Writing for a living is interesting. And by interesting I mean a maddening roller coaster of self doubt and overconfidence. It’s incredibly difficult to keep on task when you work for yourself, because there is no framework. You’re literally making things up for a living, including your own schedule. In an attempt to describe just how much of a struggle it is to squeeze anything meaningful out of a workday that starts when we say it does and ends the same way, I’ve identified five distinct steps that writers pass through during their hours spent tied to their computers.
Step One: Delusion
This stage is probably the most creative, as well as the most ambitious. While here, your goals for the day are lofty as fuck. You are going to write 15,000 words, outline a new novel idea, finish a short story, edit a few chapters of a first draft, and write a blog post or two. This furious planning starts around the time the alarm goes off at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. Your mind is a fertile treasure trove teaming with possibility that is yours for the taking if only you will get your lazy ass out of bed and get started. But, you don’t.
Step Two: Apathy
Creativity is a sword that cuts both ways, and this is the point in the day in which you use that sword to inflict the most damage to yourself, because if a way exists to derail your forward progress, you will either find or create it. Despite planting your ass in front of your computer by seven a.m., you’re unable to get to work. Well, you don’t have your coffee yet, and by the sounds of things, it’s just about finished brewing. Go get yourself a cup. While you’re out there, take a peek in the fridge. It’s too early to eat, isn’t it? Yeah, probably. You notice the time on the microwave. Oh, shit. Have you really been standing in the kitchen for nearly ten minutes? You book it back to your desk. By now, someone else is awake and messaging you. You message back. Check Twitter. Check Facebook again. It’s been quite some time since you posted to Instagram. Better get on that. Another friend messaging. And another. You haven’t even looked at the dozens of emails that have crash landed into your inbox. You start through those, looking for correspondence from clients first (I mean, you are working, supposedly), and then branching out to other messages. You fall into a rabbit hole. You resurface for more coffee. Then a snack. Bathroom break. Your dogs bark and you spend several minutes petting them. Before you know it, the afternoon is creeping closer and you’ve written fuck all. Shit. You have something to do that evening. You need to get it together. Stat. No more fucking around.
Step Three: Haggling
At this phase in the day, you’re beginning to acutely feel the passage of every solitary second. You do quick calculations in your head, comparing the time you still have left to write versus the time you’ve already wasted. Cursing yourself, you fire off a number of firm directives. 1,000 words before you can even think about taking a bathroom break, despite the fact that you’re 5 minutes away from an embarrassing accident (you are home alone, however, and your dogs don’t judge). 2,000 words before you get another snack or check social media. 8,000 words before you can leave your desk. You are painfully aware that you are to blame for this mess, but still see a way to meet a few of those lofty goals from early that morning. Definitely not all of them–that ship has long since sailed while you stood watching it instead of writing–but enough. You knuckle down in the limited hours you have left. You consider canceling whatever you have going on that evening, but it’s impossible. The only option is to complete your work. It’s fine. You can do this.
Step Four: Wretchedness
You can’t do this. No one can write 8,000 words in four hours. What were you thinking? Why didn’t you get up at 4:30 when the alarm went off? Why did you go to the kitchen ten times? Was that 20 minute long back and forth on Twitter really necessary? You are always doing this, and if you keep on the same way, you’ll never make your deadline and you won’t get paid. In case you haven’t realized, you need money to live. Thus begins your decline into the depths of despair at your own inability to muscle through your lifelong penchant for procrastination. You know how you are and you haven’t done anything to change it. Maybe you can’t. Maybe this freelancing thing just isn’t for you. But the thought of returning to a regular eight to five makes your skin crawl and your stomach drop. Still, instead of doing this, your time might be better served sprucing up your resume…
Step Five: Compliance
You are a world class procrastinator whose mind runs a hundred miles an hour. Okay. That’s nothing new. And since you know how you are, let’s just get this work done, shall we? We’ve had our pity party, and now it’s nose to the grindstone. You have bills to pay, after all. Somehow, this tough talk works. You crank up the music, you put your hands on the home row keys, and you get cooking. Before you know it, you reach the goal, and then you pass it. You don’t get close to the herculean itinerary your sleep starved brain cobbled together that morning as you lay in your bed maniacally planning a future that was never to be, but you rally and end the day somewhat successfully. You also kick off the delusion stage of the next working day a bit early, promising that tomorrow things will be even better because you won’t let yourself get off track in the first place. You will avoid this entire mess and break the five step cycle!
And, like the sucker you are, you believe it.