Remember how I helped judge a short story contest for a literary journal? It was a great experience. The top three selections were powerful stories, and I’m thrilled that I got to play a small part in honoring the writers’ hard work. The journal containing the winning selections comes out in mid-March.
Well, around two weeks ago, the editor-in-chief emailed me, asking if I would be interested in volunteering as an associate fiction editor for the journal. I jumped at the chance.
My job is simple: read all the fiction submissions and vote yes, no, or maybe.
Simple doesn’t mean easy or short, though. I’m jumping in at the middle of their six-month reading period, so I’ve had to play catch up on November and December submissions.
Now I’m down to the January and February submissions. 106 at my last reading time, which was this morning.
There are several benefits to me taking this position.
Number one, of course, is the chance to read and think like an editor, and to understand what they’re looking for in a manuscript or story.
Number two is different. It’s about priorities. Having multiple stories to read each day, every day, takes time. Blogging takes time. Commenting on other blogs takes time. Writing the first (shitty) draft of a novel takes time. So do laundry, cooking, sleeping, cleaning toilets, helping with homework, driving to sports practice, listening to my children and husband. All of us have twenty-four hours in a day. (God doesn’t grant the extra-busy a twenty-fifth hour.) So if all of these activities are essential, what activities are thrown out?
The non-essential. The things that don’t jive with my goal of being a writer. The things that aren’t part of God’s calling in my life.
I’ve already turned down another volunteer position, saving myself a months-long migraine and more interpersonal drama than a soap opera contains in a year’s time. It wasn’t a position I wanted to do or felt called by God to do. But in the past, I have had a hard time saying, “No, I don’t have time,” because “all” I’m doing is writing.
I’ve found that (at least in my area) people view my writing as a nice little hobby. (I’ve been told this before.) It doesn’t matter that I show up for work every day at 8 a.m. and write for several hours, break for lunch, and return to writing. For a lot of people, particularly technical people who move from point A to point B, what matters is the proof: proof in book form.
I don’t have a book published, nor do I have a contract and deadlines and evidence that I’m doing more than amusing myself by banging keys like a trained chimpanzee. The typical publishing-outsider thinks, if she’s really serious, she should be published by now. After all, that’s how it works in a technical/ scientific/ engineering environment:
2 + 2 = 4.
Activity A + Activity B = Predictable result.
If I tell someone that I write fiction, here’s the typical conversation:
Why aren’t you published?
It’s hard to get published.
Then the conversation goes one of two ways. Either I get to hear (again) how many times J.K. Rowling or Kathryn Stockett were rejected, or I get to hear (again) that I can be self-published and how they’ve heard about this person who did that and made a million bucks.
Either way, I want to scream, but either way, I have to be polite. “Yes, I’ve heard. Yes, I know.”
Any wonder why I want to avoid a reprise of this conversation?
So having a volunteer position helps tremendously. People understand prior job commitments, even if the job is part-time and voluntary. They understand words like priorities and schedules, deadlines, supervisors, and obligations. So I feel free to say, “No thanks,” without having to endure questions that make me want to scream.
Really, I was free to say no before. Sometimes, though, I just need a little encouragement to embrace that freedom.
And if that encouragement takes the form of literary journal submissions, then, hey, I’ll take it.
So what encourages you to prioritize your activities?