Priorities are an odd thing. When I was a kid, I was frequently told to remember my priorities. Thing was, they weren’t my priorities. They were things that I had to do, like homework. But I did listen to that advice, just not in the way my parents wanted me to. My top priority when I was a kid was reading. So that’s what I did all the time.
Now that I’m an adult, I have to bow a bit to my parents’ ideas of priorities. No one else is going to make me get to work on time or buy groceries so I don’t starve. When I graduated from college, all these adult responsibilities descended on me like some flying nightmare. And I’ve been struggling to identify my true priorities ever since.
I suppose it has something to do with self-actualization and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which has always made sense to me, though I’m aware that it has been criticized). As little as I like to admit it, the basic necessities (food, shelter, sleep) do have to come first. And next, according to Maslow, is security, like employment. And then love and self-esteem. And only when someone has achieved all these things is there room in life for creativity. Practically, I recognize that this is true. If I spent all my time worrying about being unemployed or unable to keep my little family going, I’d have no energy for creativity. But if I were making my own hierarchy, I think I’d put creativity right after food. Because if I don’t have the opportunity to create, I’m still hungry no matter how full my belly is.
All this is very poetic, but like everything else, it comes down to day to day, moment to moment decisions. What should I do with myself today? What am I going to do in this very next moment? Can I write for another fifteen minutes and risk being late to work? Can I read for another hour or two at bedtime and be completely exhausted tomorrow? What are my real priorities? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for that. Not yet.
So I took a two-week vacation from writing. I didn’t really do it on purpose, though I should have. I should know by now that when I push myself too hard to establish a routine, I start feeling like I have to write whether I like it or not, and that’s just death to desire. I’m sure it’s some innate mixture of stubbornness and laziness, but I’ve found through experience that when I push myself too hard — not creatively, but just trying to maintain a steady, hammering pace — I quit. Just quit like a car run out of gas. Slowly, I’m beginning to realize that this is me protecting me from myself.
I want to keep loving writing. That’s more important to me than being published. I want to keep writing no matter what, because my brain gets itchy when I’m not writing. If I go too long without writing, I’m miserable. But I needed a couple of weeks to let the brain fog clear and to relax into writing again without the pressure of a word count goal hanging over my head. So for the past two weeks, even though I didn’t make myself write, I found my mind drifting again and again to my stories and what I’d do with them when I picked them up again. Because there was never a question that I would go back to writing.
Both John Scalzi and Justine Larbalestier blogged recently about what it means to be a writer. John was asked if he would ever quit writing and he basically said no, because it’s a part of who he is. Justine talked about the difference between writer as identity and writer as a career. Careers come and go, but writers write, and that’s really all there is to it. What I need to do is stop trying to write by rules that work for other people but not for me.
So I’m giving up on the daily goal of 500 or 1000 words. It’s the kind of thing that works well for a lot of people, but I don’t seem to be one of them. This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing, even writing every day. It just means that I’m not going to stress myself out about an arbitrary goal when all I should be thinking about are the stories themselves.