How do they find time to do it? And energy, and brainpower?
They are so damn articulate.
And I haven’t even opened them yet: the lineup of email newsletters by writers – some of them friends – stacked up in my inbox. This often happens in one go on a Saturday morning, when I snatch five minutes to see what’s up in Gmail before my kid demands breakfast or yells for help or something boils over on the stove. Then through the rest of the weekend, I pick them off, reading about novel drafting and journalism and agent query tips and beautiful things…with a complicated mix of emotions in my heart.
For every helpful hint I cut and paste into the “Agent Advice” document I’m compiling for the day my novel is ready to send out or every encouraging line about the creative craft of fiction I jot into my notebook, I sift through feelings of inadequacy and even envy.
They are so smart and creative. They have objectives. They connect.
And I am…isolated with a toddler in my third floor apartment, teetering at the edge of a major plot point in my first-draft novel and spending my precious writing time on a blog post about inadequacy and envy because this is the only coherent narrative in my head this week.
Whew. There it is. It’s out.
I’m in a hard season, with creativity getting squished in between family and a full-time job. The thirty minutes I get to write every morning make me happy and get words down…when the draft is skimming along.
When I’m at a narrative crossroads, unsure of where the whole thing is going, though, that 30 minutes evaporates and I erase words and enter the day feeling dumb, stuck, unimaginative and unprepared to face the non-writing challenges of the day.
To write not only fiction but NEWSLETTERS, to articulate to an audience week after week your craft points and connections and reports of public readings and writing retreats– I read the newsletters with a sense of wonder. How do you do it?
And then a dangerous sense of disconnection: You’re so much better than me.
After all, we’re all busy, right? It’s not like writers without kids sit around with endless time. Everyone has deadlines and work commitments and life admin and non-offspring family. These writers make the time. And many of them are moms, too. They’ve found a way to create despite of the daily mess and splintered concentration that comes with caring for small humans.
A published writer I follow shared on a blog that she started taking herself seriously as a writer when her daughter was a few months old—and she never looked back.
Another shared a photo on Twitter I can’t get out of my head. She’s sitting on a couch, hard at work on her laptop with an infant strapped to her chest and a toddler boy cuddled next to her, focused on at her work in progress. “This is how I wrote my entire novel!” was the gist of the caption.
I don’t disbelieve her and my hat is off. But it makes me feel like screaming. What kind of angel children did you land that they sit quietly not only for a photo but through the entire drafting of a novel? My ONE child starts whining for “Wheels on the Bus” (his phrase for the candy-colored YouTube channel CocoMelon) the moment my computer hits his line of sight, which is why I have to sneak ten minutes on Saturday morning just to OPEN the newsletters accumulating in my inbox.
Once in a while, I consider unsubscribing. If these writing newsletters are making me feel so behind, why not stop the flow?
Because I want to engage. In fact, I’m committed to it, like being committed to finishing a long, hard run. Even when I feel like dropping out, I’m not going to.
It’s hard some days, but how can I engage when I feel discouraged or less than?
- I can embrace the “how do you do it?” with sincere admiration. Like the post, comment on the Substack, SHARE a friend’s publishing news. I may not be publishing, submitting or even posting much these days, but I can nudge others forward on their writing ways.
- I can transform the comparison game into gratitude. I’m subscribed to newsletters and following other writers because I’m part of a community, not because I’m scrabbling to get in. I’m here: I care about literature, I geek out about style, I dig plot discussions. I just don’t have much time now. I can both roll with that AND make an effort to show up. My writing people will be there for me when I need them. When I need YOU, for those of you reading this.
There’s pressure on both ends of the rope, I see now. I don’t have to be a passive consumer of writing news if I don’t want to be. In fact, the more I lean in actively, the more I receive: Good ideas for my own writing, inspiration to keep at it, actual responses. The living sense that on down days and difficult seasons, I’m part of this community.
This week, the view out the window from my desk looked familiar. Where have I seen that sky and that red building with dark windows before?
It came to me: on the cover of a book a writer friend gave me more than 10 years ago. And even though I’ve moved seven times since, the book is still in my possession: “The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets.” “An awesome book of poetry,” my friend wrote on a 3×5 card tucked inside, containing (as the editor explains in the intro) “ten chains of poems, five poets per chain, two poems per poet—one almighty collection of verse.”
It’s an example of writing community from long before Writer Twitter and email newsletters, and thanks to friend and a quirky visual memory, writing community coming to me.