The Storytelling and Life Balance

I’m currently in my last graduate school course, and in it, we focus on the writing life: How do you start getting paid for your work?  How do you start publishing?  How do you make sure you still write even after school is over?  Basically, how do you apply everything you’ve learned in school to the real world?

One of our assignments was to get out and experience Chicago’s writing scene.  Last Friday, I attended a book signing at The Book Cellar, where I listened to author Nichole Bernier speak about her first novel: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.  Prior to writing the novel, Bernier had not experimented much with fiction writing.  She wrote primarily nonfiction, but she found herself turning to her fictional work more and more.

Bernier surprised the audience when she said she was working freelance, caring for five children and writing her book at the same time.  Naturally, someone asked if she believed that women could “have it all.”  Rather than saying it could all be done, she explained that sometimes you have to give up certain things in order to do what you really love to do.  Maybe you don’t give as much attention to your hobbies — she said she didn’t run a marathon, for example.

This idea of balancing life and creative work is something that comes up often in conversations with my classmates and professors.  Can you write well if you aren’t out there living?  Can you really devote enough time to writing if you are too busy living?  At what point, exactly, do you put down the pen, close the laptop, and walk away?

After hearing a series of guest speakers in class and after attending readings, it is obvious that everyone has a different writing method that works for them: some get up early, some stay up late, some take very long breaks, some never take breaks, and others simply write when they can work it into their schedule.  All of these writers, though, agree on one thing: you have to be writing in order to be a writer.  If you have a craft, you must be practicing that craft.

For Bernier and these writers, writing is a given.  When it’s not there, when you don’t do it, you can feel it calling you back.  Writing becomes a part of you.  Bernier said we have to ask ourselves what we would do if we only had two hours left and no obligations and no one else around.  As writers, or course, we would write.

So, is it possible that as writers, we aren’t living enough?  I don’t think so, because if we are passionate about writing, writing is living.  Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to shut ourselves away and never see our families or friends (though some writers in history have done that).  To me, it means that when you feel that inspiration, when you feel that need to write, you follow it.  Maybe that means you don’t go to the gym today or you don’t join your friends for another Happy Hour excursion or you use your day off to write.  There have been too many times when I thought I wasn’t balancing my life well enough, so even though I had an idea I wanted to get out, I pushed it back and put it on hold.  Sadly, sometimes we lose that idea or inspiration when we do that, and we end up feeling that ache that comes from the absence of writing in our lives.

Hearing from these established writers has been an inspiration to me.  Why should I feel guilty that sometimes, I just want to work on my stories?  My passion is not just writing, but storytelling in many different forms, and in order to develop that art, I need to be working on it.  When you love something — when you’re passionate about it — it’s not really work. It’s living.

I also wrote about passion and the work/life balance for Career Girl Network.  You can find more information about Nichole Bernier and her novel here.

Single in the Suburbs: Untraditional Speed Dating

On Thursday night I had the chance to attend an event with the local group Mingle Around Chicago.  I have been following this networking and social events organization for almost two years now, and have been fascinated by its growth.  I am also impressed by the founder and owner, Jill Jackson, who I first met at one of her Singles Nuts and Bolts parties in May 2011.  She took the time to greet each person who attended her party when they walked through the door, and she was there all evening to make sure her guests were interacting.  A big part of these parties is having a good host or hostess — single parties where no one knows each other can be awkward, and even worse if no one is there to lovingly prod you along.  More importantly, Jill seems to genuinely care about her customers and their experience.

Since I plan to write a feature about Jill for Career Girl Network, I wanted to attend another one of her parties and witness how she works firsthand.  Once again, Jill hosted a great event where everyone felt comfortable and welcome.  Even better, she created an event that was not the traditional one-on-one speed dating.  Instead, she hosted a “Night of Laughter” in which singles speed dated over board games.  On Thursday, the game was Telestrations.

I sat the whole night at a booth with three great women, while the men rotated to play a round of the game with us.  I never go into these events with the mindset that I will leave with a new boyfriend or even a date, but I was very pleased to have hit it off with the women I was sitting with.  The environment was such that the women didn’t feel as if they were competing each other, but as if they were all just making friends.  By the end of the night, I was at a table with the girls continuing our conversation over drinks, while mingling with some of the other guests.

Of course, since it was a speed dating event, we each had cards and numbers.  At the end of the night, we had to sneakily mark yes or no for each of the men we had met.  I was so busy talking that I didn’t have a chance to mark the card until an hour after the event had ended!  I was amazed and pleased with how many interesting and friendly people really are out there when you simply get out.

So, even if you are like me and extremely nervous to attend an event like this, it is worth it.  Everyone else is there for the same reason as you: to meet more people.  You really can’t go wrong.  If there’s someone you don’t like or who makes you uncomfortable, you simply don’t interact with them — though I have found that the event organizers are very good at making sure everyone is comfortable.

I’ll continue my adventures in the city and suburbs over the next few weeks.  I am signed up for networking events, social outings, brunches, and parties.

Check out Mingle Around’s Meetup page.  You can also visit the Mingle Around website to become a member.  If you don’t want the pressure of a singles party hanging over your head, you can also check out Mingle Around’s sister site, Venture Around — a group for those who just want to meet new people and explore all Chicago has to offer.

2012 Printers’ Ball

On Friday I had the chance to attend the 8th Annual Printers’ Ball: Time Warp! at Columbia College in Chicago.  The event brought together all of Chicago’s literary types with free drinks, snacks, and, most importantly, free reading material.

Poetry Magazine, whose senior editor was recently interviewed for the anthology project, was one of the event sponsors.  I wandered around and filmed the crowd of writers and bookworms as they picked up free books and magazines.  I also had the chance to sit down for an interview with Lauryn Allison Lewis, Senior Managing Editor of Curbside Splendor.

With the interviews completed last week, the anthology video project now includes 16 filmed interviews.  Never have I worked with a more friendly and talented group of interviewees.  All of these publishing professionals are willing to discuss their experiences and share what they’ve learned with others.  What they’ve accomplished for the literary scene in Chicago is amazing, and many have done it all while working essentially two full-time jobs and raising families.  They are a true example of what can be accomplished if you have passion and drive.  Despite all of the long hours, it is obvious that they truly love their work and wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

The rest of my summer will be spent sorting through these interviews, as well as those for the printed anthology.  There are just two of us working on the book, and then I alone am editing the video, so even if it seems to be taking awhile, please stay tuned!  I look forward to sharing a product with all of you soon.

Single in the Suburbs: Marcy’s Social Challenge

In January of 2011, I moved back to Chicago after a two-and-a-half year absence.  I had some friends from college still here, but all of them lived in the city.  I felt isolated in the suburbs and made a lot of effort to stay downtown on the weekends.  Gradually, my friends all found themselves in relationships and I did, too.  With me in the suburbs and them in the city, I began to see less of them.

I recently found myself once again single.  All of my friends remain in the city and in relationships, and while they are most certainly still there for me and support me 100 percent, I am still living what feels like a separate life in the suburbs.  When I want to go to the city, I have to calculate train times and have extra things packed in my bag in case I need to stay overnight.  Planning to go out requires 24-hour notice, since I do not own my own car.  Rather than sit and mope about this, I wondered what I could do to change my situation and maybe learn something in the process.

Before I was in a relationship, I frequented Chicago Meetup Groups.  While I didn’t have great success in finding dates at meetups, I always managed to meet new people.  I thought there had to be other girls in the suburbs like me, looking for more friends in their area.  I logged on to meetup and joined the groups that interested me.

My new challenge for myself will not be just about finding the right career: it will be about finding a solid network, about pushing myself to do things on my own and meet people I would not have otherwise met.  I intend to do this in the city and the suburbs.

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting some awesome women at a Beer and Burger night (anyone who knows me knows I love both beer and burgers).  With the ladies of Not Just Another Chicago Suburbs Women’s Group, I realized there are other women out there who want to make friends and hang out in the suburbs.  I plan to attend more events with this group and others, and I’ll write about my experiences.  My hope is that I can help any other girls (or guys) out there looking to revitalize their social life in a time of transition, whether that transition is from city to suburb or in a relationship to single.  Or maybe you just want to meet more people — either way, I hope this helps!

My New Gig at Career Girl Network

This past week I started writing for Career Girl Network as an intern.  The founder is another fellow Marcy, and I am very excited to work with her this summer.  I will also be doing some video work for the website while continuing to work on my documentary on the side.  Of course, I will also be in class at night, finishing my final grad school course at DePaul.

My first two articles were published this week on Career Girl Network.  The first was a comment on Patrick Somerville’s recent article “Thank you for killing my novel.”  Patrick has published previous work with featherproof books, who I interviewed for the Independent Press Anthology last May.  Somerville reminds us writers why it’s important to accept all criticism, but not let it bring you down — even when someone mixes up your characters!  You can read my article here.

My second article focuses on a problem I tend to have — busyness.  I take a closer look and offer a personal spin on Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”  This is an issue we discussed at length in my Independent Publishing class.  We analyzed the issue in terms of our need to be constantly connected to our devices, and how we often feel “lazy” for simply sitting and reading or writing.  Luckily, Independent Presses are around to remind us of the value of reading.  You can read my article “Busyness Equals Worth?” here.

I have begun editing a trailer and will soon be sending it out to the individual presses featured for approval.  I will be moving full speed ahead next week on editing the printed anthology, and will be filming at least two more interviews.