We writers are a finicky bunch, are we not? It’s not because we’re all gifted with the artistic license to be quirky, riddlesome conundrum people the second we decare ourselves writers; we’re not all out there penning the next new great American novel (or, in reality, the latest trash-trend listicle). No, we are finicky because we often, as a group, have a bad habit of adopting some rather typical (and contradictory) artistic characteristis, like being simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-loathing. And because our habits are garbage. (For all you highly atypical, type-A writers who say, “Hey there, lady! Not I!” Calm down, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the rest of us. You know, the stereotypes, with the empty liquor bottles and the bags under our eyes. OK, OK, I know not all writers are like that, but dammit, it applies, I swear!)
Our habits are garbage. Right now I’m writing this at my kitchen table in the dark. It is 2:25 a.m. Technically, it’s a Monday morning. I had been planning to write this post all day yesterday––hell, I’d been planning on writing it all month! I’d been planning to start this blog for years!
Writer, meet, Garbage Habits. Oh, you two know each other already. Of course you do.
One of my worst bad writing habits is biting off way more than I can possibly hope to chew; dreaming big, and faltering on the follow through, either because there are just too many things to follow-through on and I run myself right out of steam, or because I am not passionate (enough) about said things in the first place. The latter can be blamed on the following unfortunate but accurate contributing factors that many writers grapple with in one capacity or another: ethics, the pursuit of happiness, the idea that work should be enjoyable, exceptionalism, privilege, wishful thinking, misanthropy, fluctuating self-worth, the burning belief that we deserve to do what we love and love what we do, and strong (though often misdirected) feelings of purpose. These are the ghosts that haunt many of us writerly folk––again, not you perfect, functional writers mentioned up top. You’re awesome. We get it.
This applies doubly to those of us in the new lost generation––I refuse to accept the term millennials right now because I’m already too worked up, so just let me have this one little tiny, sweet, literary indulgence, please, and actually not please because you don’t get a say because it’s my blog so, ha!
Either way, when I do the equation in my head––the number of hours spent at work, plus time spent commuting to and from work, plus sleeping, plus keeping up with semi-regular hygiene/house maintenance, all divided by the hours in the week and subtracted from my bottom line of basic necessities––it always adds up to the depressing math for why life is so damn hard sometimes. And somehow, no matter how many times I go through the equation, no matter how much I know it, I still always believe that, while it may be hard, I can do it! I can hustle and strive and get there and overcome it! I can transcend! I can climb!
I think I can.
I think I can.
But the thing is, I can’t. Or, at least, I haven’t yet. I have yet to solve the equation.
For the sake of argument, we’ll call this bad writer habit naive over-ambition, on a good day. On a bad day: Laziness. I’m also a huge procrastinator, but only when it comes to my personal passion projects––that which is closest to me, is that which I sacrifice first in the name of laundry, or dishes, or sleep. I will clean my entire house top to bottom and put myself to bed early with the promise of a fresh and dedicated writing start in the morning, only to toss and turn unable to sleep, and ultimately end up right back at the computer where I started, only at 3 a.m., through heavy, half-shut eyelids and the guarantee of a late and drowsy start the next day.
Why do I do this to myself? Because I try to rationalize my creative urges, and in so doing, deny them the respect they deserve: time.
Naive over-ambition/laziness + huge (creative) procrastination = one highly unproductive writer
Multiply by the typical freelancer’s “is this [person/organization/multi-national media conglomerate] going to pay my invoice in time for me to make rent?” stress factor and your tired body will start producing all the hormones needed to completely un-relax your mind and wind you up into a ball of sleepless and self-sustaining anxiety, running on a fuel made from panic and the remnants of your lost and broken dreams. What I mean to say is, once you get this far into the equation, say goodbye to your good sleep habits. But if you’re a writer, there’s a decent chance you didn’t have many of those anyway!
Believe me, I know my math is off. It’s 3 a.m., I can’t be expected to be of sound body and mind right now. I have no business constructing mathematic equations representing the plight of being a freelance writer that doesn’t come from money and didn’t save well enough to entertain any kind of career track funny business. I still have faith that it won’t always be this way, that I can still hustle and strive and, gulp, make it. Maybe that makes me stupid. Or even more naive. Either way, I will keep trying, and hope I change enough in my approach to stop repeating my own bad history.
Not all writers suffer at the hand of this insomnia-fueled internalized stalemate, and those writers should count themselves among the lucky; suffering from the tendency to justify your own creative deprivation is like playing chicken with yourself––eventually something’s bound to crash and burn. The only way out, in this case, is to forfeit the race and take a different route altogether. Give up the car, break the cycle. I feel like this metaphor is starting to work against me…
What I mean to say is, all one can do in this situation is hold on to the hope that small and incremental progress will help us dig up our garbage bad writing habits, and start planting some safer, more sustainable ones.
While I didn’t make formal resolutions this year, rewriting my garbage habits is at the crux of whatever recordless resolutions I quietly promised myself (until now):
Do not over commit, especially to projects that don’t feel right or don’t fit.
Write something––anything––every day.
Be as patient as you can be objective with yourself.
Put your work first, not last. Like right now, you’re doing it again. Stop it. Stop it!
And finally: If something isn’t working, change it.
I’d tried that last one before, many times. I’ve changed apartments. I’ve changed jobs. I’ve changed relationships and cities. These are quick, or rather temporary, fixes; perfect pretty band-aids placed over make-believe wounds, meant to draw attention and reframe, to tell a different story.
It never really worked because I never really addressed, much less adjusted, my core habits. Truth be told, I never really tried.
Lately I’ve been trying this thing where I attempt to go to bed early but end up tossing back and forth impatiently and staring at the ceiling for long spans of time while my partner and cat snore beside me, followed by this other thing where I finally get out of bed an hour or two later and sit alone at my dining room table in the dark and write and write and write to the muffled snoring of my partner and cat down the hall. I’m losing sleep either way, so I may as well actually get something out of it, right?
I never used to do this. For years, whenever I was faced with this kind of unfulfilled day/buzzing mind/energy insomnia, I would remain adamantly dedicated to my commitment to sleep until finally, sometimes hours later, I would finally succumb. I would wake up tired from a struggled sleep, and whatever remnant of inspiration that had hit me and stirred me and begged me to get my ass up and acknowledge it the night before would be long lost.
Choosing instead to actually give in to that call––to get up out of bed, no matter how much I don’t want to––and face the creative cravings rustling around inside me, has been a recent and rewarding development. It was one of those small steps I took only in the last year or so, more out of frustration than anything else, and while it may not seem like much on the outset, it has made a world of difference.
Maybe I’m making all too much of this. Maybe I just work better when my partner is asleep? Maybe I find daytime distracting? I’ve always been a night person, maybe I just write better at night, when everything else is quiet? Or maybe I just finally stopped letting my brain rationalize writing time right out of my routine, and instead started to allow myself to answer that nervous, twitchy feeling? The energy wells up. It’s released. I sleep of hell of a lot better. It is now 4:33 a.m. Maybe I finally learned something?
Or maybe I’m just finally uprooting one of the worst offenders in my bad writing habit garden.