This week (so far) I’m doing better by research and writing than last week, and I’m not so tired. I’ve used tricks like setting up my desk the night before with the materials I will need in the morning, and leaving myself a note with precise goals to meet, and reading a little bit in some “inspirational” writing book in the evening, to psych myself up.
But, really, though I enjoy such books and have a fairly extensive collection, some of them must be taken with a grain of salt. Or maybe not taken at all. Paul Silva, for example, says at the end of his book, “Writing a lot will not make you enjoy writing or want to write. Writing is hard and it will always be hard; writing is unpleasant and it will always be unpleasant” (130).
Jeez, Paul, speak for yourself. Or even, if you must, for psychologists, though I have trouble believing everyone in the field feels that way. I enjoy writing. I want to write regularly, I get grumpy and anxious when I can’t write steadily, and (within reason) the more I write, the more I want to write. I don’t mean going on binges, I just mean that if I put in fifteen minutes, I want to go for an hour, and if I write an hour a day, I’m happier if I can get to two hours. I don’t think I need more than that on a regular basis. Sometimes writing is hard, for me, but really the hard part is organizing and working out an argument, which I don’t think of as writing, but as thinking. Producing words, once I know where I’m going, is easy and pleasant. Editing is enjoyable.
So the mild pleasure and interest that Boice advocates is my natural state. For me, then, if I “don’t feel like” writing, or am procrastinating or anxious, it’s a sign that something is wrong. And I think it is worth figuring out what the problem is, rather than ignoring it.
Often, though not invariably, my problem is time management gone wrong. Today, for instance, I had a lot of trouble getting started on what I thought was a smallish task I had been putting off for no good reason. Well, okay, it seemed that the reason might be anxiety that a co-writer would think I was stupid. But once I got started, I quickly realized that this is not such a small task. It’s not huge, but it does need about 6 hours and is really three separate-but-related tasks, not a single one-hour piece of work.
As soon as I figured that out and had a plan to tackle the work in an appropriate way, all the anxiety vanished, and I happily got on with things. The problem wasn’t really feeling stupid, or fearing my co-writer’s opinion; that’s just a sort of reflex to “explain” anxiety in a plausible way. At some level, I think I knew that my one-hour estimate was wrong, but I hadn’t considered the matter closely enough to be consciously aware of how far off I was. The anxiety is a symptom, not the disease.
I know Z is with me on pacing, planning, and work as a pleasurable part of a life. Writing is not the problem. Other things cause problems with writing. Sometimes, as when my mother was very ill, there is nothing much to be done about the problem except push it aside during writing time. But with tractable problems, it seems to me much better to work out what they are and then address them, so I can get back to working contentedly.
Are Z and I the only heretics who think writing is easy and publishing is fun?