Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, and Hang On…

Got to go run errands with a buddy of mine the other day. He’s a martial artist student who has been committed for more than forty years. Senior kind of guy now. Stubborn. Hard-headed, even. Catches hell from others occasionally because the form of art he does (Karate) is hard on the body. Wears you down. Breaks things over time. Makes folks want to relax and take it easy some days.
Personally, I’ve started working on a much softer form of Tai Chi, but that’s because he and I are both 52 now (birthdays about 2 months apart, but he’s the old fart). My goal over the next 30-40 years is flexibility and mobility. To be able to walk easily and even bend over and tie my own shoes standing when I’m finally an old man (no comments, you in back).
He and I come from radically different backgrounds. About as far apart as two white guys can get, socially, economically, educationally, etc.
What bonds us is the work ethic.
A conversation with some artist friends Wednesday night brought that into sharp contrast, just before he and I went running into town Thursday.
I catch hell from any number of writers because I produce a lot of words. I got lucky in any number of ways, and was able to transition to writing as a full-time career. At the same time, that had been my goal on Day One (Nov 1, 2013, for those of you keeping score at home).
Hard work can overcome a lot of things. The easiest way to write a lot of words is to sit your ass down and actually write them.
At that point, writing is a muscle. You do not run a marathon on your first day. You run as far as you comfortably can, then slowly push yourself a little farther.
As my buddy notes, he’s not the prettiest at his kata. Nor the strongest, toughest, tallest, or smartest person, even in his small group of folks. Where he defeats them all is in his own work ethic.
Nobody will outwork me today!” is the motto I probably need to have his wife paint on the wall of his home dojo.
You cannot control much. Your attitude, however, is first and foremost.
I get up in the morning and I get to go write. I don’t ‘have’ to go write to make my work count. If anything, I have to plan which words and make them count, because I am currently only allowed 118,000 words per month. (I could easily push to 150,000, and still be behind a number of folks I know who make me look like a slacker.)
I have the right attitude. I get to go write.
He gets up and gets to go out into his dojo and work. He and I have both been blessed to be able to do something we love. And neither of us will be outhustled at it. I will write. On any given day, my goal is 4,000 words. My target it Pulp Speed Three, or 116,667 words. Any given month, when I hit that mark, I write to the end of the scene, or the chapter, or some useful break, and walk away. For longer months, I get 1-2 days off every time towards the end.
Now, flip that sideways, because I have started doing Taiji Juan CPL99 in the park every Saturday morning. That means that many Saturdays I might not write at all. Instead, I pushed my weekday speed up enough that I’m either far enough ahead that I can goof Saturday off, or close enough that I can catch up on Sunday. Right this moment, I started about 1500 words from being on pace for the month, even though I didn’t do any writing yesterday. This will get me to a certain distance out, and I’ll close the gap Monday and be good.
Because I work that hard. Because I want it that much that I’m willing to make sacrifices.
In my case, The Sacrifice is television. (Streaming, whatever. You, passively staring at a screen, consuming visual stories produced by somebody else, with your brain turned off.)
How many hours do you spend watching your shows every day? Every week? I can easily produce one thousand words in that same hour. And that’s a slow pace. I have trained myself these days that I can generate two thousand words per hour easily. Did that all week while tracking it, just so I knew.
You will not outwork me, because I understand that hours at the keyboard yields words I can sell so that I don’t ever have to go back to work for someone else.
You will not outwork him when it comes time to run, lift, practice, or strike things. He has come to define himself by that work ethic. By that getting up early in order to do all these things before work.
While you sleep, he trains and I write. We both understand that there are other things we could do, but we both get to do that thing we love because we have put it first.
When people complain about my writing speed, I ask them about their priorities. If you aren’t writing, you aren’t a writer. If you are writing, you are. Simple as that.
What are you doing with your time instead of committing words to paper or training in kata?
What defines you? That’s those hours spent doing something that you have chosen for yourself. I know a lot of people who make all manner of rationalizations for why they can’t write. Or why they can’t finish a story and publish it.
That’s what those are. Excuses. He gets up on a cold morning and steps into a cold garage that he warms with his own sweat. My allergies right now are such that I maybe got about 3 hours of sleep last night, but I buckled down with coffee and a little sugar today, and set my mind to telling story. Even though I could have just as easily taken today off and told myself I would catch up later.
I don’t want to catch up later. I want to be pushing the envelope every day. Faster, farther, heavier, higher.
He will outwork you in the dojo. That’s what he does. I will outwork you on the keyboard. That’s what I do.
That’s what makes each of us who and what we are. And why we get along so well. That’s the bar he and I are competing against every single day. I don’t even pay attention to everyone else and where they are in their struggles, because I’m competing with who I was yesterday, and that son of a bitch busted his ass in order to push the novel a little closer to done, while spending time worldbuilding a whole new place he wanted to explore in his spare time.
He could do that because he’s not catching up. I’m trying to get tomorrow-me to a place where he appreciates what today-me did.
Faster, farther, heavier, higher.
I don’t judge you on your word count. Or the prettiness. Or the awards. Or the income or lack thereof.
I judge you entirely on your work ethic, and you don’t get to complain about mine until yours matches it.
Or, as we say in this business: get in, sit down, shut up, and hang on.