Courtney Ball

Things I’ve Learned as a Beginning Writer

You’re going to listen to this guy?

So far, every stage of my adult life has meant getting schooled all over again. Marriage, parenting, graduate studies (okay, that is school all over again), first real job, starting an organization, natural disaster and rebuilding, and now, suddenly I’m a writer.

At least I tell people I’m a writer. I do in fact write nearly every day, but the truth is, like in every other phase of life listed above, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m making it up!

And why not? It’s worked pretty well so far. I’m still married to a great woman, my kids are alive and relatively happy, I finished grad school, learned a lot from my first job, created a great organization with my brother, went through the worst natural disaster in the history of my state and came out better than I was before (helping my city to do the same). And while lots of people tell me they wish they could figure out a way to just write, I’m actually doing it!

My apologies if I sounded a bit braggadocious in that last paragraph. I only mean to say that not knowing what we’re doing shouldn’t stop us from trying to do that to which we feel called. Things will work out. Or they won’t, and then you’ll either be dead or do something else that might work out.

Enough of that. The point of this is to talk about what I’ve learned (or re-learned) so far. Here goes:

  1. My wife is awesome. Anyone else who knows her has no trouble seeing this, and neither do I. Aside from all the other ways she is wonderful, she also gets up and goes to work every day to make money so that I can sit here and write in a house that has food, heat, and electricity. Not bad!
  2. There is always something else to do. It’s true that I have way more time to write since quitting my job as a nonprofit director. Still, in reality my to-do list always involved more than my job. Leaving there just moved some things off the list and allowed others to rise. I still have to choose not to do other things that seem very demanding.
  3. I have to make a list. Related to the last point, I have found that I am so much more productive if I spend just a little time each evening updating my to-do list and planning for the next day. I use ToDoist, a free app which allows for multiple lists synced across as many devices/platforms as I want (like my Windows PC, Android phone, and iPad). I can easily add or remove items from the list no matter where I am, which is really nice. (I’m not paid by ToDoist, just to be clear.)
  4. I don’t like saying no, but I’m getting better at it. People know I have flexible time. They are ready to put it to use. For example, I will have spent around twenty hours this week in the search for a new executive director of an organization on whose board I serve. I’m happy to do it, because it’s important to me. Also, this isn’t a typical week, but it could be if I said yes to all the things people ask me to do. I hate to say no sometimes, but more than that I hate not having time to write.
  5. I have a lot to learn, and that’s okay. I never had a job where I felt more pressure to know what I was doing. Almost all that pressure comes from me. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m a beginner. I’ve only been at this for a few months! Ask me in a few years, and I’m sure I will be very wise. (My wife might disagree, but what does she know?)
  6. Refer back to point 1. 
  7. Readers don’t mind long books, but they dislike long blog posts.There’s more I could say here if allowed to ramble, but this post is long enough already. More to come at another time.
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Courtney Ball

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