Kendrick told me this story. Once, the motivational speaker Anthony Robins was on a talk show. A caller called in, told him about a project he was considering, and asked what he could do to make it succeed. Robins told him, “Hang up and start working on it tonight. And then work on it tomorrow.” The message was, if you want to succeed at something, start now and work on it every day.
That’s what I’m trying to do with my writing. It’s difficult right now because this is the end of the semester, and I have so many other responsibilities. Sixty-four students, for example. But I find that if I don’t work on it every day, I get anxious.
I went to the doctor’s office today, for my annual physical. Evidently, I am ridiculously healthy, blood pressure 104/70, everything else as it should be. The only real problem I have is stress. A friend told me to take time off, take things easy. But I think that would actually make life more stressful for me. It would give me the sense that I wasn’t working for what I wanted, that I wasn’t moving in the right direction. I want to feel that I am, every single day.
Which reminds me of something Dan Blank wrote on his blog:
“To build a successful business, we often look for balance.
“We look for safety, we look for the expected, we look for certainty. We try to find a process that works, that can be replicated. And we try to find ways success can fit into the hours of 9am-6pm on weekdays.
“But few things of great importance are done in a balanced way. Instead, they require vision, sacrifice, and boldness.”
Writing, at least the way I want to do it, is a business. I want to do it that way because I want to prioritize it, and if I think of writing as an art, as something I do when I’m inspired, I find that I don’t do it. I don’t prioritize it. When I think, this is my career and I’m building it, one story, one essay, one novel at a time, then I think of it in the right way. And the art comes out anyway, because I want to create something of high quality. I don’t want to let my readers down.
But I find that I can’t look for balance. I’m not all that into balance anyway, as a person. When I wanted to learn to write, I went to both Odyssey and Clarion. That’s not exactly balance, is it? It’s closer to obsession.
Dan goes on,
“But one’s success is often driven by two things: goals and purpose. And when dealing with the question of ‘how can I fit this into my busy life,’ the honest answer is: if you don’t make the time, no one will make it for you. No one will make it easy for you to succeed. In fact, there are lots of people who will try to stop you, in their well-meaning ways: encouraging you to find balance; to not spend another weekend in the basement writing; that you are already doing enough; that maybe you aren’t a writer after all. These discouragements come in tiny ways in regular conversations. Writers often know them well.
“Every success story of a creative individual is one of a long journey; of countless thankless hours of work when no one believed in you; of doing the impossible, which is often the most unsexy thing of all: jugging laundry, a family, a job, dinner, AND building your writing career.
“And I think that is true of all business, and most endeavors that we hope desperately to succeed in. You have to put in the hours. You have to prioritize and give up any sense of a balanced life.”
Which reminds me that I need to do laundry. I will say that after a while, the discouragement stops. It stops when you sound like a professional writer, meaning someone who makes money from writing. At that point, people will stop trying to discourage you (with the best of intentions). After all, no one says to a lawyer, do you really need to work those long hours to succeed? Why don’t you cut back and aim for balance? (You’d think they would, but they don’t. Believe me, I’ve been there.)
This is a rambling post, isn’t it? It’s because I’m tired, and I’m writing this eating dinner (an organic chicken hot dog on a whole wheat bun, with a plate full of steamed vegetables, which is probably why my blood pressure is so low). It would be a lot more balanced to sit down, eat a relaxed meal. But after I type this, I have papers to grade and a column to work on.
Yes, it’s an unbalanced life. Yes, it will get better, but I will continue to obsess about my writing – the quality of it, the business of it. In the meantime, I continue to work on it every day, because I have a vision of the life I want. And this is the way to get there.
In the meantime, spring has come to New England. I know it happens every year, but this year it seems particularly meaningful. Most of the bulbs I planted have been nibbled by whatever lives in our yard (squirrels mostly, but also chipmunks). However, I will leave you with a picture of two hyacinths that have actually bloomed:
Loving these entries, as rambling as they may be. Very inspiring.
I think an unbalanced life keeps me moving.
I agree whole-heartedly with this post. On my desk, I have a Post-it with a Kafka quote on it: “Perhaps there is another kind of writing, I only know this one: in the night, when fear does not let me sleep.” Sometimes, I have to use the fear of forever leading this scrambling, unbalanced life to drive me. But I also have this up by Ayn Rand: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.” An equally important reminder.
I agree. I have my 40 hour/wk job and the writing I do because I hope someday it will be my full time job. There’s no way to balance that. Because someone declared April poetry month, I’ve been writing a poem a day, trying to prove to myself if I succeed in this endeavor and meet my poetry writing goal everyday, I can do the same with my story writing. It has been a good lesson on perseverance and writing no matter how uninspired and tired I am.
I agree with this so much!
Lots of my friends and family members tell me I need to take more breaks, or get more ‘balance’ in my life. I give so much time and energy to writing, and of course the business of writing. Because, as of this year, writing IS my business. The only part of this post that hasn’t really happened for me yet, is that people still put pressure on me to relax more despite the fact that I AM finally starting to make money. (Not much, but just enough to live on thanks to the fact I’m a Brit and we have the NHS here.)
It irritates me no end when I’ve just knocked myself out on a huge rewrite for my editor (novel #2 of my contract), and I say to friends: “Oh, maybe I’ll take a few days off before starting the next book.” And they reply: “I’ll believe THAT when I see it!” And… you know that the judgement is there, implicitly, in there tone. (Although I suppose I could be projecting! :))
Anyway. Sorry for the long comment, but I fully appreciate what you’re saying here. I work so very hard because I want my art to also be my living – it’s exhausting but rewarding.
…in THEIR tone, I meant… of course. *sigh* See? I am tired! 🙂