A few months ago I made the decision to write everyday. A lot of writers come across similar personal declarations in the hopes of somehow forcing better discipline. My resolution was no different. Finishing up my first year of graduate school felt like an apt time to reassess my non-academic work soberly. By looking at myself truthfully– and without apology or excuse– I was able to see something that I had missed, that would perhaps be helpful to those reading as well: You can’t really be a writer and not write.
Obvious, right? Sometimes the most obvious things can be the ones that trip us up, and in this case, I believe that it has caused quite a bit of harm. In fairness, its not that I haven’t written at all, because I do so in school daily, and it’s certainly not that I haven’t spent ample amounts of time plotting out advanced story details and thinking up new complex ideas, because my filled notebooks would beg to differ. The real issue is that I have not written productively. I find it easy to begin ideas with elaborate grand plots, but when it came down to actually writing these stories out to completion, I find it difficult to actually getting around to doing so. Instead of working diligently, through good and bad spells, I would table the idea indefinitely and start thinking up my next great work. My inability to complete the actual writing phase of a project led to some serious bouts with an ever fleeting confidence, and that just gave me yet another excuse to avoid doing the one thing that I claimed I wanted to be, a writer.
Realizing that I have been more of a grand thinker than and actual writer, hit me pretty hard. The weight of it, led me through a deep introspective journey. One that took me well out of my comfort zone. I felt I needed to first, see if I was alone in this, and then, whether or not I had company in my misery, do something to change it. Luckily I didn’t have to look far to discover that this was not an isolated incident that belonged to me alone. A quick mention to a few colleagues uncovered the truth that nearly every writer– both alive and dead– has more than likely struggled with this at some point. Whether it be caused by a lack of confidence, poor self discipline, a unrelenting case of writer’s block, or maybe simply a fear of failure, all writers have been at this point. That even include the greats of writing, but what separates them from the rest is that they found ways to overcome it, and maybe I could too.
Feeling that what I was experiencing was par for the course should have offered me some sort of comfort, yet, outside of admiring a few famous success stories, it didn’t accomplish anything productive. To be candid, it actually had more of a negative effect. Where I should have felt a fraternal sense of camaraderie with those who share my struggles, I found instead a source of temptation to make excuses for it all. If I allowed myself to indulge, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying, “well all writers go through this so no big deal,” or “I’ll get better about writing once I’m finished with my educational pursuits,” or even, “I’m too busy/ tired/ stressed with my day job to write, but once I get a chance I will.” Too many brilliant minds get stuck here, and too many wonderful stories never get told because of it.
I do caution this though, I’m not saying in any way to quit your day job. I work in higher education, and my day job awards me a lot of great benefits, the most important being the financial stability to support my family. I have no plans to quit work at this time, and the majority of those reading probably feel the same way. Hopefully writing will someday become my full time work, but in the meantime, I need to continue working, and that is just the reality of it. So while I am not suggesting that you run to your HR department next week and put in your two weeks notice, I am suggesting that you do something perhaps even more important, do what you want.
That advice may seem sarcastic or disingenuous, but I assure you that I am not being facetious. The truth is that human beings will naturally end up doing what they want. So, for example, if a person was not particularly serious about healthy eating, and only obliged to do so to appease someone else, he or she will eventually give it up, and do the thing that they really want to do instead. Likewise, if a person really wants to be a writer, he or she will find someway to do so, whether or not a full-time job is in the mix. That may mean long days at the office followed by long nights writing. It may mean turning down the desire to sleep late on Saturdays to instead write that next chapter. It may mean passing up that second drink because you’ve got to get home and write down the amazing dialogue you just come up with. It may mean sacrificing a lot of things, but no matter what it takes, it still means that you are a writer, and more importantly, you are doing exactly what you want.
The biggest problem that comes from this though is that more often than not people find that although they want to do one specific thing, there are other day-to-day things that they also want to do. The person who wants the good beach body realizes that he or she also wants that donut in the break room. The stressed medical student realizes that although he or she wants a good grade on a test, that a night out on the town also sounds good too. The writer that says he or she wants to be a writer over everything in the world also discovers that there are a hundred other things they want to do instead of sitting down and writing at that particular time.It is here that what a person really wants to do is put to the test. Wanting those other things are not inherently damaging, not in the slightest, but when left unchecked– and without the proper balance of discipline– those things can completely derail the one thing that writers say that they want to do, writing.
With this in mind I determined that I would write every day. I knew realistically that completing a full story or even developing a full character each day would probably be a stretch, considering the available time I had. I did believe, however, (considering that that realism is not always my strong suit) that there was no reason on Earth not to at least try. With a lofty goal ahead, I started to push myself daily, and I started to realize that there was more time than I had expected. It was never really a problem of running out of time as much as it was the problem of misusing my time. So by starting there, I have managed to write more productively, and although I still do not develop full stories daily, I have seen a healthy increase in completed works, as well as more refined ideas, and that I can live with.
My encouragement to you is this, find time to write. If you truly want to be a writer and it’s the one thing that you want in life more than anything else you will develop the discipline and you will find times to do it. If there is any excuse that is strong enough to pull you away from doing this one thing that you say you want to do, then maybe I would suggest no longer calling yourself a writer. Being a writer does not mean being published. It doesn’t mean being well known, or critically acclaimed. It doesn’t even mean writing as your full-time job, being a writer simply means that you write. So if you are not writing then maybe instead you should call yourself a working professional who likes the idea of writing, but never does it.