When your spouse or significant other sees you sitting on the front steps, staring into space, it is only natural for him or her to believe that you are loafing. Most people do not realize that much of the writing process goes on silently, inside the mind, before your fingers ever touch a keyboard. It is a good idea to explain this to those you live with, in order not to feel guilty every time you take a few minutes to think about your writing.
Though we are not of the old school that says, "You must set aside a certain time each day and do nothing but write during that period," we do believe that writing something everyday is healthy for a writer. This could be an entry in your journal or diary, some personal correspondence, or a poem. After not writing for more than a couple of days, it is hard to get the literary engine warmed up again.
Vacations are a good example. This is supposed to be a time when you leave your work behind and do nothing but relax, and that works fine if you are leaving behind a regular job. Writing, however, puts you in the category of "artist," and most artists cannot actually leave their art behind when they go on a vacation, especially when the surroundings are creatively stimulating as are most vacation spots.
A guitarist for example, would probably not leave his or her instrument behind when going to the mountains, and a painter would probably take at least a sketchpad along when vacationing at the coast. Writers are no different. That is why you should always carry some kind of note pad, a supply of index cards, or a micro-cassette recorder in order to write down or record interesting ideas, scenes and descriptions.
In many cases these random scribblings or recordings are never used. However, they act to keep the juices flowing at a low ebb, and make it easier to begin writing again once the vacation is over. This is not to say that you should never attempt to clear your mind of all things related to your writing career, but leisure, peace, quiet, and soft ocean breezes are simply not conducive to doing this. Deliberate loafing invariably turns into "creative loafing," simply because it leaves the mind free to explore.
Involving yourself in other activities is the best way to relax without thinking about writing. Good movies, TV, hobbies that take concentration; any activity that does not take on a monotonous flavor, will give your mind a rest from the rigors of your career. Listening to music, riding a bicycle, or walking through the woods will not provide the same results.
It is important to draw a balance between family, social life and career. There are many stories about writers (as well as businesspersons) who destroy relationships through obsession with work. Because a full-time writer is free to work anytime, many are driven to work all the time, and this is no healthier than incessant loafing.
Poetry is another outlet that can take your mind off the task at hand. Though it is writing, many of us think of it as the dessert portion of their careers. Most have never sold a poem, mainly because they don't try (the pay stinks, and besides, most writers are not very good poets). It is, however, enjoyable to employ the exercise of adding rhythm and rhyme to a written idea. It is somewhat like the classical guitarist playing a little folk music at a campfire sing-along; not as taxing as a regular performance, but creatively stimulating and pleasant.
Personal correspondence is also a pleasant way to break out of the routine; writing letters to friends and family takes the place of keeping a journal. It is a much more relaxed kind of writing, and usually chronicles the events in your family's life. Always keep copies of your letters, as well as those you receive from others. You never know, someday you may wish to write your memoirs.
However you choose to relax, make sure that you find some time every day to do so. Not only will it help clear the cobwebs from your mind, it will help keep you healthy. Too much work, as we all now know, can lead to several forms of stress-related illness and, though it used to be fashionable for writers to die young, early death (at least for us) has gone out of style.
GROUPING SYNDROME (A Quote From R. LeBeaux)
"Writers, as we have all heard, are a lonely bunch, working at home, sometimes far away from their editors, and unable to enjoy the comradeship of their peers. It is for this reason, I believe, that many writers become group-oriented when there are groups to join. I once joined a small fiction writers group, and found the experience to be worthwhile. The four of us, some published and some not, would gather once every two weeks and read our fiction to the others for criticism. It worked out fine, until I found that the obligation to come up with fiction to read every two weeks was interfering with my career. I still write fiction, but not on deadlines. I have enough of those in my regular work.
"I also enjoy the company of other writers and editors, and have a few writer/editor friends that I speak with regularly on the phone or via e-mail. These discussions invariably consist of mutual sympathy or ego massage, and sometimes can be helpful with work as well. Writer's clubs, however, are not something I indulge in. I have attended a few meetings of such clubs, and find that they consist mainly of people who want to do a lot more talking than actual writing. One thing that amazes me is that so many of the attendees of such meetings never submit what they write to an editor. They want to talk about the problems they have with their writing, and hear someone else sympathize, but they don't even take the most necessary step toward being published: actively merchandising their words.
"Occasionally, if a club brings in a guest speaker that I believe might be interesting or helpful, I attend a meeting, but I simply do not have the extra time to stand around discussing the pains of writing or the idiocy of editors. Writing courses are another thing that I see as borderline when it comes to aiding a budding career. Before I became a writer, I attended a couple of these courses at local community colleges, and found them to be little more than an ego stimulus (something that is not all that bad for the severely rejected writer in the early part of a career).
"The teachers of these courses can be anyone from a famous writer who happens to live nearby, to people who have sold three articles and are trying to supplement their income. In the latter case, you may be subjected to a lot of misinformation, as these teachers no doubt get most of their material from conjecture, not experience. If they are gleaning information from books on how to write, these books are available to you as well, and a freshly published newcomer to the field will have little practical experience to add.
"If the teacher is a well-known author, or has a long list of writing credits (they should always be willing to show you their clips), there may be something to gain from learning how they went about achieving success. As with this instruction section, however, you should not seek counsel on the writing of beautiful prose. The best you can hope for is to learn the mechanics of style and a few methods to sell your work.
"Major writing conferences are one facet of the 'grouping syndrome' that can be of some real value. Usually put on by colleges and universities, these often include as guest speakers several editors and seasoned journalists. You will find more professional writers in attendance here than at your local writers' clubs.
"Overhearing or joining in conversations among legitimate professionals in the field can often reveal tidbits of information on editors and publications that would otherwise be unavailable. Since we essentially work in the dark most of the time, it is refreshing to meet other writers, and to see and hear editors in the flesh. Question-and-answer periods after lectures are particularly helpful for the beginner, as they afford the opportunity to ask questions that would reveal a lack of professionalism if asked of an editor under normal circumstances."
In this section, we have attempted to teach you as much as possible about merchandising your words. Still, things are constantly changing, and opinions vary from editor to editor and writer to writer. Talking to professional writers and editors, and consulting the writers' magazines and Web sites for tips and trends can keep you up to date on the changes in the writing world. Because things are changing, had we tried to include everything here, we would still be writing, and you would not be reading this today. This, oddly enough, reminds us of one of our own rules.
Just as there is a time to quit researching and write. There is also a time to quit writing and "get it in the mail." Or, in this case, on the Web. For this project, that time has almost arrived. With one last page to put up (oddly enough, about The Web) we are almost done here.
We hope what we have had to say will help you develop your skills as a writer and start you on your way to a fulfilling freelance career. We also hope that your mailboxes will be constantly filled with acceptance letters and payment checks, and that you find freelancing as rewarding as we have.