1. I made it a priority. The biggest thing I did was negotiate a four-day workweek so I could spend Fridays working on fiction. Was that easy? No. It took a few months of discussion among the bosses and figuring out how and if they could make that work. But I had established myself enough there that they were willing to try it, and they knew that fiction writing was an important part of my life. More and more employers are realizing that helping their workers pursue their passions leads to greater engagement and happiness in the workplace. And that’s good for everyone. You don’t have to change your work schedule, but could you reserve Saturday morning or Sunday evening as your writing time? A couple of hours in the early morning?
2. I kept myself accountable. I knew that it would be easy to let an extra day “off” become – well, a day off. So I treated fiction writing like a job, arranging a workplace at a church downtown. They had lots of quiet space and were happy to have someone use it. Some days I worked here, other days I went to a coffee shop or a friend’s empty apartment. This friend left me a gift of pens and a new notebook, which I used to track my progress and jot down questions and problems with story and plot. I made excellent progress on finishing and editing two novels.
|At my "office."|
3. I submitted my work to literary journals and entered contests. It’s easy to get discouraged by rejection. You can improve your odds of publication by A.) Making sure your piece is really ready and B.) Finding literary journals that are interested in the style and genre of stories that you write. The AWP Conference's book fair is a great way to get to know more about hundreds of literary journals and small presses and talk to the folks who edit them. Check local and state writing and book festivals for contests. Having the goal of submitting to a journal or a contest helps you hone your work and stick to a deadline. This year, my short story “Geography Lesson” won the Mill Prize for Fiction at the Fox Cities Book Festival.
|A faraway picture of me reading my short story at the Mill Prize ceremony in April.|
4. I spent time with other writers. The Mill Prize led to a job offer teaching fiction at The Mill -- A Place for Writers. I taught a fiction class during the summer and fall, interacting with writers of various skill levels, interests and experiences. Being an instructor challenges my own skills and forces me to think about writing from different perspectives. You can get the same thing from being a part of a writing group. Can you join or form a small group of writers that meets regularly to discuss and critique your work? Sometimes it helps just to have a circle of other writers for the camaraderie and support.
5. I went on a writing retreat. Some Goddard College classmates of mine developed a new writing retreat in Tuscany, and it was amazing – not just because, you know, Italy – but because of connecting with other writers, the powerful writing prompts and being totally and completely out of my element. Plus, wine. But you don’t have to go to all the way to Italy to benefit from a writing retreat – there are plenty of retreats in your own backyard, many of which offer subsidies and grants. Some are self-directed, giving you the silent space that writers crave, and some are led by instructors to help you create new work or improve what you’ve already been working on.
|The Tuscan adventure with Wide Open Writing. I'm in the back in the beige jacket.|
What are your plans for writing in the new year? What resolutions do you have about your work in 2015?