Tip #2 for a life-long writing career: Show Up For Work. Every Day. Every Day.
As I said in my Tuesday blog, I’m preparing to give a talk to the creative writers at Florida International University on April 2. I have five tips for them. Tip #1 is: Write Good Books.
Title Image: Fred Astaire. Note: He’s wearing white shoes, not white socks (see below).
Show Up For Work: Writing Is An Aerobic Activity
Writing is mental breathing. It took me 10 years of writing to be able to formulate this idea. There is such a thing as being in writing shape. And there is such a thing as not being in writing shape. It is much easier to stay in writing shape than to get out of it and have to get it back.
I live by Fred Astaire’s motto: “If I don’t dance one day, I notice it. If I don’t dance two days in a row, my audience notices it. If I don’t dance three days in a row, I should get another job.”
By the way, Fred Astaire was an old-time Hollywood movie star, famous for dancing. We’re talking black and white movies, before my time. He wore white socks to draw attention to his feet. I can’t know for sure whether Michael Jackson got the idea of white socks from Fred Astaire, but I suspect he did. I mention all this only to orient you to who I just quoted. Michael Jackson is in a lineage with him.
In order to get in the writing shape that I am in now, I had to become very aware of my writing biorhythm. You need to get to know yours and to harness it to your writing discipline.
I do not believe in writer’s block. If writing is aerobic, then it’s mental breathing, and there’s no such thing as a breathing block. Okay, there’s asthma, and for asthma you have inhalers. For a writer, reading is the inhaler. It opens the writing passages.
You may go through some long dry spells in your career. I mean publishing dry spells, where you can’t get anything to sell. Still, you have to show up to work every day. The writers with life-long writing careers do. And they eventually sell again. You’re out only when you stop.
Show Up For Work: Addressing Burnout
I don’t believe in writer’s block, as I’ve just said. But I do believe in burnout.
Burnout is a physical condition that affects the whole body. It exists in all professions and seems to be a form of non-clinical depression associated with the sufferer’s main, often income-earning, job. There’s the rub.
Most writers who make a living from writing work very hard. And many writers have multiple concurrent writing assignments. To stay in the game, you have to be aware of your capacities. You have to pace yourself.
One. For decades I have kept a writing journal, that is, a tally sheet of how much I write on any given day. When I started, I could write 2 paragraphs a day. Those two paragraphs might take me 8 hours. And when I’d read them over the next day, they were terrible.
After some years I could write 2 pages a day on a fairly sustained rhythm and taking breaks. Now I can write 10 pages a day, pages that I might edit 20 times, but still I’ve given myself something to work with. But I can’t write 10 pages a day, day after day, on a sustained basis without driving myself into the ground. So, my tally sheet keeps me on track, because my writer self has no consciousness of the passage of time as it intersects with my output.
So, I have always worked to avoid burnout in the first place.
Two. If you do experience burnout, you have to stop writing whatever caused it. But you do have to do something. Change writing form. Or take up painting. Self-care comes into play, along with hopefully supportive friends and family. And I have no hesitation recommending doing the 12-step program of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
Show Up For Work: Life Happens
We’re talking about a life-long writing career here. Forty, fifty years, say. Guess what? Life happens, sometimes The Avalanche of Life.
Over the years l have had any number of loved ones get sick. I’ve had loved ones who have died.
Strong writing discipline is very helpful in stressful times. Your story is a place you can go where all your problems are solvable, while cancer in the real world simply may not be. But even more than that, strong writing discipline – like any practice such as yoga – gives you the strength to rise to the challenge of what the outside world has thrown at you. The discipline itself gives you backbone.
Wonderful things happen as well. You get a great writing contract. Your book gets optioned for a movie. Now, what? Break open the champagne and go on a cruise? Maybe. But my point is that, if you get on top, the only way you stay on top is by showing up for work every day after that.
Showing up for work every day is the only way to get through the bad times and the only way to keep the good times going.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen