The Benefit of (Short-term) Overload

My 2021 planner, with appropriate customization (image from my Instagram)

This time last year, I was lonely, bored, and generally unfulfilled — I hated my job in finance, surrounded by conservative ’80s types and felt myself slipping away from my writing. So I did what I usually do when I’m feeling underwhelmed: I overwhelmed myself.

Look, this isn’t a habit I would recommend to anyone else, ever. Except that I’m about to recommend it in a limited form right now. Because one of the ways I overwhelmed myself was to sign up or apply for everything writing-related, from Meredith Talusan’s Fairest workshops to fiction-writing classes to various freelance writing gigs found on any of a number of Facebook Binders groups… It got pretty wild, pretty fast, thanks to the pandemic opening up the entire world to virtual access. And the benefit of being intellectually exhausted and making my husband a ‘Zoom widower’ was that I learned a ton.

Over the second half of 2020 and the first couple months of 2021, I learned how (and how not) to: come up with interesting story angles on my fairly average life; pitch editors; write thought-leadership articles; follow up on pitches; research reported essays; come up with new names for brands and processes; foster a community of support and encouragement among other writers; negotiate pay rates on commissioned pitches; and about a hundred other new skills I can’t remember to name at the moment.

I was also inspired by all these people whose expertise and advice I was consuming. I knew some stuff, especially now that I’d stuffed all this education into my stretched brain — why wasn’t I contributing more? So I joined the Fairest Writer community as an admin; I started a critique group with writers from #1000wordsofsummer; I founded a creative nonfiction-focused Facebook group; and, the pièce de résistance, I decided to launch a literary magazine.

The magazine, Moments Between, launched this past Sunday with a beautiful essay about identity and family expectations by Mike Talplacido. Editing Mike’s piece was inspiring and exciting and exactly the confirmation I needed that, even though it meant wedging a hefty time commitment onto my already-overfull plate, this was something I needed to do. (Side note: please submit! I’d love to publish more wonderful writers!)

So you see why my planner has that title. There’s no way I could do all those things while also trying to find an agent, write short pieces for publication, and — oh, yeah, capitalism — work full-time. Which is part of why I left my full-time job at the end of the year (the other part is that I hated it). But I knew I couldn’t live off savings for long and I learned quickly that freelancing was not as lucrative for someone like me (financially timid, easily scattered) as it can be for people with more hustle and focus. So I went back to the full-time job hunt, but this time I had all these new skills to flog on the market, and a stronger sense of myself as a writer, and I was able to land a remote job at a small marketing company — a place where my excitement about doing all the writing-related things was an asset, rather than a weird tic.

And now comes the hard part: letting things go. On that front, I have way more questions than answers, but I’ll figure it out because I have to. The freelance work is already on hold, but Moments Between and my writing communities have become non-negotiable priorities in my life. Lately, that’s meant putting my agent hunt on hold — I haven’t even looked at my book proposal in months — but I have a feeling I’ll be able to pick that up again soon, thanks to the space we hold for just that sort of thing in our Fairest writing sessions.

So, in summation: don’t be like me. But also, be a little like me (to whatever extent your life allows it — I’m aware that being childless and having savings have been major privileges here). Soak up the information and experience that generous people all over the world are holding out to you with both hands — it’s more than worth your time, and you might even find it leads you to some really amazing opportunities! The Fairest community and my Creative Nonfiction group are great places to start.


Note: This post was originally published on The Fairest Writer newsletter, which is here — you should sign up and join our awesome community of writers!

Writer, Editor, Person who makes cakes. Love to make things awkward – no such thing as too much vulnerability. EIC: Moments Between

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