“The writers we tend to universally admire, like Beckett, or Kafka, or TS Eliot, are not very prolific.” —John Updike
Despite the quote above, John Updike was successfully prolific. If he was just starting out as a writer in the digital age, there is no question that he would thrive. Today’s world moves quickly, and the literary community is no exception.
For those who write slowly and want to be read widely, this can mean fear of being silenced by the digital clamor. And when I say noise, I don’t mean to imply anything unpleasant, only that there are many voices speaking at once. There is a staggering number of talented writers in the world, and today the voices heard are not only the connected, inherited, and well-off. Everyone who chooses to use it has a voice.
Beginning and emerging writers tend to produce without overthinking. They have nothing to lose by doing so. There are fewer expectations and no audience to worry about alienating, so the pressure is off. As a writer refines craft, however, pressure to constantly produce and share quality work builds. It seems necessary to be prolific, attend events and constantly promote, while still churning out notable work.
“Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.” ― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Many people are afraid of being forgotten, of not leaving something valuable behind. Athazagoraphobia is the word for this. Writing is only one outlet for artistic voice, but it can sometimes feel as though every single person we know has a novel or a screenplay saved to Dropbox, and as we begin to publish and share work, this can be intimidating to think about.
As a beginning writer, I never felt unproductive if I wasn’t constantly writing new stories or working on a new project because I was writing for myself and only when inspired—which happened to be all the time. I was doing it for the joy, freedom, and release. Then something shifted.
I can’t pinpoint when exactly it happened, but I began to feel pressure associated with production. I began to worry that my voice would be forgotten, drowned out by the other, louder (or more persistent) voices. The voices that had more freedom to write, more time to invest. I felt I needed to be busier doing the work, then busier sharing the work. Given some hefty student loan debt, a day job, another part-time job (see: hefty debt), along with the unexpected nature of life, writing—which once felt like my me time—began to assume the role of another task on my to-do list. Sure, it was a gratifying task, but it was now accompanied by needless pressure. There was a sense that I wasn’t doing enough. The task of finding time to write became a persistent nag, and the seemingly barrier-breaking opportunity of a digital landscape seemed more intimidating than inviting some days. Nonetheless, I wrote.
“I recently took up ice sculpting. Last night I made an ice cube. This morning I made 12, I was prolific.” —Mitch Hedberg
I’ve been accused of being prolific. Perhaps I won’t be remembered. I need to accept this.
As writers, when our words accumulate, we tend to get better at what we do—telling stories, exploring the world. When publications began arriving with increasing frequency, I became encouraged. Then came times when I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. I realized that the feeling of validation mixed with hope (maybe I really can make it as a writer), lasted about ten minutes before I feel the pull to write something new.
Writing is about teasing out the world, and the process is nourishing, but writing is only a step when it comes to storytelling. The feeling of having successfully communicated an idea, of having shared something, began to feel necessary, too. I don’t think publication, or the desire to publish, is bad, but the desire to be relevant at all times can easily become consuming.
“The writer is an explorer. Every step is an advance into a new land.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
The digital world may mean opportunity but in the end it comes with some of the same challenges already in place. We must still work to be heard. I, for one, will continue to publish and continue to write as time permits. But I realize that instead of trying to pretend publications and sharing of voice do not matter, perhaps that pang of anxiety I get when I feel as though I have nothing to share can be my motivation. Perhaps it has been all along.
Fear of being forgotten, especially when one works like mad to refine work (it doesn’t come natural or quickly to all of us), is valid. As writers, we are allowed to be anxious, to promote, to share and be shared; and recognizing that sense of emptiness we feel when we lack feedback should not come with shame. We can be writers in a digital world, and this doesn’t mean we need to be “on” all the time, but it does mean we must stay motivated and constantly remind ourselves why we write.
Athazagoraphobia is a word that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But it’s not something to deny. Use it. Healthy fear means harnessed fear. It means using that extra energy to our advantage as artists and allowing our fear to remind us to listen and share our voices, to find our place. The fact is, we all have something unique to say. Although we can’t listen to everyone, nor can we reach everyone with our words, the desire to share is healthy and the urge to produce and be heard should not be denied. As we put ourselves out there, the only thing to remember is to keep exploring, and in doing so, to continue to seek out new lands.