I recently read a quote on writing I absolutely loved. It’s from Joe Beernink, who said, “Don’t write to become famous or to make a lot of money. Write because you love it. Write because not writing for more than a few days feels like you have abandoned a puppy in a mineshaft. Save the puppy.” The words resonated with me so much, because that’s exactly how I feel. I don’t take days off from writing. Ever. Others may feel boxed-in by strict self-imposed word count goals, but I love them. Having a set word count for the day inspires me, makes me stretch and push past my own equally self-imposed limitations and is my #1 antidote to feeling creative block. I write at least 1,000 words a day, 7 days a week, every single week, every single year, basically no matter what. And to be clear, I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone who doesn’t is less of a writer or less dedicated to their craft. That’s just my own process, what works for me.
I write in good times and bad times. For years, now, I’ve written 1,000 words a day through sickness and new babies and logistical life craziness and tragedy and grief. Even at the lowest, darkest moments, I’ve written because quite simply, however hard life feels in that moment, however hard it is to pick myself up and sit down at the keyboard, not writing would be harder still. And there’s obviously a practical benefit to keeping to a hard and fast writing schedule. Since this time last year, I’ve published 5 books I love and am so happy and grateful to have released into the world.
And yet. There’s always that little, and yet, isn’t there? Because there’s also, in our culture, the very prevalent worship of the “hustle.” We wear busy-ness as a badge of honor, take a certain strange pride in the length of our to-do lists, and convince ourselves that if we just hustle hard enough, we’ll somehow unlock the magical keys to success, riches, rainbows and happiness or whatever our goals might be. Now, of course I believe in the power of hard work and discipline. But the answer isn’t quite as simple as that.
If I’ve learned one thing on this writing journey, it’s that comparison truly is the thief of joy. You can’t let yourself be eaten up by comparing your royalties or Amazong rankings or what have you to other authors. I also know that you’ve got to celebrate and be thankful for each milestone–landing an agent, signing a contract, heck, achieving one single purchase made by anyone who’s not your mom. Because there is no magical plateau you reach and think, Yes! I’ve made it! There will always be a place on a bestseller list to reach for, a more lucrative contract, a better funded advertising campaign . . . something just out of reach that you catch yourself thinking, But if I could only have that, then I would really be happy. Except you can’t think like that. You have to learn to be happy here and now, to celebrate the writing life you’re living exactly where you’re at, no matter where you’re at.
I know all that, and yet I’ve at times also caught myself feeling . . . tired. Hustling as hard as you can does get tiring, even when you couldn’t love it more. And I am fully aware of how whiny this sounds, but there’s sometimes that little nagging voice that complains, With this much hard work, shouldn’t I have hustled my way onto the NYT Bestseller lists by now? Well, no. Of course it simply doesn’t work that way. The world owes me nothing, no matter how hard I work at writing, no matter how many days I meet my word count goal in a row. And I’m grateful for every single sale and every single reader I gain, but the reality is that I may well never sell as many books as *insert name of #1 NYT Bestselling Author here*.
One day, though, I was feeling that pull of tiredness. The dull, depleted feeling that said writing that day was going to be more of a slog than a joy. So I did something that was (for me, anyway) radical: I gave myself permission not to write.
And what happened, you may ask? I thought about it for a couple of minutes. Then I sat down and wrote my 1,000 words for the day anyway. Because as soon as I removed that “have to” from my mindset, I discovered that I still wanted to. I wanted to write because I love it. Because writing in and of itself is fulfillment, it is success, no matter what happens afterwards to the words I’ve put on the page. It’s always easier for me to write than not write; that’s just the way I’m wired. I’ll always want to save the puppy from the mine.
What about you? Do you feel inspired or boxed in by word count goals? Have you ever had to give yourself permission not to write?