I was talking with a friend of mine the other day. She told me she’d recently read my blog post on successful versus unsuccessful people and it got her thinking…
Her particular struggle, which I came to realize is also a struggle of my own, is the question: How much is enough?
How do you know if you’re doing enough for your career? How do you discern between whether you’re slacking or just not giving yourself enough credit? And more narrowly, as a writer, how do you know if you’re writing enough?
What’s Enough for Me May Not Be Enough for You
Even right now, as I sit here typing this blog post, I have, in the back of my mind, a long list of things I’d like to achieve before the day’s end: current blog post, social media posting, freelance copywriting work, start in on The Artist’s Way, begin reading Boyz N the Hood script, watch the film Nightingale, work on sixth draft of my own script Trees of Peace…
I know it’s not possible to achieve all these things today, and it leaves me feeling a bit deflated. It leaves the question humming under my skin, “Am I doing enough?”
If this is a struggle of yours too, I’m sorry to tell you in advance that this blog post does not hold the answer. And the reason it doesn’t hold the answer is because I believe the answer is different for everyone.
My friend and I settled on the notion that knowing what’s enough requires deep introspection, and really knowing yourself—knowing your values, your definition of success, and possessing the ability to effect a healthy balance within your life.
This know-yourself resolution seems insubstantial, I’m aware. Even as non-Type-A as I am, I still wish there was some kind of weigh-in at the end of the day that could measure up everything I’ve done.
Yet, with mentors and life coaches and statistical averages (the weigh-in type tools that we do have) we need to find our own stride. Because the fine details that worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you or me.
If I followed some of the success-routine fodder out there, I’d be starting my days at 6:00am. However, I’ve discovered over the years that it goes against my biology to rise before 8:30 and to go to sleep before midnight. Thus, starting at 6:00 would be particularly difficult for me. On a day like that, a nap might be enough.
Different Strokes for These Writer Folks
Fortunately, I was able to find some examples of well-known, successful writers whose work routines demonstrate their individuality. An awesome Brain Pickings article divulges the daily routines of Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, E.B. White, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, and several others.
Some of them had carved out routines that stretched from 5:30am to 10:00pm with lunch at noon; while others struggled to get up by 8:00am, didn’t have tea until 10:00am, and frequently forgot to eat altogether. And yet others worked from dusk ’til dawn, with a glass of scotch at the desk.
Some balanced work with a social calendar, others shut themselves in a room with society at a safe distance. Some could work amid family chaos, others set up their typewriter beside candlelight.
All spent a varied number of hours writing, a varied number of hours editing, and got a varied number of pages out of their time spent. And whether they felt obliged to the task or felt a passionate calling to it also varied.
The article quotes E.B. White saying, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” To me, this suggests it was difficult at times for him to focus and get things done. Perhaps he, and the rest of these iconic writers, also struggled with the question of whether they were doing enough.
And perhaps it’s enough to live by his words as best we can, each in our own way. No matter the conditions, just keep putting words on paper.