Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to not be a great writer...

I could watch this show for hours.
Photo by admiller via flickr

Update: I completely forgot an item on the list below. That's how insidious St. Paul's Avoidance Syndrome is. You can't even remember how wily you are. Anyway, I fixed it...carry on.

The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.  ---Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Okay, singular "they" and the fact that there are three famous people named Wolfgang* aside...Yeah, I tweeted that. And I put it on my Facebook page...like it means something--like it's deep. Like I have this talent and I'm using it and therefore, I'm happy.

But in reality, what Goethe was saying is what Franz Kafka said (and said it better): "A non-writing writer is a monster courting disaster."

Over the many years of my life, I've done all sorts of things to avoid writing. Why? I don't know. There are people who are born, or raised as, doers. Go-getters. They're the driven--the ones who decide to do something and just do it. I'm not one of those people. Whether it was the genes or my father spending his weekends asleep on the couch with the television on, I was not given the built-in capacity to do great things. I could barely keep my room clean. (What am I saying? I could not keep my room clean.)

Maybe my talent is avoidance. That's what I'm good at. My mother says it's St. Paul's Disorder. You know, Paul, from the Bible. Yes, yes. The Holy Bible! The instruction book.

For what I want to do I do not do, and what I hate I do. --Romans 7:15

That's my life in a nutshell as it pertains to productivity.

So, here it is. The list of things I've done in my life to avoid being a great writer.

1. Become a drunk.
Oh, I liked to tell people that I became a drunk because all writers drink. They sit in dimly lit rooms, hunched over clankity-clank typewriters, smoke and drink and write great American novels. And sometimes I'd tell people that I was at the bar getting experience for my future writing the great American novel (because you only write one and then you die from liver disease and people come and read your book to you at your tombstone).

I wrote some really, really bad stuff while drinking. After a while, I realized that, unlike the greats, I wasn't going to be able to do anything worthwhile as a drunk, so I quit that.

2. Go back to school.
After I quit drinking, I got married and started a little family. Once my two children were old enough, I realized I could finally be a writer. So, I went back to school to get my degree.

3. Have a third child.
Yes, it's true. Don't tell him. I'm pretty sure that third child was just another tactic to avoid writing. School was almost done, you see. What was I going to do now, with my brand new Bachelors Degree in History? I should write a great American novel! But, instead, let's have another baby.

4. Homeschool.
That's right! The youngest kid was ready to go off to Kindergarten and give me some time alone to write. I could finally be what I was destined to be. So I pulled them all out of school and started homeschooling.

5. Become a Zumba instructor.
After the kids were pretty much grown and didn't need me anymore, we moved one of them out of that extra bedroom so I could have an office of my own. My  husband bought me a fancy desk chair and told me to get to work! So, I did. And before I knew it, I was at a workshop and becoming a Zumba instructor.

My feet turned against me some time ago and I was forced to start writing books. Now I'm too old to really get into anything big to avoid writing. Not that I haven't considered some things.

Adopt a child (just joking!... sort of)
Foster parenting (my house would never pass muster)
Start a business
Get a real job
Start a non-profit

Of course, all I really wanted to do was write books. I often heard, in my head, this snooty guy saying, "If you really wanted to do it, you'd do it." And I'd have to argue with that voice, because it's not actually true. It's one of those platitudes we like to toss around to make ourselves feel like we're really smart and have the psychology of the human animal all figured out when we don't.

The reality is that people often don't do things they really want to do for any number of reasons. They're tired, bogged down by the realities of what has to be done, and have little energy left for what they want to do. They're afraid. They're depressed. The desire requires other things to fall into place--things that are difficult to nearly impossible, or merely daunting in that way that leaves us wondering how and where to start.

For whatever reason, many of us (maybe most) never succeed in doing what we really, really want to do.

I managed. I did it! I wrote four books and published them. And let me be the one to tell you the absolute truth.

It doesn't get any easier.

The motivation, I mean. The drive. The books, heck yeah, it's easier and easier to write a book the more you do it. Write one, and the next is not so bad. After four, I think about starting and I can tell myself, "You've done this before. Piece of cake."

But it's just not true that you stop being an avoider and start being driven by the mere act of accomplishment. I'm still finding ways to not write.

Housework is my least favorite thing in the world, except for roaches, I guess, so when I find myself doing it, I know I'm avoiding the novel.

Blogging. Yep. Sitting here blogging instead of working on the novel. That Project Runway Diaries blog is especially helpful because for that I have to watch an old episode and take notes, and then find pictures to link to. Takes a whole day.

And there's always the computer with all its varied amusements. Television, and shopping, and once I decided to read all of Ayn Rand's books and write a blog about them. Thankfully that one didn't get off the ground. My point is, it's just hard to be great. And it's certainly harder for some of us than for others.

How about you? What do you do to avoid work...other than reading people's blogs?

*Yeah, there's also Mozart and Valerie Bertinelli's son Wolfgang Van Halen.