Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Moving from Office Life to the Writing Life

I'm happy to turn over the blog place to an old-time buddy I knew way-back-when when I worked at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. She has made the transition from the biz life to the writing life, and here are some thoughts on how to make that move:

How I Escaped the Feeling of Solitary Confinement

By K.P. Robbins

When I ditched the office workplace fifteen years ago to write fiction, I never foresaw that a major disadvantage of the writing life would be loneliness. After years of daily interactions with coworkers and clients, suddenly no one was around. I remembered the days when I would have spoken to dozens of people. True, most of the conversations were nothing earth-shaking, just ordinary chats about work projects, movies we liked or didn’t, books we read, or the fluctuating fortunes of the Redskins. Real friends did stay in touch, but with others, once our ties through work disappeared, so did they.

With just my computer for company, I couldn’t keep my butt-in-chair for long before feeling the urge to call a friend or turn on the TV for company. I knew I’d have to figure out a better way to deal with the loneliness. From my solitude emerged the idea for a novel, PMS: The Power & Money Sisters, whose characters would become my imaginary friends. While none were based on an actual person, they were all amalgams of businesswomen I knew in the late 90s in Northern Virginia: a never-married woman with a commitment-phobic beau, a breast cancer survivor, a single mom working in a male-dominated industry, a free-spirited divorcee and a young MBA hotshot. They kept me company as I wrote about them, and I no longer felt so alone.

When I began my next novel, I discovered this feeling of imaginary friendship transferred to characters totally unlike anyone I knew personally. A California Indian girl, a Franciscan priest and a Spanish military governor became my new friends as I explored the complexities and confusions that made each uniquely human.

Despite these literary friends, I think I would have given up on the writing life if I hadn’t found a supportive writing group. It took a few tries before I found the group that works for me. We meet weekly to read our works in progress aloud and get comments and suggestions. We don’t send written drafts ahead of time, like some groups do. Reading aloud allows us to go beyond copy editing. When I read aloud to other writers, I hear my mistakes in a way I don’t see them on paper.

My fellow writers’ strengths in setting the scene with poetic descriptions or devising intricate plots show me where my own writing needs improvement. The weekly deadline not only keeps me on track, but also provides the camaraderie I missed. We share information, commiserate over dashed hopes, and bitchily wonder how certain books ever got published!  As one member said recently, “I feel I’m in a dark cave, and you are reaching in to pull me along.” Even after moving away from the group two years ago, I still participate in the weekly meetings, but now via Facetime on my iPad. The group keeps me going whenever the odds of publication seem overwhelming.

I keep a quotation from Isaac Asimov pasted just below my monitor. “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.” Persistence is easier, I’ve found, when you’re not in it alone.

K.P. Robbins ( is the author of The Stonehenge Scrolls, historical fiction, and PMS: The Power & Money Sisters, women’s fiction. Her short stories have appeared on and in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers and Imagine This! An Art Prize Anthology 2015, among others. She lives in Montclair, VA.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.