I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity as of late and what it means to be a writer. I know, that’s original as hell, right? A writer who thinks about writing. But what aspect of it I’ve been thinking about the most is the act of not writing. J. David Osborne wrote an article for LitReactor about the possibility of quitting writing. It’s not an uncommon thing to think about, over the last ten years, I don’t think there’s a week that’s gone by where I haven’t thought about quitting. I think about all of the free time I would have. The extra hours of being able to read, watch movies, and catch up on all the thousands of hours of television my friends enjoy watching. And not only that, I could do things like go hiking, go on a walk, or just stare into space and let my mind go blank (This is already something I do on a daily basis. Over the last year, I’ve embraced the idea of boredom and the absolute human need for it). Yes, I could see myself never writing again very easily. Because the thing is I don’t love writing. Don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot, but it isn’t my heart and soul.
“Whenever someone says, I love writing,’ I always think, ‘You probably suck at writing.”
– Bob Odenkirk
I love that quote, mostly because I think it sums up writing and art life perfectly. Love is something unconditional, it loves you back, otherwise it’s nothing more than a dysfunctional relationship. You’re the cuckold at a gangbang, you’re a battered wife of an employed drunk when it comes to writing. You’re alone with it and others are, too, but every experience with the life is different. There may be certain similarities, but everyone’s artistic secret sauce is different. Therefore the loneliness, the frustration, the depression, and hopelessness you feel isn’t going to be the same as the hack next to you.
I’ve quit writing before and for an extensive period. When I was twenty-five, I was coming down from six years of addiction. When you go clean, you typically start shedding behaviors that went hand-in-hand with your problem. Writing was one of those behaviors (Of course, at the time I didn’t realize writing was a repetitive behavior I developed long before drugs slipped into my life), so it disappeared for awhile. The other thing is that sobriety is boring and it makes everything else dull and lifeless for a few years after you’ve quit. I just didn’t feel like there was anything worth writing about (No, I hadn’t quite figured out that fiction was an act of pure imagination).
I didn’t write for close to five years, which, in hindsight, wasn’t such a bad thing. I read widely, studied literature, art history, and philosophy while I worked my graveyard shift gas station job.
Then at age thirty-two, I found myself in the comfortable world of a corporate cube farm. Nice stable job, good benefits, the whole bit, and then writing was there again. I don’t think it was the boredom of the job that inspired my brain to get back in gear, I was just ready to create again.
There’s nothing fucking mystical or spiritual about it, it was just me being dissatisfied with all my freetime. It was the disappointment of being able to watch any movie or read any book I wanted to, anytime I wanted to. I could play video games to my heart’s desire and fuck around on the internet for hours on end, and all of it bored the shit out of me.
But, you know, does it really matter if you write or don’t write? Nope, it doesn’t matter one fucking bit. It’s hard work, the money is unreliable (especially if all you’re doing is writing under one name and sticking to a single genre), some days you’re going to hate it with every bone in your body, and nobody gives a fuck that you’re a writer. Worst of all, it takes DECADES to become good at it … Just like every job.
Anyway, go read Osbourne’s article, it’s engaging and thought provoking just like everything he writes.
Oh, one more thing: Do you like posting your word counts when you’ve had a good few days of writing? I know a lot of people shit on that kind of thing. But fuck it, social media is an extension of your ego so you might as well stroke that shit. Plus, I think it’s cool to be proud of your work.
I’m, of course, not saying this because I like doing it occasionally.