Sunday, April 25, 2010

Divvying up those Character Points

David Sedaris published an essay in the New Yorker a few months ago that really stuck with me. He talked about the idea that success really comes down to whether you’re willing to shift your priorities in life. You spend more time and effort on whatever it is that you want to be successful at and less on things like hobbies or family and friends. Sedaris, of course, in his lovably self-deprecating way, used this topic as a springboard to talk about his relationship with his family, but this idea of shifting priorities, of allowing yourself to be a failure at parts of your life so that you can be a success at others, really resonated with me.

This is something Malcolm Gladwell talks about, too, something that many people would agree with: success involves sacrifice. This idea has been on my mind a lot recently because I’ve been so busy at work (I have – no joke – seventy five to a hundred papers to grade every week) and have also been working under deadline to address editorial comments on a couple of scholarly essays (essays which, by the way, I spent a lot of time last summer on, too). I also would like to keep my marriage a happy one, and I’ve been trying to be a more social person (which takes a lot of effort for someone with social anxiety, let me tell you).

And, of course, there is my creative writing.

I write, but I don’t write as much as I’d like to. Realistically, I don’t know that it’s possible to write as much as I want. I don’t write genre fiction and so will surely never make a living off of writing, which means I have to devote time to developing myself as a career gal. I also would like to have a baby some day (and yes, my husband and I are both aware that the clock is ticking on that one) and know that being a mother will take a lot of time.

The question I have is am I spreading myself too thin? You have to be a multifaceted person, I believe, to be a good writer, but you also have to be willing to spend a lot of time actually writing. This might mean sacrificing other things that you might also have wanted to spend a lot of time on. We all know that our writing should come before things like video games or TV, but what about things like publishing critical essays or furthering the great academic discussion on X book or Y field? These things would generally be considered a productive use of your time, but if it takes away from your creative writing time, is it really worth it?

I think real life is more similar than you might think to one of those games where you have a certain number of points to divvy up however you see fit. Do you want your character to be stronger or smarter? Do you want him to have better magic or battle skills? You might ask yourself similar questions when it comes to your own priorities. Do I want to be a writer or do I want to be fluent in French? Do I want to publish scholarly essays or short stories and novels? Maybe we all really do have a finite number of effort points, and we have to choose carefully what we want to use them on. We can’t pour them all into writing, but we can decide which parts of our lives we really care enough about to spend the points on. Do you want to be the sort of person who dabbles in a lot of things but isn’t very good at any of them, or the sort of person who can only do a few things but can do those few things very, very well?

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