My friend John says nice things about me for some reason. I wrote about how I can't imagine hot to write a book. John wrote back with a post on his blog entitled The Compulsion. And now here I go again. You can eavesdrop on our conversation. We don't mind.
The last paragraph of John's post begins with this line that got me started:
I'm sure all of this sounds preachy and kind of sanctimonious. Take it for what it's worth."
John, it's crazy how often we excuse ourselves for having opinions about writing. You did it by saying that you haven't been published. I do that too. I say, "I'm a writer but not a real writer," because I just have a blog and write every day. I think this comes from a lifetime of English classes in which we've elevated the writer. We have for so long read writers who are far removed from our experience. It makes them feel otherworldly and that they are capable of the impossible.
I was reading The Sun Magazine and found two unbelievably good stories by a woman who, I saw in the author bios, lives in Central New York. Turns out I could walk to her house. (Don't worry. I have no idea which exact house is hers and only know because she told me that she is in the vicinity. I'm not a stalker!) She's an ordinary human being who lives just like I do. The difference is that she has had her words in print. That is seemingly miraculous but not a miracle and not the work of anyone but one of us mere mortals.
All we do is return to the work again and again.
I like what you said about goals bringing on regret and self-loathing, not much else. Scott Adams (a turd of a human who nonetheless has this good idea) says that "goals are for losers." Working toward a goal means we have failed at reaching it so far. So even when we're doing the work, with regard to the goal we are in failure. Maybe we achieve a goal, but that achievement often feels like a failure because there is no end. There's just the next thing. Focus on the goal also takes away from focusing instead on the work and the reward of just doing the work.
I'm thinking of Dani Shapiro who has been on the best-seller list for the last few weeks. I'm sure she has wanted to be on the best-seller list, but I doubt that was her goal or that she had any goal other than to do the work, become a better writer, tell her story, and do some more of the work. That's the returning that both of us are talking about. It's a circle of returning to the work rather than some kind of straight-line goal.
You mention that you're notoriously lazy. I wonder how often you were told that as a kid. I heard it a lot and read it on my report cards as "Brian is not working up to his potential." That sort of thing sinks in and sticks with a guy like me. It's about time we both said, screw that. I'm finding lately that when I feel lazy there's a reason and I'm trying to go with the feeling not to indulge in indolence but to see what not doing anything has to offer. This seems at least slightly better than beating myself up about it. I know you're not beating yourself up too much, but just for kicks count the number of pages you've written and see if you know ten other people who have written as much. Then go back to writing. Or, the hell with it, skip all the counting and just write some more.
There are road maps and we can use them without having to think about destinations and goals. My current map is like some pre-Columbian map where there's this mysterious section far from home that is blank except for a drawing of some sea monster and an ominous line about the edges of the known world. I can never fold those maps up again, so I leave them spread out on my floor or tacked to the wall, reminders of where I want to go and all the possible routes that could get me there. Stare at them long enough and the squiggly lines of rivers, roads, and borders almost resolve into letters, words, and a story.
Thanks for writing that post, John. You're a good guy. Write on.