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Understanding Phases of the Writing Life

This morning I picked up an essay collection that I’m about halfway finished reading. It’s my intention to read an essay collection every month this year as part of my studying for writing my own. I love the collection I’m reading now – Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies by Tara Ison – but I’m behind. I knew I’d have more time this weekend so I scheduled it in, thinking it would be nice to switch my brain over to creative writing after being so heavily focused on my writing for work.

But as I sit out on the balcony with my tea and start to read, I quickly notice my mind isn’t in it. I still have work writing on the brain…but in a good way.

You see, when I started Girls on the Run and Toastmasters in early February, I gave myself permission to put my creative writing on hold. The Girls on the Run 5k is in early May, and I can pick the fun writing back up then when my weeknights open up more.

But a writer never stops thinking about writing, and as I’ve continued to blog here and at work, I’ve found myself channeling all that extra creative energy I would be using in creative writing into my work. I want to learn everything I can and be the best copywriter I can be and help my employer and clients get their stories, services and products found. And all that energy is carrying over into my weekend, because it is genuinely exciting to me.

While I’m scanning the beautiful flow of sentences in the essay collection in front of me, I’m thinking about the new marketing book I just got and the good SEO article I read this morning and all the extra time I have this weekend – I could be going that extra mile for my client because they’re a nonprofit with an incredible message to share, or I could be devouring that marketing book and getting ahead with my skills.

I close the essay collection – because Ison’s work deserves my full attention – and it doing so comes with a twitch of fear.

If I don’t work on my creative writing at all for three months, will I lose how far I’ve come? Will closing the book now lead to never getting my passion back for it? If I don’t challenge that part of my brain every day, am I still an essayist?

Thankfully, this twitch was short-lived.

These are the fears that inevitably come up, but somewhere in the last couple of years, I’ve developed the ability to see how “phases” work in my life. This is something that all of us 20-somethings need to come to realize before we get emotionally carried away and paralyzed by the “what-ifs” and “shoulds” that our own brains tell us. For me, phases look like this:

The Busy Phase

I’m currently in a busy phase of life where it doesn’t make sense for me to strongly pursue a goal that although it’s incredibly important to me, it is extracurricular. My salary or daily life does not depend on it. It’s a matter of the heart, which yes, is important, but not urgent when I’ve deemed other things as more important…for the time being.

Because I’ve made this essay collection a long-term project, I know and trust that it will still be there for me when this busy phase is over in just a few months. I can choose to dapple in it when I have extra time before then, but it’s my understanding that any dappling I do should have no pressure tied to it. It’s all for fun until I decide to actively pursue the essay collection again.

The Work Momentum Phase

I’m also in a phase of strong momentum in my work life. Since work makes up the bulk of my days, I encourage myself to actively pursue this momentum even in the busy phase I’m going through. Anything extra I do here is highly productive as it impacts both my passion as a writer as well as my resume and portfolio. And a great thing I’m noticing as I’m thinking about work while reading the essay collection is that this longing to work on work isn’t coming from a place of “should” but from “I want to,” which shouldn’t be ignored.

So I close the essay collection and open my notebook to start drafting this blog post, a project/task that hits both my creative and professional writing goals.

I know myself enough to believe and trust that my dedication for my essay collection isn’t going anywhere, that I will come back to it in a few months with renewed excitement. If I want to cross out the “required reading” here and there and instead work on something just as useful and even more exciting to me in this current phase, I owe it to myself to do just that.

Notice the phases of your life – the last year or even decade. Know that not everything you want to do has to happen right now, all at once. Keep your top goals and desires in sight always, but understand how your phases work and when it makes sense to dedicate a phase of life to a certain goal.

I am a writer who will always be dedicating time to learning and practicing the craft of writing. Whether the form is an essay, short story, blog post, Instagram caption, email subject line or sales page copy – that depends on the season. But I believe that all forms benefit from lessons learned in the other, and the same goes for the many different phases of life. They all work together toward the big picture.

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