I just finished and sent an article to a local newspaper for which I freelance. Last week, I sent them another one. The editor was short on copy, so she suddenly needed stories NOW, which I meant I had to change my plans for both weeks and put a rush on it. After many hours of research, driving around to do interviews and take pictures, transcribing notes, dealing with photos, and actually writing the things, I look at the list of tasks I had planned to accomplish and wonder if I should have taken the assignments.
I didn’t do anything to sell my books, both the published and the unpublished ones, didn’t send any of my writing out, and didn’t write anything new except these articles. Yes, these articles are pretty good, I learned about some cool stuff, and I love that people where I live will read them. I appreciate the money and the clips, too. But is this what I should have been doing?
My week would not have been so clogged if my “day job” as a church music minister didn’t also ramp up with a special service, a liturgy meeting and a funeral, but there’s always something calling our attention away from writing, isn’t there?
Did I use my time well? Several friends have died lately, showing me all too clearly that none of us knows how much time we have. So what is better, taking the easy-but-time-consuming assignment or taking a risk on something bigger?
When you’re starting out, you publish wherever you can, paid or not. There’s value to everything we write, but as the years go by, we have to ask ourselves: Is this moving my career forward? Is this taking me toward my goals? Or am I just treading water because the next step scares me?
At a long-ago writers conference, one of the speakers said that every day we should write something and do at least one thing to advance our careers. I think it’s good advice for all of us.
Driving home through the rain after an interview in Lincoln City, OR, I found myself thinking that writing is like making taffy. Sometimes you have to gather, mix, and boil the ingredients, sometimes you have to let the taffy cool, sometimes you have to stretch, pull and shape the taffy, and sometimes you have to cut, wrap, and sell it. Does that make any sense?
What do you think about this?
P.S. Later in the day, as I closed the office for the night, I realized I had been more efficient, more productive and more confident than I had been in ages. Sometimes completing an assignment and knowing that it’s going to be published, even if it’s not a career changer, can put you in the right frame of mind to do other work that is. Just be careful that it doesn’t take all of your time and energy.
In the last week, I have eaten more sand than a sand crab, and I have endured so much wind I believe I may have a tunnel clear from one ear to the other. I have walked hours on aching feet and driven over 200 miles up and down the Oregon coast pursuing articles on lighthouses, whale-watching, a kite festival and dune-buggying. I spent days traveling and nights writing. So this is what it’s like to be a travel writer, but oh what beautiful things I have seen. I have lived here for almost 13 years, but when you write about a place, you’re forced to stop and really see it like you’ve never seen it before.
Over the years working for community newspapers, I have been jumped on by dogs and kids, mosquito-bitten, bee stung, allergized by people’s cats, stunk up by visits to landfill sites, forced into coughing fits by idiots smoking right in my face, and oh yes, a couple times I made the mistake of accepting a glass of wine that went straight to my head. Then there was the flood in Pacifica and the rainy times when I couldn’t take notes because neither pen nor pencil would stick to the paper and I couldn’t see because my glasses fogged up. And yes, the day I missed all my other appointments because the paddle boat I was to take a one-hour ride on had engine trouble and we were stuck in the water with no bathrooms and no food all day. But God, it was nice on that river–even though it was raining and exceedingly cold.
On the other hand, I have toured elegant homes and gardens, met senators, a governor and a president, and attended plays, operas, ballets and banquets. It’s not all bad.
Writing for newspapers and magazines is not always comfortable, but when I look back on all those experiences and the stories and photos they inspired, I feel good.
So get yourself some sturdy shoes, a good coat and hat, and a strong sense of humor, and go forth and write.