Photo credit here.
BY ROBERT AYERS
Recently I have agonized over my bad habits as a writer. “Bad habits” is even a generous term for no habits.
Habits, according to William James and other psychologists, are what make a person who they are. What you do is who you are. There is no such thing, in other words, as an artist that does not work on art. What frightens me into activity is the truth that if I do not write I am not a writer. There is no other way around it. And there is nothing that irritates real artists more than the artists that have lots of ideas they never act upon. According to William James, an idea that isn’t acted upon isn’t really an idea after all.
The remedy, of course, is to work. It is to work and keep working. To “leave the final result to itself,” says James, and if the artist, in our case, keeps working in spite of everything, he can count on “waking up one fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones.” I love that phrase. “One of the competent ones.” The true struggle for success, in my undertaking, is not for publication or recognition, but for competence. So much of public success these days is about social capital, but competence is fought for in the private hours of habitual labor.
There is the temptation to wait for “tomorrow”. To put my hope in some sort of spark of inspiration that may or may not come. The follower of Jesus is given the gift of hope for the future. They are told in the Bible that all will end well, that Christ will return and reign victorious and that all our work, if it counts for anything, must be done with that end in mind.
This is my belief, but I sometimes think we abuse the gift. We take the future for granted and we dare not contemplate the possibility that everything may NOT turn out OK. I think we should take a little bit of the philosophy of Slavoj Žižek into our considerations. Žižek maintains that “the world’s outcome is radically open: evil may indeed win the day, and so calls one to participate in the materialist struggle in the here and now.”
Whatever your motivation, I do think the remedy is the same. Work from habit. Work everyday in the here and now. My hope is that work will turn into a habit. Then I will become one of the competent ones. I will become a writer.