Ask any writer–one of the things most difficult to balance is making time for the arts and various sciences of generation; reading good work by other people; editing; submitting; marketing; workshopping; and sharing our writing in our community. Plus day job, family, exercise, that meditation practice we’ve been meaning to get to and sleep.
I am always asking writers and other creatives how they do it. Notice that I added editing, sharing, submitting and marketing to the “writing” mix–if you’re anything like me, sanity comes with breaking down a dream into bite-sized pieces. And for writers in this climate, those pieces should include some kind of platform-building and a submission discipline. I know how we all fear that we will burn a bridge at a coveted journal or with a coveted agent by submitting something that’s not our absolute pristine best. However, because we are purportedly professional people who realize writing isn’t a unicorn-scented walk among celestial inspiration but hard work, we will have had our beta reader take a look, yeah? We will have edited our little brains out on the thing, no?
Questions most hated and often heard: How often will I blog? What should my social media cadence be? When and how will I submit for publication? When is my work “good enough” to send out? How can I research the best outlets? Should I bother even trying at my abysmal level of skill?
Okay, that last one was a joke. If you’re with me this far, you at least have a hankering to get better and you’ve backed it up with hours and days and months and years of sincere striving. Good for you! Then let’s get started.
Time, time, time, to see what’s become of me
Many pressing time management questions have been answered for me through the discipline of getting my MFA. I have to generate a certain amount of text and read and annotate specific books each semester. Since I’m engaged in a teaching semester this time, I’m also working up a class on scenework (I recommend looking into the opportunity to teach writing for the ability it gives you to really go deep into a topic).
But as a multi-genre writer and visual artist, I also ideally find time for photography, drawing, gallery opportunities and community events in my respective disciplines. It is all doable without ignoring my loved ones, but I have to remain totally committed and forego the Netflix binges I’m so easily lured into. (I’m talking to you, Witcher!)
The big five (admit it, you didn’t want to admit it, but here they are)
Here are some of the ways other writers have told me they keep to a decent schedule that includes sleep and possibly the premiere of Homeland.
- Get up early or stay up late-or life will happen and bye-bye writing
- Join a writers’ group- it may take time to find a fit, but accountability for pages each month makes you work
- Take advantage of social media- for meeting other writers, marketing, submission, platform-building, events, etc. Not for stalking that mean person from high school. I just found out there are specialty agent queries on Twitter– #querytips to get started.
- Find a beta reader/swap critique partner-this one’s a toughie. My MFA mentors and writing community friends have been generous, some for pay, some for generous payback of their time and talents in return for my edits and questions on their pages.
- Give yourself a break, Brenda–if you slip into sloth, get up, Brenda. You’re human. We’re not shocked.
Nothing you haven’t heard before, right? Number five might give you pause, though. I suffer from this, especially since I have been building a PR marketing career and have foregone many creative opportunities for paying the bills. So, if I fall down on my writing schedule, I feel like a complete failure and wallow. Just because I hit the snooze and miss the early a.m. session I planned doesn’t mean I should give up trying. Just because I choose to binge-watch Disney+ in bed and eat tortilla chips doesn’t mean I’m not serious about my art. As long as I don’t let a slip become a complete slugfest for weeks, a few days off can only do me good.
Find a mentor
For a mentor and enthusiastic, brilliant writer who’s one of my favorite professors ever, check out one of Sophfronia Scott’s excellent video blogs to get you into being both kind to yourself and help you want to get to work, slacker! She’s so smart and kind, place her in your virtual corner. By regularly watching her videos, you’ll feel a sense of purpose to get on your computer, or on your notebook, and working again.
Life gets in the way, of course, but once you show up for other people who are on the writing journey with you, they will show up for you. I have found that spending time with other writers in a formal or informal group is both edifying and inspirational. We share ourselves on a level that even my best friends don’t approach–because we are working and learning about our art, we are all sweating, swearing and celebrating each other, together.
In other news, I am grateful to have had my story, Spider Circus, accepted for the Arachne Press 8th Anniversary Anthology, No Spiders Were Harmed in the Making of this Book forthcoming in August 2020.
The F word
Facebook is a great place to look up writing and reading events (I know–it just is, even though they helped usher in the current state of chaos our society is afflicted with right now–don’t EVEN get me started) it’s a great place to keep up with your peers and figure out which reading series/book stores/open mics you want to check out. I usually want to crawl home and veg out after work but I make myself go–and I AM NEVER MAD I WENT.
That being said, I tend to avoid the slam poetry ones–because I’m not comfortable with the very specific type of performance most require—and if you’re not comfy with it, they can be unnecessarily awkward. That being said, go to them, anyway— the people who are good at it are so good they thrill me— the people who are not so great at it are great lessons, too— I always clap the loudest for the bravest readers, those who are overcome with nerves and fuck up. That’s what a good literary citizen and poet does— that’s what a good human does.
I don’t have an issue with performance or open mic night–I’m an extrovert–but I know it makes some of you shiver. Try going as an audience member first. Check ahead though, to see if they are interested in spoken word at all. If you get there, after checking in with the organizer, sit and watch the other readers/musicians and don’t play on your phone. Once you work up a five-minute reading (practice a little in front of your phone, making a video propped on the windowsill or somewhere) and keep trying. Once you get used to being at a certain open mike (most of them are regularly scheduled) you’ll feel better.
I’m grateful for so many writing friends, mentors and reading series hosts; my workshop partners and critique hostesses— I’m looking at you, Patty McCrystal! and Viragos—the toiling literary nonprofit editors and teachers, and those who inspire me every day, including those I have been reading lately— Jia Tolentino, Kathleen Finneran, Eckhart Tolle, Susan Sontag and Elizabeth Strout, to name just a few. But all of these talented friends and co-conspirators in the great mystery that is writing didn’t fall into my lap— I made time for each of them, got uncomfortable, got busy, got real about my project. Got disciplined and said f— off to time suckers and the ever-present trivial. Forgive my annoying tone— but I’m rooting for you, so hard, I get emotional. And because I’m rooting for you, I’m hopeful you’re rooting for me, too.