“Anything lost can be found again, except time. Just like every other creative person I know, I have ten thousand projects that I want to do and only one lifetime to do them in. I constantly have to remind myself of what’s really important and what I really should be concentrating on.”
– Joseph Michael Linsner
As you might expect, I haven’t exactly been idle in the two months since I last posted on this blog. The problem is that I haven’t exactly been productive, either. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; it’s that I’ve been working on side projects, on the theory that, with the development of the website unavoidably delayed (once again I curse you, technical problem that was really just a misunderstanding on my part, and all the time lost as a result!), this was the time to get them done.
I still thought I could do all ten thousand projects in one lifetime. The universe had been trying to tell me for some time that I can’t. I’d found the poem “You Want a Social Life, With Friends” by Kenneth Koch taped up on an English professor’s door; a Facebook friend posted a quote by Steve Jobs about how focus isn’t about saying “yes” to one good idea, it means saying “no” to the hundred other good ideas you had at the same time.
And still I tried to deny that it applied to me. Still I wanted to do the ten thousand things.
Then this past week hit me with a one-two-three combo. First, I saw this trailer:
If you haven’t seen American Pop, I thoroughly recommend it. It is indeed a movie of beauty and power, but if I have one complaint, it’s that it’s not nearly as musical as the trailer makes it seem.
Anyway, seeing that trailer, I began to ask myself: were the projects I was working on actually helping me to “grab it, hold it, and make [myself] heard”, or even work toward it? Oh, they were great fun, but that was actually part of the problem. Because last Friday, the second punch of the combo hit me: I took a look at those projects, and realized just how much I’d accomplished on those projects in the past two months. I’d actually done a lot of work. My new habits of setting a three-page-a-day goal for myself and focusing on one project, instead of having half-a-dozen documents open at a time, were paying off.
And they weren’t contributing to the career I’m trying to build. I’d spent a lot of time, energy and pages on those projects, and they were not going to help me grab it, hold it, and make myself heard.
Then, on Saturday, I was reading an art book of Joseph Michael Linsner’s works, and I saw the quote at the top of this post. And that was enough. Anticlimactic but true.
I went out for a walk after that, a long walk, and I started thinking: I’ve often looked at people who are successful in their art and thought “what I wouldn’t give”. But what have I given? Anything? Oh, I’ve given the time and the work, but that’s not even worth considering. Like Benny says in the trailer, this isn’t work. This is play. I’ve got a full and busy life, and that’s good, but it means that I require a lot of focus to get any meaningful writing done. I don’t have time to waste, if I ever really did.
How can I say “What I wouldn’t give” if I won’t even sacrifice some fun but distracting side projects?
So that’s what I’ve done. One of them is probably gone for good, while the other – a tabletop roleplaying game that I would very much like to finish if only so I can play it – I hope to get back out again someday. I’m a little sad about it, but someone wise once said that a good writer must be willing to kill their darlings, and it’s time for me to realize that that’s what I need to do.