Writing in the margins

The past few months have been off-kilter for me, in that I’ve been dealing with something personal I can’t talk about here. (Three cheers for a modicum of privacy in the internet age!) What I can talk about, though, are the challenges I’m facing as I try to write around the margins of a full-time job and parenting my two small children.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my regular job. I get to work on fascinating projects with interesting, smart people on a daily basis. I get to do fun things like learn about drones, Google cardboard, virtual reality tech, and how all of these can bring historical questions to life in ways that will interest not just scholars, but a public audience as well. It’s a great project to be involved with, and I consider myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

Writing, therefore, remains in the margins of my life, but writing feels more like it belongs in the center. There’s a tension there, a tension that, lately, too often results in a day’s writing being in the practical vein of dozens of emails (39 yesterday!), rather than the more expressive voice of fiction or creative non-fiction.

This blog post, then, is one attempt to get accountable for my writing other things than emails, reports, prospectuses, or other less-imaginative content.

  1. Practice. I know a little bit about practice, having practiced a musical instrument throughout my youth. Practice makes perfect perhaps, but before one reaches that dreamed-of point, practice instills habits. Practice, if pursued for long enough, with enough intentionality and dedication, engrains itself in the patterns of a day, the processes of a mind.
    • I need to commit to a writing practice that fits with my desire to sleep as much as I can until the children crawl into bed too soon before the alarm goes off, one that fits with a full-time job, one that fits with kids who want their mother to tuck them into bed at night, an evening routine that often keeps me busy until 8:30 or 9 at night, and leaves me feeling exhausted afterwards. My best bet might be to set aside one evening a week when I can get out and write, somewhere, anywhere that gets the juices flowing, despite the challenges of all the nearby coffeeshops closing at 9 PM.
  2. Organization. My writing files are a mess, as I just realized when I looked at the relevant folder on my computer.  Single-document Scrivener files sit jumbled together with folders full of unfinished drafts on particular topics, or collections of writings – finished and not – on yet other topics. With so little time to write, I need to find a way to keep what I’m working on better organized. What’s in process, what’s finished and sent into the world? (Is that a good way to treat material?) How many early scraps of MS Word drafts of that particular topic do I really need? How many drill-down folders into the past need I go?  I’m not sure how I’ll organize everything yet, but am open to suggestions.
    • Organization for me means knowing what those files are, but it also means finding a structured way to keep  track of what snippets of projects I’m working on. I’m always working on more than one at once, and it would help to keep track in some structured way of what the scraps seem to be shaping up into.
  3. Community. I would like to find a writing group. I’m not sure how to do this. Ask to join? Cobble together a new one? Are they focused on particular topics? Will it feel like high school, with all the angst about whether I belong? Most of my writing tends in the direction of personal essays, and I also have some ideas for fiction projects that one day might dare to land before some other eyes.
    • Ideally, this group would be online, and wouldn’t require participation at a particular time (as much as I might like that one day, right now it rather rubs against the grain of working full-time.) I’m eager to read others’ writing as a way to learn more, as well as, ideally, to find a supportive community of folks who can cheer each other on.

These three items give me plenty to work on in the ensuing months, and I hope that, having identified each of them, maybe I will start to have some luck in realizing them.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!