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The Christmas Obsession, or How This Post Almost Didn’t Get Written

If you want to write, it must be the thing not that you want to do, or would like to do. It must be the thing you feel you have to do; that, without which, you could not live.

It was the late Christopher Hitchens who said it like so, and for many writers, it’s a bang-on description of the creative urge. But for most of us, the creative voice is not the only one in our heads. Few of us are lucky (wealthy?) enough to focus exclusively (selfishly?) on creative pursuits. This is the real world, we’ve got responsibilities, and the responsible voice in our heads can get pretty damn loud.

I am often of two minds: I need to write, but I also need to do what “needs doin’.” The last few years for me have featured a lot of “needs doin’,” so it’s become a little too easy to stop the writing to get other stuff out of the way. I obsess over getting things over with so I don’t feel guilty about doing the writing I want to do.

The latest “needs doin'”? Christmas.

I’m a Scorpio, which means nothing but can inform you that my birthday just passed.  Every year, the ever-more-modest celebration of my hatching heralds the shopping season yet to be endured. Christmas becomes “The Great Stressor,” a ruthless enemy bent on my financial ruin that must be sought out in his decadent palace and taken out with two shots of banked savings to the head. Only when the business of Christmas is past can I relax, enjoy the season, and give myself permission to be lost in my pages of my own creation.

So I budget obsessively, shop excessively, and panic thoroughly. I spent four hours last night going over my budget, making shopping lists online, and figuring out how best to save money. And keep in mind: Christmas, as of this writing, is a month away.

Told you that responsible voice can get loud.

I recognize this as one of my flaws and why I’m starting my writing over after years off. But in talking to other creative types, I learned I’m not alone in having such a compulsion. One artist I know obsessively cleans before putting paint to canvas. A writer I once interviewed needs days of heavy video-gaming before starting a new project. Still another writer in my circle has to take pictures of half-naked women in semi-exotic locations (in contrast, I often have to look at such pictures–for research, of course).

As much as I’d like to, I can’t just sit in a cave for a year and churn out the four books in my head. I have a job and people that rely on me, but I can’t give myself to just those responsibilities, either. I have to find balance to give myself permission to write.

Creativity demands priority. Just like certain hours are for certain responsibilities (work, sex, eating, sex again, exercise, more sex, and sleep), so too must certain hours be set aside for certain creative acts. Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway wrote in the morning; Henry Miller, in the afternoon; Hunter S. Thompson, during an overnight, cocaine-fueled, booze-and-porno binge. Creators must work in the way that works best for them, but they have to allow themselves to do the work, make it a priority, and balance everything else.

I’m a night owl, but I write better early in the day. That’s not easy with a day job, so I do my best to make a chunk of my evening the holy time and then write my guts out.

That’s why you’re reading this right now. Before the Christmas Obsession took over again, I saw the time on my watch, put away the festive spreadsheet, and got out the Word file.

Schedules can force you to get started, often the hardest part of the creative act. After the creating gets going, it often takes care of itself. If you’re struggling with whatever you’re doing, give a scheduled time for your creative work a shot.

Oh, time’s up. Now to get back to Amazon’s Lightning Deals (more on this next time).

-JW

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  1. What’s sad is that we have the same compulsions.. and both keep a spreadsheet for holiday spending (and obsess over it months ahead). Perhaps genetics are to blame?