The Famine of Time

We live in an abundance of printed matter but we are facing a famine of time.

Every time I write an article, a short story, or even commence writing a novel, I feel like a thief. With this act, I am suggesting that another soul sets aside her time to read my work and assimilate it, for better or worse. Her time that could have been otherwise spent doing necessary housework, doing paid work, caring for loved ones, reading a better book, or simply communing with our rapidly disappearing nature. With my article, I am robbing my reader of her time.

We live in an abundance of printed matter, available today in various media, but we are facing a famine of time. There are more things we have to do today in order to be counted, or so we believe: we need to hunt for work (the old 9•5 with a pension at the end of the rainbow has vanished); we also need to do the work of five due to the new mantra of “doing more with less”; we need to care for children and elders, both who are living longer in those states; we need to check•in with our myriad followers on social media and keep them advised of every move we make, every meal we eat (replete with pictures); we need to paraphrase, cut & paste or re•tweet news content from prominent people and disseminate it to our followers and thereby promulgate those prominent writers’ fame while proving to our followers that we are still alive, kicking and reading; we need to keep current with consumer trends in case we wear the wrong accoutrements for the wrong occasion; we need to read the latest book on the best seller list to stay relevant on the cocktail circuit, we need…we need…we need to separate “need” from “want” for the two have become inseparable. Unfortunately, the day has only 24 hours, and all these activities have to fit into it. And on top of all that I go and write another article with the implied insinuation: “Read It!”

I wonder whether we can take an example from the corporate world and try to re•engineer our lives to free up some time. Corporate re•structuring happens when fat builds up over time, especially during periods of growth. When the corporate famine occurs – it’s called recession or economic downturn – the re•engineers arrive. Anything and everything that is not “core” to the company’s business is slashed. Out go training programs, investment projects, workplace health, senior employees nearing retirement, consultants, and travel & entertainment. Could this approach be used to re•structure our lives now that we are in a famine of time?

Let’s see, what would I cut or re•structure? I would cut out those peripheral activities that bring little benefit to me. Out will go shopping, the cocktail circuit, the bestseller list (it’s the NY Times’ list – not mine), the re•tweets, the personal GPS (“Shane just checked in at LaGuardia” – I’m not suffering from dementia yet, and no one else gives a rat’s ass about where I am anyway); social media will become optional – I never had it 10 years ago and lived comfortably then. Next comes my reading list; any book that does not get to the point in its first three chapters, is out — sorry, fellow writer, we are living in a famine of time! And most importantly, every time I think of writing something, I will reflect on whether it helps me or another person. If it doesn’t, it gets cut too. Of late, I have been rather silent on Facebook for that reason.

As you may be asking, yes, I did think long and hard before writing this article. I hope it gets you thinking of what you will cut out, otherwise I would have wasted your precious time.

Social Networking – a must-have or a time waster?

A couple of years ago, a reputable speaker at a literary conference told me that if I did not build a social networking platform I would be of no use to publishers in the future. In other words, I had to bring the audience to me, which in the past I had thought the publisher did. I guess he had outsourced this job – to me! Having no one else in the distribution chain to pass the buck down to, I complied, and got into heavy social networking.

Let’s see, I registered my own domain name as www.shanejoseph.com and built my own website with e•commerce capability, populating it with new content weekly (I’m not a Yahoo or Google who can update content hourly – at least, not yet!). I blogged and twittered, and joined lots of online forums where writers and readers gathered. I syndicated my blogs, became a reviewer on Goodreads and copied my book reviews over to Amazon whenever I was mindful of the p’s and q’s in my content. I Facebook’d and Linked•In’d and even started giving talks on the value of building an online platform – heck it was fashionable, why not cash in? However, I recall, so were beads and bell•bottoms and drainpipes and sideburns and “give peace a chance” love•ins, once upon a time. Very soon, I was spending several hours a week on my growing platform. I was famous but still poor.

I even thought of opening my website to advertisers and giving away all my books as free e•book downloads. Heck, I could deliver free copies to my huge platform of readers – numbering in their thousands at this point – and claim to be a best•seller, or at least, “the most widely circulated.” I’d obviously incur the wrath of my fellow writers who were trying to make a living out of this vocation; I would be banned from the writer’s union, and would never be guaranteed that any of those free copies would ever be read (people don’t even read paid•for copies anymore as they function better as doorstops, coffee placemats, bookshelf adornments, and claims to literacy rather than as vehicles of enlightenment). I might even end up turning the existing, broken book publishing model on its head. Or I might be ignored as a crackpot and dismissed with, “His writing must suck, because good things are not free, and free things are not good.”

If getting people to read your books is the end•game, then operating an online platform is essential but insufficient. You need to put the book in the reader’s hand and say “read it,” and they in turn need to put the book in other readers’ hands and say, “This is a damned good book – read it!” The online platform creates awareness and builds mystique, but there is a much longer journey from that point on the continuum to turning curious browsers into readers and endorsers.

I am not dismissing the online platform. It seems a necessary burden in these times. But I need to balance this effort with focussing on my writing and making it the best ever. I want an unprovoked reader to read my book, put it up on his social networking site and say, “Hey, listen up! Read this book, it’s so cool!” Now, that endorsement would indeed be a desirable end•result, “a consummation devoutly to be wish’d!”