.

I could see I had a lot to learn, but I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of girl and Google has made it possible to learn anything. I’ve also had the good fortune of working in a wide range of industries which has given me confidence in my ability to learn new skills and become fluent in new technologies. When I considered the various roles that go into the production and promotion of a novel, there weren’t any rocket scientists on the publishing house org chart.

In the past, if you wrote a novel, you needed a publisher (preferably a big one) for printing, distribution, and publicity—but given the evolution of technology, the established publishing industry really has outlived its usefulness in all three arenas.

Because the publishing industry is in shambles.

There was a time when a writer couldn’t complain about the publishing industry without out sounding whiny, but those days are long gone. The demise of the publishing industry has been on the front pages for years now and long before I realized what was possible, news coming from the book world had become increasingly frightening for wanna-be writers.

The publishing industry which once harnessed the economies of scale is now being crippled by the diseconomies of scale and the horror stories of writers caught up in the turmoil are well known. Books are being orphaned, industry professionals are changing jobs like it’s a game of musical chairs, and the big publishers are paring down imprints left , right and center. The corporate scramble to restructure and remain viable has left writers in the lurch.

While some writers are attached to the dream of the book deal, I wasn’t sure if I wanted decisions being made about my book by conference rooms full of disgruntled publishing industry professionals who have been through pay cuts and layoffs. While many of them may be well meaning book lovers, they’re still in conference rooms and they’re similarly caught up in the scramble to restructure and remain viable. By the time Black Wednesday happened, I had already decided to go indie, and now, bad news from the publishing industry isn’t frightening at all.

Because big publishing isn’t selling literary fiction well.

Aside from the general instability in the publishing industry, the plight of literary fiction is also well documented.  News from the book world has been frightening for writers in general, but it has been downright horrific for authors of literary fiction. And it started getting scary for literary authors long before the publishing industry was in obvious turmoil.

Given my desire to actually make a living as a writer, and given my desire to continue writing literary novels, I had to face the facts. These days, a literary author can get a book deal with Random House, and still not make a living as a writer.

It’s no secret that the majority of the publishing industry prefers properties it deems more commercial and when advances went through the roof for those properties, they got lower and lower for the literary ones. In the literary arena, advances have gotten smaller and print runs have gotten smaller and publicity budgets have gotten smaller. Given these trends, the limited print run model has been particularly devastating for literary authors. This model doesn’t give writers a long enough window in which to build an audience and too often literary novels end up remanded and go quickly out of print.

That’s not to say traditional publishing isn’t selling some kinds of literary fiction well, but at the moment their successful titles seem to be international/immigrant fiction which I love reading, but don’t write. My fiction leans slightly towards the avant-garde side of literary fiction and the publishing industry doesn’t think there’s any money in it.

The publishing industry blames a mythical shrinking literary audience for their business decisions but it’s simply not true. The film and music industries tried perpetuating similar myths but the popularity of indie films and music proved them wrong a long time ago.

Because readers are ready for indie literature.

The indie business model is about individual artists and entrepreneurs leveraging available technology to bring products or services directly to audiences and markets. Indie ventures are having success across a wide variety of industries because they bring a level of originality and quality to otherwise homogeneous markets. This holds true for all kinds of indies, from film makers and musicians to crafters and coffee shop owners. Where they can, people across the country are opting for Local Grinds instead of Starbucks, the band you’ve never heard of instead of the band everyone’s heard of, the movie that plays in one tiny theater instead of the movie the plays in every theater in America, and that t-shirt on Etsy instead of that t-shirt at Target. Not everyone, but there will always be a segment of the population that is dissatisfied by the homogeneous albeit multitudinous variety of products provided by large corporations.

Readers are no different, and in my opinion literary authors are particularly well positioned at the moment to be the next industry to go indie in a household-name kind of way.  We forget sometimes, but “indie film” and “indie music” were not always part of the American lexicon. And there was a time when no one thought an indie film could win an Oscar. But now, “indie film” means something and we all know what it means. And now of course, the film industry, and the music industry, are scrambling to reproduce and emulate the increasingly popular indie films and indie music. Even Target is trying to bring an Etsy-esque motif to their products.

We are bound to see the same progression in the publishing industry. Indie literature is not a household word yet, but it will be. For sure. And when I took a step back and looked at my own writing career, the writing on the wall was so clear and easy to read.
In defense of their own business decisions, the publishing industry attributes its abandonment of literary fiction to a shrinking literary audience but readers are ready for indie literature.  I knew that when I decided to go indie and since the debut of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken I’ve realized readers are even more ready than I thought they were.

And those two little words say it all – Indie Literature. Indie literature is exactly what I write. Sometimes That Happens With Chicken is indie literature. Volume Two is indie literature. And indie literature explains everything about my business model. And my audience, my audience loves indie literature. And when they hear those two words together, they know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s why, in the end, going indie was not a difficult decision.

I’ve been called a pioneer, but I’m always a little uncomfortable with that description because to me the word pioneer connotes risk taking. And when I took a long hard look at my writing career, a book deal with Random House looked a whole lot riskier than becoming my own publisher.