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Why Books Have Margins and So Should You by Janalyn Voigt | Live Write Breathe

Why Books Have Margins (And So Should You)

Ever visit a website where text, pictures, scrolling “thingees” and flashing gizmos cram every available space? A video auto-plays, and the sudden sound coming from your computer makes you start. Pop-ups lie in wait, ready to disrupt you when you’ve barely started reading.

Nine-to-one, you backed right on out of there.

New website owners often make the mistake of overwhelming their visitors. Whether it’s a website or the written page, our eyes simply must have somewhere to rest. What if books had no margins? How would that affect the reader’s experience?

Are you guilty of leaving yourself no margin? We writers cram our lives full and think we can still function. I’ve been guilty of this, and I still fight the urge to take up the margin in my life. I know whenever I need to adjust my workload. That’s when the writing I normally love becomes a chore.

If you know just what I mean, it’s time to ditch everything that blinks but has no substance. Let yourself have the rest you need.  Evaluate the return you receive for everything you do.  Rank your duties with the most important at the top of the list. Cut as much as you can from the bottom of the list. Doing this at least once a year will keep you on track and free the time you need to achieve your goals.

Below is my ‘hit list’ of duties to cut in my own writing life to create margin. Use it to adapt your own list.

Writing to Please Others

Falling into the trap of trying to write what others think you should is the surest way to please no one, least of all yourself. At the beginning of my writing career, I made this particular mistake often. I edited newsletters, wrote articles others wanted from me (gratis), even ghost-wrote a book on a nonfiction topic that didn’t even interest me. I had to learn that there are times to sacrifice for others, but my own needs also carry weight.

In order to say yes to your own writing goals, it’s important to say no to other people’s agendas for you. 

Please don’t misunderstand me. Some people (like family members , friends, and employers) do have valid claims on your time and attention. Look for balance, though.  A functional family supports its members, friends understand seeing less of your when a deadline looms, and no job should consume every ounce of your creativity.

We teach people how to treat us. Others will rob your time without even noticing what they took from you, if you let them.

A political candidate once asked me to write for him. I had recovered enough from people pleasing to turn him down, though. Writing nonfiction for a politician would in no way have advanced me as a storyteller, my primary function. It would have removed all margin from my writing life.

“What about my career?” he asked in a wounded voice that edged me toward guilt. He no doubt felt justified in pressing me because of the (noble) causes he embraced.  That didn’t excuse the fact that he was so focused on his own goals he couldn’t even see me except in relation to himself. That I also have a career to think about didn’t even register with him.

I held firm. Helping this person achieve his goals would have hindered my own.

Obligations foisted on you by others can be hard to turn down due to social pressure. You may believe in certain causes and want to help. In this case, you must first say yes to your own writing goals.  This is not selfish but the opposite. Serving someone else’s dream causes you to neglect your audience.

Life is fleeting. Live well.

Writing to Become Someone Else

There’s a fine line between modeling yourself after another author who resonates with you and imitating another writer’s platform and style. Trying to be someone you are not is one of the surest ways to sidetrack a writing career.

It’s hard enough to be yourself and achieve all that you are uniquely designed to do.  

What message burns within you? Is there a cause you feel compelled to champion? What are your passions? Being true to yourself takes you further than following in someone else’s footsteps on a path that doesn’t belong to you.  There’s nothing more guaranteed to kill creativity than being untrue to your unique writing voice.

Feeling you are a fraud and fooling everyone as a writer is often the root cause of failing to develop your personal author style.  This is known as impostor syndrome. Being aware of this as a problem goes a long way toward addressing it.

Final Thoughts from Janalyn

Creativity is a fragile butterfly. it needs air to breathe and room to spread its wings. Allowing margin in your life will put stories to flight  in your imagination that can’t land on the page any other way.

Why Books Have Margins and So Should You via @JanalynVoigt | Live Write Breathe

Written by Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt

© Janalyn Voigt
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I’m Janalyn Voigt, an author, speaker, and former social media mentor. DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, released with Pelican Book Group and will be followed by at least two more installments. I’m also working on a romantic suspense novel set in an Irish castle, but then historical fiction has a grip on me too. Being unabashedly multi-genre makes me into what some might term a reluctant rebel, but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller.

4 thoughts on “Why Books Have Margins (And So Should You)”

  1. Good piece, but in the third paragraph I think you meant “affect” rather than “effect.” (And I love the title.)

  2. Thanks, Janalyn!

    “Ever visit a website where text, pictures, scrolling ‘thingees’ and flashing gizmos cram every available space? A video auto-plays, and the sudden sound coming from your computer makes you start. Pop-ups lie in wait, ready to disrupt you when you’ve barely started reading.

    “Nine-to-one, you backed right on out of there.”

    Yes! And the websites with the annoying pop-downs where you have to click on something before you can access the information. I hate them, hate them, hate them.

    But to the main topic of your post: I’ve had to learn the word no. My non-confrontational nature has always wrestled with the finality of telling an editor I can’t be a slush reader. No, I don’t have enough time to be a judge for your contest. Uh, uh, I can’t do that or that or that because I need to sleep at least a few hours a day.

    After several false starts, I embraced my negative side, and now I am able to write so much more than ever before.

    1. Good for you, Kathy! Turning down invitations becomes harder with working relationships, for sure. This one still trips me up from time to time. I’m paying the price right now for having overextended myself, so I’m having to take my own advice here.

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