Have you ever thought about the reasons aspiring writers quit? Writing is challenging, of course, and many people aren’t prepared for that level of difficulty. But there’s another reason so many people who desperately want to write for a living never make it that far.
Writing makes a lot of people miserable.
Not because they don’t enjoy writing, but because someone at some point has told them that if they want to be a writer, they aren’t allowed to do anything else.
Adding this to the list of garbage writing advice you should never, ever follow. Ever.
So many people think you have to give up everything you enjoy — or that you can never even try to find balance — in order to succeed in writing. Or in any profession, really. Video games? No time! Netflix? Forget it! Reading for fun? Who even does that?
I can’t have a family, I’m a writer! I can’t have a house or start a garden or go to the farmers market on weekends, I’m a writer!
Who told you that? And why the heck did you believe them??
Success does not require that you are miserable. What would be the point? Would publishing a dozen books, working full-time as a blogger, or whatever it is success looks like to you really be worth it if you were unhappy and still felt unfulfilled?
Humans are not built to work all the time. “Successful” people who claim you can only make it in the world by sacrificing family and friends and your health are sending the wrong message, and it’s not fair that they get to use their influence to tell aspiring creatives and other wannabe professionals that they have to work themselves into the ground to make good things happen. It’s not realistic, and it’s not helping anyone.
Do you have to work hard as a writer to succeed in this industry? Of course you do.
Do you have to make sacrifices along the way to keep your focus on writing? Absolutely. Sometimes, you’re going to have to cancel plans, give up the one morning you have per week to sleep in, or miss the series finale of your all-time favorite show. This does not mean plans cannot be rescheduled, another morning can’t be slept through, or you can’t record the episode and watch it later.
You don’t have to stop making plans altogether, or settle for less than six hours of sleep every night, or stop watching TV completely. There is such a thing as less, and in the long-term, saying yes to less is probably more effective than trying to say no to everything all the time.
Say you’re maybe sort of most definitely hooked on Netflix — so much so that you often choose to binge-watch half of a season of a show at a time instead of working on your long-forgotten novel. Your first instinct might be to stop watching Netflix altogether. After all, if streaming commercial-free TV shows and movies is stopping you from writing, isn’t it best to just cut yourself off completely?
It might be an effective strategy … at first. For the first few days of saying no to Netflix, you barely even think about it. You don’t even really miss it. It’s just entertainment! You don’t need that!
But then on Friday, a highly-anticipated original series drops on the platform, and EVERYONE is talking about it. You look at the writing you’ve done this week and notice you’ve made good progress, at least compared to previous weeks. Not watching Netflix was the best idea you’ve ever had. You should keep it up!
Now it’s Saturday, though, and you’re itching to start watching that new show. You do the best to focus on your writing, but you can’t stop thinking about it. You want so desperately to honor your No-Netflix commitment so that you won’t stop writing. You can’t give in!
You make it until the next morning, and finally cave. And instead of writing, you spend the entire day plowing through the series so you can talk to your co-workers about it Monday morning.
Having broken the cycle, you shrug your shoulders and return to your previous routine of watching Netflix instead of writing. It was nice while it lasted, huh?
This “all or nothing” mentality is not effective, and it’s going to make your head spin. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t write and also watch Netflix. You don’t have to cut out the fun to make room for the work. You have to do the work first and use whatever time is left in your day to indulge in your pleasures.
For you, this might mean getting home from work, writing for an hour, eating dinner, and lounging on the couch in front of the TV for the rest of the evening. It might mean saving all your TV time for the weekends and focusing on your writing during the week — a different but still potentially effective way to fit both things into your life.
There is no right or wrong way to do it. Identifying the problem — too much Netflix — is a good start. But you don’t have to jump straight into deprivation. You’re going to face the temptation to spend an entire day watching TV no matter what. But what’s going to put your mind in balance: Only writing and never enjoying someone else’s story, or getting your writing done and then indulging in a few episodes before bed?
Finding balance is one of the hardest things creatives have to learn, and many never master it. I sure haven’t. There are weeks I get less writing done but read my way through several of the books on my shelf. There are weeks I read absolutely nothing but make a ton of writing progress.
If you enjoy watching Netflix, then you should continue to allow yourself that enjoyment. Say yes to less. Work hard, but have fun. Spend time with the people in your head, but also the people in your life. Write a lot, but also sleep and eat decent meals and exercise every now and then. The more fulfilled your real life is, the better you’re able to serve the fictional lives you’re in charge of.
Take care of yourself, and embrace the things that bring you joy. Just don’t forget to write, and to find as much enjoyment in that work as you can. It really does make all the difference.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.