Volunteer Bob offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on his non-existent writing life.
In mid-September, my fellow volunteer Andrea wrote a blog titled “The Value of 500 Words a Day.” In fact, if you click right here you can go read it if you haven’t already. Technology is truly amazing! I found it a particularly interesting post because it stands in stark contrast to my own method for gettin’ things writ, as they say somewhere, I’m sure. My approach is a basic one, almost devilish in its simplicity:
Come up with numerous ideas and jot them down. Then never write anything further.
Wait, what? That’s a horrible system! Over the past six months I haven’t written Word One outside of academic or Potomac Review responsibilities. I’ve wanted to, but I haven’t. I think my situation is, unfortunately, more common for your average wannabe writer than Andrea’s self-disciplined approach. This is a bad place to be in, and here I’ll attempt to catalog why I haven’t set pen to paper (metaphorically speaking, of course; it’s the electronic age) in so long. Hopefully, in so doing I can hit on one or more of the reasons you may not write as often as you’d like.
1) Sheer Laziness – This gets thrown around a lot as the only reason for procrastination, particularly for writing, but I have found it’s not quite the be-all end-all of excuses. I won’t deny its strong influence though. Writing is hard work, and usually cannot be done simultaneously with other work. Who, then, wants to spend their free time working, when we could spend it relaxing? Relaxing require so much less effort. We may say we ‘don’t have the time’ to write, but in reality we don’t have the free time to write; we like to spend it takin’ it easy. Which leads to one of the major follies of writing, that an increase of free time leads to an increase of writing. Sadly I have found this is not the case; additional free time merely leads to additional wasted time, which naturally dovetails into feeling even worse about not getting anything done. There’s a moral about the human condition in here somewhere. If only I could write about it…
2) Self-Confidence – As I said previously, writing is hard work. And when you first begin, there’s little reward. Anyone who reads a decent amount can recognize truly shoddy writing, and that’s probably what you think you see staring up at you from the page you’ve just finished. Watching all that work turn into a big steaming pile of ‘bleh’ is depressing like no one’s business. I like to pretend I have some vast, untapped well of potential just begging to come out, until I attempt to sit down and write something and am faced with the grim reality of things. “Oh,” I’ll say to myself, “that’s right. I’m awful at writing. I wish I hadn’t reminded myself of this awful fact!”
The truth is that almost everyone starts off writing garbage. Writing takes practice, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of practice. You may have to write a thousand awkward words to write ten beautiful ones; it’s a high-investment, low-yield enterprise. I get discouraged easily, so this is an obstacle I find very difficult to surmount. Someone once said, “as every journey begins with a single step, so does something else etc.” Valuable advice.
3) Saving Ideas – I get a lot of ideas for stories and poems. I try to always carry my trusty pad and a pen, so I can jot these flashes of genius down when they strike. Often I’ll flip through my notepad and think, “These are all great ideas, but I simply can’t do them justice. I’ll save these for later, when I’m a better writer, and use some trashy ideas to start out with.” This is an awful, miserable mistake. Firstly, ideas and inspiration are only as limited as your imagination and interests; develop both and there’s no reason to fear running dry anytime soon. Secondly, you should always try your best. I would hazard a guess that very few successful authors set out attempting to write a mediocre story, or take their third-best idea and save the other two for later.
These are the three largest pitfalls I’ve encountered on my quest to write in the past year or so. It’s hard to offer advice without sounding like a hypocrite, but I’ve developed a few ideas that may help you avoid my fate. Think of me as a less miserly, not-quite-dead Jacob Marley. Firstly, follow Andrea’s excellent example and discipline yourself to find small times regularly to write. Regular exercise is important, or so I’ve been told by people more physically fit than I. For the issue of self-confidence, I would highly suggest finding some friends, or a local writer’s circle, or some network of friendly people to share your writing with. Praise and criticism are both vitally important; praise makes you feel better about what you’ve written, while criticism – constructive, of course – allows you to focus on your weakest areas. Finally, write down ideas whenever you get them, but swing for the stands every time you write. Don’t fall into the same traps and routines that I have. Time is marching on, and the next great novel/short story/poem isn’t going to write itself. Art requires people; art requires you. That’s one thing our crafty, self-aware robot overlords can’t take away from us!