Cardinal Sins of Writing – Prompt: Bestow

If you’ve taken a glance at my ‘About Me’ page, it is literally just a short summary of the Cardinal Sins of Writing: Distraction. Procrastination. Lack of Focus. Sleep Exhaustion.  I have several – around seven – unfinished novels spanning from as little as 15,000 words to 65,000 words. I’ve written and attempted to finish novels for around 8 years.

8 years. Let that sink in. That’s a lot of time to not get anything done. Some have it much worse than me. Some take 10 years. Or 20. Or 30.

Maybe never.

The dream to write a novel burns strong in many people. Some people give up. Some believe they are not good enough. Others get frustrated with the process and quit entirely. Some continually make excuses until the day of their death. Morbid? Yes. True? Yes.

“It’s always been my dream to finish a novel.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said this to the people in my life.

So let me reframe this – for you and for myself – since I literally just had this revelation 15 seconds ago by writing this post: STOP thinking of ‘finishing a novel’ as a Dream.

“But Dreams are nice things to have!”

Sure. They’re nice to have. They make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. They make us feel important when we share them with other people and they are acknowledged. At times, they make us feel motived and inspired. Other times, they depress us because we know we are making excuses. We know that we could do better, but for multiple reasons, we choose not to.

I’m going to bestow this wisdom upon you that just slithered randomly into my brain.

Dreams are optional. 

There, I said it.

Many of the things I do on a daily basis are not optional, because in order to ensure my survival and the survival of my family, I must do them.

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I must have a job to put food on the table. I must have a car so I can drive to work. I must take care of my son because I love him so much that if I don’t, I would lose him – and if not, scar him for the rest of his life (I would also never, ever forgive myself). He gives me happiness in watching him learn and grow. You could argue that, at a primal level, I would harm the survival of my family line by not caring for him. I must take care of my husband because I love him and he provides me companionship – a human need. I take care of my cats for the same reason. When I choose to play video games, I feel I ‘must’ – because at a subconscious level, it gives the illusion of fulfilling a human need: Esteem.

Being a cynic, I’ve based my life on ensuring my survival – even against attacks from my own mind during my lowest points.

Finishing a novel would achieve two of my needs: Esteem and Self-actualization. So the question is: What is currently fulfilling (or giving the illusion of fulfilling) these two needs?

In one of my earlier posts, I referenced that when I have a ‘good’ day in relation to my other life activities – work and family – I actually find it much harder to write. Sometimes I don’t do it at all. I have achieved ALL of my needs at work and with family. This is where ‘Distraction’ plagues me. I get distracted by all the ‘oh-so-great’ things in life that I end up seeing writing as an option. If I don’t get enough sleep – Physiological – I become exhausted and skip a day, which turns into two, and snowballs from there: ‘Sleep Exhaustion’. If ‘Esteem’ has not been met that day, ‘Procrastination’ plagues me, so I choose to do one of two things: Clean or play video games (ACHIEVEMENT. Esteem. Instant Gratification.) If all needs have been met except Self-actualization, I find myself plagued with ‘Lack of Focus’. I am unable to unleash my creativity. I have writer’s block. I can’t figure out how to sort an out-of-control plot.

Extreme revelation about myself which may apply to many of you Dreamers out there: Writing only fulfills a need if my needs are not being met elsewhere.

So, essentially, I am having an affair with Writing. Oh, the scandal!

So how do I fix this? How do I begin to see ‘finishing a novel’ as a necessity instead of an option? I could make radical changes in my life: quit my day-job. Quit playing video games. Leave my family and run away to a remote cottage where no one will find me.

But I can’t do that because two of these things are NOT optional. As long as I am sane, I could never see them as optional. Since video games only give the illusion of esteem, yes, that is an option. My brain also may be slightly addicted to this option, which means that the habit of reaching for one may be hard to break. The thing is, I don’t always feel like playing video games, which means my ‘esteem’ need is met elsewhere that day, either at work or with family. I can not avoid this, and I wouldn’t wish to avoid it.

But how do I fix this MESS? How do I change my thinking to ‘Writing is not a dream, it is a necessity.’

  1. Love my main characters. True, unconditional love, even if they are rotten to their core (just like my 2 year old during half of his waking hours).
  2. The same sense of obligation I have toward convincing my son to do anything – eating, sleeping, using the potty, changing his pull-ups – focus that same sense of obligation on my writing during the set time I am doing it. After all, it is WORK and it can be FRUSTRATING. But it is worth it, because it can fulfill some of my NEEDS (same point applies to my day-job).
  3. Drop the video games during my allotted time to write. Video games are like Facebook: both give an illusion of fulfilling a need (Video games: Esteem. Facebook: Love/Acceptance). My brain views video games as an addiction, because it fulfills a need only through illusion. Writing and finishing a novel would truly fulfill that need, and other people can benefit from gaining insight and enjoyment from my created work. I can also make some money from it. I can play video games – as long as I recognize when I’m unwisely using it to fulfill a need instead of for simple enjoyment and a way to kill time after my obligations have been met.
  4. Meditate. Maybe imagine myself ‘feeding’ my word processor with food or putting pull-ups on my computer. As insane as it sounds, I might actually try this. The strong feelings of obligation I have toward my son may subconsciously translate itself into action if I envision these ridiculous – but memorable – images.

Four simple steps: Love. Obligation. Realization. Meditation.

This is a plan. It’s a start to admit and solve the problem after 8 long years of a seemingly endless cycle of sinful writing.

I will leave you with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”

via Daily Prompt: Bestow

Do or Do Not – There is No Try

What a vague and factually incorrect piece of advice. A man, an ardent fan of Star Wars, once told me this in an effort to motivate me to accomplish a work project many years ago.

There was only one problem. The aim – the vision of the project itself – was wrong. It was wrong for the objectives of the company. It was only then that I realized I had indeed ‘tried’ to accomplish the project. It was halfway through when I realized that the project was a mistake. This man pushed me, sure – but in the wrong direction. He was pushing me for the sake of pushing me; possibly to have a claim that he could motivate his employee.

Eventually he gave up. After all, he had tried to motivate me, hadn’t he?

The problem with this phrase, classically lauded as a wise piece of advice imparted by the revered Yoda, are the following:

  1. There is indeed a ‘try’. It exists. It is in the dictionary. If you attempt to argue this point, you are merely an ignoramus.
  2. There are indeed circumstances in life where you pursue a path – you ‘try’ it – only to find that it isn’t the right path for you.
  3. There are circumstances where people – perhaps a governing board or approval committee – literally will not let you enter whatever their special program is, perhaps because a choice from your past disqualified you. And guess what? You can’t change the past. You indeed ‘tried’. You worked your ass off. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. And you know what? Maybe it really isn’t worth it. Maybe something else matters more to you, or will work out better in your favor.
  4. You apply for a job. You are scheduled an interview. They pick another candidate. Ok, you ‘tried’. At least in this case, you “Do” or “Do Not” get the position – but guess what? You’re not the one who decides that, are you? You spent days preparing for that interview. You studied interview questions. You brushed up your resume. You had several reliable references. Damnit, you ‘tried’. It just didn’t work out. Guess what – on to the next job application. You try again. On to the next. Rinse, recycle, repeat, until you finally land a job.
  5. You can not “Do” or “Do not” when it comes to influencing people’s choices. People choose to be influenced and make their own choices. You can only ‘Try’ to influence them. Either it works or it doesn’t.
  6. You can try to become an actual cat instead of a human being. Guess what? There is absolutely no way that is going to happen. If you think you can ‘Do’ that, fine. Go ahead, do it. Record it. Post it on the internet for likes. Wait for the government to contact you so they can covertly steal your piece of machinery that made it possible. But I’m going to guess that there is a firm “Do Not” in becoming that cat. Don’t worry, I’m saying that for the sake of your sanity. “There is only Do or Do Not.” No, Yoda. In this case, the person may have legitimately tried to become a cat. But guess what? In trying, they gained wisdom; the wisdom that they would never be able to become a cat. They didn’t gain wisdom in the “Do Not” part of becoming a cat. I imagine the “Do Not” is the default option for most human beings.

But you know what?

It’s okay. You’ll be fine.

You know why? Because you try. “Do” or “Do Not” ignores and disregards the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears of ‘Trying’.

And I guarantee you – from all that trying – you learned something, didn’t you? You learned that maybe something wasn’t your life path. You learned that the direction was wrong. You learned a skill. You learned how to get back up again and try something new or try it in a different way. It is in the process of ‘trying’ that we gain true wisdom. Endlessly choosing to “Do” or “Not Do” things, while ignoring the try, keeps our minds and bodies busy, sure. But it does not give us the vision or purpose necessary to truly achieve our objectives.

‘Trying’, if done with sufficient amount of effort, denotes a commitment to hard work, purpose, goals, and vision. The most successful people didn’t wake up one day suddenly having “done” or “not done” something. They ‘tried’ first. They had a long series of strategically placed ‘Do’s’ and ‘Do Nots’, which meant that they were trying.

But guess what? Shit happens. Unfortunate and maddening shit. And sometimes things just don’t work out, no matter how many things you choose to ‘Do’. Often, these are things that are completely out of our control. But there are many things that are in our control. Those are the things we choose to Do or Not Do. It is the series of ‘do’s’ or ‘do nots’ that denote our level of ‘Trying’. To ‘Try’ doesn’t mean you will succeed. It also doesn’t mean you will fail, either. Less can be said of ‘Doing’ something. I can’t wake up tomorrow, choose to “Do”, and be a doctor. I would be jailed for manslaughter. No, I would have to try first, take the necessary steps, and then become a doctor.

If you choose to “Do” only one action that would, in theory, contribute to your success, does that mean you even tried? Sure, maybe – if that’s your standard of ‘trying’.

To the successful, ‘Trying’ means resilience. It means ‘trying’ over, and over, and over, and over again until finally, they arrive at a satisfying destination. Success isn’t a “Do”. It is a “Try”.

It always has been.

Don’t ever be ashamed of your ‘Tries’ or let other people convince you to be ashamed. It means that you are learning. I guarantee you, if I chose the “Do” of being a doctor – or a cat – tomorrow, I would be deemed as much more foolish of a human being than if I had just ‘tried’ first.

via Daily Prompt: Vague