Have you Been Writing? It’s Complicated

Avoiding an oft-asked question and figuring out the real answer

Although 2020 has kept me away from loved ones more than usual, as a self-proclaimed writer, I still get the same question no matter how long it has been when I see one of my fans.

“Have you been writing?”

These “fans” are, of course, my elderly relatives who don’t follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or read my blog. If they did, they’d know probably more than they want.

When they ask me this question, they really mean, do you have anything I can read? And the truth is, I don’t. It’s been a while since I’ve had anything published. When I do, I send them a copy and they force all my other relatives to read it.

Just because I haven’t sent them anything recently doesn’t mean I’m not writing. It’s just that writing is more than writing.

Remember the Good Old Days?

For a while, I was on a bit of a hot streak in my fan’s eyes. I was submitting my essays to anthologies, and they were getting printed. That little streak happened after years and years of submitting the same essay, rewriting it, and submitting it to another anthology. Finally, it was accepted. Then, magically, others followed after I developed a relationship with an editor who liked my style.

Now, years later, that publisher doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve changed my strategy for getting published, which means I’m back to submitting more and seeing my work in print less. I also am working on the other things that professionals have to do that have nothing to do with craft. I’m networking with other writers and joined the board of my statewide writing organization. Since it isn’t writing, exactly, I’ve never mentioned it when one of my fans asks me about writing.

Though I’m tight-lipped around these elderly relatives, I fear I share too much with others in the writing community through social media and my blog. We all do, needing to remind ourselves that there is hope and there are others like us.

But What Really Counts?

And I compulsively track every bit of effort made toward my writing goals. I receive a weekly email telling me how productive I was in the last week, based on my use of programs like Word versus time-wasting shopping sites. I use more than one submission service to track what I submit throughout the year. In the past, I held goals for the number of essays I sent in a year, knowing it was the only thing I could control. Last year, instead of counting only for submissions, I kept track of all of my actions.

I began coloring in a mandala in my adult coloring book for every action I took related to writing. On the back, I wrote a brief note related to every outline I colored in on the front. At first, I was stringent with what counted, noting only submissions or things that took me out of my comfort zone, like making a pitch. But as the year continued, I allowed myself more grace. I colored in squares for things like Zoom classes and entering a Twitter pitch contest.

At the end of the year, my mandala is not fully colored in, but only because of the spots I did not let myself color in. I didn’t color in the days I spent writing for hours on my laptop, wearing my pajamas until the afternoon, or the times I pulled over on the road, writing down a thought. I didn’t allow myself to count the days I didn’t think I was productive enough.

So this year I’m going to give myself more credit. I only have two goals. I am going to allow myself to color in areas of my mandala with whatever feels like a deserved action.

And, anytime one of my fans asks me if I’ve been writing, I plan to answer, “Yes, all the time.”

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor and father’s stroke. www.catherinelanser.com

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