Musings

Shadow Work

“You’re not busy, are you?”

Oh, how I’ve come to dread these words. Especially as they are often spoken to me as I have a manuscript open on my laptop, multiple research books around me, and the weary look in my eyes of someone who has been up late typing.

No, of course I’m not busy. I just have multiple deadlines to meet, colleagues to contact, clients to please, and mountains of articles, stories, scripts, etc. to write. Not busy at all.

Apologies for the slight bitterness. I was illustrating a point that writing often comes across to non-writers as effortless, something that doesn’t require a great deal of energy, thought, patience, and commitment. I recalled a TV show where a character considered writing as a career, because, and I quote, “it’s not like real work or anything.” Her friend responded, “Seriously. How hard is it to type stuff?”

There’s a hard kernel of truth in that portrayal. Non-writers, the Muggles in our magical kingdom, have sometimes oversimplified our work to a couple of hours of typing as opposed to months of deliberation and planning. In the days of longhand and typewriters, whole forests of paper would be used to create our works. Now our digital age has reduced this paper palace into a file that can be downloaded in minutes. All the physical evidence of our work has become a click on the computer, a wisp of the cloud.

Writing feels like working in the shadows at times. Much of the work first happens inside our heads: brainstorming, plotting, organizing, reorganizing. All this can be very solitary, a whirlwind in our brains before setting anything down to paper. When ready, we start writing and rewriting and reading and editing. The bulk of it is solo work, confined now to our computers away from the eyes of others much of the time.

The act of writing is not as visible as building something or as instantaneous as snapping a picture. It’s long hours of work to do it right, hours of nothing but our own thoughts. But to a lot of the outside world, it doesn’t appear to be much more than that click of a computer icon.

This, of course, doesn’t happen to all writers, but, as a working writer myself, I have experienced quite a bit of that oversimplification of my work into “playing around on the computer.” Writing is fun. Writing is magical. Writing is hard work.

So for my message to writers everywhere, whether your aspiring or established, I want to say that if you’ve worked those long, hard hours writing and creating, then your work is valid and commendable. You can be busy writing, because it can be a full-time job to do it properly. If anyone makes the assumption that being a wordsmith takes no effort, ask them to give it a try. If writing was “easy,” more people would do it.

Stand up, writers. Show them how hard you work. No more shadows.

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