Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Perseverance

I don't want to come off as an ungrateful, whiny idiot or anything. It's just that the challenges of writing have been on my mind a lot lately, so it's what I'm going to write about (again) today.

Alright, here we go.

One thing, more than anything else about writing, I think is going to bother me throughout my life. It's something that I think a lot of people don't think about, or don't realize, or don't fully understand the significance of.

The work is never done.

That's it. If you choose to write -- to be a writer, rather -- you choose to work in a field where you never, ever stop. Sure, you might finish one project, but -- if you're a writer -- the next day you're starting right in on the next one. Sometimes you're working on two or three (or more) different projects of varying sizes and intensity at the same time.

If you are a writer -- as opposed to someone who writes -- then your work is never finished. And this can be really disheartening.

This can be especially grating when you really bring it down to the daily level. And I know it's the same thing we all (for the most part) face in one form or another, but again, I think it's something a lot of people forget about for writers.

Basically, my day consists of two priorities: the writing, and everything else. I really do have to categorize it that way. If not, then I get bogged down in all of the other activities and tasks that could or have to take up my time. So, right there, we have conflict. Writing, especially right now while I'm not being paid for it, is competing with everything else in my life that wants (or could want) my attention. Sure, the actual act of writing isn't necessarily difficult (compared with a lot of other things), but the sheer mental will and determination that is required to compartmentalize my day in order to give myself time to write, and then to actually sit down and do the writing, is enormous.

Put another way. Right now, I'm aiming for a high quantity of words for the year. This requires me to produce a high quantity of words each day, because I'm certainly  not going to sit down on December 31st and write 500,000 words. I just don't think that's humanly possible. Now, in addition to this large sum of words, I am also, of course, trying to produce quality work in some form or another. Whether it's a well-designed story or a few insightful blog posts or some neat character sketches, I'm always looking to improve my mastery of this craft overall. This requires quite a bit of attention and that attention is mentally draining.

So, every day, I am fighting an uphill battle against time, school, friends and family, leisure time, eating, sleeping, and my own reluctance to produce my designated word counts. I stay up late, I skip my personal reading time, I resist the urge to watch a movie, I don't go out to a party -- whatever it takes to meet the goal.

And then, once I've done it and I settle in all satisfied for the night, resting easy with confidence in my own ability, I go to sleep. And the next morning, I have to do it all over again. The same challenges and the same reluctance greets me the moment I get a chance to think about it. Which is usually right after I finally decide to roll out of bed.

(I'm sure many of you are wondering why I would even consider doing this for a living if I'm so reluctant all the time. Short answer is: I'm not reluctant all the time, and I truly love writing more than anything else... most days. Long answer... is long.)

It occurs to me, of course, that this isn't a conflict unique to writers. We all face it in one form or another. The most applicable example, to me (aside from writing), is faith. Many people adhere to regular Bible-reading schedules or a prayer plan or meditation or whatever as a means to strengthen their faith. We set daily goals (if we're smart about it) and try to meet them every day and we hope that, by doing this, we will grow stronger in our faith. A nebulous concept at best.

I don't know about you, but it's really hard for me to read the Bible most days. It's not that it's especially dense literature or that I don't have the time. It's just that stupid, universal human reluctance to do anything that's really good for us. Exercise is the same way, for example. And so is eating healthy. They're all things filled with good intentions -- and potentially good results -- that usually fall flat due to some excuse or another, but it's really just our resistance to improvement, our fear of success.

Steven Pressfield talks about this a lot in his book The War of Art. It's good. You should read it. He explains the whole "resistance to good things" and "fear of success" stuff (plus a lot more) better than I ever could. But maybe I'll try someday anyway.

(Note, see my 6 Feb 2011 post for a brief update on the ongoing agents debate.)

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