Have you ever thought about how gray your writing talent is? I mean, how fuzzy the edges are?
Okay, not being very clear here. I love writing, and I can write about all kinds of things. I can write a pretty decent poem, or a funny children’s story about a little girl with secret shark teeth, or a hell-bent Southern gothic novel about snake handling. I can write a brilliant writing exercise blog—the evidence is here before you, right? (Just agree with me, and make me feel better, since it’s a career crisis day.) I can also snap out a pretty good mom blog about snarky other moms that gets lots of eye-rolling comments. (Sorry, can’t link to that one, since it was posted anonymously to protect the unknowingly snarky.) And I can do good research and write an impassioned plea or a well-structured argument dripping with logic, depending on my audience.
The thing is, my younger kid is going to BIG BOY school next year, and I am faced with the potential of long stretches of real time in which to do work. So, do I start pounding out those novel revisions? Think about teaching writing? Teach English? Do more utilitarian writing and make some consistent money for a change? Start really trying in earnest to publish those children’s fiction books again? Keep blogging because it’s fun? Continue coaching my fellow writers, because they tell me I am good at it?
Being a writer who has yet to take off in a particular arena can mean having fuzzy edges. My favorite arena of publishing may be changing, so I need to be on the lookout for other things. You, too, are probably good at all kinds of writing, but many of them may not be well defined. And so, when opportunities for change come up, as one is next year for me, maybe we panic a bit. What to do next? Or rather, what to focus on? I dunno. So, today’s writing exercise is a little brainstorming action for me. I am going to brainstorm some lists. In columns. How very…accountant-like of me!
First, I need to brainstorm the kinds of writing I know I am good at, and rank them in order of how marketable they are. Second, I want to brainstorm a list of those writing-related skills I can do (editing, proofing, coaching, etc.) that could also take up my professional time. Third, I should come up with a list of types of writing that I don’t do but could learn.
My fourth list is more evaluative. I need to ask myself whether it’s financially worth it to focus on each type of writing. (I told you this was like accounting.) For example, I haven’t done a lot of grant writing—do I want to learn that skill? Or, do I put my efforts into getting my recently completed children’s book out there—and before or after finding an illustrator? Or, should I look into pounding the pavement along with thousands who are looking for jobs teaching writing? What offers me the best odds? The best payoffs? The most satisfaction? Anything?
Finally, the last list needs to be made while taking a long, hard look at what I don’t want to do. There are some writing-related things I am really bad at. I should avoid those things, just like I should avoid, say, accounting jobs. I need to make sure I steer clear of those, not because we should never do unpleasant tasks, but because the time I spend making sure I do something well that I don’t just naturally do well takes more time than it’s worth, and stresses me out in the process. Do what you’re good at is actually really sage advice.
Today’s Writing Exercise:
So, after this long, painful exercise, during which I have almost decided I should become a meteorologist, here is your writing assignment for the day. If you are dabbling in writing, what would you do if you had to stop dabbling and focus, and make a REAL living at it somehow? Which path would you choose if you had to feed yourself by writing and selling words? Make some columns, and then figure out how to make some money.
Then share what you’ve discovered below or offer some advice for sharpening those fuzzy edges.