Living to write in 2014

I recently attended the Nashville Writers Meetup Chat where more than 40 Nashville-based authors talked about setting goals for their writing life in 2014.  I was hopeful the discussion would yield some helpful advice on setting priorities and getting down to the business of writing, which it most certainly did.

Part of the discussion included looking back at the past year.

As mentioned in a previous post, a lot happened in 2013 and I was pleasantly surprised to see what I’d been up to. Not only did I identify the novel I most want to write, I managed to enter two short stories in writing contests, I attended my first-ever Writer’s Digest/Screenwriters World Conference in Los Angeles, I attended the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville where I learned about the Nashville Writers Meetup group and later joined, and I spent hours online reading articles and watching webinars about writing. I even started this blog, although it fizzled out until I relaunched it in recent weeks.

All of this was made possible because of an unfortunate event in my life. I was laid off from my job of 28 years as a reporter and editor at a local newspaper. Call it my inciting incident, if you will.

The layoff has resulted in my decision to recommit myself to my writing.

I’ve always dreamed of writing a novel and seeing my name on the cover of a book in the bookstore (or at least some faux representation of a book cover online). I wrote three novels by hand in high school, which sit in the back of my file cabinet waiting to one day be dusted off and revisited. I wrote a number of short stories and started another novel in the early 2000s. During that time, I had two short stories published in a pair of small press anthologies. Neither resulted in pay and I even had to buy my own copies of the books, but hey, I was published! The novel, on the other hand, stalled, and I shelved it, believing that if I walked away from it for a time that when I returned to it, it would be fresh again.

Wrong.

It sat. Dead. And I remained uninspired. And, worse, I let my work take over.

Journalism, if you didn’t know, is a time killer. Low pay, long hours. As a salaried editor, overtime was routine. Working nights, weekends, holidays and when I got home from work were the norm, and it was expected. It never got easier, and it never left any time for anything. Even when I was on vacation, I wound up communicating with the staff about story assignments. I was good at it, and despite the long hours and demands I enjoyed it, most of the time. I enjoyed seeing a story come together from idea to finished product. I enjoyed being able to share my knowledge, gained from years of on the job trial and error, with other reporters just starting out. I enjoyed being relied upon and being considered reliable.

With work out of the picture (along with a paycheck, sadly), it was only natural that I migrate back to my long lost passion: writing. I’m looking at this as a second wind, my second chance, and I don’t intend to blow it.

All of which brings me to the recent Nashville Writers chat (I know, you’re thinking, about time!) and how to make the most of my writing life in 2014. Setting goals and breaking those goals into manageable smaller goals is the biggest takeaway I got from the meeting. Writing a book is my overall goal, but there are numerous smaller goals that I intend to meet along the way. For instance, outlining the novel is first on the list.

In all my previous writing attempts, I never outlined. I just sat and wrote (I was a pantser!). I honestly believe that’s where I went wrong, why I ultimately got burned out, and why I let work take over. Without a clear path in mind, a clear beginning, middle, and end, it only led to frustration later on. This time around, I’m working on a detailed outline that will at least guide me through the process. My feeling is it will keep me on track and keep me from having to do four or five rewrites.

Time management is another thing I took away from the chat. When I look back at the last six months, I realized I spent more time reading about writing and listening to webinars about writing than actually writing. Learning is a key aspect of mastering this craft, and to learn one needs to constantly read. And I read a lot. Whether it’s a magazine, a novel, a comic book, whatever, I’m always reading. But apparently I read too much for my own good. So, in 2014, I’ve decided that I will curtail my reading time some. Rather than surfing the internet for hours a day reading emails, articles and more, I will limit it to an hour in the morning, a half hour at lunch time and an hour in the evening. In between, I will devote more time to writing. Yes, actually writing!

There were a couple of other key tips shared by the group on writing: prepping yourself physically and mentally, rewarding yourself for reaching small goals, and connecting with other writers. But I like this piece of advice the best: Create and live with the intention to write.

My adventure is just starting …

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