All Work and No Writing Makes an Author a Raging Lunatic

Crazy title, huh?  But it’s very apropos.

Last week, I wrote my main character in a novel I’ve been working on, into a literal hole.  Since then, I’ve been busy doing yard work at my house and at my Dad’s house.  My Dad is almost 100 years old and he’s still very active.  He still drives tractor on our family’s farm and does yard work.  Yet there are things he can’t do anymore.  Or rather, there are a few things that he shouldn’t do.

What shouldn’t he do?  Well, he shouldn’t climb ladders any more.  He’s a bit too stiff and fragile now for that.  So, I climb up onto his house’s roof each year (used to be my house, too, when I was a kid) to clean out the rain gutters before winter comes.  I climb ladders to clip and prune the various fruit trees he has.  And my wife and I mow his lawn, which is quite a challenge in the summertime.  The grass in his lawn is the usual mixture of weeds and various grasses, some such as Bermuda grass, which can grow quite quite thick and extremely drought tolerant.  The longer summer goes, the thicker the Bermuda gets.  Sometime I have to mow over it three or four times to get it down to a level where it will stay looking trimmed for a few days.

So, last week and this week has been busy with such chores.   But this is how it is–every morning when I awaken, I want to write.  Not just a few words, but thousands.  I want to spend hours rewriting and editing and then writing new stuff.  However, instead I’ve had to get dressed in work clothes,  eat breakfast, shave and do other bathroom things, and get to work.

It’s not bad.  It gives me a more immediate sense of accomplishment and it’s better than an enema (see Mel Brooks’ film, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It).  It takes forever to complete a novel, what with first drafts, continuous editing and rewriting, and doing a final check over again before the submission process begins–which is the biggest badass bastard monster in the room (forget the elephant, forget the 1000 pound gorilla, forget Godzilla) editors are the meanest monsters of all.  However, it only takes a few hours or days to do yard work.

Yet, all this yard work has its upside as it gives me time to think.  For instance, I know how my character ended up in this hole.  A nightmare ate him but didn’t consider the fact that he was armed when it swallowed him whole.  But how did his friends get down inside the hole after he cut his way out of the beast?  They weren’t carrying any ropes and this monster fell down and died.  So, they couldn’t climb down onto the carcass or lower themselves down with ropes.  However, I figured out how to make that work.  Then I realized I had three obnoxious cliches in the next scene.  One would make me uncomfortable, but three?

Well, I’ve figured those out, too.

Good, now I can write, yes?  No.  I have other responsibilities, including to my wife.  Life comes before writing.  But, the upside is, it gives you time to think.

You see, it’s all about professionalism.  Even if writing or dancing or painting or singing or whatever you do is not your profession, but just a hobby, you still have to approach it in a professional manner.  You have to be patient and you must be careful and thorough and dedicated.  You don’t want to turn out crap because there’s enough crap in the world.

Crap might be okay as a fertilizer, if it comes from the body, but it’s not okay if comes from your soul.  Your soul is the creator and it comes, in my opinion as a believer, from the Infinite Soul of the Infinite Creator.  And if your ego gets in the way and says such things as, “It’s good enough–people will buy anything!”  Well, that might be true for a while.  But eventually, people are not going to way to buy it.  If you don’t value something, others won’t, either.  They might value it as a novelty for awhile, but in the end, in five years, ten years, twenty years, fifty, a hundred, no one will neither know who you are nor even care.

And that’s what it’s all about, after all, isn’t it–being remembered?

See, that’s what professionalism is all about–caring about your work.  And where art of any sort is concerned, you have to put the time into making it the best you can.  You don’t want to get lost in endless perfectionism, because spending years on one project can weaken the work.  Plus, if you’ve only turned out one thing in a year, two years, twenty years or more because you’re constantly changing it, then you’ve lost the purpose of professionalism.  And probably the purpose of your work as well.

So where do you draw the line between “when is enough, enough?” and “how can I make this better?”  Well, that’s up to each individual.  How long do you want to spend on a project?  Is it worth keeping or discarding?  Those are choices each of us has to make.  But being a professional (even if its not your profession) means figuring out when enough is enough.  And after you have made that choice to let go, move on to the next project.

A good analogy is to think of each project, whether a painting, a poem, a novel, a dance, a song, or whatever else, as your child.  You feed and cloth your child.  You educate it.  You make sure its healthy.  And when it’s grown enough, you let out into the world.  That’s all you can do.

Holding onto it, never letting it go, will crush your child.  It takes courage and experience to let it go.  But if you want to get anywhere, you heave to let it go.

Like now.

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