Back in mid-January, I started an online 6-week course in how to market and publish your writing. In March, I’ll start a second class on tapping into your creativity and working through writer’s block.
I’ve gone years and years convincing myself that with a degree in English, the last thing I needed to do to be a writer was invest in more classes. If all those years of creative writing courses and drunken poetry sessions with friends didn’t turn me into Hemingway, then nothing would.
But in the interim, I’ve learned something about being a grownup. Or at least, about ME being a grownup. My life, like everyone’s, is full of more conflicting wants, priorities, and demands than there are hours in the day, so the squeakiest wheels get the grease. I need to be held accountable to make progress.
At work, I get my job done because if I don’t, my life will be hell. I’m in systems development, and anyone in that field knows that if the software you’re dealing with isn’t working properly and you can’t or won’t do anything about it, you will be buried in an avalanche of emails, visits and phone calls where people invent interesting names for your program, and possibly for you, too. As if that’s not enough, you’ll be called into no less than 3 meetings and put on at least 2 committees about how to make sure the problem never, ever happens again.
So as much as I might buck myself up and say “I’ve already worked 8 hours today – time for me to go have a life,” reality doesn’t work that way. Because the butt Ill be kicking the most if I don’t just stick around and fix the “It” of the day is my own.
That happens a lot in my job. In fact, sometimes it happens several times a week. When it does, I’m completely and totally energy drained, at least in terms of mental fortitude. I might still be able to clean my house or do a load of laundry or exercise. Those things don’t require my aching, tired brain to function.
But write? As much as I love it, writing still requires mental energy. Every now and then words pour forth even though I feel braindead, but it doesn’t happen often. Most of the time, if I try to write after giving 100 percent of my mind to something else all day, the best I can hope for is drivel. The worst is a blank page.
I’ve struggled with this for years. I’ve even invested lots of time in trying to figure out how to move away from such a brain-draining job. But I haven’t found the solution yet. There are many kinds of work I’d find less emotionally and mentally taxing and more enjoyable. Perhaps, there are even jobs that would energize my creativity instead of depleting it. I qualify for many of them. But they’d all require taking a hefty pay cut. That’s not to say I’m not willing to go there one day. But first, I need to prove to myself that I can make back a decent chunk of that income with my words. I can live simply, but I still need to pay the mortgage, eat and keep the lights on.
So round-and-round goes that merry-go-round. I haven’t been getting it done. So I’ve decided to hold myself as accountable for writing as I do for my job and paying my bills. When it comes the way I operate, what I want is apparantly just not enough. I need external pressures to succeed. Whiny customers are external pressure. Bill collectors are external pressure. But where’s the external pressure in writing?
For me, it is in a class. There is a teacher with a syllabus and deadlines. There are classmates who won’t get as much out of the class if I don’t do my part in contributing ideas and pieces of work. There is the fact that I paid money for the right to participate.
In a way, I’m a little disappointed in myself for having to go there. I’d like to think I believe in myself and my dreams enough to do this on my own. But no one is perfect. We’re all conditioned to operate on schedules and deadlines and meeting the needs of those we love or those we work to serve. Most of us put ourselves last, even if we don’t mean to.
A single woman will skip dinner or just grab a Pop Tart if her day has been too long and stressful to make a healthy meal. But if that same woman has children to feed, chances are she’ll drag her weary butt off the couch and go make a healthy meal. A guy who is trying to lose weight may skip the gym after a tiring, awful day. But that same dude will get it together and show up if he has a workout buddy who is depending on them to be there.
The woman wants a good meal, and the guy wants his buff bod. But they’re more likely to ignore what they want if the only thing riding on it is their own happiness. My writing is like that for me. There’s always tomorrow. After a bad day, I’m just as likely to take a bubble bath and indulge in a Criminal Minds marathon or head to the bar for a few jager bombs as I am to force myself to write.
Having classmates and instructors isn’t quite like having screaming customers or bill collectors breathing down your neck. It sure isn’t like having hungry kids. But it is sort of like having a workout buddy. You rely on each other to do your part. You motivate each other when one of you feels tired and lazy. You encourage each other to stay the course. You’re a little disappointed when somebody mentally checks out.
I think I need that to be a successful writer, even though wordcraft itself comes natural to me. Lee and I watched that new show “Heavy” the other night. These seriously overweight people remove themselves from their lives for 30 days, living with trainers, therapists and others who need help. Then they go home, but have several months more of working with a trainer. Finally they’re turned loose, and they either sink or swim on their own. The successful ones stick with it even though their gurus are gone.
I’m hoping a few months of classes will do the same for me. I was a much more disciplined writer right after college, when my mind was still firmly in “school mode.” So I dove back into taking classes as a way to reconnect and get accountable. All I’ve already been learning along the way has been an inspiring bonus.
Sometimes, even us long-time “someday” people make good choices.