Though writing is my profession, it often feels like my hobby, in that nobody really gives a crap whether I do it or not. Oh, I'd like to think there are some readers out there who are waiting for a new book or story. But they're probably not waiting all that eagerly. There is no urgency to it. If I get up tomorrow morning, and don't write a word, there will be no effect whatsoever on anyone on earth but myself. The act of writing is publicly invisible, as is the non-act of not writing.
So why not just work on your stamp collection or flower arrangement? The reason, presumably, is that writing is not just a hobby for most writers--it's a compulsion that is closely connected to one's sense of self-worth. And so to not do it is often more painful than doing it.
But it's hard to motivate oneself to do work that nobody is waiting for (hell, they don't even know what it is, specifically, that they are anticipating, and probably the writer doesn't, either), and is going to take forever to finish even if you do buckle down and do it this time. And of course you might end up erasing everything you do today anyway.
And so the writer has to generate some kind of artificial urgency. For me, it's an ongoing feeling of panic that, if I'm not creating something, I might as well be dead, or never have been born. Writing makes me feel real. This is irrational, but useful. Relaxing, conversely, makes me feel like I'm fading away to nothing.
Needless to say, this apparent advantage can quickly turn into a disadvantage--a person should be able to relax. I tried that this weekend--alone in the house, I did no writing for three days, and in fact didn't even try to, or think about trying to. And indeed, I felt a little like I was disappearing. But it wasn't a bad feeling, not entirely.
Tomorrow I have to ratchet up the imaginary urgency again, though, and I wonder what will happen to me if the illusion eventually fails me, and I stop panicking. Perhaps my career will be over. Or maybe, given room to actually think for a change, I'll write better.
So what twisted logic or internal emotional blackmail do you use to make a pile of pages?
Note: a little word of sad regret here at the death of Jay Bennett, former Wilco agitator and frantic multi-instrumentalist. It's never nice to see someone creative die so young.