I’ve been reading Judith Lucy’s book Drink, Smoke, Pass out. It’s good. She’s funny. But I knew that before I started reading her book.
What I didn’t know is that Judith Lucy isn’t obsessed with comedy. She likes comedy. In fact, she probably loves comedy compared to most folks. (In the book, there’s a great description of her love/hate relationship with the craft.) But she doesn’t obsessively study the history of comedy, or hit shows every spare second she gets. She just does her comedy gigs to the best of her ability (which, in my book at least, is pretty freakin’ good) and then gets on with the rest of her life.
Sometimes I feel like that about writing.
I love writing. I’ve always written. I write notes. To do lists. Articles for magazines and newspapers. Occasional blog posts. But when I’ve got time off, I’m not obsessing about writing. I’m thinking about upcycling that old dining chair, or going for a swim at the beach or whether I should just ditch both those tasks and have another cup of tea and read the paper instead. I’m not writing day and night.
And I reckon I’m better at my job for it.
1. Writing likes time and space.
Of course, a piece of writing gets infinitely better upon editing. But sitting and staring at a page, crafting and recrafting it with no end in sight: not so good. It hurts the body, your eyes get tired from looking at the screen, and after a while, you have no idea whether what you’ve written is good or not.
2. Ideas like time and space too.
When I’m not physically writing, chances are I’m thinking about the story and how it might unfold when I get back to having another go at it. Sometimes, I think I almost like this part more than the writing itself. It’s the mental pondering over a problem I enjoy, slowly nibbling away at it until I figure out the solution in my head. Putting the words on the page is the easy bit.
3. Do anything too often and the joy gets sucked right out of it.
We all have something we’d like to do more of. Rockclimbing. Travelling. Writing. Do it occasionally; it’s nervracking but still awesome (usually after the fact). Do it more regularly; it’s less nerveracking, still awesome and you start getting better at it, so the fun factor increases.
But do it too often and you get a little obsessive. Plus if you’re like me, you get sick of it. The task no longer becomes fun, it’s a chore. For me, “full-time” writing is about 20 hours a week. If I’m writing more than that, the joy factor quickly heads down towards single digits. That’s in part why I balance writing with teaching (about writing!), or speaking and MCing. It keeps things fresh. And it reminds me that I do love writing, so the cycle can start again.
How about you? Are you Goldilocks too when it comes to writing?