A Writer Writes… and Finishes

Continuing my series of Monday posts about motivation, I wanted to share another favorite post about staying motivated by Terry Rossio from the inestimable resource that is Wordplay. It arguably builds off the tough love/cold water of The Speech two weeks ago. And while I’m going to focus on writers and motivation, I have observed (and been told) that this sort of motivation (and procrastination) is something that all creative folk encounter.

But back to writers. There’s a notion that writers “hate to write, but love having written.” (I’ve heard it most frequently ascribed to Dorothy Parker, but when I tried to validate the reference, I had some problems). Now while I understand this notion, I actually like the process of writing. Sure, it can be difficult at points. Sure, I might encounter a rough scene that I can’t crack for days (or have to abandon and return to). Sure, I’ve had dozens of pages I look back on and decide to throw out. But more often than not, I’m enjoying the actual activity of writing (even on those pages I later throw out).

Still, it’s very easy to procrastinate on writing — and it doesn’t have to be a bad reason. What if my son wants to show off his latest LEGO creation? What if my daughter wants to play that dragon game? Life is for living, not simply observing… otherwise, what are you writing about?

But eventually, you need to be writing. You need to write, not wait.

So that’s why I linked to Terry Rossio’s article about never waiting. And if you didn’t read it at the top of this post: go ahead and read it now.

Makes you reflect, doesn’t it? It explores so many angles: from simply knowing you need to take action to delving into the nuances around the sentiment of “not waiting.”

If you want to explore the whole Wordplay site, you’ll find a host of great articles, some of which I’ll probably link to in the future. “Never Wait” remains one of the evergreen articles for me, because it never stops being relevant.

I waited a week to write this post. Originally, I was going to finish it up and post it on Monday, July 17th. I didn’t because I spent the weekend shooting a film and getting stuff from Ikea. Hey, the film gave me the opportunity to make a film with people I love to work with — and the Ikea trip was fulfilling a home organization goal long planned for.

But I waited to write. I waited to finish writing.

I’ve been tracking how long I write each day for seven years — pretty much ever since I read Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction and wanted to finish some Rogue Tyger scripts.

And it’s worked. I’ve been able to track my progress and know when I’ve been slipping in my daily discipline. But you know one way in which this technique fails? Tracking when I finish a piece of writing.

See, I can get shelving units or play games or do any number of things. But if I’m a writer (or a painter or a filmmaker) and I say I want to write (or paint or make films), then the writing and painting and filming doesn’t matter so much as finishing the writing, the painting, or the films.

This, incidentally, is why my colleague Bill Coughlan loves the 48 Hour Film Project so much: because after a weekend, you have a finished film. And look at all those films! That’s over 13 years of not waiting. It adds up. That’s one of the reasons I loved shooting the film this past weekend: it’s now a finished film.

And that’s what puts that phrase that writers “hate to write, but love having written” in an additional perspective. I love writing, but I hate writing and not being finished. How much work am I doing to not only write, but finish writing?

And this is where it gets tricky. Because getting the shelving units is good for me and my family. Making a film is fun for me (and hopefully others). Playing games with my kids is definitely fun. But when is the writing going to get done?

It usually happens when you decide to not do some of those good and fun things. You have to gamble that good things still happen to those who never wait.

Perhaps that can be a motivation to finish faster.

(Spoiler: Worked for this post.)

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