I follow a fellow on Instagram called David Goggins. He’s a former Navy SEAL (and former fat loser) who curses like a sailor and works out like a maniac. When he talks about people trying to find work-life balance, he says it’s basically a mistake. If you want to be the best at something, you have to commit to it 100%. There is no balance.
If you want to succeed at writing, you have to be better than all the other writers. You have to work harder, write better, publish more. This is exactly the advice Hugh Howey gives in his series on writing and self-publishing.
There is no halfway with being an artist. Even if you’re juggling a career and family, if you want to succeed you have to put everything you have into your writing. You have to make time and you have to use that time to its fullest. You have to have laser focus. You have to sit with your keyboard or your instrument or your medium and create. Create badly. Create painfully. Create unusable garbage. But create. Make something. Do something. Be the artist fully.
If you’re lucky enough to have some success, you have to redouble your efforts. Success does not mean slowing to a walk. It means sprinting another kilometer. It means maintaining your focus. It means working harder than anyone else.
You know if you’re giving your best effort. You have to sit with yourself and look at your fears and your weaknesses and tell yourself that you can succeed in spite of yourself. In spite of all the iniquities that reside inside your mind, you can overcome. But you have to tip the scales. The weight you place on the creative side of the measure must be so much more than the other things in your life that sit on the opposite side. The creative weight has to bring that side of the scale all the way to the ground.
People may not like you for it. People may find you hard to deal with. They may lament that you no longer spend time with them. Or that you’re not as much fun to be around anymore.
There is no middle way. There is only the insane imbalance of focusing on your dreams. Turning those dreams into goals and setting tasks to achieve them. That’s your focus and there will never be balance. Because when your life is in balance you will never be truly great at anything.
I know, artists hate schedules. We hate deadlines. In fact, we kind of hate working. But if we don’t show up consistently, we will never get our art into the world. And that’s where schedules and deadlines can become paramount to success. How you define success will be unique to you, but for me success is completing a draft, revising it, sending it to my editor, revising some more, formatting it and designing a cover, and actually publishing it. If I don’t complete that entire process, I have not been successful with my project.
One of my favorite articles about the writing process was written by Ian Fleming in 1962. Fleming is the author of the James Bond novels that were turned into the successful movie franchise we continue to consume today. Fleming wrote his article describing his typical writing process. He would write one novel a year during his annual vacation to Jamaica. He was on vacation, but he structured his days. He said,
“I write for about three hours in the morning—from about 9:30 till 12:30–and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.”
He never went back to look at what he’d written, he didn’t stop to look things up, he just wrote narrative. He wrote about 2,000 words a day and at the end of his vacation (roughly six weeks), he had a draft of about 60,000 words. He would spend a week revising the mistakes he could find, and then he would send the manuscript off to his editor.
A schedule like this is essential for any writer who wants to see his or her projects completed. Whatever works for you, find your writing time and encase it in glass. Make it sacred. Let everyone know that this is your creative time and that you must not be disturbed. If you need to make time, try getting up early (I’m up at five o’clock every morning) or writing after everyone else has gone to bed. Carve out just thirty minutes and maybe take a bigger chunk on the weekends. But create a schedule and stick to it. I’m telling you, this is the way.
One of the first stories I ever finished was called FREAK OUTS. I wrote it when I was fifteen. It’s a weird story about a kid who has extreme paranoia. I was worried when I finished it that people would think the main character was me, that the story was autobiographical. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. But it’s still a tough story to read. And it was hard to publish. I was still worried what people would think about how my mind works. But true artists ship, as Steve Jobs said. So I published it. Here’s a little bit of it that I hope you’ll like.