Every day I make a to-do list, partly because I know I’ll forget stuff if I don’t write it down and partly because it satisfies that compulsive side of me that likes to see an actual list and each item crossed off after I finish it. It has become a sort of ritual for me over the years, and I find that when I make them I accomplish far more than the rare day when I don’t. Today I put ‘write’ as number one on the list, and now as the sun is setting and I’ve already crossed eleven other items off the list, I am finally getting to it. It was hard to start and even now that I am typing, it is hard to continue. All of this in spite of the fact that, theoretically, I love to write and I believe in making it a priority (it was #1 on the list!). Clearly, though, reality hasn’t quite matched up in the past two months since I’ve done so little, and the longer I go without writing anything, the harder it gets to start up again.
This past week I got a book called Manage Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Even though it has the longest title ever, it’s a tiny book, and in just the first two chapters it’s (figuratively speaking) given me a brisk slap in the face, told me to stop moping and whining about not being able to write anything, and just get to it. One of the things this book reminded me of is that a regular habit of writing doesn’t mean that all the writing has to be good. In fact, writing daily means you’re going to be writing a lot of crap. One of the excuses I’ve been making to myself for not writing lately is that I am always so tired when I get home from work. Teaching 195 students and grading all their work every day can wear a person down. Like, really really down. Of course all I’d want to do is grab a tasty snack and watch some TV once I’m home.
I’ve realized, however, that what I’m specifically too tired to contemplate doing at the end of a long workday is produce quality writing. In my mind, that is daunting, if not flat-out impossible. But if all I have to do every day is sit down and write crap for twenty or thirty minutes, then there is no reason not to sit my butt down in a chair and get to it. Any of us can produce crap, especially when we’re tired. Of course, the idea is that by building a regular practice, eventually I wouldn’t just be producing crap anymore. Maybe a few days a month (and eventually maybe even a couple days a week), there will be something worthwhile, something I can develop, something I can turn into a scene or a chapter or a workable poem. But those workable bits won’t be there unless I am writing on a regular basis, and writing on a regular basis means being okay with writing stuff that stinks.
Another factor that has been paralyzing me is a sort of identity crisis with regards to what type of writing I want to do. Sometimes I enjoy writing poems. Other times I like writing essays (see: this). And then there’s that novel I wrote and an idea for another one that I keep obsessing about even though I don’t think I’m at all capable of pulling it off. Because I have so little time to devote to writing, it seems like I should just pick one genre and focus, otherwise I won’t really get good at any of them. But I can’t seem to choose, and this desire to pursue all of them while believing that it’s impossible to ever get good at any of them has led me to no writing. Again, this comes back to high expectations and a completely irrational notion that I must be excellent at something otherwise I am a terrible person and will disgust everyone around me. I am fully aware of how utterly ridiculous that notion is, not to mention discrediting to all the lovely and generous-hearted people I know, but fear is a hard bitch to kill.
Which brings me back to the whole crap thing. I’ve been trying like everything to avoid writing crap, and in doing so I’ve mostly just avoided writing at all or stopped myself mid-revision, mid-story, mid-process because I start to despair that it won’t ever be good enough. For what, I’m not sure anymore. What I am sure of is that it’s been really discouraging to have had so many weeks go by and have written so little, so I am trying something new: embracing the crap. Accepting that that’s what my writing is going to be sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time (including, quite possibly, this very entry—sorry, folks!), but at least I’m writing. At least I’m putting something down that wasn’t there before, which, I must admit, feels a lot better than wanting to write something so good that I don’t write anything at all.