Monday, January 31, 2011

Treating Your Writing Like a Business

There are days when I look back over the trajectory of my work life and just shake my head. I didn't go to med school because I didn't want to spend so much time in school. What did I do instead? I got a Ph.D., which was only slightly less time than a medical degree would have been. Once I would have declared that I didn't want to teach. So, what have I spent the bulk of my work life doing? Teaching, of course. When I first started teaching, I envisioned a time when I'd need to leave that work life because I assumed I'd write my way out of a job with a bestselling novel, or something. That hasn't happened yet.

In fact, there are times when I'm happy to have this day job that pays so well and gives me benefits like health insurance. I'm not as good at self-promotion as I would need to be if writing was the way I pay the bills. I'm better at keeping track of certain tasks than others.

When the editor of The Lutheran got in touch with me, I said that I could write the article that she had in mind, and I gave her a deadline, which I met. Years of training makes it hard for me to miss a deadline. I sent it off, she wrote back to say that she'd gotten it, and at first glance it looked great. I assumed she would want some revisions, and so I waited.

I sent my article November 1, and November was a time of lots of travel and after that was Christmas, and getting in contact with the editor was on my to-do list, but got swallowed up in assessment documents and new terms starting and all that other stuff.

On Tuesday, I got an e-mail from the editor which implored me to fax in forms so that she could pay me out of the 2010 budget which was closing momentarily. Hmmm. Was I to assume that she needed no revisions? Was I to assume the article had already appeared? I thought about an e-mail, but decided that this time was one that called for a telephone.

For one thing, ever since we got copy machines which can turn documents into PDF files, I haven't seen a working fax machine. But more importantly, I wanted updates. I had no idea how to ask the questions I had without sounding like a ditz of a woman who can't manage her writing business, but I forged ahead.

I'm afraid I still sounded a bit like a woman who can't manage the business end of her writing business. The nice thing about technology is that both of us could blame our miscommunications on our e-mail systems not talking to each other. The scary thing about technology is wondering how many opportunities do, in fact, get swallowed up in the maw of technology gone awry.

In fact, when the editor first contacted me, she called because she had sent an e-mail that never made it to me (later I did find it in my spam file, which I don't check as often as I should). What if she had decided not to make further efforts, not to make that call? I wouldn't have blamed her one bit.

My spouse shudders a bit when he thinks about how he answered the phone. He let slip that we weren't subscribers, but he recovered enough to say that we liked the magazine. The editor asked if he thought I'd like to write for The Lutheran, and happily, my spouse said, "Yes, certainly."

Perhaps I should see this experience as a cautionary tale, happily one that has a happy ending. Perhaps I need to take the same care with following up on projects with my writing as I do with my work as Chair of my department. I'm that person who puts reminders all over her calendars, her Outlook calendar, and there are sticky notes on my desk at work.

So, when I return from AWP, I need to have some more ideas for my editor. When I mentioned that I enjoyed working with her and would be interested in future opportunities, to my great relief, she said, "Send me some ideas." So, now, before 3 months just evaporates again, I need to do that.

I need to get back to sending out book-length manuscripts. I had taken a bit of a break while I got all the chapbook tasks done to get ready for I Stand Here Shredding Documents. Now it's time to get back to the long range work.

I need to start thinking about writer's festivals and other opportunities where I could read my new chapbook. It's probably not too early to get on those radar screens.

But first, it's time to start packing for the AWP convention. I think that this big midwestern storm will sweep just north of Washington. That means that I'll likely be able to get in, but I wonder about everyone else. How many panels will be cancelled because participants can't get there?

If you're going to the AWP and you see some holes in your schedule, I'd be open to having a coffee or a drink or a meal together--but we'll need to make plans quickly. Once we get to early Wed. morning, I'm hopefully on a plane and largely offline.

It's hard for me to reach out, to say, "Hey, let's have coffee." I keep waiting to not feel like this geeky 14 year old kid who watches all the cool ones go by having fun together. I keep waiting for my emotional self to realize that we've left high school long behind us. Sadly, that aspect of my emotional make-up also makes it difficult for me as a writer. I'm not very good at networking. I'm not very good at pursuing some opportunities that I might feel are only reserved for the cool kids. But I try to feel that fear and push on anyway. I've been rejected by some very cool people. And I've been accepted by some very cool people. It's not life-threatening, even though it sometimes feels like it.

So, away to pack, and to wish all the snow away!

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