The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life: Showing My Work

My sabbatical started, which means, for the second time in my teaching career: all writing, all the time. At least until January, when I go back to teaching and directing the Arkansas Writer's MFA Workshop.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Last week was a pretty good week. My sabbatical started, which means, for the second time in my teaching career: all writing, all the time. At least until January, when I go back to teaching and directing the Arkansas Writer's MFA Workshop.

Why am I telling you this? Because while most writers have day jobs, there are times when we manage to carve out space, a few weeks, a month, a summer or, in my case, a semester, when we can devote ourselves more or less fully to our writing. I want to share with you how to make the most of that time; how to make sure it doesn't slip away from you.

I also want to share my work with you. Yes, the phrasing is intentional, based on a book of the same title by an author whose work I have become quite taken with recently: Austin Kleon. Reading his Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered has been a game changer. Joanna Brichetto's review in her Bookpage column says it best: "Kleon takes on the entire range of assumptions artful people tend to make about their own art-making, launching a good-natured assault on fruitless myths, gently dismantling bootless neuroses and finally offering something that adds up to a new vision of creativity, a manifesto for the imagination's quest to reach fellow human beings."

Writing geeks, this is a book you're going to want to have in your library, believe me. It's an inspiring and powerful guide to what it means to be an artist today. I'm looking forward to making it a permanent part of the reading list I give my students. Once my sabbatical is over. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

One of the many suggestions Kleon makes in the book is to show a little of your work, of your process, online every day. It's a concept I've already been doing with this column, sharing my writing process and experiences here so that others might learn from it, in the same ways I've learned from my own rich writing community over the years. So, in order to keep myself honest and to show, by example, what a typical full-on writing day might be like, I'm going to post my writing progress every weekday on my twitter feed: @wordamour, with the specific hashtag #amsabbaticaling14.

I also want to show my work because there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what going on sabbatical means. A lot of people have asked me what on earth I'm going to do. One friend, when my last sabbatical in 2006 coincided with moving my family into a new house, actually asked if I would be using the time to decorate, which demonstrates that in most people's minds, that the word sabbatical equals vacation. Not exactly. In the past eight years, I've been building up a lot I want to write about, write about in great gushes of time, not the drips I'm able to wring from my usual work life. I have big plans.

Not that I won't recharge. It is a kind of vacation to not have to do one-and-a-half to two jobs at once, which is typical for most people who write and have a day job. I'm getting my weekends and weeknights back, for one. For the first time in years, I've begun to rediscover what it feels like not to work a fair amount of Saturday and Sunday. To spend time with my family, to read, watch good (and sometimes bad) movies, and go to local events and museums at a genuinely relaxed pace without worrying about what else I should be doing. Let me tell you, it feels fantastic!

During the week, though, my work schedule will be full. I'll be sharing more about the challenges and joys of writing full time in the next post; about how I'm setting up my schedule to make the most of my time, avoiding distractions and so forth. And I'll be more specific about the projects I've got going on.

I'll also be traveling a bit, taking my oldest to college for the first time in August, being a part of the Living Writer's Series at the State University of New York at Oswego in September and doing some work with the writers at Kingston University-London in November. My husband's first book, Island Fog, a extraordinary collection of short stories about Nantucket Island, past and present, will also launch from Dialogos Press/Lavender Ink in New Orleans in October and I'm beyond excited to be celebrating that with him.

But mostly, I'll be writing. with my devoted dog Mario, an oreo-colored rat terrier/daschund mix, at my side. I'm an introvert (a lot of writers are) and the last few years have been particularly stressful and people-filled. One of the only things that got me through was the few hours each week I got to spend writing and hanging out with my best animal friend. I'm looking forward to a lot more of that.

Are you going on a writing sabbatical in the rest of 2014, whether from teaching or from another job? Have you saved or been endowed with enough money to carve a space for a full-time writing retreat? Then I invite you to join me in showing your work, celebrating what you accomplish day to day--word counts, pages written, research completed, work submitted: whatever you do to progress in your writing. Tweet along with me. Or if you're curious and thinking about planning for one, follow along online to see what we're up to. See you over at #amsabbaticaling14!

Popular in the Community


What's Hot