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Not nice, but true.
Sometimes you can't have both.
Here is a list of things that are not doing the thing.
“Preparing to do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Scheduling time to do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Making a to-do list for the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Telling people you’re going to do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Messaging friends who may or may not be doing the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Writing a banger tweet about how you’re going to do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Hating on yourself for not doing the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Hating on other people who have done the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Hating on the obstacles in the way of doing the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Fantasizing about all of the adoration you’ll receive once you do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Reading about how to do the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Reading about how other people did the thing isn’t doing the thing.
Reading this essay isn’t doing the thing.
The only thing that is doing the thing is doing the thing.” — Strangest Loop
Go do the thing.
Well. As if I needed a stronger kick in the pants.
This is great advice for anything. Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today, right? Nice and true. But nice and true don't always pull their weight. Grocery shopping at 9pm when no one else is there is nice, and that's true, but do I go shopping at 9pm when I'd rather hang out with my family and watch cooking shows? Absolutely not.
Unfortunately, the best motivation comes from uncomfortable truths: things that are true but not nice. I don't exercise as much as I should (true) so I gain weight (not nice). I eat too much junk food (true) which is unhealthy (not nice). I don't want to do dishes (true) so now I have twice as many to clean later (seriously, again?).
I know I can do better. I don't have any huge injuries that keep me from working out. I don't have any "allergies" that mean I can only eat cake, unfortunately. I actually do dishes all the time, but today I'm lazy and I don't want to do them again.
Nice statements are great, but they don’t always push us into action. Sometimes we need a unkind truth (or a reality check) to get the job done.
The quote above is a perfect example. When outlining, research is important. When I get stuck on one incredibly vital plot detail, it's important. But trying to figure out how to spell the name of Alexander the Great's horse1 because I might need to know it someday? That's not writing. That's not doing the thing.
What about posting about my project on social media? Spending a few hours making creative bookstagram tiles? Forging the perfect description, writing a blurb, and designing a cover for a book that isn’t finished but will need a cover someday?
Arguably useful, but still not writing.
To be clear, most of these things are good things. Talking about your stories is good, when you have patient friends. Doing social media to promote your book is good, when it’s ready. Preparing to do the thing is good, when it’s a new thing and it needs preparation. But if using your preciously allocated writing time for things that aren’t writing, it doesn’t matter how useful they are. They’re not helping. And that’s a waste.
Personally, I like to lie to myself and pretend that I’m doing something useful, but I'm wrong. I'm stalling. And I'm wasting my own time.
If we hate other people wasting our time, why do we waste our own?
One thing fools all have in common: they are all getting ready to begin.
How many times have I just daydreamed about being a writer, instead of writing? How many minutes did I lose scrolling instead of typing? How many projects would be finished if I had just done the thing instead of saying I'll do it later?
Answer: probably all of them.
The amount of time I've wasted - my own time, no less - is incredible. Like many other writers, I have to plan when to write. Set aside time. Find it between work and meals, family time and relaxation. Carve minutes out of hours just to tell myself I got something done. And the more I realize I've spent more time actively not working - or doing something useless, or doing nothing at all - during my writing time, the more it hurts.
I like writing. I really, honestly enjoy it. Building stories, putting words in sentences, hopefully encouraging other fledgling writers to do their thing. I wish I'd started doing it sooner. Not only would I have met so many positive writing influences so much earlier, but I could have actually published something worth reading. If I love it so much, why is it so hard to actually do?
Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s easier to daydream than do. Maybe there are three hundred thousand things to worry about each day, it’s exhausting, and writing can be a special sort of torture. Whatever the reason is, it’s not good enough to waste time.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a little bombshell to change your mind:
If you had actually done the thing - eating healthy, exercise, writing, etc - who would you be right now?
(Holy yikes, Olivia! Take it down a notch!)
Okay, okay! This one sounds complicated, but the answers are easy. Do X and get Y. Do the dishes, and get clean dishes. In this situation, you'd probably be the same person, but with a cleaner kitchen. Not exactly an identity crisis.
But what about your dreams? Your book? Your family? Think about things you really wanted to do, but kept wasting time. Didn't drop those last 10 pounds, because going to the gym sucks. Didn't keep eating healthy, because pizza is delicious. Didn't take that trip because it was expensive, didn't call a friend because it was inconvenient, didn't do what needed to be done because something else was more fun.
For me, I didn't write because it was hard, and I was terrified that nobody would read it. But here we are, four months in, and thirty subscribers strong. Thank you, dear readers. I am so grateful to you for your time, your attention, and space in your inbox.
If I had actually started writing earlier, I might be a self-published author. As of right now, I’m not. Starting took too long. I slacked off too much. I have four unfinished stories because instead of writing, I researched. I scrolled. I read. In my precious writing time, I did everything else. The truth is, the literary fairies aren't going to do it for me. I'll have to do it on my own. Stop researching. Stop scrolling. Stop wasting time. Just do the thing. I hope this helps encourage you to do the same.
Now, stop reading this. Get going. Go do the thing.
Your future self will thank you.
Oh, and if you know someone who enjoys some tasty morsels of flash fiction and posts like this every now and then, I’d very much appreciate if you’d share Wednesday Afternoon with them!
What’s holding back your word count today? How do you take down the challenges that threaten your writing time, keep yourself motivated, and tell yourself “NO!” when it comes useless tasks?
(Photo by Leah Kelley, Pexels)
The horse's name was Bucephalus, in case you were wondering.