Every once in a while someone asks how I manage to write so much and my answer is always the same: I’ve trained myself to do it to the point where it’s habitual. If I don’t get the day’s pages in, I feel cranky and restless. I feel like time is slipping away and there’s a host of stories I’ve got to get out of me before that happens. It’s from that particularly unhealthy mindset that I learned to be productive. Now I can’t enjoy anything without feeling like I should be writing.
That’s not braggadocio, but an actual curse. I’ve got Shadow of the Tomb Raider currently in my Xbox, and while I’ve enjoyed what little I’ve played of Lara’s latest, I just can’t bring myself to sink hours each night into it. Because I’ve got writing to do.
This isn’t me talking about how I’ve got everything figured out. And I’m definitely not saying how much better than anyone I am. And you’re getting all this preamble because I know that somebody is inevitably going to take this article as me saying exactly that. It’s not, okay? Just trust me here.
Most recently, someone who shall remain nameless asked about my productivity. They wanted to know how I managed to have so many projects going in various stages of completion. I started to explain my strategy before realizing midway through the conversation that they weren’t actually interested in hearing about my process, per se. What they wanted instead was my secret. To teach them how to be as productive.
The Nameless isn’t a writer. Not yet, at least. But they wanted me to know they’ve often thought about doing it and have convinced themselves that they only need time. I get that. My family has doubled in size over the last three years, and with two kids running around, my free time has gotten scarce. So I sympathized with this person and offered up the following, not because it’s revelatory or consolatory, but because I truly believe it. And six million other authors will tell you the same:
Just do the work. Write, write, write.
Scrimp and scratch and give yourself one hour a day to get it done. Surely you can do one hour a day, right?
Well, this person assured me they could not. That it wasn’t as easy as that. So I got to thinking about things and decided that maybe things aren’t so cut and dry for everybody. And if your situation falls beneath that particular umbrella, then I am probably not the best person to offer advice. I still think there’s sixty minutes in the day (or most days, at least) to get your story down.
In this particular instance, though, I was right. Turns out the Nameless had lots of time, because later that night, they posted on social media how they’d just binged half a season of Netflix’s GLOW. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they proceeded to have an extensive conversation beneath their comment about how they’ve managed to stay current with most shows, going so far as to offer recommendations to friends in search of the next great series.
And yet they’ve never written a single word.
So my sympathies crumbled. Cut the shit, I wanted to say, but thought better of it. Because what does it matter to me in the end?
Here’s where the height of my psychosis is revealed: I’m sort of jealous of this person. There are plenty of shows I’d love to see. Stacks of books and movies I’ve been trying to get to. Several video games to play. But once my kids go to sleep, my evenings are difficult. I sit and struggle with everything from story beats to clunky sentences, and have an even harder time prioritizing my projects. Do I edit manuscript one or manuscript two? Finish outlining that script? Write those short stories? Or should I start my session by cleaning out my inbox? I’m not complaining (as far as you know). It’s the life I’ve chosen and on most nights, I love what I do and I’m grateful for every opportunity that I’ve had (and will get).
But here’s the other thing. Many of my fellow writers and peers are out there working just as hard. They’re in the trenches with me and I’m honored to be in the fight alongside them–men and women who take the writing process just as serious. For every streaming connoisseur, there’s a considerably fine group of friends and colleagues who’ve abstained from “binge life.” They’re just trying to move the ball forward as best they can. I’ll never say this to any of their faces, but they inspire me daily and that helps keep my motivation sharp.
And while we’re doing this, the Nameless is knocking off another episode of this week’s binge obsession while clinging to the belief that it’s a simple lack of time that’s preventing those pages from manifesting. I’m eager to see where Lara Croft’s latest adventure takes her, and I will eventually find out! For now, though, I’m content to let the things I enjoy function as motivators to do the work. Lots of things vie for our attentions these days, and if you don’t have the drive to keep those temptations at bay while you strengthen your writing muscle, you’re probably not taking many jobs away from me. I guess I’m okay with that.
Be honest with yourself, though. You have the time to write your brains out. You choose not to. It’s called work for a reason, and it’s the only way you’re going to get a foothold in a rather unforgiving industry. Writers write. So get it done. Stop asking people how to do it and just do it. Because eventually, that question just becomes another avenue of procrastination.
So, to quote Britney (and justify the use of my hero image), you gotta work bitch.