Writer’s Contract With Self

agree agreement ankreuzen arrangement
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I woke up this morning, I was hit by the realization that the time period covered by my writer’s contract had expired. This is a contract I entered into last year (prompted by Professor Kate Whouley) as I exited my MFA program. I haven’t often referred back to the terms of the agreement, but I’ve allowed my days (and year) to be governed by its key directive: write, only write.

In a follow-up blog post, I undertake a performance (self) review to evaluate my compliance with the terms of this agreement. To give context to that later blog post, I am copying my writer’s contract here:

Dear Idea Heidi (aka Heidi Parton),

From our past dealings, I know that you like movement and action; you crave progress. I get it and I appreciate the many times this trait has served our joint enterprise. I am, however, asking that you thoughtfully consider my offer of a one-year contract of employment. Your “work,” during this year’s time, will be simply to practice the art of waiting. Indeed, it will be much like a vacation for you; I plan on doing the heavy lifting this year. But I need your full cooperation.

To be in full compliance with the terms of this agreement, you must not seek out additional employment (even if the brightest, shiniest job announcement or offer comes along) during the entire calendar year, commencing on June 1, 2017 and ending on May 31, 2018. Any move toward “outside” employment, will be taken as a violation of the non-compete that I will be asking you to sign, in exchange for the full consideration of the opportunity to explore the job of your choice (be it in teaching, publishing, bookselling or otherwise) at the end of this term without any resistance from me.

As further consideration, if you do find your so-called “dream” job (after the term of this contract), I will no longer whine to you about not getting proper writing time. You will be free to engage with the broader world unhampered by my nagging pleas for more time to write. I promise that I will, at that point, be content to slip my writing into the margins of your employment situation. To gain this career freedom, however, you must sit back, rest, and wait out the entire term of our contract.

Because I know how impatient you are with inaction, I’ve outlined my mission statement and plan for the year below. Please trust that I will be using our time in an efficient and productive manner.

Mission Statement

I will encourage and uplift other creative nonfiction writers, of which I am one, on their writing paths. The success of each writer will be celebrated as my own. We all win when we tell our stories and bring our truths into the world. There is not “you and me,” only ever all of us, here together. There are no finite limits on publishing opportunities. These opportunities only grow and expand as the world has more opportunity to be introduced to an ever-increasing supply of compelling, well-written works of creative nonfiction.

Guiding Value

I will participate in the world of creative nonfiction on a daily basis. I will find ways to celebrate the wonder of emerging talent and stories, mine and those of other writers.

Plan for Diligent Execution of “Free” Year of a Writing Life

During this year I pledge to:

  1. Spend at least fifteen hours per week on my own writing (strive for a minimum of 2,500 words each week);
  2. Read creative nonfiction books (at least one book per month) and, after reading, take at least one of the following actions:
    • Reach out to the writer directly about their book
    • Write a review on Goodreads
    • Tweet the book, copying author when available
    • Write blog post/review
    • Write review to submit to literary journals;
    • Read at least two essays each week in online literary journals and comment on one;
    • Continue administrative role in The Fisher Cats—an online writing group of “motherhood” writers—encouraging submissions and celebrating the publishing success of group members;
  3. Submit a minimum of one new essay or poem (to multiple publications) per month;
  4. Attend writer-based events in my own local literary community (at least one per month) AND network at event;
  5. Get together for coffee or a meal with other writer(s) once a month (breaking bread with those of similar interests/backgrounds lowers stress and burnout risk);
  6. Make time for three writer’s retreats (at least one carried out in solitude);
  7. Read four books outside of my genre (for these purposes, graphic memoir will be considered “out of genre”);
  8. Take two relevant writing classes at The Loft Literary Center;
  9. Continue steady work and progress on my memoir (at least 5,000 words/month); and,
  10. Search for an agent or submit directly to indie publishers and/or contests (when or if my memoir feels ready).

In full consideration for signing the below non-compete, the undersigned will be, on June 1, 2018, granted full and unencumbered permission to search for paid employment in the the world of publishing, teaching, or book selling (or, even, to pursue your interest in becoming a death doula).

Very truly yours,

Heidi Fettig Parton

(AKA Writer Heidi)

Your signature below will serve as the full and complete execution of the non-compete agreement set forth in the above letter.

__________________________________          _______________________

Heidi Parton                                                          Date

Acting Head of Idea Heidi

 

I’ve Been Holding Back

I’m always holding back. I hold back my writing, because maybe I’ll use it somewhere else someday. Maybe there will be a better time or place to put my words out into the world.

I hold back feelings of hope in a futile attempt to tamp down the potential for disappointment.

I hold back feeling joy, in an effort to stave off feeling sadness.

I hold back love. I’m not sure why I hold back love. I sense it has something to do with trying to keep chaos at bay. For me, love and chaos were once intimately linked. At the very least, I know I hold back love when my world is at its most chaotic. For example, whenever my youngest son’s health issues creep into the forefront of our lives, as they have this fall, I fold deeper into myself. My capacity to show love to those in my life declines. My life becomes singularly focused on trying to control the uncontrollable: my son’s health.

I attended Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words writing retreat in northern Wisconsin two weeks ago. It was my fourth time attending this retreat; I always come away with new insight and new words. I’m still shaping some of the essays I started at that retreat and I’m mulling over the direction I received from Kate, other attendees, and my inner guidance: overhaul your entire manuscript. Begin again. Rewrite it a fourth time. This time, actually retype the whole thing. I’m kind of resisting the direction right now. I know this because I started applying for editorial jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to be an editor again, rather than a writer, I ask myself. I ignore the writing contract that I made with myself last May, when I graduated with my MFA, when I agreed to let my “writing self” have a year before my “get-shit-done self” stepped in and told writing self to get a real job.

Even in my resistance, I’m still thinking about the rewrite and how it will be done, how the manuscript will be shaped so differently this time around. I’m reading about five memoirs right now. Reading to observe structure, more than to absorb content. That said, I’m sucking the marrow out of Claire Dederer’s Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses. I’ve come late to the Poser party, but am so glad I came.

Another bit of wisdom I brought back with me from Wisconsin is an idea that another writer shared. This writer shares a first name with me, so it’s only natural that her wisdom would resonate deep within. She told us she was trying to move from “ego writing” to “soul writing.” She described the difference. Ego writing resists going deep and, instead, slips safely along the surface. Soul writing, in contrast, dares to reveal the shadow side, dares to become all it can be. In other words, soul writing doesn’t hold back.

It feels scary to me, but I am going to watch for the places where I am holding back. In those places, once observed, I will ask myself if I can give a little more. I will take small steps until it no longer seems so scary to give myself to my writing, my loves, my life.

Like birds do, I want to enter each day with a feeling of abundance and generosity. I’m tired of living small; I’m tired of holding back.