Word by word

If you’ve been following along for the past few days (OK, like, all my adult life) you know I really want to “make it” as a writer.

At times, I feel like I have. I’ve worked in communications, I work as a freelance writer and I’ve got some literary publications to my name. But I’ve got this book, you see, and I really want to get it off my mind and focus on new things. Until I do this, I feel like I won’t have really met my goals as a writer.

Sometimes I get down for not having worked harder on this book years ago, or not having working exclusively on it during grad school. I get bummed out that I’m still hemming and hawing over it and I don’t even know it it’ll get picked up by a publisher. Most of all though, having this thing hanging over my head reminds me of how hard it is to accomplish a goal and make time to write on things that don’t have deadlines or paychecks attached to them. And that makes me want to pull all-nighters and go nuts on it.


Writing isn’t about banging out a book in a day, and it shouldn’t be all about a paycheck, either. When I was younger, it wasn’t. But now, with a family to support and a “real job” to attend to, I don’t make the time I need for my creative work because it takes time and because the literary stuff barely pays for new erasers. And who uses erasers these days?

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to get that time. One of the things I’ve been doing is forcing myself to post to the blog. Another is reading. And today I read something really encouraging in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Rebecca Shuman, author of the column “Are You Working?” offers blunt wisdom and practical advice to academics and writers who think they need to do it all right now. Instead of sprinting across the page and fizzling out when faced with other real world requirements, here she encourages her readers to slow down and figure out what might really work for them.

The advice that stood out to me the most was her suggestion to break down writing and research work into two-hour chunks twice a week. Rather than thinking we have to make up for all the words we didn’t write last year (or the years before, in my case), Shuman says just “divide work into single coherent tasks.”

I like this because it works well for my fractured way of thinking, and because it seems manageable with a toddler. I can find two hours a day a couple of times a week. Now, sitting my butt in a chair and writing…making myself do that will be another story (post?) entirely.

If you’re an artist with a “real job,” what advice for creative time has helped you accomplish your goals?

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