There’s a mantra I regularly preach, scream, whisper, write, and otherwise fling at my soccer team: Nothing Easy. I’m sure it’s not original to me, though I can’t say I got it from anybody outside of my own skull. I like it — and I encourage my players to repeat it, internalize it, live it — because it can be taken several ways and it works several different ways.
First, the external: the other team wants the victory just as badly as you do. They owe you nothing, and they’ll give you nothing, so don’t make it easy for them. Control the ball so you don’t give them any easy turnovers. Get good position so you don’t give them any easy passes. Mesh on defense so you don’t concede any easy shots. Nothing easy.
Then, the internal: in soccer, more often than a lot of players would like to admit, speed beats talent. Hustle and hunger beats technical know-how. You might have the best touch, the most precise passes, the most devastating shot, but if you can’t beat the other man to the ball, all that skill goes for a big fat goose egg. So, you have to play hard from the opening whistle. Fight for every ball. Run on every play like it’s the one they’re going to break away and score on. Nothing easy.
Point is, if you play easy — if you give the match a halfway effort — you’re giving the opposition an advantage in every phase of the game. Which means, you’re putting victory that much farther away (if not entirely out of reach).
Well, soccer season is almost over, and I’m sitting here really analyzing my writing process, because I’m in a transitional time. I’m almost done with the final (for now) edit of the novel, which means it’s time to start considering what I’m going to dedicate my writing time to next. That means setting new goals, planning a schedule, determining how I’m going to approach the project.
In all this analysis, I realized that, among other things I haven’t been doing in my writing of late was writing short fiction — those 1000-word-or-so stories that I was pretty religious about posting for a long time, those little pressure-release valves for the creative energies I was bottling up while I worked within the confines of the overarching Project. So last night I embraced the prompt and wrote one. And I’ll admit — it may not have been my best work, but what was different about it — what worked about it — was the approach. I didn’t fine-tune the idea to death. I didn’t plot it out meticulously before I put keys to board. I didn’t sit back and wait for it to be perfect before taking my shot (much like the protagonist in the tale). I leaned into the uncertainty and I wrote it full-steam ahead.
I haven’t written like that in a while. I’ve tried out some new approaches (and liked them a lot, to be fair!), honed my craft, become a bit more exacting in terms of how I build stories. But what I realized is, that approach has me operating at half capacity. Throwing myself halfway into the work, keeping one foot on the edge of the pool as I dunk my toes in and test the water. It keeps me from making as many mistakes along the way, but it also keeps me so focused on the road that I forget to enjoy the view along the way.
Like my soccer team working easy in a match, making things easy for the opposition, I’m working halfway and making it easy to get distracted, easy not to finish, easy to pretend I’m working when really I’m just hiding behind excuses.
Now, the only absolute is that there are no absolutes. I’m not going to say that there’s not a time for the methodical, measured, relaxed, easy approach. Sometimes if you rush the work, you make foolish errors that cost you. But if you embrace the easy approach too much — if you work halfway all the time — well, first of all you never get anything done, and second, you don’t make the mistakes that make the work interesting.
When it comes to writing, you have to throw yourself into it the way you’d run out into the road after your kid. You have to give yourself over to it like jumping out of a plane. You can’t keep one foot on solid ground while you let the other foot acclimate. You can’t do it halfway.
So the mantra for my writing — for a while, at least, until I think of a new one — is: Nothing Halfway.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.