Kill Your To Do List

Today’s post comes from The Quotable contributor, Jamie Thornton. Ms. Thornton’s short story, “Wish-flowers,” will appear in Issue 6.

I write for the joy of it. I write for the thrill of creating new worlds and to glimpse how other types of living might feel. Writing fiction allows me to transcend my narrow slice of the world, but a few years ago I turned writing into drudgery.

I look upon my writing practice as a discipline, a set of goals to accomplish. Numerous craft books focus on discipline, writing every day, writing as a job. These things are important. Of course it takes discipline and hard work to take a story to completion. But I went too far. I set myself goals and deadlines and to-do lists and must-do lists and you’re-a-failure-if-you-don’t-do lists. I also blame life for getting in the way: new job, new city, unstable finances. Those things are part of the truth. But I mostly stopped writing because I stopped having any sort of fun with it. Writing became a chore. So I quit writing. I stopped for almost a year.

Once I realized what I had done—and it took close to another year before I could articulate it—I decided to make writing fun again, even if that meant I didn’t write very much or very well. I did wordplay exercises in my journal, prompts with my writing group, late night brainstorming sessions. But I did all of this without—this is key—self-pressure or self-guilt.

The desire came back. I am writing more and sending out more of my work than I have for years. The trick for me was to write for the fun of it again and to let words like “must do” disappear from my writing practice. As a passionate writer and reader, I want to contribute to the literary community. I approach my writing practice as if I am at play now, and this has made all the difference.

I only know my little slice of the writing life, but when writing feels painful, like a chore, a job, or mental torture, I know now to step back for a moment. By all means work hard, but don’t forget to play hard too.

Write, not because you must, but because you want to write.

Photo Credit: Rob and Stephanie Levy