Writing Fridays, Six Months In
In May, I advocated for a pretty radical change in my life. I wanted one day a week of childcare but no work, so that I could prioritize my writing.
It took me a long time to articulate that this was what I needed, and even longer to get up the courage to ask for it. I was certain that I would be told no or that my work colleagues wouldn’t be supportive. Underneath this assumption was a fear that other people wouldn’t take me seriously, and this fear was a projection of the part me that doesn’t take myself seriously. (I couldn’t have told you that six months ago.)
The first writing Friday was at the end of May. I walked many miles and went to the Brooklyn Museum and worked on the novel — not the pond novel but the glass house novel — at the Center for Fiction. Back then, I was trying to imagine a container for these days. What shape would they take?
Now, six months in, I can confidently say there is no container; there are many different shapes.
Things I do on Fridays
Obviously I use these days to write, but I can only work on one piece of writing for a few hours at a time before I need to step away. So how do I use the rest of this precious time, which is such a gift?
I recently read How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace and a useful idea from that book is that there is our work and there is our job (and there may be overlap there, if we use our creative talents to make money), and then there are also things that are not our work — things that are just fun, or just rest. I made lists of what is my work and what is not my work, and many of the things I do on Fridays are not necessarily writing but are my work.
So, I’m six months in and every Friday looks different, but most involve some combination of these things.
Writing, for me, always begins with reading. Reading things I love, reading things that nourish me, reading things that make me want to write. Occasionally a Friday will be consumed with life things that are out of my control and I don’t get to write, but if I am able to read something that sparks an idea, then I consider it a success.
I like to go to the Center for Fiction for at least a couple of hours. If I can’t make it there, I usually go to a coffee shop in my neighborhood. I work from home all week and spend the bulk of my days on Zoom meetings, so on Fridays I try to write from basically anywhere else to keep my body from fusing with my desk chair.
I am nowhere near being able to revise my current project, but I have other pieces of writing at different stages and when something is happening with one of those — my agent is taking something out on submission, a story gets picked up by a magazine — then I will get edits from someone else that need to be thought through and addressed in a timely manner, and writing Fridays become revising Fridays for as long as this takes. I have had a few revising Fridays lately, because I have a new story coming out next year in TriQuarterly. 🎉
If I were just writing for myself, I wouldn’t have to worry about most of this stuff, but I am writing for publication, and that means my writing life also involves:
Submitting, which involves keeping a running spreadsheet of in-progress submissions, monitoring when magazines open and close, and preparing each submission and cover letter according to the magazine’s preferences
Applying for residencies, workshops, and grants, which often have very involved application processes
Taking long walks
I love to walk for miles at a time. I love to explore Brooklyn on foot. I love listening to audiobooks while walking. I love taking photos of things I encounter on my walks. I do this for my mental health, which leads me to —
Going to therapy
I have been going to therapy every other week since 2018. I began going because of a very specific life experience I needed help with, and then I kept going because it has remained helpful through some other tricky life stuff, e.g. trying to be both a mother and a writer! I am extremely lucky because my therapist is also a writer and so she gets not only the writing life but revising, publishing, writing group dynamics, etc. Even when we’re not talking about writing, I have come to think of these sessions as part of my writing life because learning coping, communication, and emotional regulation skills is part of what my friend Rachel calls the work we do off the page.
Doing my job job
Part of the deal with writing Fridays is that I work longer days Monday through Thursday, but if I have a deadline or something urgent comes up on a Friday, I do sometimes need to do a few hours of work or jump in and help. Contrary to what I feared, my work colleagues have been super supportive and encouraging and try to keep stuff off my plate on Fridays. Special shoutout to Nick Ostdick (who is also a fiction writer and a songwriter and who’s got his own Substack!).
Hanging out with my kid
While the childcare situation is more stable now than it was over the summer, my kid’s new school has early pickup every fourth Friday, so sometimes writing Fridays get squeezed into the morning so I can spend the afternoon with him at the playground or at the library or — like this week — making banana chocolate chunk muffins that are more chocolate than muffin. I try to be easy about these days and just enjoy this phase.
I have definitely made more progress on both novel projects than I would have without this shifting around of hours, this making of time. I still wake up early on the other days to write, but with months-long sleep regressions and constant daycare viruses, quiet mornings are no guarantee. Now, if something must be pushed off earlier in the week, it actually has somewhere to get pushed to. The experiment, for now, is mostly working, and for that I am relieved and grateful. (If you are reading this and you are one of the people who helps make these days happen, THANK YOU.)