Write Like It's Work

I’ve often heard the advice that you need to treat your writing like a “real job” even before you’re published. That means you show up on time. You don’t skip days. You prioritize it over TV, or doing the dishes, or playing with the cat. To take it a step further, maybe you don’t let yourself “off the hook” with anything less than what you’d feel comfortable telling a boss. “Sorry, I can’t come into work today because my dishes are dirty,” or “I’m not going to make it — my cat is being SO cute right now,” isn’t going to cut it.

I’ve taken this advice to heart for a good part of my writing life, which means I do try to work on my writing every day (but I allow my schedule to be flexible), and I take two days off a week (my boss isn’t a slavedriver), and I give myself a break when I’m sick, or vacationing, or grieving (although, in the latter case, writing might be the best thing to do.) But lately, I haven’t been just treating my writing “like” it’s work. It really has been work — with real deadlines, real audiences, real editors, real publications.

I feel as though I haven’t “written” in a while, but what that really means is that I haven’t worked on my “personal writing” (writing without a waiting audience) as much lately as I used to. I have this guilt monkey in my mind who nags, saying, You haven’t worked on your novella since Thursday! Stop slacking!

And I have to tell that monkey, I’m not slacking. I’m just reversing my focus.

For most of my writing life, I’ve been making resolutions that this year I’ll redirect all that energy I usually put into writing new stories into writing for a real audience. And yet, again and again I couldn’t resist the shininess of a new story, and I’d welcome it as a distraction from the much scarier task of marketing myself. At last, I’m finally making good on that resolution, and things are happening because of it. I’ve learned that the key is to have concrete, measurable goals, like:

  • a goal to start writing more for a real audience. I made this goal about five years ago, and as part of it, I made an effort to take opportunities for writing that might be a good fit for me, even if I wasn’t totally sure what those opportunities would entail. That’s how I ended up writing for, and eventually co-editing, the Young Adult Catholics blog — which, by the way, directly led to my current book project, Hungering and Thirsting for Justice (ACTA Publications). The writing for the blog was and is unpaid — but it’s for a real audience. And for many writers, communication is a far more enticing reward than money.
  • a goal to become published three times in one year — or, barring that, to submit six times in one year. That goal is what led to the publication of my short story, “The Man in the Mirror” in Queer Dimensions, as well as my article, “Kids Keep me Closeted” for the Bi-Women newsletter, and the upcoming publication of my essay, “Where I First Met God” in Unruly Catholic Women Writers Volume II (SUNY PRESS).
  • a goal to submit my young adult novel, Ever This Day, to one publisher/editor, agent, or contest a month. So far, I’ve missed one month–the month I got married. I hope to submit it twice some other month this year to make up for it. Currently, I’ve got it out to the Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction; this month, I plan to submit it to the MsLexia award for unpublished women novelists.

Making concrete, measurable goals (I’m going to write five days a week, I’m going to submit six times a year) proved to be so much more successful than the more nebulous ones I used to make (I’m going to focus more on my writing, I’m going to submit my stuff more often.) These days, my writing time has been consumed by lining up reviewers and making final tweaks to Hungering (going to the typesetter as we speak), Unruly (manuscript due mid-September), and writing an article about being bisexual and Catholic for Dignity USA. After all those years of “acting as if” I was a real writer, I’m finally beginning to believe it.