What? Aren’t you already a professional? you might say, if we were sitting down for a cup of tea together. Haven’t you been publishing for more than two decades?
When I think about how long I’ve been writing and publishing, I feel slightly embarrassed about how little I’ve actually published. I’ve written six novels (but published only four–the other two were for practice), and edited four anthologies. I confess I haven’t really kept track of the short fiction I’ve published, but I don’t think I have more than a dozen stories out there, and a handful of essays. Yes, I wrote paid book reviews for The Grand Rapids Press (Michigan) for many years, and have been blogging (beginning on MySpace) for 9. I have a close writer friend who tracks her word count during the year, and the results are always astonishing–particularly as she publishes two books a year, plus stories and a ton of blogs. Me? I haven’t ever tracked. Mostly because I’m afraid I’d just end up feeling disappointed in myself because I know I am capable of so much more. Okay. Maybe not mostly–to be honest, I’m just way too lazy to count up my words and put them into a spreadsheet.
I could tell myself that Emily Brontë and Harper Lee only wrote one novel each. Of course, they were Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird. So let’s step away from that excuse. Harper Lee has probably spent the last 55 years just answering fan mail.
I could also tell myself that I’ve raised two children, one of whom is still a teenager, and have no one in to clean my house. But my house isn’t that clean, so we’ll just boot that excuse, too.
Another job? Nope.
Diagnosed ADHD? Check. That’s been a big thing to deal with, especially since it began to intensify when I became a woman of a certain age. But there are people who have severely debilitating diseases who write a book a year.
It seems that the only thing I’m left with is not an excuse, but with a choice.
Our lives–unless accident or serious illness intervene–are always the result of our choices. How much we sleep. How much we eat. How often we decide to turn on the television, mow the lawn, eat chocolate, do laundry, surf the Internet, play solitaire or that blasted candy game (fortunately not one of my weaknesses), or tell everyone on Twitter what we had for lunch. They’re also a result of what we think about. Our thoughts move us in definite directions. Self-defeating thoughts lead to self-defeating actions. Reasonable thoughts lead to reasonable actions. (Or so I hear, being someone who tends to have some very fanciful thoughts.) And if you don’t think you can change your thoughts, think again. I mean that.
My relative lack of writing productivity over the years may feel disappointing to me, but, really, there’s little reason to beat myself up about it. Primarily because it’s that kind of self-flagellation that causes me (you, too?) to be even less productive in the future. I am where I am, and it’s actually an okay place to be. For now.
A couple of weeks ago, I made a new choice. Emotional commitment is a fairly easy thing for me, but long-term commitments to work activity are not and never have been. I’m too distractible. Too curious about everything around me. I get caught up in the details and forget what my goal was in the first place. Two Mondays ago, I committed to going to work six days a week, writing six days a week. (With the exception of Labor Day, I’ve left the house to do it.) And you know what? I’ve done it. There were days when I hated it, hated the grind of it (after just two days!), and wanted to stamp my foot and say I’ve been a good girl and deserve time off. But I did it anyway.
Yes, I’ve spoiled myself over the years. You might think I’ve been lazy, but I haven’t. I’ve been productive in many, many ways. But I haven’t produced the words. I haven’t become the writer I’ve wanted to become. Dreamed of becoming. I’ve been a lazy writer. A pretty decent person, but a lazy writer. I won’t go into the therapy-explored reasons why, because, frankly they would bore us both. I haven’t been driven by financial need because my wonderful husband spends much of his waking life beautifully providing for our family. Talk about an amazing blessing.
In the end, excuses are not reason. I am a writer. And writers write, so that’s what I’m going to do.