Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The pressure of other people

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The other day, a friend of mine asked if I ever feel pressured when people ask, “what are you working on next?”

When you’re an unpublished writer, working away on a project and hoping that one day someone will pick it up and help get it into the world, it’s a fight just to get people to take you seriously. Tell them you’re writing a novel and they’ll say, “Oh, everyone’s writing a novel.”

Or when they ask what you do, and you say, “Well, I work at this job, but really, I like to write,” they’ll say, “Do you have a publisher? Do you have a portfolio? Have I ever heard of you? Will I ever hear of you?”

But you’ll also run into cool people who will be interested, who will want to know what you write about, where you’d like to take it, and why you like to write.

Rarely, though, will these people ask, “what are you working on next?”

I touched on this before, briefly, on my own blog earlier this year when I pointed out that, when someone has a baby, they aren’t usually met with the question, “when’s your next one coming out?”

Because that would be ridiculous, right? Our bodies are not machines. They need time to rest and heal and adjust to the new routine of taking care of a new life.

People don’t land a new job just to have someone say, “That’s great! So what are you going to try for next?”

Whenever I come back from a trip, people ask, “So how was it?” I don’t think I’ve ever had, “So, where are you going next?”

Or, “I like your new apartment. Where are you going to move to after this?”

You get what I mean.

But as soon as an author publishes a book, the question of “what’s next” starts to get thrown around all the time.

So to answer the question about whether I feel pressured when someone asks me what I’m working on now, the answer is no, I don’t feel pressure, because I am always working on something new.

I have more ideas than I have time, which means that at this rate, unless I take an extended break or decide to give up writing altogether, I will probably have an answer to the question “what are you working on next?” for a long time.

But I don’t start new projects because of this question; I start them because I want to, and because I feel a need to. No one could put more pressure on me than what I already put on myself.

I could see, though, how that question could become a problem. If I wasn’t working on something, would I wonder if I should be? I don’t know.

Or what about writers who want to be working on something new, but can’t because they feel stuck or blocked, or are dealing with other circumstances unexpectedly holding them back?

I’d like to think that if I wasn’t writing, that it would be because I had made the choice not to be, and that I would be okay saying so. In all honesty, I think it would be nice to take a long break and not worry too much about productivity, but right now, my heart, and my head, keep telling me to write, and so I do.

And if people ended up being bored with my answer, I’d like to think I wouldn’t care, because again, it’s my choice, my time, and my life.

Publishing credits are not an identity; it’s beers and bike rides and road trips and interests explored and books read and plans made that make us interesting, that help make up who we are.

So are conversations, which are what most people are trying to start when they ask what’s next. They’re just trying to connect, catch up, or show genuine interest in your work, which is a pretty nice thing for them to do, when you think about it.

But then you’ll run into those same people I mentioned earlier, the ones who snort at aspiring writers. These are the people who, when you accomplish something that they think they understand, but don’t (and I’m not talking about other writers here, because other writers usually get it), they will say, “you should have an agent,” or, “you should network with so-and-so,” or, “you should try to get a reading here or get published there.”

They love to tell you what you should do, but you’ll find that lot of the things they think you should do are driven by ego and insecurity and ideals that don’t fit into your context.

Sometimes, these questions can help open you up to possibilities and opportunities you hadn’t thought of. And sometimes, these questions will be intended as jabs. Who cares if they are? Use them to your advantage either way. Explore your options, and then aim for what’s right for you.

If you do that, it’ll ease the pressure, especially when you’re always made to think, “what’s next?”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page