Friday, September 13, 2013

After the Plunge (September theme) by Tracy Barrett


A bit over a year ago I quit my day job to be a full-time writer (and regain my sanity). Quitting was the plunge; this past year has been the time when I had to re-learn how to swim.

That last year of the day job was a b*tch because it was also my first year as U.S. Regional Advisor Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a huge organization whose various chapters are headed by Regional Advisors. My new volunteer “job” was/is to coordinate the RAs activities, administer a large (to me, anyway!) budget, run interference with problems, be the RAs’ advocate and liaison with the head office, approve event budgets, soothe wounded feelings, and lots of other stuff. I always say that the best part of this position is that I get to work with intelligent, independent, articulate people, and the worst part is that I have to work with intelligent, independent, articulate people.

The steep learning curve plus duties at my day job left just about no time for writing that year. I had two completed manuscripts that showed promise but that needed work and I couldn’t even begin to revise them, much less do new writing.

So when I finally plunged into the dayjob-free world, I floundered. I had no writing rhythm, no idea how to budget off-time, no idea whether to revise one or both of those manuscripts or go for a shiny new idea that was tempting me. The solution I found was to become—temporarily—very rigid and disciplined. I set an absolute number of words I had to write every day (having NaNoWriMo start soon after my plunge was a great way to do that, plus it allowed me to tackle that shiny new idea), a day (Tuesday) off every week that I absolutely had to take regardless of how many great ideas were boiling in my brain, and soon other rules: a number of hours I had to be working at my treadmill desk, how much time I could spend on revision vs. new writing, etc.

I once heard Wendelin Van Draanen say that she didn’t understand when people worry about getting into a rut; she said you want a rut—you need a rut—thats so deep you can’t climb out of it. That resonated with me so that’s what I did, and now that the rut is dug, I can relax the rules. I don’t need to keep track of how much time I spend at my treadmill desk now that it’s become a habit. I don’t need to force myself away from my desk on Tuesdays now that I know to schedule lunch with friends, trips to the yarn store, haircuts, etc. on that day.

One of those two manuscripts that needed revision is being published in July (The Stepsister's Tale, Harlequin Teen) and the other has been getting some very nice rejections that all point to the same issues, so I know what I need to do to fix it. My NaNoWriMo shiny new idea is finished and revised and just about ready to send to my agent.

Now that I’m swimming laps I’m even more glad that I that I took the plunge.

9 comments:

  1. Tracy, I was SOOOOO hoping you'd write on exactly this topic this month, as I get ready to take my own parallel day-job-leaving plunge. I adore the praise of ruts and will plan on digging a nice deep one for myself. I'm going to return to this post again and again. :)

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    1. I could almost see the light bulb go off over my head when Wendelin said that, Claudia!

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  2. Don't you looooove those good rejections? And congrats on the YA!!! Super-cool. I also love what you say about a rut. So true.

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    1. Thank you, Holly! And yes, those rejections are actually energizing!

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  3. It's the "positive" rejections that keep us going...at least we know someone has actually READ our effort. Thanks for the great post.

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    1. Yes, so true! They read it and thought about it and identified the problem. That's so validating!

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  4. Thanks for sharing, Tracy. And congratulations on the upcoming book! Its been fun following your blog this past year. And as the other commenters have said-yeah for the rut! I love my rut.
    Something new I'm trying this fall is making a five year plan with goals and objectives. In the past, my plan was always just write, write and write some more. But now am in the position of having a book coming out, which I need to promote, and another book accepted that I need to revise, and another WIP. So my simple plan from the past isn't going to work.

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  5. Congratulations on your successes, Mary! I'd live to see your 5-year plan.

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    1. Um--that's "love." I'd love to see your 5-year plan.

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