I think, if I were to pick my number one method of self-sabotage, it would be my short attention span.
My personal story isn’t too different from a lot of writers (would-be or otherwise) that I know, in that I was telling stories at a very young age — what started out as epic and convoluted fantasies involving plastic dinosaurs, Korean Barbie knockoffs, and my various stuffed animals (narrated diligently into a cassette recorder, and boy doesn’t that date me?) became actually writing things down, and that’s where my proclivity stayed. Beyond fanfic, though, it took me years before I could actually make my whole way through a story, beginning-middle-end.
The problem wasn’t always having ideas, because those I had (and still have, let’s be honest) by the dozen — the problem was having the discipline and attention to actually keep going through a story until its end. I can’t do detailed outlines, because then I feel like I have already written the whole story and I’m stuck with just a skeleton; I can’t skip around because if I write the “fun” parts, I’ll never get through the necessary bridging pieces. I like to think that as I get older, I’m getting better at it, though how true that actually is, I’m not honestly certain. There is certainly more than enough free time in my day to get more done — that’s in between working full-time and doing the majority of the cooking. I can, when I sit down and dedicate myself, write about a thousand words in forty-five minutes, and I’m given to understand that’s not too shabby.
But I have other hobbies too — I like cooking, I play games, I badger my roommates into going out to eat, because that’s definitely my most expensive hobby. (Oops.) I read; I look at pictures of cute animals; I do a dozen little timewaster things that all add up, and sometimes I will catch myself thinking, “Man, I really should be writing instead.”
I’m really afraid of burnout, though; writing is definitely a thing that I love to do with my all of me, but — and maybe it’s because of that whole attention span problem — I can get burned out easily. More frightening than that, I’ve seen other friends attempt to dedicate themselves to things and completely wreck themselves for a once-beloved hobby; I’ve seen people swear off something they loved to do because they pushed themselves too hard with no sort of middle ground, and ended up crashing spectacularly. And I know that’s kind of against a lot of advice blogs I have seen, especially in regards to writing or art — you do have to keep pushing yourself, they say; you have to push yourself to your limits and beyond or else you’ll never get anywhere with it. There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to do this too, you have to strive to make your own success.
And you know, I don’t think that’s wrong, either, but — I also think that sort of thing applies best to a certain kind of person, and I don’t think that’s the type that I am. I love writing, and I love telling stories, and I think I’m not too bad at it, overall. But I don’t have it in myself to pour my all of me recklessly and desperately into something; I like safety nets and having Plans B-D. I want very much to continue with this writing habit and share my stories in any way I can — I’m excited for each and every sale (though I don’t have many) because it signifies that someone is reading something I wrote! And that is the most exciting thing.
Except, at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice the other things I do in my day. I mean, I’d love it if I could be self-sufficient selling my writing alone; I don’t think there’s any writer who wouldn’t be thrilled with that. But like I said, I prefer my safety net (especially with my family’s history of health ailments), and I like my other hobbies too. I feel like they give me a more well-rounded approach to the world; I feel like my writing is more interesting for not being the only thing in my life.
So I write about a thousand words a night (more on the weekends usually, depending on how busy those are); I have a resolution to write 365k words this year, and I’m already over halfway there. I’m not producing dozens of dozens of stories, though maybe one a month isn’t a super terrible pace. (Of course that does depend on the length of the story itself; most of what I have up on Amazon and Smashwords average about 4k to 8k, though the last two have been significantly longer, and the one that I have in-progress right now just broke 20k words.)
I still have a large number of stories in my head, and sometimes I get fussy because I’d rather be working on them, I want to work on something else, I don’t want to keep plugging at the thing that was so new and shiny when I first started it. But I guess with age comes more discipline, so even if I still waste a lot of time in an evening playing dumb flash games or going out somewhere, I’m still getting things done.
I’m glad for that.