writers write—or do they?

By my own confession, I’m a writer. That means my profession, or let’s say my vocation, is writing. I write. But what do I write? What do I actually spend my time writing? When I look at it, the creation of my publishable work forms only a small part of my output. What else do I write?

Right now, for instance, I’m drafting this blog post. I do publish this blog, so I suppose it does count as published work, although in my own mind I would restrict that term to work that appears either in separate book form or in a publication edited by someone else. But sure, why not: let’s call this post my latest to-be-published work. If it’s a typical post then it will wind up being something in the neighborhood of 1,000 words. So that—this—is my very latest piece of writing. (Enjoy!)

Earlier this morning I posted an answer to a question on Quora.com. The question was “How do you practice Buddhism in your everyday life?” I spent maybe 20 minutes or half an hour typing an answer to that question. As of this moment, the answer has attracted 23 views. The number of views my answers get varies widely. My most-viewed answer so far was to the question “Why would a Scorpio give you the ‘silent treatment’?”. I answered that on November 6, 2016, and so far it has drawn 5,100 views. As far as I know, more people read my writing on Quora than anywhere else, including this blog, so I’m happy to contribute there. I regard it as a promotional medium, to get me and my work known, but I also like answering questions there. I like to share knowledge and help people out if I can. If I’m honest, it’s some of the most pleasurable writing I do, and for that reason alone I’m happy to continue doing it. (And I invite you to come on over and follow me on Quora, if you’d like to read more of my writing.)

Before that, first thing this morning, was not, strictly speaking, writing, but typing: I typed notes from yesterday’s reading period. When I read nonfiction, I always do so with a highlighter.  I highlight carefully so as to create complete sentences, for my aim is to produce a compressed version of the book.

Highlighting the dangers of socialism

Each morning I type the highlights from the previous evening’s reading into Word documents (these documents form a reference library that has its own structure; I’ll discuss that another time). This morning I typed highlights from 2 books that I’m currently reading: Buddha Nature by Thrangu Rinpoche, a dharma book; and The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, a work of political and economic philosophy. These compressed books, based on my highlights, form my own personal research library or knowledge base. So the typing actually forms part of an editing process, for when I highlight I am essentially editing a book down to a “Reader’s Digest” version. So I regard it as a kind of low-grade writing activity; it’s perfect for starting my day with, not too mentally demanding for first thing out of bed.

Reaching back further, to yesterday afternoon, I had my aforementioned reading period at teatime (green tea). But I interrupted that reading to work on another writing-related project. My mother, Frances Vitols, has engaged me to provide some editorial help with a project she has been working on for some years: the publication of a cache of personal letters in book form. These letters came to her from our late friends, Harvey and Dorothy Burt, and they form a passionate correspondence between the two of them in the mid-1950s, when they were lovers still married to other people. My mother had been patiently typing them as a hobby for maybe 10 years (there are hundreds of them and they may run to 1 million words or more, many of those barely legible!) when she asked me at the end of 2016 to help her move the project along and get them published. Right now I’m reading through the letters and creating typed summaries of what I read. This again is not exactly writing on my part, but rather more editing and typing; but it uses the skills, actions, and also the time that I might otherwise be using for my own writing.

Yesterday, Saturday, I didn’t do any other writing. But a couple of days ago I did do some of another kind of writing that occupies me: copy writing. I’m preparing another of my short stories, The Thought Dial, for publication as an e-book. Apart from the effort of preparing the story itself for publication and compiling the book (with cover art which I have designed myself and which is taking time to execute), there is also the need for writing about the book, in order to promote it and sell it. This includes the “flap blurb,” which is the copy describing the story on the sites where it’s offered for sale, and what I call the “catalogue copy,” which is the copy I’ll use here on my own site for the book’s dedicated static page. You can see examples of that kind of copy right now by looking at my pages for Truth of the Python, The Hermit, and A Tourist Visa. It looks simple and straightforward, but writing effective promotional copy is as difficult a writing task as any. Copy doesn’t get to be good without lots of rewriting, editing, and polishing. The catalogue copy for The Thought Dial is reaching a high level of polish, you’ll be happy to know, so it will be ready to go up when I publish the book next month.

There are other kinds of writing I do as well, such as my ruminations on reading the Iliad, which I have recently been working on. But where is my magnum opus, The Age of Pisces, in all this? Well, it’s now been several days since I’ve worked on it. I know I need to get back to it as soon as I can, but, like one piglet in a litter, it’s jostling with its siblings for my, um, creative teats.

So now you know. And this post has come in at 1044 words.

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