All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Writer

Jack on the typewriter from Stephen King's The Shining.
Jack on the typewriter, from Stephen King’s The Shining.

Trying to be a successful writer can be quite difficult. For those of us who hold day jobs, doubly so. My wife is a good example of someone who can hold down a job, come home, and be creative. It’s why she’s published; it’s why she’s a best seller. I, on the other hand, have always struggled to come home, after a shift, and pick up the pen.

I think about the writers who’ve gone down this path, and Vonnegut immediately comes to mind. A guy who took day jobs to pay the bills and had such a lust for writing that he kept on going. What also hits closer to home is the fact that he wasn’t really successful until his 30s. I turn 31 this year.

Some people say you have to force yourself to write. And I think that works if you’re going for a more commercial style of book. But when you’re trying to do something above yourself, it takes more than just will power. It takes inspiration.

So how does one get inspired to write when they’re tired, beat up, and ready to shut down and relax with the endless amount of distractions we have today? The answer might be obvious, but you have to surround yourself with likeminded people. When you don’t have the spark, they can give you a light.

See, we don’t live in a pre-Internet, videogame, cable television world. We live in one where your coworkers, friends, and the everyday people have so many entertainment options that it’s unlikely they will take interest in what you’re doing, that is until other people tell them it’s great stuff.

I found that when my shifts interrupted my writing group, I felt far less compelled to write. When we met up every Monday night, I would look forward to sharing my latest stories, and having people enjoy them gave me more of a reason to write. Read some biographies, and you’ll find that even great writers like Franz Kafka needed this to stay on the path.

Don’t be afraid to take a night cap, either, as long as you don’t have to do a morning shift. When you get the creativity going, keep it going. The worst thing a writer can do to sabotage their career is to shut down while ideas are flowing. You might wake up the next morning feeling the exact opposite. In my case, that’s pretty much a guarantee.

And I don’t recommend quitting your job to focus entirely on writing. It’s not that I don’t think you’ll get better results; you very well might. But you’re going to put a strain on everything and everyone around you. And when or if you make it, it probably won’t be enough to justify that—just like the ending of Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned. Sure, you could give the world a gift like Van Gogh did, and we’ll praise / worship you, but it will be after your death—leaving you with the short end of the stick on that deal.

It’s not fair at all. As a society we sort of tease true artists. We often reward complete hacks, and this gives a false sense of hope to the actual gifted. Why is that? Well, in my experience, most artists lean toward the antisocial side of the spectrum, which is the worst place to be if you want to win a popularity contest. That’s why you can be talented and devote your entire life to something and still get nothing in return.

Lastly, if you find yourself with writer’s block, do what I do and read. You may not be able to force genius, but you can forcibly ingest genius. And every little bit will count toward making you better. A good book doesn’t just leave you with an entertaining story, it should impart something: maybe a modicum of maturity or a better perspective. But for every great book you absorb, you’ll find yourself with a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Now go forth and continue to write the next great novel!

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