Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More novels, less novels

I was sitting there thinking the other day, and I got to being the littlest bit down about the fact that there are something like hundreds of thousands of people out of a job right now.

And I remember the last time things were bad, which was coming off of 9/11 (and they were not as bad as they are NOW)... and the last time things were this bad, a large number of my friends were graduating college in May 2002, and struggling desperately to find jobs. They sent off hundreds upon hundreds of applications, and they took what they could get.

So now, let's guess roughly, that there's something like a million people in the US who are looking for jobs right now. It may be more; it may be less. It's a lot. And as much as you go to job fair after job fair, and you fill out those hundreds or thousands of applications, etc... you still end up with a fairly large amount of empty time in your day.

And I started to wonder, if the fact that unemployment is so high, would affect how many people start writing novels this year.

I tend to think it will. I mean think about it, writing is cheap entertainment. If you have a pen and a piece of paper, or a computer that functions (even one from the stone ages), then you can write a novel. It's cheaper than going to the movies. It's cheaper than buying a book. It's a way to escape into a world of characters and story of your own creation, which can take you away from the absolute horror that your jobless life currently is. So I'm betting that since there are so many people unemployed, any of them who always thought that they might write a novel one day... they may be starting that novel sooner rather than later, as they wait to get a job or hear back from one of those applications and resumes they've sent.

What do you guys think? I'm very interested about your opinion on this topic.


Mitz said...


Anyone who says, usually to a struggling writer, "I can write a book if I only had the time," will never get to that book - even with the time.

If they really wanted to write a book, they would be doing it.

JMHO - as someone who has been writing for more than 20+ years while working at a full time job. Not yet published in novel length, but other credits.


Pema said...

Well, I write fiction (short stories, so far) and I'm out of a job, but I still don't have much time for writing. I spend a variable number of hours each day looking for and applying to jobs, or attending those dreadful job fairs that are full of low-wage, dead-end jobs (at least one out of every three must be a call center job). I've also been doing volunteer work (writing, logos, web design), so I can build up my portfolio and attract freelance work, plus in my spare time I'm trying to up date my fiction and freelance websites, especially the latter, to attract more traffic. It also seems reasonable that I do a bit more around the house than I did when I was working.

Writing time? Not nearly as much as I'd like. *sigh*

ryan field said...

I think it depends on how stressed they are. But I'm sure a lot will at least attempt it.

S.Hawkins said...

I was unemployed for half of 2006 and writing was the last thing on my mind. Job searching ate up a good 8 hours a day, and the rest of the time I was too wound up to do anything creative.

If you had another source of income to fall back on, I could see looking at the time as a sort of enforced sabbatical. Lacking that, in my experience financial terror is second only to mortal terror in inducing writer's block. YMMV.

Adam Heine said...

Mitz said, "If they really wanted to write a book, they would be doing it."

That's the exact realization I came to a few years ago, when I started writing my first novel.

Time is fluid - you can always make more if you really want to, and you can always waste it if you really don't. It's a matter of figuring out what you really want.

Speaking of which, I should be writing right now, not commenting on a blog ;-)

Kristin Laughtin said...

You know, that would have been my initial thought too, but a number of my friends graduated this year and haven't had luck finding jobs (even temporary, low-wage stuff), and it's absolutely killed their creativity. Artists, writers, costumers...they've all been less productive than ever because financial worries and job hunting are zapping all their energy.

I graduated a few years ago when the job market was considerably better, but I remember the lack of drive I had to do anything created for the period I was unemployed, too.

It probably varies by the individual, of course. In tough economic times, a lot of people go back to school, both to gain skills that will help them land a "real" job and to put off the real world for a few more years. I wonder what the numbers are for people pursuing "dream" jobs/"pipe dreams" at the moment. I am just grateful that I'm not a few years younger and just now graduating, and that so far my position seems fairly stable. (No raises, but I'm happy to have what I have.)

Jenny Rappaport said...

It hadn't occurred to me that unemployment could kill the creative drive. It's depressing and all, but I think I'd rather still write, if I had time. Or read. I might read.


Elissa M said...

I thought about this, too. If novels had a set gestational period (nine months anyone?) you'd know for sure if the economy caused more people to write because you'd get a spike in your queries.

I think a few people who were already writing might dedicate themselves to finishing their projects if they find themselves unemployed. But, like many have already said, a lot of people are going to be too stressed to focus on something like that.

JDS said...

I just graduated in December. I can tell you for a fact that since I have yet to find a job, I have written more. I graduated with a degree in magazine journalism and with the market the way it is, no one is hiring and if they are, they aren't looking for recent grads. It's killing me a little.

You can be sure, Kristin, that the semi-depression can squelch creativity. There are many days that I try to sit at the computer and write, but nothing comes out. To repeat others, I am writing more, but not as much as I would like. I think if I could get something published my spirits would be lifted some.

But, I am getting married in a month, so not everything is a downer.

Rebekah Mills McDaniel said...

I find it really, REALLY hard to write when I'm worried about something. Even something relatively small, like whether my big cat is going to chew off my little cat's ear (today's excuse). I imagine most people are the same. I would vote that less people will be writing novels this year than more.

Mitz said...

Our office was closed yesterday because of the snow/ice storm. I'd already promised myself that I would get some writing down if that happened.

I've developed a schedule for what I do on those "free" days. I write in the morning (I'm a lark), have lunch and read in the afternoon. I may go back to writing later in the afternoon.

I try to do this on Sundays - keeping Saturdays free for writing groups, friends, chores, etc.

Sometimes it works - like Wednesday - sometimes I'm distracted. But the one thing that helps me is a deadline. So even if I'm not working towards a specific deadline (for an article, column, contest, etc), I try to set small deadlines and goals for myself.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I agree with those who said stress will limit the amount of people who turn to writing a novel.

If you're out of job and late to pay bills, you'll have a hard time sitting down and enjoying a good write.

Stacy King said...

As noted above, job hunting can eat up huge amounts of time, and stress about finances can really crush your creativity.

That said, when I had a work contract end early two years ago, I assessed my savings and made the decision to take six months off to write full-time. There was some risk involved - once the book was done, finding a new job took longer than I'd hoped - but overall it worked out great for me.

I do acknowledge that having 9-12 months of living expenses in the bank is pretty rare these days, which was what kept the stress from eating my creativity for breakfast (as always, I am incredibly grateful to my parents for indoctrinating me in their penny-pinching ways!). So it may depend less on how many aspiring authors find themselves unemployed, and more on how many of them have the financial means to sit back and write while they wait for the economy to recover.

Liz S said...

I finished grad school in June with a draft of my novel done. I expected (and hoped) to finish the novel by the time I got a job, but my days became consumed by searching for a job, especially as my unemployed months began to pile up and my stress levels rose.

Now that I'm fortunate enough to have a full-time job, I've been writing more than I ever did when I was unemployed.

Anonymous said...

I went through a period of under/un employment during the recession of '91. I sat around eating ice cream and watching video tapes (remember those?) for a couple of weeks, and then...

Well, my days went like this:

Morning: go out and apply for jobs, then buy newspaper to gear up for tomorrow's job hunt. (Yes, we had to use a newspaper to look for work!)

Afternoon: work on novel I had been writing all through my teen years.

My unemployment only lasted about two months, which was enough to get a lot of work done on the novel. Still, I kind of wish it had gone on longer (also, that the internet had existed)--I might have finished it and gotten moving on a writing career when I was young enough to not mind being poor.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I should clarify a bit:

I started the regular regimen of writing to keep me sane. Otherwise it was going to be ice cream and uselessness and a very angry roommate.

My roommate didn't encourage the writing from any sense of "you should be an artist" or "you should answer your muse." She simply observed that it made me much more likely to get my ass out of bed and into the job world, and therefore she was prepared to tolerate it.

Sometimes I would get temp work. Then I wouldn't write as much. But my rent would get paid and I would get to eat, so that was good, too.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I had a job, but my husband didn't (he is now employed). I wrote around my working hours, probably out of desparation to generate a second income, or to escape from a stressful life.

The stories had been in my head for a long time -- a source of cheap entertainment for myself and to keep the worries from invading my psyche.

My Vancouver said...

Hi Jenny,

I got serious about my book this year after retiring from 20 years of self-employment as a singing teacher. I could not focus on my own creativity properly while mentoring others.

I now work part time at jobs that require no creativity: elections officer, buying and selling, a little office work. It's perfect. The book will be finished this month :-D

Zara Penney said...

I find the more time I have the more I dilly dally. Like Jenny it hadn't occurred to me that the job lost situation might deflate creativity because to me - once a writer always a writer and I was literally born with a pen in my hand and an over active imagination.

When I was little I made little books for dolls - and when I was big I made stories and pictures for little people - plus my romantic soul was tantilised by all manner of characters. (I cry every time I see Sleepless in Seattle.)

I also learned just how unserious people believe those who write for children are perceived by the lay. "Oh that's nice dear. I will do it when I get the time." Like it's the easiest thing in the world to write a book for kids. Somebody I know once gave me a m/s to read. It was called (name changed) FROGGY GOES TO SCHOOL. From then on I became an artist in the skillful avoidance of m/s's from friends.

I've held a job and written until 3am or 4am in the morning. It's something a real writer does.

But I suspect that the computers of agents and publishers will be overheating. Little things like battered POVs and GMC's will be grinding the nerves. And then there's Aunty Mary's family history - a story which the whole world has been hungering for. Or even a sequel to Froggy. FROGGY DOESN'T LIKE GREEN BEANS.

But then, as Jenny said, while I read the blog - it hadn't occurred to me how depression of job loss would probably stifle any creativity. It can't be much fun and my heart goes out to those that are suffering during these awful times.

Zara Penney

Mitz said...

And being in a job with a lot of stress and little validation can also kill creativity - if you let it.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people will start, because so many think "anyone" can write.

However, few will finish.

And that's the key, isn't it? Finishing, polishing, learning the craft so it's actually worth submission and publication.

Kathleen said...

I just found you, your agency, your blog, and your wonderful, interesting assistant...(I actually found her first)...and I have to comment on this post.

A number of agents (Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, etc.) have blogged online about the surge of queries recently, and they're at a loss to explain it.
Yesterday, I was thinking along the lines of this post. Maybe the surge in queries is because all of those people who write in their spare time now have plenty of it. Maybe they've held back from querying because they're afraid they wouldn't have time to write according to deadlines and that problem no longer exists. Or their hesitancy to "put their stuff out there" is now won over by the fact that, just maybe, if their book sells, they won't NEED to find another job.

Will it create new writers? Maybe. But will already-aspiring writers write and submit more? Definitely!