Amateur or pro?

I’ve been suffering lately from a beyond-blogging writing slump. I make progress for a week or two on “the book,” or jot down an idea for an essay or article to pitch, and then something happens — life happens — and my productivity and drive all go to pot. It’s like I’ve spent the day rushing around and if I sit down (metaphorically, of course, because you can be sure my cushy ass is already seated in a chair when I write) I can’t seem to get back up again.

Earlier this week I had lunch with one of my writing mentors, the talented Julie Long, humor essayist, blogger, co-author of Baby: An Owner’s Manual, and aspiring-to-be-published novelist herself. While Julie’s credits far outweigh mine, it was nice to kibitz with someone about both the joys and successes in writing a novel — mine now including a completed query letter, a list of agents to contact, and the possibility of an agent meeting at a conference next month (yikes) — and the woes…mine including handwritten edits (scribbled across 300+ pages) that still aren’t typed in and a synopsis that currently exists only in my head. Anyway, I told her it’s really hard for me to get my groove back when something throws off my routine, whether it be finding a quiet time to write, exercise, whatever.

But then I said, “Maybe it’s not about finding a way to get back to that routine; it’s about finding a new one.”

Holy genius insight, Batman!

Could it be that I’ve been dwelling on getting back to a place, a routine, that just won’t work anymore? That maybe, just maybe, I should adapt and focus on finding a way to do it differently?

The next day one of my co-workers gave a presentation, and quoted one of his grad school professors, who was a military historian. The prof would tell his class, “Amateurs talk strategy. Pros talk logistics.”

Wow. So simple, yet so… freakin’ hard.

I want to be a pro. I need a new routine to get back into my writing projects and get them to the next phase. I need logistics. The question now is: what are they?

Are you a writer on the side, too? Or do you have another “passion” you manage to squeeze in with everything — and everybody — else in your life? How do you do it?

How. Do. You. Do. It. Please tell me!

(And do you sleep — ever? Because, honestly, I’m not nearly as charming when I’m sleep-deprived and a basket case.)


16 thoughts on “Amateur or pro?

  1. The pro writing life is nothing to envy (from my point of view). I’ve been in the biz for over 20 years and I still can barely get my foot in the door. So, to hell with it, I’m going a different route, the DIY method, currently doing so well for some folks in the music industry. I’ve got my new supernatural thriller on my blog and already have a couple of thousand downloads, people all over the world reading my novel SO DARK THE NIGHT. Who needs publishers? Further on this point:

  2. I’ve got altogether too many irons in the fire, myself. Get paid to write technical articles, but unless I’ve got an assignment I find it hard to squeeze in writing. My blog is my attempt to make myself accountable to someone besides myself, even if I don’t know who it is and even if they don’t leave a comment. It’s for me, after all, to keep my butt in the chair.

  3. party girl says:

    I do not write like you do, but I have other passions. I have been taking a new Latin/Hip-Hop workout class at the gym (for one thing). It is sometimes hard to fit it in my life, but I schedule time every Thurs night and Sunday morning to go to it. I make appointments with myself to fit the things I am passionate about in. They are not great amounts of time…an hour here or there.

  4. Girl, you’ve heard about me trying to squeeze in things and we’re in the same boat.

    I love that your insight came from you. Yet more proof that we already have all that we need inside of ourselves. Beautiful.

    The only way you will be able to make time to do it is to find the passion again. Not look at it as a chore. Like your comment to my cycling post, it has to be something you do for you. Something that feels good to you and inspires you. You’re distracted right now and that, in itself, is frustrating.

    Remember what it was about writing that made YOU feel WONDERFUL. Then the ‘logistics’ will fall into place.

  5. Gawd, I love those lightbulb moments!

    I think just having that realization will free up mental energy and space for you to start imagining what your ‘new norm’ might look like. You’ve just thrown the door wide open. You get to make up your new rules!

    I’m excited to hear about your book! I’m just starting to toy about doing some ‘real’ writing. I’m psyching myself up for NaNoWriMo in Nov. I’m thinking it might get me scribbling enough so that maybe something will come out. And it has a deadline, which always helps.

  6. My friend, Valerie, recommends The War of Art to help you get going again:

    By sheer coincidence, yesterday I bought So You Want to Write, a book full of techniques to help you get past the fear that binds you. If you buy it, you’ll notice that the author isn’t the most poetic writer, but her methods look pretty solid to me.

    Check it out here:

    I’m in the middle of revising a novel, and a little push never hurts (especially when the self-doubt starts kicking in).

  7. One summer, a friend of mine wrote a draft of a novel. I was astonished by this achievement, so I asked him, “How did you do it?” He said, “Well, Cathy, I’ll tell you. Every day, I’d get up, make a cup of coffee and sit down and write two pages. Then I’d play golf. At night, I bartended. All summer, that was my routine, and by the end, I had 200 pages.” He revised the novel over the next two years and published it.

    I tell this story a lot. Two pages a day. Then go do something else.

  8. Hey Susan,
    I always make time for my writing–it’s my blogging that suffers. I’m trying to balance that more and view the blogging as an arm of my writing career! Are you going to Penn Writers? I’m still on the fence. I better get off it soon. ARe you driving there? your post is awesome, and you’re right, you need to meld the writing into the rest. I long for my old writing schedule–bigger chunks of time, fewer days to do it. My more frequent smaller chunks don’t give me the same emotional pay off, but I’m adjusting my attitude!

  9. I have no words of advice on this one. I’m still struggling to figure out what our new routine is after our move. I find my fuse so short every day because everything feels so rushed. I, too, need to make some changes.

  10. I just read Cahty’s comment and it reminded me of something one of my favorite authors told me recently…”write a page a day and at the end of the week you’ll have 7 pages.” Baby steps.

    Have I put it into practice? No. But I will. one day.

  11. I’ll second “The War of Art.” Fantastic kick in the hiney book.

    I’m wedging in way, WAY too much stuff all at once, between full-time job, writing the blog, writing the book, auditioning for commercials, and on and on. And sometimes it does get overwhelming. But I’ve noticed that usually it’s mostly just overwhelming at the beginning of a bump in effort. As in, “Oh crap, oh, this is way more than we used to do, oh, it will never work, oh, what’s the point, where are the poptarts?” But if I push through that part, it normalizes and I just get used to that level of effort.

    (And that last part was a joke — of course I always know precisely where the poptarts are.)

    But I think the trick is to get yourself in the habit of working as if someone else (i.e. industry) is going to care about it once you’re done. That’s the tricky part for me. To convince myself that I’m not just wasting my time. That is, I think, why more people aren’t writers. The writing is never, EVER as hard as getting myself to DO the writing. Like, not even close.

    The good news is, once there was an editor involved, it was really easy to stay motivated. And terrified, all at once. Convenient! Of course, now I’m done and going to be thinking up a new project. Aaaaaand, we’re back to the ground floor. (You know, the one where I keep the poptarts.)

  12. I have so many side interests that I can barely see straight! I would love to actual sit down and write short stories, or paint again, or sew but there is such little time in the day! Honestly, I need to pick one and enjoy it. I think that might be the key.

    And I’m sorry you are not coming to see Bossy!

  13. Great post, Susan. I, too, highly recommend The War of Art for its insight into Resistance. “Resistance is most powerful at the finish line. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.”

    So you see? This strong Resistance you’re feeling is because you are getting close to finishing your creative endeavor, which is great news. Go pick up a copy of the book — it’s a quick read — and go kick Resistance’s ass!

  14. I just try and ride the wave… writing will be the focus one day, illustration the next, design or blog the one after that. And laundry? Somewhere?

    Maybe willingly allow them to hog some of your time? That could make for limited burnout, and you can stay passionate about what you’re doing. Although, I guess that’s not really balance as much as it is general survival. Hm…

    You should probably drink, too.

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