Practically Done

The Editor is on vacation. What follows is an older post. Enjoy, and I’ll see you next week.

Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain, the wants optional. There is bread to be buttered, roofs to be kept overhead. The march of survival tramps on unceasingly, and somehow, somewhere in the dirty, daily business of not dying we hope to squeeze in time for that which we most want to do.

Yet as someone who has spent many decades attempting to appease the beast of what must be done, I will tell you that his hunger is limitless. There is always something else you must conceivably do. And all for what?  Some meager corner of your life you call your own?

Someone once said to me, “Bill, why don’t you write a book like John Grisham, make lots of money, and then write the books you like to write.  Wouldn’t that be more practical?” In fact it would be impractical. I have tried and tried to do things I didn’t really want to do, and I usually can for a time, until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again with something else I don’t want to do—saying to myself, “This time I will work harder, and be more diligent, and this time I will finish this thing.”

Everything in your life is working tirelessly to get you to do the thing you most want to do as often as possible. You will be forever sabotaged and distracted and disrupted whenever you do what you don’t want to do. No matter how simple it appears, no matter how logical, it won’t work.

If you want to be practical, if you want to butter your bread, if you want to survive, then do what you most want to do the way you want to do it. It is the only way to ensure you will keep wanting to do whatever it is you are doing. You are the only one doing everything in your life, after all, and so if you don’t want to do what you are doing what you are doing won’t get done, and I don’t see what is so practical about that.

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The Easy Stuff

I have been talking with a number of authors lately who have stressed the practical side of establishing a writing career. This page is often dedicated to the impractical, or at least the abstract challenges of navigating the unique territory of your own psyche. But there is much to be said for the practical, linear, algorithmic steps one can take to get from here to there.

Everything is always simpler than I imagine. I take that back.  First, before I do anything, before I begin a novel, or have a child, or start a magazine, I think it’s going to be easy, but easy in the way learning to pitch, say, looks easy in a learning-to-pitch montage in a baseball movie. Then I begin actually doing whatever it is I want to do and almost immediately feel as if I’ve been duped into solving a problem so complex I risk being strangled by all the tangential tentacles I had not anticipated.

Yet once I am through the hurricane, I see I had made the situation more complicated than it was. A novel needn’t answer every question ever posed by any reader, and children want do well and figure out how to take care of themselves. And all along the way there are practical, sensible, uncomplicated steps one can take that require nothing more than simply doing it.

Establishing a writing career is no different. Although every writer’s road is different and often crooked, no matter who we are or what we believe, we can always join writers organizations, or go to writers conferences, or go to hear writers speak—all of which, merely by placing yourself in a given place at a given time will broaden your exposure and open you to learning about the career you are interested in pursuing.

I started this magazine because I had spent years in isolation and thought it was time to get out and actually meet some other writers. So I went to a meeting of the PNWA and when the subject of a magazine came up, I said, “I can do that.” And here we are. I didn’t go to the meeting thinking, “How can I start a writing magazine?” I went just to get exposure and then one thing followed another. In other words, I did something practical, something requiring no talent, no passion, no training, just a car and directions.

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Practically Done

Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain, the wants optional. There is bread to be buttered, roofs to be kept overhead. The march of survival tramps on unceasingly, and somehow, somewhere in the dirty, daily business of not dying we hope to squeeze in time for that which we most want to do.

Yet as someone who has spent many decades attempting to appease the beast of what must be done, I will tell you that his hunger is limitless. There is always something else you must conceivably do. And all for what?  Some meager corner of your life you call your own?

Someone once said to me, “Bill, why don’t you write a book like John Grisham, make lots of money, and then write the books you like to write.  Wouldn’t that be more practical?” In fact it would be impractical. I have tried and tried to do things I didn’t really want to do, and I usually can for a time, until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again with something else I don’t want to do—saying to myself, “This time I will work harder, and be more diligent, and this time I will finish this thing.”

Everything in your life is working tirelessly to get you to do the thing you most want to do as often as possible. You will be forever sabotaged and distracted and disrupted whenever you do what you don’t want to do. No matter how simple it appears, no matter how logical, it won’t work.

If you want to be practical, if you want to butter your bread, if you want to survive, then do what you most want to do the way you want to do it. It is the only way to ensure you will keep wanting to do whatever it is you are doing. You are the only one doing everything in your life, after all, and so if you don’t want to do what you are doing what you are doing won’t get done, and I don’t see what is so practical about that.

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