Some time in the late 1980's, while earning my living inspecting commercial nuclear reactors, I took writing classes through UC Berkeley Extension. Not 2 miles in the snow, but a long ride from where I worked in Livermore, California, to an outpost classroom building in San Francisco. I remember most of my teachers, some excellent, some I'd have kicked out of the union if they'd been in one.
One class was with a well-known columnist for the major SF paper — I won't name her, in case she's ashamed to have taught me, but her initials are A. L., (oops, I may have slipped and added a link) and she's still writing and teaching. Her own second book on writing is due soon, and I can't wait.
In her class, I wrote a "personal essay" that became my first major sale, to Ms. Magazine. You can read it here.
Oh, yes, the advice: Mail every Friday, she counseled. I took this to mean that, even if you're working on a 200,000-word thriller, you need to take time to write short pieces, find markets, and build a portfolio. Not to mention, get a little relief from the Uge opus.
I took her advice to heart, at least for a few years, and sent submissions far and wide: short stories, opinion pieces, a children's story, more personal essays, miniaturist tips for a crafts magazine. Some made it to print: one brief (33 words) poem earned me $25 from the American Poetry Association in 1984; others are still in my history files. Once my life-with-contracts-and-due-dates set in, I didn't take as many short breaks, but I still try to at least "mail" (mostly e-) every first-of-the-month.
I don't always have the energy or focus to work on a novel, but there's always flash fiction, a guest blog to submit, or an anecdote to share where anecdotes are accepted. Even a limerick now and then.