Just read an article about a person who “wrote a book that became a bestseller” in 30 days. The headline is misleading at best. The CEO of a corporation took a vacation to Bali, wrote 30,000 words on a non-fiction topic in which he/she is an acknowledged expert in the field, and self-published it on Amazon where it became a best seller in its category. Not to put down the accomplishment, but this is a far cry from what the title tries to sound like. First off, any writer can tell you non-fiction is, if not easier to write, at least is faster. Plus, for a novelist, 30,000 words isn’t a book. It’s a novella. As for self-publishing, this person has neatly leveraged preexisting networking and marketing to bring in sales.
What we have here is not instant success if you just believe in the power of your dreams. This was a person with connections and expertise who took some time to write and publish about the subject. But beyond promoting the myth that anyone can become an instant self-published success, it taps a deeper myth I’ve been struggling with lately – the myth of the power-through. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that tells you if you just power through the hard work in one big marathon session you can accomplish anything.
I fall into this trap all the time. “I have three hours tonight. I’ll just sit down and power through the next three chapters of my book.” I don’t, of course. I’m tired, and hungry, and those stupid chores like cooking and showering take up way more time than I bargained for. It’s not just writing, either. I spent 2.75 days at work with full-on bronchitis because I had work to do. I figured I’d be OK if I just “powered through it.” I discovered how very wrong I was when I had to leave at 3pm, exhausted and barely able to breathe. The result of powering through was a sick day, another day working at half-capacity, and a weekend where I should have been fine spent re-learning how to breathe.
The problem is, when I was young and energetic, it worked. I could survive an all-night cram session fueled by caffeine and force of will. It was easy to drag myself into work with a pesky cold. There weren’t any permanent repercussions, only the temporary discomfort, which passed once I was done powering through it. So I internalized it. I really seem to believe there’s nothing I can’t accomplish with just the application of a few hours of uninterrupted concentration.
Here’s where I have to call shenanigans on myself. Because this fundamental belief just isn’t true. There are a few problems with my hindsight. When I was young, those projects had a tendency to be smaller and less complex. Think about it a minute. Cramming for a test isn’t learning a huge amount of new material all in one night. I’d been absorbing this information all along. Studying cements the data in your brain; it’s not usually laying down new track.
I can’t avoid it anymore, though. Powering through doesn’t work. I’m becoming uncomfortably aware that powering through is a procrastination tactic in disguise. It puts off the hard work until a later time, when I have uninterrupted hours to work on it. Except that never happens anymore. There’s always something waiting to be done. That thing is always more complex than it used to be. There are more of those things demanding my time. I have to accept that when I say I’m going to power through, I’m just procrastinating.
From now on, it’s all about the little things. Because to get through the long haul I have to relate the big tasks to what I do today, right now. A fifteen minute session filling out a character development worksheet may not feel like progress on the novel, but it’s fifteen minutes of work done, which is more than I had before. And a Saturday afternoon watching Netflix isn’t a wasted afternoon – my mind can’t work every waking minute if I expect it to keep working. Balance and incremental progress is how I’m really going to get through life, not this myth of concentrated productivity.
So excuse me while I go disabuse myself of the notion that I’m going to magically use every hour of my writer’s retreat to power through this novel I haven’t finished. I believe there’s a pool and margaritas around here somewhere. Those’ll make the next fifteen minute writing sprint WAY more productive.