[I don’t know how many entries this will become…maybe three? While I don’t get too personal on the blog, for some reason, I feel compelled to write this.
So I am.]
* * *
Somewhere around 20, I traded one obsession for another.
When I was 12 I taught myself how to juggle. I wasn’t content just knowing how to juggle — I wanted to be a good juggler. It wasn’t that I had to be the best juggler in the world, but I had to be the best juggler I could be…no matter what it took.
The standards I held for myself were ridiculously high, and I have no doubt that had I not swapped obsessions, I’d be paying my bills as a juggler today.
Juggling is a funny thing. When people hear that I juggle, they often say they’ve tried juggling and failed — or that they just know they could never do it, so why even try? Strange, then, that when it comes to writing, so many people think they can do it.
It’s at least easier than juggling, right?
I always wrote stories. I was the kid who kept a journal. I tried writing movies before I ever saw a screenplay. Despite that, I didn’t really look at writing as a thing I’d try doing professionally until I was about 20. It became bigger than juggling soon after. I still juggled (still do), but I let the hours I juggled become the hours I wrote. Along the way, I found that writing well was much harder than juggling well. One obsession (juggling) was traded for the other (writing). And I became obsessed to the point of losing things:
- “I’d love to go to that party, but I have other plans…”
- “I can’t work overtime because I have other plans…”
- “I’ll take care of my health later; I have other plans…”
The other plans were writing…all the time, as much as I could.
I resented my day job because it took time away from writing. I slept 3-4 hours a night because it gave me more time to write. I put off so many other things in order to write as much as I could. It was a race I had to win.
And I had a plan…
My Old [Dramatic] Plan
That’s what I’d give myself: twenty years.
I’d be writing full time by the time I was 40. If not, I’d give up. (After all, twenty years was a lifetime…at least a lifetime when I was twenty.)
And to be clear about what I mean by “give up,” I mean I planned to give up my life. (Because what better way to prove you’re serious about writing than to give yourself 20 years to make it, and end your life if you don’t?)
(And yes, I realize how stupid that plan was. If you’re interested about the entry I wrote about my struggles with depression, it’s right here.)
For me, writing was all or nothing!
A Simple, Stupid Plan
My 20-year plan was a stupid plan. Not so much because it meant that I was so into writing that I’d put such high stakes on it, but because I put my life in the hands of others.
In the 20 year race to writing success, I had some close calls…the kinds of close calls some people only dream of having. But because I was so hellbent on making it in 20 years, instead of seeing those close calls as a sign I was good enough to make it, all I saw was the clock ticking down.
As I neared 40, I still didn’t regret the times I put off other things in order to write (even today, I’m not sure I’d call that obsession regret) — I regretted that I was coming up to my biggest deadline ever!
All it did was make me depressed.
My favorite quote is from the Tennessee Williams’s essay, “The Catastrophe of Success.” It ends with the following lines:
“‘In the time of your life, live!’ That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read this, and the monosyllable of the clock is loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.
Only problem in my case: I had convinced myself by the very act of writing that I was devoting my heart to the opposition of time stealing precious seconds from my life. If I fight to justify my obsession, I can still make the argument.
Only I now know how wrong I was…
[Tomorrow: Part 2]