Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents! I hope everyone is having a fine November. To commemorate the month, I donned Ugg boots, strapped a pack of caribou to my sled, and navigated them to my local coffee shop for a pumpkin spice latte. I’m only kidding, of course. I live in Jersey, and snow has yet to fall where I am. Also, I find pumpkin spice lattes to be overrated and tolerable at best. I’m not joking about the Ugg boots though. I rock those things on the beach.
(Here is where I would have inserted a picture of me wearing Ugg boots and swimtrunks, which I actually did attempt to take for the sake of this post. The image did not come out properly. Think ‘newborn deer with hairy legs stumbling around with what looks like two broken feet.’ My sister’s Ugg boots are now five sizes too large. Sorry about that, Tal).
Regardless, I’d like to talk to fellow writers for a moment about a dynamic that has been on my mind of late: Creation vs. Consumption.
Back in 6th grade English class (*cringe*), I used to write stories in a composition book. While my teacher was going on about what a pronoun was, I tuned her out so I could write. Why? Because I enjoyed reading stories, so I wanted to write one.
Over the course of my high school years, I directed two films, one a short and one a full-length production. Why? Because I enjoyed watching movies, so I wanted to make one.
I made a sandwich once. Why? Because my mother makes incredible sandwiches, so I wanted to make one. And I tried to, and it was a pathetic excuse for a sandwich (I apparently have a biological inability to spread peanut butter, cream cheese, or any other conventional spread using a knife).
And so, while I have learned in the classroom, watched movies, and eaten sandwiches (consumed), I have also written stories, made movies, and prepared sandwiches (created).
All while I’ve consumed things, I’ve used the calories I’ve taken from consumption and run miles with the energy provided to me. Because I simply can’t sit on all of the magnificent things I’ve watched and read. I’m inspired. I need to create. And I know that that is a feeling common amongst writers and artists alike.
Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with indulging. Consuming is learning. Consuming is inspiration. There is nothing wrong with watching Netflix or reading books or spending copious hours on YouTube watching car crashes captured by Russian dashcams. Let me reiterate. There is nothing wrong with consumption.
But consuming while creating is, in my view, dangerous.
As my followers know, I am working to complete the first draft of my novel by January 1st, 2017. Right now, I’m in creation mode. As a result, I’ve decided to restrict my consumption. Not entirely, of course. I’ll be seeing a movie this weekend. I fire up Call of Duty World at War Zombies on occasion (shoutout to JTrain, my go-to Zombie partner). Needless to say, enjoyment is reasonable and healthy.
But I’ve abstained from Netflix excepting the rare Anthony Bourdain episode when I’m eating a meal, and I’ve mostly halted my extensive movies-to-watch and books-to-read lists. Why? Because there is true danger in consuming while creating. Here’s why.
5. Simply put, time spent binge-watching Netflix could be time spent writing.
I fired up the first episode of Sons of Anarchy the other day. I got through precisely one minute of it before I shut it off. I’ve been wanting to watch the show for months, now, but I felt obligated to put it on hold. I know myself. I know that if I take a liking to the show, it will leech my time. And time is valuable, especially when I am working toward a fast-approaching deadline.
When free time bestows its beautiful self upon me, I am faced with a choice. Should I write, or should I do something other than write? The correct answer should be the former. Sons of Anarchy and its friends cannot be an option right now.
Now, I understand that leisurely consumption is crucial for clearing headspace, and clear headspace is essential for writing. For me, however, a quality television show provokes thought rather than dispels it. Perhaps if I want to unwind I’ll watch the Eric Andre show or something completely mindless. Otherwise, forty minutes of television isn’t going to provide for a mind cleansing.
Sorry, Sons. You’ll have to wait.
4. What we watch and read often colors our writing.
Reading is the key to writing, but doing the two simultaneously doesn’t work for me personally. I understand that this view is unconventional, and, for some, completely contrary to their lifestyle, but hear me out.
What we read influences what we write. It’s kind of cool how it works, actually. The authors we read will leave a ghostly mark on our works, whether we like it or not. But when I’m working on something of my own, the freshest works I am reading tend to leave a bit more than a ghostly mark. I do not want to accidentally rip off a style or, even worse, content, because I just had to read the next book in the series and something there pressed an inspirational button. That is a risk that isn’t worth taking. I am obligated to write my story my way. There is no room for external meddling.
3. Consuming a complete work in all of its glory can be discouraging when put up against our measly drafts.
Masterfully-told stories are inspiring. They are fuel. Braveheart and Breaking Bad and the Great Gatsby have displayed the power of the story to an expert degree. Stories such as those are the reasons why writers work up the nerve to try our hands at creating something equally as compelling.
But when I’ve been struggling for days to get a proper word written and I stumble upon the film canon of Quentin Tarantino or the beautiful row of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series on the bookshelf not far from my desk, it’s hard to feel anything but defeated. “Tarantino and Jordan have created grand works that are beloved everywhere. And here I am unable to write a word.”
That kind of attitude, however uncommon it may be, is a threat to productivity. Self-defeating attitude is not helpful to writers. Avoid it. Focus on you and your work. Remember: Comparing a rock to a diamond before you polish the rock isn’t fair. Forget about the diamonds.
2. Indulging can lead to guilt.
For some, having a slice of pie is sinful. Why? Because some have established expectations for themselves. In reality, though, a slice of pie is alright. A slice of pie won’t send someone to the E.R. But nonetheless, when that person who is intent on dieting eats the pie to its last crumb, he or she feels guilty.
Much the same, I can absolutely allow myself some slack in the consumption department…except I won’t allow myself to. Otherwise I feel guilty. For real. ‘I should be writing. I want to write. Why aren’t I writing?’ Those are the thoughts I have when I spend my free time doing something less productive than working on my novel. Feeling guilty is no good. So I’m just going to keep writing.
1. Potential motivation is stifled by consuming that which we can restrict until our goals are met.
The joy of having a finished product is reason enough for celebration and treating ourselves, but might we work a little harder if we knew our favorite book series was waiting for us at the finish line? If the end of the tunnel was filled with the next season of that show or the sequel of that movie?
Assuming a mentality of “writing mode” in which consumption is essentially barred by prohibition and “not-writing mode” in which consumption is given the green-light would help to differentiate between what needs to be done and what is waiting for us after the storm. The rapture to be gleaned by switching from writing mode to leisure mode would be liberating. That liberation could serve as motivation itself.
I realize that these ideas are cutthroat. The one-through-five list reads almost pessimistically. But I have always placed value in hard work. While writing itself may not be such a “serious” thing (we do it in our pajamas), the craft hinges upon discipline. And discipline is certainly a serious matter. I’ve never fallen into things lightly. Writing is no exception. If the thing isn’t kicking my ass, there isn’t a point in doing it.
To read somebody else’s take on abstaining from hobbies in the interest of writing, check out this excellent post from Roderick Wills, one of WordPress’ finest bloggers.
I’m interested in hearing what you have to say. Feel free to drop a comment!
And as always, stay classy.