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A Question of Balance & Focus

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As I stare at Microsoft project plans during the day, balancing workloads, examining the work breakdown structure, and wondering if system test will ever finish, I find myself spending hours upon hours contemplating time, capacity, and available work cycles. It’s funny that I spend so much time at the office pondering work plans when my own writing schedule seems so hectic.

In the past thirteen months or so, I worked a fulltime job, served as the media contact at an industry convention, moved to another state, and started another fulltime job.

And I still managed to get out 102 nonfiction pitches and 28 fiction submissions. I won’t tell you how many of those were actually published (what is the literary version of baseball’s Mendoza Line for calculating successful hitting percentage?) but it clearly wasn’t as much as I’d like. For now, we’ll just say that asking an aspiring author their acceptance rate is like asking my grandmother her weight or age. It’s just not the gentlemanly thing to do.

I read more books than I can count (13 so far in 2006 if that’s any indication) and I also wrote a handful of book reviews for PopMatters, contributed some timepiece coverage for WristWatchReview, co-created TheSportingLife, began laying down a few riffs for DistortionThatRocks, and murdered a few folks for Crimescene. For Slushpile.net, I ended up with 394 posts since we launched in mid-April of 2005. 

And I’m no different than any of you. You all have day jobs, family obligations, kids, boyfriends, girlfriends, trips to take, tattoos to get, drinks to consume, surgeries to undergo, bosses to please, alligators to wrestle, liquor stores to rob, TPS reports to complete, poodles to shave, and guitar transcriptions to figure out. You’re all super-busy in addition to trying to build a career as an author.

So what I’m wondering is… how do you know what to concentrate on in your writing? If you write in multiple genres and mediums, how do you balance the work in all of them?

I’m a firm believer in the idea that all writing is good writing. With every word you write, you gain experience, confidence, and knowledge. As Donn Pearce said, “you’ll write a million words before you publish your first thousand.” So none of my efforts in 2005 were wasted, I certainly don’t believe that.

However, I also want to try and do the right things. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. And along those same lines, I also want to make sure I’m focusing in the proper areas. I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions about how much I want to write, or how much I want to publish. Instead, I’m just trying to be more judicious about where I focus my writing attention.

So I’d like to hear from you on this subject. You have jobs, you have other demands on your time. How do you decide which plot to pursue? How do you decide which nonfiction idea to pitch? How do you decide between the Kmart parking lot short story and the sword and sorcery novel? If you’re writing fiction and also making a little bit of cash selling nonfiction articles, how do you balance those two mediums? What drives your writing decisions?

I have some ideas of my own, but let’s see what the Slushpile audience has to say. Post a comment, or email me, and let’s see where this thing leads.