Mybe you’re not writing today. Maybe you can’t because there are other things that need doing. You want to write but you never have the time. There is always something that gets in the way. Maybe you are starting to resent it. Maybe you are thinking about making changes in your life. If so, here’s a perspective on things that might makes sense of so much of what you do.
Consider the mother of young children who desperately wants to be a writer. She’s running a business from home, she’s looking after her family, she’s taking courses for professional qualifications – and she’s writing in her spare time. Some people might say, “If writing is what she really wants to do, she should completely reorganise her life so that she can do it. Nothing else will make her truly happy.” Which, of course, is rubbish. It almost certainly wouldn’t make her happy to neglect her children. It probably wouldn’t make her happy to be poor.
The reason so many people who desperately want to be writers are still doing their day jobs, raising families, and preparing for a future that will be much the same, is that each of us actually wants lots of different things. Lots and lots of them. We want our families to be well cared-for. We want our loved ones to be happy. We want our careers – or, at least, the money they bring. We want to be successful at the things we do, even if they’re not anything to do with what we “really” want in our “heart of hearts”. We mow the lawn instead of writing because we want it mowed and no-one else is going to do it. We watch TV because we’re tired and frazzled from all the crap we’ve been doing all day and we want to be entertained. Mindlessly.
However much we want to write, all those other wants pull us in all kinds of other directions. Like all the forces on us, their strength varies from day to day, moment to moment. The course we chart through life is the net result of adding up all those forces, their strengths and directions. Imagine each one as an arrow. It points in some direction, towads some behaviour or outcome, and it has a length related to how strong it is. I want my wife to be happy. There’s a long arrow and it points in many directions, very few of them anything to do with writing. I want to drive a reliable car. Not such a long arrow, but again, it points to odd places. I want lunch. This one gets longer as the morning progresses and it points me straight at the kitchen and a couple of hour’s of activity.
I might delay doing lunch because I need to finish a job I’m being paid for that has a deadline. Wanting to have money is generally a pretty long arrow at my place. For a while there, the money-want was an arrow so much longer than the lunch-want that it dragged all my behaviours in its direction.
Remember high-school geometry? Remember vectors? A ship sails on this heading at this speed, with a cross-wind of that direction and that speed, and a current in the other direction at the other speed, what direction and speed does it end up travelling at? All those coordinate systems with arrowed lines all through them? Well, if you do, you already know what I’m on about. The basic point is that if you have several forces acting on an object in several directions with several strengths, you can predict which way and how fast it will move.
Sadly, in the case of human beings, who want so many different things in their lives, all with a strength that varies all the time, prediction is not all that easy. And it makes the question, “What do you really want from your life?” almost meaningless. Want is a vector. Every want is a vector, and you and I are just dots on the graph, pushed one way then the other according to how all this massive complexity resolves itself minute by minute. For some of us, our “direction” in life is close to a “random walk”, human particles undergoing Brownian motion. For some, those people who are so driven by a single desire that everything else – spouse, children, friends, family, work, career, image, everything – are relatively unimportant, their lives are almost a straight line. In between is the majority. You and me. Drifting towards, then away from what we say we really want, sometimes on trajectories that seem to be taking us nowhere good.
Yet we have to remember, always, that where life takes us is a choice. We choose based on all those want-vectors. We go where the sum of those vectors takes us, like it or not. And what that means is that we end up doing what we want, even when it might not feel like it. The fact is, we want to keep our children fed more than we want to write – at that moment. We want to walk the dog more than we want to write – at that moment. We want to chat on Twitter more than we want to write – at that moment. And we want it because all the things that are important to us add up to us doing just that, just then, and everything else has to take a back seat for a while.
The important thing is to pick apart that great pin-cushion of arrows and to see what is truly driving us. Yes, spending time with the kids is stopping us writing, but that’s only because we want to do it, at that moment, more than we want anything else. When you look at it that way, you can easily find that not writing really isn’t so bad, even though you think you want it so much, because you are always doing the things that are most important to you. And, when you look closely at how much time and effort you spend on work, or on keeping the car clean, you can ask yourself which want-vectors are driving it. Is your social status so important that you need such a big house, or such a nice car, or an iPad, or designer clothes? Maybe it is. If so, embrace it. Maybe it’s not and you can shorten those arrows a bit, and give the others more of a chance to influence the direction of your life.