At first I thought that perhaps there was an epidemic among writers. Its name is laziness. Never have I seen such a large group of people so disinclined toward hard work. I’m not saying all writers, but I have to say that a large percentage of those calling themselves writers are about as energetic as a dead rat.
We want what we want, and we want it now. We don’t want to work for it. Critique groups? Pfft. I already write better than Stephenie Meyer, and she’s a bestseller. Marketing? Pfft. That’s what Twitter is for. Word of mouth is what sells books. Not work. Elements of fiction? Writing is an art? Fuck off. A story is a story. A five year old can write a novel.
This pisses me off beyond words. But then I started considering North Americans as a group. I considered parents today, and our kids, and I realized…we’re all lazier than shit. All of us. It’s okay to be lazy sometimes. In fact, it’s something we can’t control. Evolution and all that. However, occasional laziness is far different from the tendency of North Americans to allow the desire to do nothing to control everything we do in our life. This is where we have a problem.
Laziness: an aversion toward activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so.
Laziness, in my opinion (and according those who study this stuff too), is the result of focusing on the immediate, positive or pleasurable effects of one’s actions, rather than the long-term consequences. So, if I lay around watching movies all week, I will be immensely rested and happy. I won’t think about the money I won’t have or the disgusting crust developing in my underwear. Think of the glorious luxury of doing absolutely nothing. I won’t lie. It sounds heavenly. I messed up my back this week because I was too lazy to bend over and pick up a fucking toy. Instead, I vacuumed over it, got it stuck in the vacuum and hilarity ensued.
The thing that amazes me most is that humans work harder to gain leisure than we do to gain any other reward. It is astonishing how hard we work in order to be able to do nothing at all.
Interesting Lazy Fact: From 1909 to 1915, there was a commission that focused on eradicating hookworm disease from eleven southern states. What has this to do with anything? Well, hookworms were known as “the germ of laziness” because they caused listlessness and weakness. Apparently hookworms infested 40 percent of the southern US states’ population at the time. People in the Northern states considered hookworms to be the cause of “southern backwardness.”
How many of us will do whatever it takes for an extra hour of sleep? How many of us break resolutions within days of making them, or don’t make them at all to avoid breaking them? How many ideas have you had that have faded or been tossed aside because you won’t have time to develop them? How much of this time you don’t have is spent watching movies, favorite televisions shoes, playing video games, tweeting, farting around on Facebook, or staring at a fucking wall? Be honest.
“I’ll get around to it” or “I’ll do it later” is code for “I’m too lazy to bother.”
We as a society make sure our basic needs are met, focusing on surviving here and now, rather than how to ensure we survive months down the road. Sure, we worry about it, sometimes to the point of sickness, but do we DO anything about it? In general, no we don’t. We make sure financially we’re taken care of, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, we only worry about now.
The question is, why? Aren’t these things important?
A Little History:
Consider that no matter how hard any of us works, we’ve still got it better than any generation before us, and almost every other culture. North Americans are lazy, because we can be.
Throughout humanity’s history (from the dawn of time until perhaps 100 years ago), resources were scarce, and no one knew when they’d be available, or if they’d last. So conserving energy was wise whenever possible. Starvation and death by wild animal were constant threats. Because conservation of energy was critical to survival, we’ve evolved into a species that expends minimal effort any time we can get away with it.
Today we are lazier than our ancestors, but have no reason for being so. For many of us, starvation is not a motivating factor because food is abundant. We are not hunted by animal predators either. Instead, our priorities have shifted to satisfying more egocentric needs; happy hour, shopping, and vegging in front of a screen for hours on end. We are not aware of just how much we could be doing to improve our lot in life. We are content doing what makes us happy in the moment.
What does this rambling have to do with writing?
Writers make long-term goals. We want to publish what we write, for example. How we do so doesn’t matter as much as that we want to do so. A more complicated goal is to be respected for our work, applauded even. But here’s where lazy comes in. Writer, for the most part, are unwilling to expend the energy to do what is necessary to achieve our most desired long-term goals. We satisfy our needs in the here and now. So, we want to write a book. Done. We want to be read, so we send it to friends. Our ego is stroked. We join a writer’s group. First critique sends us into a fetal position. That wasn’t fun. That wasn’t pleasurable. Fixing what they say is wrong is hard work. They can’t be right. So the lazy person goes for the immediate reward. Fix the typos, listen only to positive criticism, leave the writer’s group and self-publish or begin to query as-is. Respect? They don’t understand me, so why should I care about respect? The award system is biased toward certain names and types of writing. I’ll never be accepted because I write “real” fiction.
Once published, whatever way it is we choose to do so, we look at marketing. The lazy writer tweets hourly on Twitter. No, it’s not work. You can autotweet. Post it once and forget it. Too bad the rest of us aren’t allowed to forget it, because the lazy writer likes to bombard us with news of his book all fucking day long.
That is not marketing. The writer who is willing to work will first polish his book until it is as good as he can possibly make it. He would never dream of selling something that he doesn’t consider his best, because to get respect, he understands that one has to earn it. Then he will establish a marketing plan, and he will carry it out. He’ll blog, go to bookstores and libraries, review, and tweet. He will do whatever he has to do to meet his long-term goal.
There aren’t many writers like the second example. We see it in the increasingly disappointing bestsellers filling the bookstore shelves today, and we see it in thousands of self-published books that fill typo-ridden, dodgily plotted e-shelves each month.
Some sociological fact-based stuff:
Humans feel smothered by long-term goals that do not directly impact survival or social status. These goals take away from our pleasure, so we ignore them or forget them entirely. We make excuses for why we can’t reach them before we’ve even tried. “Agents aren’t taking new authors anymore. They want the guaranteed sale,” or “There are millions of traditionally published novels with typos in them, so why pay an editor for mine?” We are instinctively attracted to immediate gratification, and repulsed by indefinite future plans.
We are torn between competing desires: We want to achieve our dreams, but only if those dreams are not too hard to realize. We want it to be easy.
Here’s the problem with writing and the natural tendency toward laziness: Nothing worth having comes easy. That’s a fact.
Instant gratification is the natural or default setting for the human brain. But here’s a little secret: Humans feel better and more self-confident when we complete or at least tackle those unpleasant tasks. We feel better when we work. We can train our brain to enjoy NOT being lazy. Successful writers, good writers, respected writers; they all know this. They’ve done it.
Yes, everyone can write a book. Can everyone write a book worth reading? That’s debatable. But if you are willing to work hard at it, you deserve a chance. You deserve to be read.
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” —Stephen King
Relaxation is different from laziness. We deserve to feel free to relax after working hard. We deserve reward when we’ve accomplished something or at least put some effort into working toward something. But to expect the world on a silver platter simply because you want it? If you want it to be easy, you’ll accomplish very little. If you aren’t willing to work for it, shut up.