Carpe Diem

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

Last month, after the editors finalized their selections for the March issue and the notifications were sent out, we received word that one of our authors had died in December. This was sad news for us, as Homer had submitted to us several times over the past four or five years, and while we hadn’t published everything he sent us, we had always been entertained by his work. We are sorry that “Buzzards in the Projection Booth” is the last story we will see from him.

My first thought after I’d had time for the news to absorb was that I was sorry that he hadn’t got his acceptance before he died. Almost as quickly came a second thought: but isn’t it great that he went out the way every writer presumably wants to—writing and submitting until the very end?

Of course it’s a cliché, but none of us knows exactly when our end will be. But sooner or later, it will come. When it does, what will you be doing? Will you be writing your pants off or will you still just be thinking about doing it… someday?

When we take time to map out our goals and aspirations, it’s easy to single out the things that are most important to us. We often finish such exercises feeling inspired, energized, ready to take on the world. But back in our day-to-day lives, our To Do Lists aren’t generally organized from “most important” to “least important.” They’re organized from “the deadline for this was last week! ack!” to “this can wait.” In other words, things with firm deadlines (regardless of how trivial) get prioritized, and those without deadlines at all (regardless of how important) get pushed to “tomorrow” or “next week/month/year” or “when the kids leave home” or “when I retire.”

To my mind, this is why writing resolutions so often fail. Unless you have a firm deadline for a piece of writing, it’s likely to get pushed to the bottom of your To Do List—and keep getting pushed there, because there’s always going to be something that needs to be done first.

There are some who will say that if you’re putting off writing, it’s because you don’t really want to write, you just like the idea of being a writer. I disagree. It may be true in some cases, but I don’t think it is the real reason for most. I think the real reason writers put off writing is that we like it so much that we think of it like we think of dessert: it’s a treat. Just like dessert is the reward for eating our veggies, writing is the reward for getting our work done.

Writing on a deadline gets done because we mentally shift the activity from treat to work. But sans deadline, how do you convince yourself it’s okay to write today, rather than putting it off until later? I’ve heard the argument that the only way is to think of all writing, regardless of deadline, as work. That if you persist in thinking of it as fun, then you’re destined to be a dilettante. But here’s the thing: I just don’t think that reasoning—as rational as it may be—works for a lot of writers. As exasperating as their labor of love may be at times, it just doesn’t feel like work. They simply get too much pleasure from it.

But dessert is also pleasurable and yet it’s unlikely that you plan to hold off eating any dessert until your golden years (at which point you will stuff yourself silly with cake, cookies, and pie). While you probably don’t eat dessert at every meal, you might have it once a day or a couple times a week or on special occasions or when you eat out. And when you do have dessert, you probably don’t eat an entire cake or pie or batch of cookies. You eat a couple cookies, a piece of pie, a slice of cake. Why? Because treats are best in small doses. That’s how they stay treats.

Waiting until you have a stretch of uninterrupted time and then writing for hours or days without a break is like eating too much dessert: it’s delicious and thus you don’t want to stop, but eventually it hits you that you’re over-satiated. Afterward, you avoid desserts for a while because the thought of more sugar makes you feel a little sick. A long writing session can be great, but not if it leaves you feeling so wrung out that you put off your next session indefinitely.

Instead of putting off writing until you can binge on it, try giving yourself the occasional smaller reward. It might not seem like you can get much done in five minutes or even an hour—but it all adds up. One hundred words a day—about the length of this paragraph—adds up to 36,500 words in a year; in two years, you’d have a complete novel. So next time you reach for a cookie, why not grab your laptop or a notebook and treat yourself to a writing session while you nibble? Don’t wait until it’s too late.


E-mail: beaver[at]

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