“Don’t be a literary slut!”

This was something that Sue Grafton said to me years ago, but at the moment, I’m having trouble following her advice. 

Let me explain what she meant.  A literary slut is a writer who’ll say “yes” to every invitation, every request.  You want me to fly out to Kalamazoo to speak at a conference for 30 people?  Sure!  Drive eight hours to talk to 25 people at a library?  Of course!  Cut into my precious writing time to teach a week-long workshop?  Count me in!  The events we writers are invited to speak at may not even be related to books, but we’re so flattered to be asked, that we start to sound like that character from Annie Get Your Gun who sings, “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no…”

In short, we turn into literary sluts.

I’m writing this as I quietly suffer an anxiety attack over what I’m scheduled to do tonight.  Months ago, I agreed to emcee (and play fiddle in) a charity concert in my local opera house.  Now, I love to play my fiddle, and this is a terrific charity.  But this gig has required months of thought and preparation, plus rehearsals with my band.  The emcee job has forced me to come up with prepared remarks and I’ve spent a day hunting down good musician jokes.  Also, there’s just that overall  general overall stress of knowing I’m about to walk out in front of 600 people tonight and will have to keep the program running smoothly.  After it’s over, I’m sure I’ll be glad I did it. 

But in the meantime, it’s seriously cut into my writing time.  More important, it’s cut into my thinking time.

All this while I’m supposedly taking a five-day breather from promoting my book.

I look at my schedule for the next two months.  Not only am I traveling on book tour over the next three weeks to Texas, NY, California, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, I also have to pop back home one day to do a quick speech for the Maine Innkeeper’s Association, and after that teach a morning class in Boston, teach a weekend workshop on Cape Cod, head to Milwaukee for a Library event, speak at a University Women’s fundraiser, speak at yet a different Women’s Club event, fly back to NYC to attend a writer’s banquet, and then head home to clean house so I can host a big fundraiser for Family Planning of Maine. 

That’s all in the next two months.  Plus there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas to prepare for.  I haven’t even told you what’s on the calendar after December.

Needless to say, there’s not much time to write.

My husband has finally told me ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  “You’ve got to start saying no,” he tells me.  Luckily, I listened to him, because over the past two days, I’ve had phone calls inviting me to, 1) join the board of a major statewide organization and, 2) play fashion model at a local fundraiser. 

I regretfully said no to both.  I say regretfully, because both are great organizations, and I really did want to help out.

But I’ve reached the point where the writing is suffering.  I don’t have time to think about my characters.  I haven’t had time to write even a single paragraph — not in weeks.  My deadline is looming like a big black cloud on the horizon — still in the distance, but I know it’s there.

I know there are other writers who, in the midst of building their careers, feel compelled to accept every invitation, attend every conference.  And if you can manage it, that’s great.  But it’s easy to lose control of your schedule, and maybe the time has come to re-think the balance between writing and promotion.

Maybe it’s time to stop being a literary slut and stay faithful to what brought us to the party in the first place: writing our books.

 

 

 

18 replies
  1. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    You should deffinetly slow it on down a bit. You have your health to think about as well. All of that constant on-the-go action has got to be horrible for your sleep pattern and stress level (not to mention blood pressure). Pace yourself Dr. G, we need you to write more books before you give out completely!

  2. jilljames
    jilljames says:

    Tess, whether a writer or Suzy Homemaker, we all need to learn to say no sometimes. But, as a writer it gains in importance. They are asking you to do things as Tess Gerritsen, author. You can’t be that if there is no time to actually write the books we all love to read.

  3. JanetK
    JanetK says:

    Did I hear someone say musician jokes? Here’s one of my favorites:

    The symphony orchestra was performing Beethoven’s Ninth. In the last movement the bass violinists have nothing to do for about 20 minutes.

    Rather than just sit around that whole time, the bassists decided to sneak offstage and go to the tavern next door.

    After slamming several beers in quick succession, one of them looked at his watch and said, “Hey! We need to get back!”

    “Don’t panic,” said a fellow bassist. “I tied the last few pages of the conductor’s score together with some string. It’ll take him a few minutes to get it untangled.”

    They staggered back to the concert hall and took their places.

    About this time, a member of the audience noticed the conductor seemed a bit edgy and whispered as much to her friend.

    “Well, of course,” said the companion. “Don’t you see? It’s the bottom of the Ninth, the score is tied, and the bassists are loaded.”

    Keep smiling, Tess!

  4. PJ Parrish
    PJ Parrish says:

    Oh man, do I hear you on this one. I am not as high on the food chain as you, Tess, but every writer has this problem to some degree. I was driving myself crazy until Elaine Viets told me I had to start thinking of myself as a businesswoman whose time and energy had to be allocated with care. She also taught me to not, shall we say, give it away. If you are asked to speak at a local event, there’s nothing wrong with asking that the organization purchase one case of your books to give away to attendees. If you have to spend money to travel to an event, you shouldn’t be shy about asking for reimbursement or an honorarium. Once I realized this, I got up the guts to say no more often. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many folks had budgets to pay their guest authors. Of course, you “give it away” for some good causes. But you are right: No amount of promotion is worth it if your work begins to suffer.

  5. Gabriele
    Gabriele says:

    Being able to say NO seems to be a gift. I can do it, and I no longer care if some people call me egoistic because I have a life of my own and won’t allow to have it shredded by outside demands. I do say YES if I really feel I want/should do something, not because I’m a ‘good girl’. *

    There’s a book title, Good Girls Get Into Heaven, Bad Girls Get Everywhere – you have to learn to be a bad girl sometimes. 🙂 And people who like you less for saying NO are not the people you need to like you anyway.

    * The only thing I can’t say NO to are new plotbunnies. 😀

  6. Craig
    Craig says:

    The first law of self preservation is that # 1 simply has to come first. This may sound selfish but it isn’t; you have to keep your sanity.

    Over the summer I read the biography of a fascinating person, who, like Tess, could never be accused of being a literary slut either–Harper Lee. Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields is a brilliant (and unauthorized) biography. I was not aware that Harper had been hired by Truman Capote to “help out” with In Cold Blood. There is an entire chapter about this and both Harper and Truman were allowed to visit the crime scene in Holcomb KS and they found out some pretty bizarre things about the victims, the Clutter family. This is well worth a look.

  7. struggler
    struggler says:

    I noticed on the news that Google might be buying YouTube, which I had never looked at until today (doh). First and only search I ran was for Tess Gerritsen and the one and only video I found was an interview Tess held with Kate Arno of Book Look to promote VANISH. For anyone who has yet to meet Tess, this might be the next best thing! I think Vanish is superb, one of the best in the Rizzoli series.

    See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY6IoGDw8HM

    Any other on-line interviews out there?

  8. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    Another musician! So many musicians become writers, it seems. Is it the development, in music study, of pacing and rhythm that gives musicians a facility with words, too?

    I hope you had a blast! And we all want you to have time to write!

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    spy, I did have a blast. As I predicted, I’m glad I did it. Our musical group got a huge ovation, and afterwards there was the usual high that most musicians feel after a performance. The emcee role was the most stressful part — there was a point during the evening when one of the acts was late getting up on stage and I had to do some patter to fill the time. Luckily I had a lot of accordion and banjo jokes ready. It never hurts to have jokes ready to go!

  10. dmb622
    dmb622 says:

    The line “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” is from the musical “Oklahoma” and the character is Ado Annie.

  11. Tess
    Tess says:

    Thanks for the correction on “Oklahoma” vs. “Annie get your gun.” Just goes to show you that it’s been a long, long time since I watched either of those musicals performed!

    I’m on my way to San Antonio. More to come when I get back!

  12. struggler
    struggler says:

    “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” reminds me of that rendition by Polly (actress/writer Connie Booth) in the classic Fawlty Towers, with John Cleese. If you haven’t seen it – the series was made in the mid-1970s – then you’re missing one of the funniest television comedies ever made!

  13. Angi
    Angi says:

    Tess… All I have to say is TAKE A BREAK! Enjoy your time, there is never enough! I have been one of those women who could never say no until just a couple of weeks ago, And it was then that I had a wake up call! During a routine mammogram the doctor spotted something abnormal. As of today I still don’t know if it is something to worry about, I am waiting for a surgery date, but it was enough to make me scream “STOP!” I want to take time to play with my 3 young nephews (my brother’s boys)and my great neice and great nephews. I want to enjoy the young adult my daughter has become! All the extra things I do for my job and all the extra things I do for my scrapbooking business can wait! My life is coming first from now on!! I LOVE what Sandra said “I finally have learned that no is a complete sentence.”
    Take some time Miss Tess… You’ve earned it!!

  14. Scott
    Scott says:

    Hey Tess,
    I do agree with Angi…take some time for yourself. Myself, I’ve been working full-time (48 hrs per week), and going to school on my days off, or when I work a night shift I go to class during the day…doing that for the past few yrs. I’ve recently been having some issues with my heart, and have been going to the Dr. quite a bit. It’s kind of making me see that I’ve got to slow things down a little, and take some time to just smell the roses. Kind of sucks when you’re only 24.
    It’s not only your writting that may suffer, but also your health in the long-run. It’s great that your husband has managed to get you to slow down, ha, ha. Cheers to him!
    I think it’s great that you play the fiddle! I’ve just taken it up in April, and just love it. Trying to find a teacher though, and that’s not working out so well. Oh well…I guess I’m not doing so bad on my own with it.
    Anyways, take care of yourself, and have a little fun!

  15. queenb
    queenb says:

    I just finished the Mephisto Club and I loved it! I can’t wait for your next novel to come out, maybe after a little R&R.

  16. wy82331
    wy82331 says:

    Hello Tess,
    That time has passed in your career. You have walked the mile, so to speak. Not enjoy the moments, keep up with your good writing. It must be hard with so many fans waiting for your next book. But hey, that is what happens when your great. Just remember to take the time to let the warm updraft lift you to new highs. Enjoy it all.

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