I am highly efficient and organized. Writing, however, is not an efficient and organized endeavor. It was only recently I realized my struggle to focus while writing is because of that contrast. When I am working on a task that lends itself to organization and efficient multitasking I can get work done like you wouldn’t believe. But writing isn’t like that. Writing is slow, tedious, sloppy, and can’t be multitasked, at least not by me. If I know what I want to write I can produce a lot of words quickly, but when I have to find those words the slow way, I lose focus and start checking social media or embarking on that deadly task of writerly self-deception: “research.”
I recently created some motivational images for myself that I keep at my writing desks to help me stay on task when the work of writing is hard. These images are from our library archives, and I added messages to them that are helpful to me. A couple are encouraging admonitions, one is a brutal reminder.
This first one is my main writing mantra. I write book reviews as part of my job, usually 1-3 per week. I write about movies, books, craft beer and more at my personal blog. I write fiction, poetry, essays, and humor to submit to other sites. I am beginning work on a novel. I am also a dad and a husband and a friend and a lover of long walks on railroad tracks I don’t belong on and a gainfully employed librarian. I live what most writers live: I have no time. If I am going to do the things I want to as a writer, I have to hustle like hell. There is no cosmic high court who will agree I’ve been cheated out of enough time and grant me some extra hours to meet my potential. I will hustle or I will fail.
This next one is a reminder when I do get off track and start clicking around on the internet instead of writing. This lady is Kathleen Moore, director of our library from 1952-1962. She’s never heard of social media, she thinks less of you every time you say the word “Tweet,” and if she catches you slacking off again she will tattoo your spleen with a hairpin and the ink of her bitter disappointment. If you post something on Facebook about writing one more time instead of actually writing she will lift an 1828 Webster’s dictionary above your head and teach you what actually happens when face and book are brought together. At least, that’s how I like to imagine Ms. Moore. I originally had this image saying, “Get back to work, asshole,” but as it hangs at my desk in my shared office I decided against that. But I append that to the end when I read it to myself.
This last one is brutal, and I need it to be. This is the one that really gets to the crux of why I use these images at all. My wife and a few close friends want me to succeed as a writer, but they’re going to love me even if I don’t. Ultimately I am the only one who is going to deeply grieve my own failure. No one is ever going to remember my writing just because I once showed promise. If I have promise as a writer and then don’t finish writing anything that matters then I’ve misunderstood what the word “promise” means. If I never end up writing, then I didn’t show promise; I showed optimism. Promise means I have to fucking deliver. My friends and partner will love me no matter what. The readers I might eventually have will never know I existed if I don’t write, so they’ll be fine too. I am the only one who is going to feel crushing loss if I never write like I want to, like I believe I can. No one is going to remember me for my potential; only for my output.
If you’re a writer or creative person and these images can be helpful to you, feel free to copy them, print them, share them, tape them to your desk, tattoo them to your forearm, whatever. But as soon you’re done doing that, Get back to work. Hustle. Because no one will remember you for your potential.