An African-American woman (me!) sitting at a table typing at arose gold laptop. A pink journal, cell phone, pen, and cup of coffee are on the table, too.

Last week I attended SPARK Writing Festival at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with one goal: get the information and inspiration I need to finish my manuscript. 

I have a book I’ve been working on for nearly three years and even though I’ve written the book, had it reviewed by beta readers, and had it edited, I have yet to pitch the book to agents or even make plans to self publish. Why? I’m not happy with the book — at all. It lacks focus. It lacks depth. And if you were to ask me what the book is about I couldn’t even tell you. 

I signed up for SPARK hoping the workshops would show me how to rewrite my book; instead SPARK showed me how to rewrite my life.

What do you need to let go of to live the writing life you desire? 

That’s a question memoir workshop leader Salaam Green asked us one day of the festival. We were to pour our response on the page in a fast write. My pen was slow to move. I struggled with answering the question because I realized I didn’t know what kind of writing life I desired. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I couldn’t settle on just one writing life. 

I want to be a journalist. I want to see my byline in newspapers, on websites, and in my favorite magazines. I want to interview celebrities, unsung heroes, and everyday folks and I want to tell their stories. 

I want to be an essayist because I have a story to tell, too. I want to be a poet because sometimes life moves in verse. 

I want to be a blogger because sometimes life moves fast and you need to publish RIGHT NOW. Sometimes you need comments and community. Sometimes you just need to have fun. 

I want to be both an artist and an entrepreneur. I want to be creative and a content creator. How do I choose? 

A pink journal on top of a closed rose gold laptop on top of a magazine with a pink cover, all stacked on a floral laptop carrier.

After the fast write, as if she could read my mind, Salaam said, “You need to design your own writing life.”

She reminded us that we didn’t need to let anyone else define what our writing lives should look like and that we could let go of narrow notions we’ve held about the writing life, too.  

News of Toni Morrison’s death broke on day two of the conference. Salaam elegantly wove Morrison’s words throughout the week. During this discussion she shared this:

“You don’t have to hold yourself hostage to who you used to be.”

Toni Morrison

You can use writing to make money and you can use writing to care for your soul, Salaam said. You can use a schedule to decide what you’re going to work on and when or you can simply intuitively do what you need. But just know you can do it all, Salaam told us.

She herself is a perfect example. She’s a poet and essayist. She also writes journalistic pieces and she runs a business

My Writing Life

So the thing I need to let go of to have the writing life I desire is the notion that I can only have one type of writing life. 

And now it’s time to get to work. It’s time to get busy designing the writing life I want to live. In this life I must make time for the following:

  • reading books, blogs, newspapers, and magazines 
  • journaling and writing for myself 
  • brainstorming, writing and promoting blog posts 
  • working on my book
  • pitching story ideas
  • researching, reporting, and writing freelance stories 
  • reading and writing poetry
  • going to readings 
  • submitting essays and poems to literary journals 
  • building my business 

I’ve yet to decide if I’m going to try to live all these writing lives at once or ebb and flow through them like the seasons. But I’m going to have fun trying to figure it all out. 

Now it’s your turn. 

What do you need to let go of to live the writing life you desire? What do you need to make time for in order to create the writing life you want to live?