There’s always something you can do

I’ll be honest. I had a little freakout this week.

I don’t even know if anyone but me noticed it, since so much of my life happens within the confines of my skull. (For this fact, the rest of the world should probably be happy.) Suffice it to say, on my lunch hour when I usually write, I spent too much time reading too much of the news, figured societal collapse was inevitable within the next six months, so what the hell was the point in anything anyway, especially stories?

This is not a great mindset to encourage writing.

Luckily I didn’t have a meltdown in the middle of work. But this low-grade anxiety dogged me the rest of the afternoon until I got home. I said screw it to my resolution not to drink during the week to help with my fitness kick, poured a cocktail and sat down in front of my laptop.

I kind of knew the writing still wasn’t going to come. So, after sending emails to my elected officials (something that I could at least do that made me feel like I was accomplishing something), I looked at my calendar for upcoming deadlines. I sent out two stories. Then I filled my calendar with upcoming deadlines for other magazines, contests, and fellowships and residencies.

When I teach writing classes, students ask fairly regularly about where to submit, how to promote your work, and so on. I tell them those things are important, but the first order of business is the writing itself. You can’t submit or promote what you haven’t finished, after all. And the time you spend promoting your work, while important, is time spent not writing. So budget wisely.

That said, people can’t read what they don’t know about. So yes, you have to send things out. (And when they get rejected, you have to send them out again. And again.) You have to talk about your work. You have to let people know that it exists. But, you don’t have to do it all the time—nor should you, I’d say. You can also talk about what inspires you, and you can especially talk about the work of other writers whom you admire or look up to or just plain enjoy. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or [ugh] Goodreads then you may have seen me wax rhapsodic about the latest Adam Silvera book, History is All You Left Me (so good), or talk about how much I love Tayari Jones or how ’Nathan Burgoine is great at lifting up other writers.

You can’t talk about yourself and your own work all the time. On the one hand, it gets boring. But on the other hand, it makes you look self-centered. On the other other hand (you mean you don’t have three hands?), it will make people want to tune you out.

That’s not entirely the point here, of course. My point: when you find it impossible to focus on whatever you’re writing, for whatever reason, you can work on the dozens of other things that go with the care and feeding of your writing. Even if it’s just organizing your files. You never know what you’re going to find in a stack of old drafts. Maybe something that will help you see your way forward in whatever you’re working on.

It’s better than freaking out.