The Value of Getting Sh*t Done

June 8, 2017 § 30 Comments

Gosh, is this race even worth finishing? thought no sprinter ever.

First, dedication to writing is not an amount. It’s not an amount of words. It’s not a number of days. Dedication is not measured by output.

You get to call yourself a ‘real writer’ even on the days no words appear on the page. Even on the days full of rejections, the days you think no-one will ever care. Even on the days you feel like an outsider.

Thinking time counts.

Reading counts.

Supportively going to someone else’s reading counts, even if it’s someone whose work you don’t really like but you’re trying to rack up karma points for your own hoped-for readings later and you spend the whole time imagining your own book deal while noting one point on which to ask a relevant question.

But there’s still value in completion.

Process is great. We all need process. But every now and then, we embrace process to the point of avoiding finishing. We dive into six projects at once, knowing in our under-soul there’s no way we’ll get through even two of them. We embrace multiple genres or venues as a way to write what we’re “in the mood” to write, whichever essay or proposal or article or chapter calls to our heart at the moment we’ve finally cleared our mental decks and sat down.

Some days it’s important to be our beautiful wayward writer self. Explore! Play! Freewrite!

Other days, it’s time to sit our butt down (“the only secret to writing is ass in chair” as the saying goes) and bang out some words. Some good words, maybe. More likely some crappy words. But remember how much easier it is to turn shit into something passable than it is to turn nothing into shit? No? If that’s not a memory you hold, maybe next writing session is a good time to pull out something you gave up in despair and take another look at it with a cold editorial eye. Perhaps there’s one sentence in there worth saving. Perhaps there’s a whole new piece based on the third paragraph. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the whole thing’s nowhere near as bad as you thought when you walked away. If there’s truly nothing you can find in there worth working on, you have two options: send it to a friend and ask if there’s anything they think is worth working on; or toss it.


Hit delete. Crumple it up and put it in recycling. Burn the notebook. Make room for something else you want to write. Get the unfinishable crap off your desk and call it practice. Be grateful you learned what that piece taught you and move on. The practice of writing is also practice. It is the height of arrogance to scold ourselves for not putting something perfect on the page in a first go–what other job, what other sport, what other art gets things right the first time, every time they start something new? Wow, Mozart, that was awesome and you wrote it once, in pen! Gee, Usain Bolt, now that you’ve run as fast as you ever will around the track this morning, you’ll never need to train for the Olympics again!

Practice/rehearsal/training involves mistakes, screw-ups, wrong paths, poor choices and loss of interest. We don’t save a videotape of every time we go to the gym, we count ourselves happy if we hit that second pull-up, or stay on the seated bike checking Twitter until it’s suddenly been twenty minutes and hey I’m done! Now I can do all the fun things I’m bothering to get in shape to do!

Practice also involves sitting our ass down and deciding we’re going to finish something. Now. Today. This week. In fifteen-minute increments while waiting for carpool, or in one wild coffee-fueled weekend.

I will ride the bike for thirty minutes.

I will clean this closet.

I will purchase these six items.

I will put dinner on the table.

I will get to the end of this sentence, this paragraph, this page. This essay. This book.

Be a beautiful free-spirited artist. Be a tortured soul contemplating the horror of the page not living up to what’s in your head. And then sit your ass back down and write to the end of the page. Set a day, or a week or whatever interval works for you, aside to finish your shit. Pick up a piece and decide if you want it or not. If you want it, finish it. See what it feels like to do whatever it takes, to revise or seek help or break it apart and rebuild, or let it go and move onto something else you want to finish. Let go of the hundred weights of half-pages that once seemed like a good idea. Trust that in your head, in your heart, in your skill, there are more ideas, hundreds, thousands of them. Some of them are half-finished on the page; some of them are hiding under the weight of that thing you feel obligated to finish. Let it go.

Sometimes the space for what you want is filled with what you’ve settled for. Don’t settle for half-finished.



Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Blogging makes her finish shit. Find her on Twitter @guerillamemoir.

Get Back In The Kitchen

May 12, 2016 § 5 Comments

A writer's place...

A writer’s place…

When I was a theatre director, students and actors asked me all the time, “how did you get to be a director?”

They always looked a little disappointed by my answer: “I printed up business cards and started introducing myself to people as a director.”

I’d elaborate for people who stuck around. “I directed high school productions as a guest artist for very little money, and taught at high school conventions. Then I taught workshops at colleges, for a little more money, and then I started getting hired at colleges to direct. From there I got professional gigs.”

Looking back, it’s a little glib. I skim over the hundreds of no’s. I don’t mention sleeping in my truck, or coasting on my then-husband’s credentials until we built our reputation as a team. But it’s also true. I showed up and insisted I was qualified–or at least, that I’d do something new and interesting and hey, it’s cheap enough that if it’s a failure, no biggie, right?

A lot of my writing success–such as it is–comes from showing up. Thinking, “Sure, I’ll drive three hours to Chicago to hope my name gets picked out of a hat for The Moth storytelling show.” And when it did, being ready with a winning story. Thinking, “Why shouldn’t I speak at a conference?” and having a wonderful experience both teaching and learning at Hippocamp. I’ve absolutely had big, embarrassing failures, too–when I misjudged my abilities, or got over-extended (like being absent from this blog for four months). But the important part, every time, was showing up. Acting like I had a right to be where I was–even when I didn’t feel it.

Sculptor Joshua Diedrich thinks of this as “going into the kitchen.”

…most people who want to start a business, or make a living as an artist…aren’t so much working toward that goal, as they’re waiting for permission to receive it. If the world is a restaurant, they’re sitting at the buffet, eagerly watching as new dishes are brought out, hoping the next one will be their novel, or their one-woman show, or their cafe… They’re waiting to be found.

And they never will be.

They never will be because the mystery of creation doesn’t happen in the dining room. They will never be given permission there, or discovered, or recognized…There’s no point waiting for magic in the dining room. All the real magic happens in the kitchen.

Most of us spend our lives either assuming we can’t touch the kitchen door, and never even thinking to go near it…Very few of us ever have the guts to just kick down the door. Usually, only the very entitled, or the very desperate even think to do it.

Diedrich writes about his going-into-the-kitchen moment, and why it’s important to know you can, too. Read the whole post (with a nod to Maurice Sendak) here.

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