Talk with Ann & Charity, “On Being a Writer,” part 1

On January 16, I spoke with Ann and Charity separately on the phone. Some of the questions were the same, and some were different. I’ve combined them here and will post sections of the interviews for the rest of the month (actually, through Friday).

Today’s questions are about writing groups and how writing changes when your life changes.

Megan: In the Acknowledgements, you say, ‘Also, our heartfelt gratitude to the 12 participants who signed up for The Writing Life workshop and taught us so much about the role of friendship in the writing life.’ Can you elaborate?

Ann: The advantage of a workshop is you get input not just from Charity and me but the input and interaction from other people, all at different places in their writing life — an advanced novelist with a new poet. We tried to model an uplifting, encouraging kind of tone, but that was their natural mode. They were really investing in each other, week after week, day after day.

There was a blossoming of friendships that continued long after the workshop ended. It was seeing the power of friendship within the world of people’s writing life. It’s not just the tasks. It’s not just the projects. It’s not just the doing. It’s the interdependence that can take your writing life to a new level. We saw a synergy happen, where writing lives expanded because of the surge of support from multiple people: ‘I’m behind you!’ and, ‘You can do this!’ and, ‘Yes, you have the skill!’ and, ‘Look how good you are at this!’ It was all written, too, in that space. Things are being written down so you can go back and reread it.

We had very different types of writers — people who viewed themselves strictly as bloggers or strictly as poets, and they encouraged each other outside of their genre. We [tend to] kind of think we should have a poetry writing group, that would be great, but it was intriguing to me that we could get together people from a wide range of types of writing.

When I’m trying to arrange my writing life, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a blogger or a poet or a columnist at a magazine. It’s what does my schedule look like? What does my space look like?

Charity: Particularly in the workshop, we were able to see — first it was an observation — that the women who were there, some of them had been friends before, and some of them were new. And we saw that around this idea of writing, that the women were very open to inviting new people in. Writing became an inclusionary activity rather than something that excluded people. That was one thing.

Also the way they would encourage — that’s an overused word — the way they would support each other’s difficulties in the writing life. They’d offer suggestions, they’d share their own stories. And then they would, in turn, share resources, offer to help each other.

Friendships that form in the writing life are like friendships that form elsewhere, but to see that writing could draw people together. What happened is Ann and I didn’t remain workshop leaders, but the way we were able to interact with the women extended beyond the professional, mentoring relationship. We were able to speak into each other’s lives.

Also, with friendships, there is the great potential for competition and jealously and one-upsmanship, so I think we were aware of that, and we acknowledged that. It wasn’t so superficial that we didn’t acknowledge the full range of joys and difficulties that come with friendship. As part of the workshop, we brought it up. The writing life inherently possesses those elements of friendship, and maybe because we were so intentional, we fostered that [friendship].

Megan: Ann, at the November 15 workshop I attended in Round Rock, Texas, you talked about writing within the realities of life. That’s something we don’t talk about enough. What adjustments have you made recently? I know you have an aging parent.

Ann: When my kids were little, I knew a little more what to expect out of my days. It kept evolving, but I could modify my writing routine — it was pretty much squeeze it in. It was more or less predictable.

The curveball of my aging parent came from a sudden and acute event, so it suddenly threw us. It wasn’t this slow evolution. It was this sudden change that involved many, many different things, from paperwork to being on hand to interacting with medical staff to making long-range plans. So I had to very suddenly adapt my writing life while having teen kids at home and college kids to attend to.

The best solution I have is one I used extensively when my kids were younger — to create a portable office. I make sure I have what I need in my pink backpack. (I have a pink backpack. It happens to be pink. I just happened upon a pink backpack at a good price.) Into it goes the laptop and charger and phone and charger. The phone has a hotspot so I can get internet. [The backpack] has paper, pens, Sharpies, all kinds of typical office stuff, and that has allowed me to, if I get a sudden call to a hospital or need to quickly go to a doctor’s appointment, and I find myself with hours of sitting, it allows me to continue my work.

I did have to slow down on things like blogging. I have not actually re-upped that.

I also often, during early stages of [this] event, I had a lot of drive time. I would use my phone to record ideas, whether with a voice recorder or text with a voice transcription tool. I had some kind of note-taking system that was mobile. (I was driving down country roads without much traffic.)

Megan: Charity, how has your writing schedule changed since 1) getting married and suddenly becoming a stepmom, 2) freelancing full time?

Charity: Just marriage, I actually never worked full time while married. A week or two later [after we got married], I worked part time — 30-some hours — but those other hours were the hours I wrote. I haven’t figured out yet how I’d do something full time, have a family and write. I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t write when [my husband] and the boys are here, for the most part.

As a freelancer, I do all kinds of writing and editing, so most of my days are spent — 10 hours a day a lot of the time — is spent writing and editing or doing the work that supports writing and editing. It’s easy for me to spend lots and lots of time in the life of words.

However, I don’t just get to sit around and write whatever I want. I don’t know that I could do that 10 hours a day. That would be creatively exhausting. I do corporate writing. I edit books. I design and edit newsletters for clients. I do educational-type writing. I do some copyediting. Even though I’m doing it all day long, I have to fight for the time to do my own work.

The way I’ve had to adjust that is to get clear on what I want to accomplish in my personal writing, which sometimes mean saying no to work that would pay more. Thankfully, I have enough paid work that I don’t have to have full-time paid work to help our family. It’s more like 15-18 hours a week. I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago. That’s the big surprise is even as a freelancer and full time, most of the time I don’t have to take on work that I hate.

I still have to fight my schedule to take on my own creative projects. I play around with it all the time. The things that compete against it aren’t really my clients; the things that compete against my writing time are promotion of other writing things and the admin stuff involved in being a freelancer — lots of emailing and invoicing and tax stuff and all that. On some level, I knew there would be paperwork involved, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m really good at spreadsheets. I don’t know how people do it if you don’t have some level of proficiency with those skills.

Tomorrow, just Ann.


  1. A delightful surprise to see how you wove together two interviews! And I’m so, so thankful Charity is a spreadsheet expert. What DO people do without Excel proficiency? They make friends with someone who has complementary skills (though I’m not sure what I brought to the collaboration equal to her amazing spreadsheet abilities!)!

  2. Note to self: learn spreadsheets.

    I was in that workshop. I like where you begin this, springing from the acknowledgments with a question about friendship.