By STEPH AUTERI
For Montclair Local
“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” is due out in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
Early winter was a chaotic white-knuckle race against time. Book edits were due back to my publisher a week before Christmas. An article for the Washington Post was due two days after Christmas. Oh. And I was hosting my extended family for Christmas. For at least four weeks straight, my entire body thrummed with anxiety.
In January, I could breathe again. Work leisurely to finish another book I’d been ghostwriting for a pair of therapists. Write a couple of personal essays that had been swimming around in my head for the past year. Sell a few more articles.
But once those projects were done: nothing.
Or not nothing. There was my part-time editing job. My regular blogging gig. The reading panel I was on for one of my favorite literary magazines. The volunteer work I did for a local sex ed organization. But after the sprint of December, it felt like nothing. Deadlines upon deadlines, my heart beating sick in my gut, followed by the wide-open expanse of: What now?
It’s April. Most of the snow outside my window has melted away. The birds are singing. And although I still pull on my winter coat every time I leave the house, the promise of spring is a constant tease. And so, even though I am staring at a blinking cursor in a blank Word document, my brain feeling as empty as the page, it seems the perfect time to find that new beginning. To answer the question: What now?
If you’re also facing the blank page, at a loss as to what to write next, I have a few suggestions.
• Look to your own life. What have you experienced lately that readers might want to know more about? Or, conversely, what questions have you been struggling to find the answers to? What would you like to learn more about? Use your writing as an excuse to finally immerse yourself in that topic.
• Follow the news. Look for stories on which you can provide commentary, or for which you can provide an opposing viewpoint. Look for national stories you can put a local spin on, or for local stories you can blow out into something larger. Look for new studies with interesting statistics. Look for fun events or new businesses or new books. Subscribe to the feeds of your favorite news outlets or follow them on social media. Tell your friends and family that all the time you’re spending on Twitter totally counts as work.
• Stalk your favorite publications. In addition to reading your favorite publications, full-on stalk them. Look at their mastheads. Find and follow all of their editors on social media. Or if you’re looking for new outlets to target, follow your favorite writers online, see who they write for, follow those publications online, look at their mastheads, and find and follow their editors on social media. (Whew!) Bookmark their submissions pages. Sign up for their email newsletters. Sign up for the email newsletters of submissions services like Submittable or Duotrope or Literistic. Eventually, an email will slide into your inbox with a call for submissions or the announcement of an upcoming theme issue. Or an editor will tweet that she is looking for stories about X and Y. And there it will be:
Your new beginning.
When I teach writing classes through The Writers Circle (ahem: writerscircleworkshops.com), I tell my students that the ability to come up with new ideas on a consistent basis is all about changing your mindset. It’s about being open to the possibility that everything around you could be story fodder. It’s about being curious.
As spring sneaks in, as you emerge from that blanket fort in your TV room, from your layers of sweaters, from your house, let yourself feel open again. If you can do this, that blank page won’t be empty for long.