Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Writing Life--After the Workshop (AWP Conference 2012, Panel Session I)

In this first session I attended at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference 2012, panelists Ilana Shabanov, April Newman, Daniel Prazer, James Lower and Sheree Greer, MFA graduates of Columbia College of Chicago and founders of The Writing Life Collective, presented "how to organize and sustain a writing life" with "planning ideas, technology solutions, and tools writers can use to take control of their career and maintain a writing lifestyle long-term."

Staying productive and inspired (especially after "leaving the nest" of a creative writing program) is every writer's challenge, the panelists said--whether it's time management, a crisis of confidence or other conflicts that keep us from writing, editing our work, and promoting it. Committing ourselves to the craft requires self-awareness and dedication.

First they passed out a Skills Assessment sheet for our own use, divided into quadrants: Creative, Editing, Administrative, Marketing. One panelist noted, "It's ironic that in a market of high specialization, the writer needs to be a jack of all trades." We were to check off any of the items we engaged in, then add them up to see where our strengths lay. For example, here are a few actions that I DO NOT currently participate in (marketing is definitely my weak spot):

Creative -- I unplug from the Internet to avoid distraction; I have a writing schedule and stick to it; I print drafts to revise in different fonts and spacings to make it look new to my eye. (The latter is an idea I'd never even considered, followed up with one by last evening's featured USF reader, novelist Manuel Munoz: Edit/rewrite on the printed page. Then re-type the revision so the words stand out fresh as you write them.)
Editing -- I have a time tracker app for my smartphone or computer ("Think of it as a to-do list with a clock," notes the website); I have up-to-date style books or online subscriptions (APA, MLA, AMA, Chicago); I know my proofreading marks.
Administrative -- I have a templated query that makes me look like a genius; I calendar out final draft and submission deadlines complete with sweet rewards; I dedicate several days a month to researching new places to submit.
Marketing -- I ask for referrals and testimonials for my work; I take every chance I get to read/perform and listen/witness; I practice my pitch: short intro, what I write, what I've published, what I'm working on; I set my social media schedule; I don't half-ass my self-promotion; I find tools to make life easier: Hootsuite, email 'blast' lists, etc.
Then the panelists discussed ideas and tools they each use to keep on track in each category:

CREATIVE: Stockpiling what moves you was foremost for "feeding the fire" of creative inspiration. That may mean reading books for pleasure, but also paying attention to style and structure. Or it could be pasting up quotes ("It's magic time!" was Greer's). I just posted up my black bookmark from The Sun that simply says: SUBMIT. (As in, submit to the process, and keep writing/revising so you can submit more work!)

As far as finding the time, you must fight for it. Carve it out and "create efficiently," using a time tracking journal ("if you don't track it, you can't manage it") or other tools like Evernote with Webclipper to keep your writing system organized. Or, if you're not so tech-savvy, highlight with different colors on a paper desk calendar. (I like to evoke that childhood feeling of playing school: you're the teacher putting your paper-pencils-pens into place.) Prioritizing tasks--thumbs up. Multitasking--thumbs down! If you join a writing group, contract with them on page counts, revisions and full project goals--and utilize your time.

EDITING: Read everything three times for a) clarity b) mechanics and c) punctuation. Use those style guides ("but pay deference to the logic of each story"). Vary the ways you look at content: on screen, in print, read aloud. Use PayPal for billing and Dropbox to save drafts you can retrieve from anywhere.

ADMINISTRATIVE: Download a submission tracker from the Collective, color coded by status (draft - revision - submission - pending - rejection or publication). Assign yourself one (or more?) submissions per month (equaled three stories published per year). Create your standard query. Find your niche with calls for submission: LGBTQ? Nature writing? Clock yourself in and out (use clockspot). Back up your files weekly on back-up hard drive and flashdrive. Make lists and cross them off! Use a dry erase board for deadlines. Create email folders: query letters, billing, etc. Whatever you use, maintain it!

MARKETING: Like it or not, every writer needs a platform for self-promotion. Yes, I did hear these dreadful words: "You become a product--your work and your soul are for sale." But it doesn't have to be ugly. "Unchain yourself from your desk and laptop" (or handheld device that has sealed to your skin) and get out there to read or network. Create opportunities for connection. (I'm going to a MeetUp group next week on generating more traffic to your blog. I looked at the list of attendees, read their bios, and sent four of them--writers, teachers, editors, publishers, bloggers--notes that I look forward to meeting and learning from them.)

"Community is your savior" and "no writer is an island" were the words of the day. Practice your elevator pitch--be willing and able to discuss your past publications (I always feel embarrassed, like I shouldn't be bragging), current projects and future goals. And then there's Skype, email blasts, blogging, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all the rest... to heighten the stakes of staying plugged in instead of writing. Don't lose sight that it's about making yourself and your work visible and fostering community so that we can all generate audiences for our writing.

For those romantics who think day-dreamily upon the writing life, remember these words from writer Janet Frame: "It's a dreary awful fact that writing is like any other work." 

Check out The Writing Collective AWP presentation on prezi.

1 comment:

rosaria said...

Great suggestions!

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