“How many people live on the reputation of the reputation they might have made,” challenges Oliver Wendell Holmes (1858). Holmes hits upon a dirty little secret we all share. We each like to set lofty goals for ourselves, but the execution is another thing all together. Idealizing can oftentimes be another form of procrastination. We have to accept that nothing will ever be ideal save for our ideal. Following up on Part I of “Talk Is Cheap,” we’re continuing the conversation of setting writerly goals and artistic deadlines.
So, the dishes have to be washed, our car will need an oil change, and the bills need to be paid. We have to accept there will never be a perfect time when a million other duties aren’t pulling at us. Though we romanticize that one day, in our golden futures, we’ll find the Shangri La of “Time and Energy,” where long stretches of hours, days, and weeks will offer themselves to us on a white horse and rescue us from the tower of mundane chores and paying the mortgage. The only way to stop this cycle of procrastination is to realize that the present is now. We have to actively make time, constantly scavenge for inspiration, and find within ourselves an unflagging drive that will propel us through our project even though we’ve had a week full of meetings, the laundry has to be folded, and we have to pick up the car from the shop.
To sustain an artist’s life, we ritually have to renew our vows to our craft. This isn’t some fling we’re having to pass the time because it sounds cool or we think we can make a lot of money out of it. More than a hobby, we write because we wouldn’t be ourselves if we stopped.
So we make time and prioritize, which means setting goals and keeping to deadlines that are just as real and visceral for us as physical checkups and committee meetings. Here’s what a concrete schedule could look like for those of who may feel like we’re flailing in the nebulae of good intentions:
- Mondays, 6-9pm: Blogging to maintain social presence
- Tuesdays, 8-11pm: seek out markets by subscribing to trade magazines and keeping up to date with newsletters such as Poets & Writers, Funds for Writers, The Writer’s Chronicle, etc.
- Wednesdays, 6-8pm: Prep submissions to mail out or upload online
- Thursdays, 8am-12noon: WRITE (with deadlines in mind, i.e. a chapter a week, a scene a day. Be sure to have hard due dates for yourself such as: complete manuscript by the beginning of May 1).
- Fridays, 8am-12noon: REVISE- (again, hard due dates are essential. Set dates to work backwards and be sure to hand off your work to trusted readers for constructive critiques).
- Saturdays, 8am-12noon: apply to residencies, conferences and workshops
- Sundays, 8am-6pm: READ & WRITE. Read and re-read inspiring work. Revisit your favorites and deconstruct them, picking them apart to figure out what makes them your favorite. Read new works by authors you’ve never heard of to keep your craft on its toes, staying current on the latest trends, and–most importantly–to support new and emerging writers. If our fellow writers don’t support one another, who will?
*The last task cannot be stressed enough and should be tattooed onto every writer’s hand: Backup everyday!!! No if, ands, or buts, the task is simple: B A C K U P ! ! !
*Keep a running calendar that you’re constantly updating with due dates for submissions.
*Keep a store of petty cash for entrance and application fees.
All the while, in our devotion to the craft, we still have to accept the hard truths that none of the above is going to guarantee us a paycheck, and we will, undoubtedly, end up paying out of our own pocket for copying fees, admission fees, mailing packages, etc. We have to recognize that fame is as likely as winning a date with Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. We must face the fact that no one wants to hear us talk about all the hours we put in during our already crammed work week, not our family at those Sunday BBQs nor our co-workers at our paying day job. In fact, anyone we talk to, including fellow writers and artists are likely to nod off or respond with empty smiles or glazed looks, because, frankly, the work we commit to is boring, and, all truth be told, sounds like a lot of work, mainly because it is a lot of work. Who wants to hear about all that work?
In addition to the nitty gritty of reading, writing, revising and submitting, we also have the added pressure of building a social presence. We are constantly keeping our CV, our personal/artist statement and project proposals current. We seek to cultivate lasting relationships with literary people who we respect and trust, so that we may have first readers to give us the painful skinny on revision before we send our work out. We plan to attend conferences and workshops to network and soak as much as we can up about our passion, so we’re also charged to stay up to date with all the latest trends by regularly reading: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book Review, London Book Review, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Guardian Book Review, Poets & Writers, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Writer’s Chronicle, NPR, Salon, etc. etc. etc, depending on our audiences and our niche.
Each task listed above is nothing more than a rough sketch. There are hundreds of tiny little steps involved for each duty, and the ones counted here are by no means exhaustive. There’s always more to do.
We have to be our own taskmaster, time-keeper, and supervisor. No one else is going to do any of this for us. The book is not going to fall into our laps. Agents will not coming knocking on our doors. We will have no boss, so we must set the benchmarks to ensure that we keep to our due dates and follow through, and, when we do, we should be sure to treat ourselves after all the endless goals we set. Remember to reserve some petty cash to buy yourself your own bottle of Veuve Clicquot!
None of the work gets any easier, but the more we stick to it, the more we realize we can do more and handle more. At the end of the day, at the close of our writing work week, hopefully, we’ll have time to catch our breath and remember how truly privileged we are to sit down at the desk and wrestle with words, struggle with story to channel characters, who we can’t shake out of ourselves.
I have a very romantic and chivalric notion of being a writer, where I imagine we lay down our sword and life at the foot of Art. Our pen, of course, serves as sword. No one asked us to do this. No one put a gun to our head charging, “you must do this.” So we truly are blessed to be able to pursue our passion, and, as we aim to turn our passion into a career, we don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that this is a passion first, last, and foremost.