“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.” Annie Dillard

Happy New Year everyone!

Sometimes a little rumination is necessary (photo: Wikipedia)

Sometimes a little rumination is necessary (photo: Wikipedia)

As a first post for 2014, I thought I would indulge in a little rumination about the ups and downs of the Writing Life, particularly as it pertains to blogging. This post was inspired by Matthew R. Francis (@DrMRFrancis) who wrote this:

“Honestly, I’ve seriously considered dumping this blog. As with the problem of writing my book without a publisher, every word I write here represents time I could be spending writing something for pay. It’s a time sink …

I love blogging, though: it’s a chance to write about topics that no publication will pay me for. I have an insatiable need to explain, but explanatory writing without an obvious “news” hook is often a hard sell to editors. Also, on the blog, I can take a personal and reflective tone that’s not generally possible elsewhere….”  From: The Road Goes Ever On and On.

To be a full time independent writer entails a tricky balance of effort. If you are one of the fortunate who get paid to write what you want to write as your full-time job, this isn’t so much an issue. But if you are trying to write a book, break into freelance, land a regular column, get into a blog network, or do any other independent writing and be paid for your efforts, then you will have to make some hard choices about where you apply those efforts.

So that’s what I decided to look at as I reflect on the last couple of years and think about how I’m going to manage 2014.

Let’s start with blogging. Anyone who knows me knows that I was meant to be a blogger long before blogs were invented. What you see on this site is not much different than what I had been emailing and saying to friends and family my whole life. Blogging allows me to go public with that “insatiable need to explain” that Matthew talks about. I truly love it.

Maintaining a support network takes time (photo: Wikipedia)

Maintaining a support network is important (photo: Wikipedia)

But to be a successful blogger (meaning readership greater than friends and family) takes more than just writing good posts. Getting noticed means sparkling up your social media channels – LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, Facebook (if you must). It means jumping into Twitter with both feet, offering up guest blog posts, and truly taking part in your online community.

It also means endless housekeeping — updating broken links, trashing spam, keeping the look fresh, and all the other behind-the-scenes maintenance that comes with running a website.

Then, to be published by someone other than yourself, you’ll need to pitch and submit stories to magazines and newspapers. This entails writing pieces on spec and crafting pitches, sending them out, waiting, keeping track of submissions, waiting some more, dealing with rejection and lather… rinse… repeat.

And then there is The Book. The one you have been working on slowly but steadily for the last year(s) but have yet to finish, much less find a publisher or an agent for. The book may be the reason you are blogging – to gain some cred and readership so you can approach a publisher with confidence. So you work on the book, the book proposal, and the agent pitch in between blog posts.

The tip of the iceberg

The tip of the iceberg

And there are the unpaid gigs – the guest blogging, volunteer positions…

And maintaining your writer support network – writing groups, mentoring others, helping friends and family with manuscripts and essays, attending book launches…

And your continuing education – workshops, classes and conferences, online seminars, working with mentors…

And the research for every piece you write..

And keeping up with the books, journals and magazines piled by your chair and bed…

And finding funding – writing grant applications, entering contests..

And … did I miss anything?

Wildbranch Nature Writing Workshop Photo: Chip Blake

Lifelong learning   (Photo: Chip Blake)

If not, then that is your writing life — all of the things that take up your precious writing time and none of which you get paid for. 

So what is the point of all that?

Well, the theory is, if you’ve done your job right, you will get noticed. Maybe you’ll get your book published. Maybe someone will pay you to blog or give you that dream writing job. Or maybe you just spent the last 3 years writing for free for your own amusement and that of your small but loyal following.

It can go any and all ways.

Lots of bloggers have hit the big time and are now getting paid to blog. On the flip side, many people work full-time and happily blog on the side, unconcerned about getting paid.

The Book

The Book

But when I look around I see friends who abandoned blogs and book projects out of necessity for full-time paid work. Others completed books while working full-time but dropped their blogs. In one inspiring case I watched an online friend do a single guest blog post that took her from obscure blogger to the morning show circuit and a sweet book deal. So it can happen.

The question is how much of your time and writing do you give away in the hope of breaking into the big league?

The answer is different for everyone, but the first step is recognizing how much of your time and writing you are giving away, where those precious hours went, and how (if at all) they paid off for you.

I’m going to let you go think about that while I write my next post on what my Writing Life has looked like the last couple of years. I’ll talk about what worked and what didn’t, how it paid off, and what I’m going to do differently in 2014. While you wait for that you might as well take stock of your own Writing Life. Afterward, we’ll compare notes.