Someone recently challenged me by asking why I wasn't following my dream. This may come as a surprise to those of you who know that I launched my own writing and editing business earlier this year. This means I get to do the work I love with my dog Gracie by my side, wearing slippers and sipping coffee in the comfort of my home. Sounds like a dream, right?
(Answer: of course it is. Please read everything that comes next knowing that I am extremely grateful to do what I do. Every day, I give thanks and am humbled by the fact that people actually pay me to do the one thing I think I'm really good at. OK, you can keep reading now.)
For most of my life, I've dreamt of becoming an author. I mean this in the traditional sense — I'm talking about novels and short stories (or, "those things with beginnings, middles and ends," as one of my creative writing teachers Con Lehane put it. More on him later).
Although there are similarities between the writing work I do for clients and my own creative writing, they truly represent two different dreams. In nurturing one, the other inevitably falls behind. That's the nature of having a foot in both worlds. And because I'm not an author who can take the year off to seclude myself in a cabin and just write, I'm going to remain in two worlds, for the time being. I'm still figuring out what that will look like, but here are four things I'm planning on doing to keep both my business and my creative writing alive.
1. Write Every Day
After I was challenged about not following my dream, I took a hard look at some goals I set earlier in the year. It was scary.
One was, not surprisingly, to write creatively every day. Many of my favorite authors laud this as the key to their success, such as Anne Lamott:
I can safely say that I have not written creatively every day of 2017. I haven't even followed through with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. But starting on November 14, I decided to write for 30 days straight anyway. I'll let you know how it works out come December 14. (So far, so good! As long as Sundays don't count.)
Some days, I'm digging up old stories that have potential. Other days, I'm starting from scratch, or just recording all the strange snippets I overhear in the real world that could make for interesting bits of dialogue. But the key for me is that I'm sitting at my desk for exactly an hour, with the sole purpose of writing. I close out my emails and anything else that might distract me. And I write.
2. Write With Other Writers
This summer, I participated in a local writing workshop hosted by The Writer's Center called "Fiction 2," led by author Con Lehane. Eight budding (and some published!) writers came into the class with first drafts, leaving with heavily marked-up first drafts that would soon be polished into final drafts. That is, I assume this is what everyone else did; I am currently still revising mine, and each draft is drastically different.
I wrote a short story called "The Piano in the Woods" about a young couple "celebrating" their first year of marriage, even as they try to come to terms with their differences and the hard truths they've come to learn about each other. This many revisions down the road, I couldn't even tell you if both characters are still alive. Let's just say it took a dark turn around revision #5.
Sinister authors notwithstanding, this class was the first time since college that I had gotten to truly "geek out" with other would-be authors. We talked about third person vs. third person omniscient; we argued that someone's story really started on page 3, paragraph 4; we congratulated another on his use of a regional dialect in a portion of dialogue. Digging into each other's stories fanned my creative flame, and for that I am grateful, even if "The Piano in the Woods" gets nowhere. I plan to sign up for several of these workshops next year (2018 goal!) to keep the fire in my belly.
3. Write in Community
Several of the workshop participants and I continue to meet monthly to workshop each other's stories.
Writing in community with other writers gives me the accountability I need when things start to get busy and my writing time becomes scarce. In having a date by which I must submit something to the group, I am motivated either to make those revisions I've been putting off, dust off that old story I just can't shake, or write something new.
Like me, these other writers are struggling with writer's block, are fed up with their characters, and aren't making any progress past Chapter 1 because they keep going back and editing themselves instead of just writing. We commiserate about these woes and share what's been working for us. We tell each other obnoxious things like "I really think this is begging to be a novel, not a short story," and "have you ever considered changing the story's narrator?" All the while, we are helping each other become better writers.
4. Write ... but Also Read
I need to be reading. Like any novice, I learn best through observing the work of my superiors. Reading is the first step to understanding how fantasy authors manage to trick their readers into believing that a woman can give birth to dragons, or how memoir writers can reduce their readers to tears within the first chapter.
As good old S.K. once said:
I recently took on an assignment that required me to be funny. I like to think that I can make people laugh, but I soon learned that funny writing and funny speaking are two very different things. For research, I read Jim Gaffigan's "Dad Is Fat," which reminded me of the simple power of laughter. I first learned this in beautiful but gloomy Scotland, which found me reading equally gloomy books like "Trainspotting" for my English major. I started taking breaks to watch episodes of "The Office" or "Arrested Development," and found that laughing gives me perspective and helps me take myself less seriously.
I don't know if my writing will ever master the laugh-out-loud humor of these comedy giants, but I'm glad that I know what that type of humor reads like. At the very least, reading these will give me some much-needed comic relief and a break from my own head.
Not Great at Juggling
I've written before about my all-or-nothing tendencies. That's why I'm going to need help with my resolution to continue keeping the creative flame alive while working full-time as a new business owner!
These are just a few ideas I had, but if you have any ideas of how to make time for both your dream and your business, please let me know in the Comments section below. Thank you in advance!