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Productive, fun, both, neither. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Productive, fun, both, neither. [Jul. 1st, 2012|09:05 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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So my Facebook monkeys have been linking this thing about being busy, and it reminds me of a related thing I have been wanting to talk about. Because I think that, yes, we do overschedule, as a culture, and yes, we're crap at marking which things are important and which are not. But I think there are some sub-categories there that are kind of relevant to the mistakes our culture makes around this topic.

I think one of the problems is that we get all twisted and tangled up around marking which things are productive, which are fun, which are both, and which are neither. I think that as a culture we are complete crap at actually being honest with ourselves about this stuff. And having recently been to a convention, I can point at alllll sorts of ways in which writers as a subculture are terrible. Take conventions, for example. If you are a writer, and you go to a convention like World Fantasy that's got serious industry focus, are you a) having a good time with your friends; b) talking with people who have common interests about intellectually stimulating subjects related to the said interests (yes, I know, that's fun for me too--but for some people they're not completely overlapping sets); c) making and/or maintaining personal contacts with people who are in the same business as you; d) conversing on specific business-related topics; e) none of the above? It can be any combination of those answers for any writer, depending on the con or the day they're having.

And I think that being honest with ourselves about it is really important, because if you're going to a con to have fun with your friends, that is totally fine. There is nothing wrong with having fun with your friends and a great deal right with it. Things start to get complicated if you either tell yourself that you are Doing Business Dammit when in fact you are having fun with your friends--or else tell yourself that this ought to be fun, and why why WHY aren't you having more FUN--when in fact you are an introvert and this is NOT your fun, your fun would be interacting with the same people in much smaller groups or shorter time frames, and you are doing this particular con for the business aspect and this is WORK for you--or when you tell yourself that it ought to be a lovely co-mingling of work and fun, when in fact you haven't talked to anybody you actually work with or anybody you like, and hmm, maybe you should stop going to this con completely and pick a different one that has at least one of fun or work. (Or decide that as nice as it can be for some people to get face-time with those they work with or share interests with, it's just not for you and stay home. That way is fine too. I love the cons I love, but I'd be the last person to say they are for everyone.) Any of the above can be fine as long as you're being honest with yourself and coping accordingly--and, of course, not being a jerk to other people along the way, and recognizing that other people have other reactions and reasons for being there.

Conventions and writers are just one example. I think that we tend to seize upon an aura of virtue whenever and wherever we can find it. Reading political blogs and participating in the comment section doesn't have to be classified as just a hobby, it's part of being an informed electorate and/or maintaining a community! You want to do those things, don't you? Those are important things, right? And they are. Except. They're not infinitely important, and there's a law of diminishing returns there: how much participation will make you more informed, how much will build more community, how much you're just doing because you like to (and it's fine to do things you like to do!), how much you're doing out of habit. I think habit is a big one for how we fall into things that have some productive component and some fun component but haven't been analyzed recently for how much of either we're getting out of them. And it's very easy to say, "Oh yeah, we should think about that," and not always easy to actually, y'know, think about that. Even though we totally should.

Politics is one of the areas in which I feel like we're doing worst at this. It particularly comes up in a US election year, when people watch the election results as though they were a horse race, which for a few people is actually enjoyable, but for most gives the illusion of involvement with the political process without actually doing anything productive, while still subjecting minds and bodies to stress hormones and reactions. I've watched people do it: some get really happy and excited to watch the results, and for them yay. The rest...it's like a horse race you don't even like but feel compelled to watch anyway. Except it's not. The results won't change. So if you don't like watching the results in real-time, and you're not actually doing something where it's related to your job or any other real-time analysis that will make a difference, don't do it, do something else. At this remove it sounds obvious. It just...seems to come up every Presidential election. I have friends who get upset and stressed and watch anyway. This worries me and makes me sad.

So I've been thinking of declaring Election Day officially Talk About Something Else Tuesday. Go vote, those of you who are eligible and informed, and then come home and take a deep breath and...talk about something else. I'll compile a list of suggestions for alternate blog topics here and post them on Election Day. Just "not thinking of pink elephants" doesn't work; thinking of something else actively is much better if you're trying not to stress, if you've already done what you can. And then at the end of the night or in the next morning you will find out who has won the various elections you care about, and the results will be the same even if you don't hear the exact moment when they have 3% of the returns counted from Decatur, IA. Go for a walk, make a pie, volunteer somewhere apolitical in your area, blog about something unrelated to politics. Unless you can honestly look at watching election returns and say either, "Yes, this will really be enjoyable for me," or, "Yes, here is the concrete good I will do with this," do something else. And let's help each other on that one. Suggestions welcome in the comments section.

Do what you can, and then stop dwelling and do something else that's either productive or fun, but for heaven's sake not neither. I will keep repeating this to myself until I get it right. Probably this means I will be repeating it awhile. Sigh.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: desperance
2012-07-02 02:18 am (UTC)
a) having a good time with your friends; b) talking with people who have common interests about intellectually stimulating subjects related to the said interests (yes, I know, that's fun for me too--but for some people they're not completely overlapping sets); c) making and/or maintaining personal contacts with people who are in the same business as you; d) conversing on specific business-related topics; e) none of the above?

You forgot (f) - all of the above except (e)

I guess everyone finds their own balance, even if it's hating the whole thing and hiding out in their hotel room with takeaway and the TV (which I have also done); but mostly, yeah. For me it's a combo thing. I go with lots of good intentions to network and talk business and make contacts and like that; and I generally end up hanging out in the bar with friends. It's cons without bars that I really struggle with. Or those where the bar is apparently deliberately detached from the main progress of the con, where it ought to be the heart of it.

We used to have election parties in the UK, where we'd all gather with whoever had the biggest room/TV/selection of alcohol, and drown our sorrows through the night till we could bear no more. That was back in the 80s and 90s, when we all knew there would be sorrows to drown and it was just better in company. Then '97 happened, and Labour won, and that was just an extraordinary night - only then in power they turned out to be not so different any more after all, and all that radical excitement drained away into a kind of world-weary cynicism, and the parties died around us. Last election night, I don't think I even bothered.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 02:24 am (UTC)
See, that's why I said it could be any combination.

I've done all of the above at cons, but the talking business usually takes me by surprise, and I've found that it's best to let it. If I go with the idea that I will have good conversations with smart people and see my friends, and then Editor A says, "Send me more of x but not of y," and Editor B says, "Be in my anthology!", then I say, "Wow! That was unexpected!" Whereas if I go thinking, "Business! I will be doing of the business!", then...possibly missing the good conversations, less struck by the unexpected editorial goodness. Y'know?

The other thing is: people get hung up on Networking!. Like Networking! is the magic word. What are you doing at this con? I, Sir! I am Networking! (Heroic pose here.) And they take advice on the Networking! But...they don't always look at who is giving the advice. So-and-so said that such-and-such was the best Networking! she'd done. And these things can be long-term, and I don't want to get judgy, but...has So-and-so sold anything in the N years since she did that Networking!, N > 5? Anything at all? A flash piece, perhaps? No? Then perhaps So-and-so should admit that she was having a good time at a party? And perhaps you should take her advice for having good times at parties and not so much for the magic of Networking!?
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-07-02 02:34 am (UTC)
So-and-so said that such-and-such was the best Networking! she'd done. And these things can be long-term, and I don't want to get judgy, but...has So-and-so sold anything in the N years since she did that Networking!, N > 5? Anything at all? A flash piece, perhaps? No? Then perhaps So-and-so should admit that she was having a good time at a party?

Yah, seriously.

I have seen people who get results from networking get quite remarkable results from it (though not in the fiction field). That said, those remarkable results tend to be visible on the timescale of months or sometimes years, rather than decades...
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 02:40 am (UTC)
The thing is, if you want to use "networking" as an umbrella term for everything from "talked to a person at a party" to "established a reputation for being a smart, sensible, caring, interesting person who does hard work in various areas over a long, long time," then I can see why networking gets such a great reputation. It's just that you have to remember to use scale labels if you're trying to talk about it including all that. And if you're just doing the "talked to a person at a party" kind of networking, that's a very different critter.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-07-02 02:52 am (UTC)
Right, no, I would not describe the establishing a reputation thing as "networking", because of the scale differences you describe.

I'm talking about people I knew from MIT first persuading people they met at parties that they were smart, and then following up on that via email to parlay said impressions into business relationships (which eventually led to jobs).

The key point with this kind of networking is that it requires follow-up to be more than just "hanging around at a party". I wouldn't describe my interactions with various editors at FogCon as networking, by this standard, and I think that's a fair distinction to draw. Others' opinions may differ.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 01:56 pm (UTC)
Seriously yes.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 02:48 pm (UTC)
Auctoritas! I love this.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-07-02 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think networking is one of those things like happiness or finding friends that only happens as a side effect and not when pursued as a goal.

I certainly think that this is true in the context of SF fandom. That said, however, once you generalize it to the context of industry conferences and the like, my approach (pursuing interesting conversations rather than actively shmoozing) is demonstrably less effective than that of some of my peers.

I definitely hear you re: the simulating friendliness, though. Given the size of the SFF community and the speed at which publishing moves, that sort of thing just seems like a waste of everyone's time.

Edited at 2012-07-02 06:21 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: vanatoomas
2012-07-02 06:49 am (UTC)
"That said, those remarkable results tend to be visible on the timescale of months or sometimes years, rather than decades..."

What I have learned from listening in to people talking on funerals and listening to old (over 70) people in general - actually people ARE actively cashing in the results of the networking they did decades ago when they age.

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[User Picture]From: ckd
2012-07-02 04:43 am (UTC)
I still think of networking as something you make computers do. Perhaps this is why I haven't sold any stories, but more likely it's the fact that I haven't written any that's holding me back in that department. :-)
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From: diatryma
2012-07-02 06:19 am (UTC)
2008, I followed the results until a preliminary report from some state came back wrong and then I decided apple pie, blueberry muffins, and cornbread would be better for everyone.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2012-07-02 08:06 am (UTC)
The lead-up to Election Day is making me very glad not to be in the US. I hear it's even worse than usual. Enough of the news still gets to me via Internet, personal and local channels that I feel fully informed of all I need to know, without feeling like I'm being swept away by rising hysteria. I know I would have a hard time not being swept away if I were there, too, because the results of this election are likely to affect me significantly, in ways that were not always true for many previous ones. (Healthcare, basically.)

On the topic of over-busy-ness, the problem with working in an office is that you also have to deal with others' expectations - which I realize is true for writers too, but in the case of offices, some of those others have direct control over your paycheck and continued employment.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2012-07-02 11:13 am (UTC)
I like the idea of an organized "post about other things" for Election Day.

Also, it's worth remembering that a lot of people who followed the results closely in 2008 (I didn't) also did so in 2000, and a lot of good watching that one closely did them. This won't necessarily stop anyone, but it might help in terms of remembering that not only is it too late to affect the results by then, but that following closely may not produce information quickly. (This is mostly a reminder to myself, rather than you.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 02:49 pm (UTC)
And sometimes that future goal is something that can be pursued some other way, and sometimes not.

Like if you say to yourself, "Well, this isn't any fun, but at least I'm Supporting The Arts," that works for one concert, but if you're saying that for the whole of the opera season, maybe you should go to plays or the symphony or chamber music or the puppet theater instead.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-02 02:49 pm (UTC)
Neat distraction, very timely! Thanks, Kit!
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2012-07-02 11:01 pm (UTC)
I suspect that the current record is held by Hamlet, and it may be more than 44.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2012-07-02 04:51 pm (UTC)
Unless perhaps you think it's important to know as soon as possible whether it's time to bolt for Costa Rica, election day is the worst day to focus on following the politics, because it's too late to really do much about them.
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[User Picture]From: genarti
2012-07-02 05:13 pm (UTC)
All of this is so very, very true.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2012-07-04 01:43 pm (UTC)
I have a fine appreciation for the importance of not being too busy. It's convincing my bosses that's the tricky part. (You think I'm kidding, but since my bosses consult with me about how to make other employees more creative and productive, and want to hear what the psychological literature says...)

I have officially hit the 538 Boundary with this election--that's the point where I stop reading any Horse Race news except for Nate Silver's statistical analyses. He has Obama at about 60% to win, and has had him there for the past couple of months, with little change based on scandals, photo opportunities, and Supreme Court cases. This is good for my stress level, while keeping me informed of actual changes.
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