When asked by people how to get published, I pass along the advice that Stephen King gave in On Writing: Read a lot and write a lot. That advice worked for me, and I figure it can’t hurt to pass it along. What doesn’t get asked nearly as much is what it takes to write a lot and read a lot. Obviously, some discipline is involved, but the first and foremost ingredient is love: you’ve got to love to read and you’ve got to love to write.
Love is important because, for me, I’ve found that I’ve had to give up a lot of things in order to read a lot and write a lot. Sacrificing these thing is only possible in the context of love for what you are doing. Some of the sacrifices are small, and some seem inconsequential, even beneficial, but there are drawbacks. I thought I’d list some of the things I have deliberately given up in order to read more and write more. In each case, I chose these things because I love reading and writing more than I love doing these other things.
1. Live Television
I don’t watch live TV anymore. Haven’t for a while, but even shows I was interested in (Dexter, for example) no longer hold my interest. In part this is because I am exceedingly tired of serial TV shows. I prefer old fashioned series, like M*A*S*H or Magnum, P.I., where you could watch any episode and not have to worry about getting sucked into a cliff-hanger ending. I get that cliff-hangers bring back audiences (thank you so much, Dallas), but I think they come with a risk of alienating a small subset of the audience: people like me who would be okay investing 40 minutes, but not 880 minutes.
The other reason I’ve given up TV is, quite frankly, I’d rather use that time to read or write. It is no exaggeration to say that my voluntary weekly TV-watching is down to probably under 30 minutes a week. I’m fine with that, but it does come with a downside:
I can’t talk about the shows that are airing in a crowd of people. But I suppose that’s okay, because I’d rather spend that time writing, too.
2. Streaming Videos
For a while, I found streaming videos to be a good alternative to watching TV. I could watch an entire season of a show much faster without the commercials and didn’t have to wait for next week to find out what happens with the cliffhanger.
But now, when I find myself thinking: this might be an interesting show (e.g. Elementary), my first thought in response is: I can’t. I just can’t get sucked in. If I watch the show it will eat into my reading and writing time, and the truth is, I’d rather read or write.
3. VIdeo Games
I used to play video games, but haven’t for years. For me, these are complete time sinks, with one exception, which I’ll get to. That is not to say that some games don’t interest me. The Kerbal Space Program looks fascinating, and I’d love to be able to play it. But whenever I consider signing up, I think: time sink. I could be reading or writing. And I’d rather read or write than play video games.
The one exception is the (these days, rare) occasion when we play Rock Band with friends. This is a social thing, involving other people, and often beer. I’m okay with that.
4. Watching Baseball on TV
Despite being more than halfway through 2013 season, I have yet to watch a baseball game on TV. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone this far into the season without watching a ball game, and I honestly miss it.
Still, each time I think of possibly watching a ball game, I think, couldn’t I spend this time better by writing? If I have 3 hours to kill, I could potentially write 4,500 words. Sure, watching a baseball game would be fun, and I’m sure I’ll do it before the season is over, but I resist. I resist.
5. Personal Coding Projects
Speaking of baseball, every now and then, I want to get back to the baseball simulator I was developing in Mathematica. I am fascinated by the concept of it, and love figuring out how to do things like that myself (yes, I know such things exist, but I enjoy figuring it out). Each time I think about working on it, however, that little voice1 reminds me that I could be writing–or reading. And the truth is, that is what I’d rather be doing.
6. Social Lunches
For a long time now (years, really) I eschew all lunch meetings and social lunches. This probably makes me a little antisocial in the office, but it keeps me healthy and allows me to kill two birds with one stone. I spent my lunch hour walking–anywhere from 3-4 miles. And while I walk, I listen to audio books.
I get invited to lunches every now and then, but I rarely accept. I’d much rather spend my lunch walking and reading.
7. Being Clever on the Internet
I’ve found this happening more and more: I start to write a “clever” reply to a comment on Facebook. Or I start to construct a “clever” response to a Tweet I’ve seen. And about halfway through, I’ll think, “Why do I need to try to be clever?” Most likely, I won’t be. And I’ll feel compelled to read followup responses. All of this takes time and it’s time that I don’t have. I’d rather spend this time writing.
Giving up these things allows me more time to read and write, and allows me to make the best of other time I have, like time with the family and the kids. I miss watching baseball games, and I miss the intellectual challenge of some of the coding projects I worked on. But I love writing, and it is not really a sacrifice to give up these things for something you really love.
- A la Magnum, P.I. ↩