A few days ago, I was reading articles on how to focus. One of the suggestions was to eliminate distractions. (Which was funny considering that my neighbor is breaking ground on a construction project, and I was be distracted and disturbed by a constant jackhammer.) I realized, though, that I have a near constant distraction that I can’t, really, do anything about. That is, my 17½-year-old dog. She needs a lot of help—getting up, staying up, going over hurdles such as doorsteps—and she often pees herself in not-so-convenient places—like her bed, the carpet, the rugs, the sidewalk, herself. I need to stay on top of what she’s doing to minimize the clean-up. And if I’m out of the house too long, then I can expect to have to do that clean-up when I get home. Hard to schedule stuff around the needs of my elderly pup.
There are plenty of other reasons I have trouble concentrating, such as health issues—fibromyalgia and arthritis, issues with one of my contract jobs, and working with several different clients on very different projects. Of course, there is the fact my dad died less than two months ago. While I think I’ve been doing the mourning thing pretty good, it does have its long term affects. I find that I can “do” things better than “think” about things. Cleaning the house has become so much easier than researching an article.
So, lots of lack of focus. At a writing group I attend, a new attendee mentioned the books on writing by novelist Steven Pressfield. I came home, read up on him, and downloaded his most well-known book on writing, The War of Art. I found it more self-help than writing instruction. I bookmarked some passages that I can use for the self-help articles and blogs that I ghost write. The ultimate advice it gave is what all writing advice books come down to, “Butt in chair.”
After finishing it, later that same day, I started thinking about the routine that Pressfield describes and wondering how it can be so consistent. He advises that you stick to your writing routine even if you have pneumonia, no matter what is going on in your life. Thinking about those passages, I got angry.
So he’s saying, if you’re sick don’t make excuses you still have to write. OK, but what? if I have a sick kid? What if my mom needs me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment? What if my boss says I have to work overtime for the next week?
It must be nice to only worry about yourself.
Because he also doesn’t mention cooking, cleaning, errands, shopping, any sort of child (or pet) care. He takes a leisurely morning, spends four hours writing, then goes for a walk to think more about what he wrote. He does mention eating breakfast, but not making it or doing the dishes. I don’t know if he has kids, or maybe they’re grown, but still, there is always family or friends to attend to.
I realized that Stephen King has similar advice in his book, On Writing. Granted he and his wife both worked hard prior to his becoming a sensation and have probably had enough money since for people to do those things for them.
But as far as writing advice goes, it is really oriented to old and white and male. And as the people reading these books are likely aspiring writers, then it is shitty advice for everyone who doesn’t have four plus hours a day to commit to writing. It is shitty advice for anyone who has any sort of obligation outside themselves. And by that I mean primarily women. I feel like this is one of those times that the difference between men and women is really highlighted.
I would never have the option to not make dinner or not clean the house. I have an incredible husband that does his share, but I can’t just dump it all on him. It may be a gendered thing, for sure, but I was raised to take care of myself to take care of other people. Pressfield certainly isn’t restrained by this type of upbringing.
Realizing this made me angry. Both Pressfield and King say that this is what works for them, but just by writing it, they are saying that is a way (if not the way) to be a successful writer. And I get the feeling, especially in Pressfield’s case, that he is not writing for me. I am not his audience. He’s writing to fellow old white, golf-loving men. Of course, I didn’t have to read the book and I definitely don’t have to take his advice, but it really goes deeper than that.
How can you advise if you can only see how you yourself do something? As I mentioned, The War of Art, was more of a self-help book than anything else. Having met numerous self-help authors over the years, they really are some of the more narcissistic people you’ll ever know. It shouldn’t be such a shock to me that Pressfield comes across just like them.