I recently talked to a friend of mine who is contemplating writing a novel. I’ve started many writing projects myself, only to have them fizzle out each and every time before I had a finished product. She’s reading a book by Stephen King describing all the different skills involved in writing a novel. One of his main takeaways that you should be writing every day. Groundbreaking, huh?
Well, my friend is apparently doing just that, even if some days it’s not working towards her fiction craft, and instead it’s just making detailed notes about what she had for lunch. I guess I kind of want to write in this blog every day, although as you can plainly see if you scroll through all the articles, I took an eight year hiatus where I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore. I got sick of it. There were other, better things to do. And even now, I dictated this into my recorded on a Thursday, and posted it on a Friday, as a result of a combination of fatigue and religious obligation.
I’ve often convinced myself that the only correct way to get a project done is through slow, steady, methodical work. “Write every day” sounds intuitive, obvious, and necessary advice. To its literal end, that means writing every single day (duh), whether you feel like it or not. My problem I can’t seem to square that wisdom, with the advice that I’ve gotten from my therapist, which is that I have this rather pervasive, unconscious habit of “whipping” myself. I wrote about that recently. I tell myself that I have to write every day, with the tacit understanding that if I don’t write every day, I won’t get the novel/essay/project done, and if I don’t get the project done, I will have failed at that task, and if I failed at that task, I am a failure. Do you believe that rabbit hole is true? Maybe just a little? If so, what a horrible way to engage with yourself.
A book I have on self compassion describes alternatives to “whipping yourself,” to get things done more quickly. A better long-term strategy, they say, is to learn to encourage yourself, not unlike a tender, loving parent, or perhaps a very good coach who motivates you to do something by cheering you on from the sidelines and picking you up, rather than benching you when the other team scored a goal and yelling at you.
But “real” writers have deadlines, and things need to be done on a certain day. Successful podcasts come out every week. Columns come out weekly/monthly/daily, regardless of how someone feels. Full stop. That’s not my opinion, go out and look at how the world organizes itself.
So here’s my dilemma: what is the correct way to approach this? Do I whip myself? Or do I lean into the ebbs and flows of how I feel in a given moment, and only write or create things when the spirit moves me?
Perhaps you can tell by the way that I’m phrasing all this and massaging my words, that I question the entire premise. Is every person who diligently and regularly writes, composes, produces art, just doing mental and emotional self-flagellation? That sounds incredibly cruel. I’d like to believe that not all creative people are simply masochistic, and treating themselves with the harshness of an indentured servant.
Perhaps it is the case that if someone is truly destined to be a writer, there is so much momentum, so much energy, so much inspiration, that in fact they have no choice but to write each and every single day. It is a different mindset, maybe one based in flow, that propels them to do something, rather than being forced to drag their feet into doing it.
I just would like to know how to get into that mindset, as it’s something that I think about a lot.