Not Everything Has To Be Work

As a teenager, taking writing workshops as part of my arts school concentration, I remember submitting to a contest with a group of classmates and getting the news that all of them had placed except me. Sometime later that day, in the haze of rejection-crying and ice cream, I decided that it didn’t matter if I was mediocre– I just needed to want it more than they did.

Looking back at the rejections that followed, I can trace where that became a cycle, to match disappointment with self-discipline. The first step to being taken seriously as a writer and to ensure that writing had a foothold in my limited free time had to be treating my writing like a job. I don’t think that was wrong— it got me this far, even when that ambition could be an unwieldy thing to carry.

I’m also a person with anxiety, which means being careful about what I tell myself that I ‘have’ to do. And the problem with treating ‘wanting it’ like a job is that ‘want to’ slowly becomes ‘have to.’ You end up wanting it just about as much as you want to do any job. Which is to say, not that much.

Coming to The Writers’ Room was a big part of reframing my creativity as something fun and vital again, not a benchmark I had to meet or a fight I had to win. And for the most part, it’s been really successful. My drafting sessions are the most loose and productive they’ve been in years. I’ve started more easily questioning some of the conventional wisdom I’d internalized: that I needed to write every day to be serious, or that sometimes it was going to feel like pulling teeth but I had to push through it. I decided that whether I was daydreaming up a scene or just letting my brain go offline after an exhausting day, everything was important work in the end.

Here’s the fun thing about undoing a bad habit, though: you’re never quite as done with it as you think you are.

As I write this, I’m planning the move to a new place tomorrow, so for the past few weeks, the part of my brain that would normally be dedicated to thinking through a scene has been running through where my desk is going to fit in the new room, or where my hairdryer is. There’s not a lot of space left for my work-in-progress, currently stopped just before the climax, and I find myself worrying about its lack of real estate in my brain, or putting pressure on my rest nights to be as restful as possible. In trying to be kinder to myself, I think I was a little too successful at making everything, even relaxation, into a job.

So maybe the thing to tell myself isn’t that everything is work. Maybe it’s not everything has to be work. 

Easier said than done, I know. But I like the sound of it.

-Rebecca Mahoney, 2017 WROB Fellow

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