Write Like You're Dying

This concept has been in the air for a while: write like you're dying. There it is, plain and simple. Write like you've only got 12 months left on this Earth. 

So why might this rather morbid technique be worthwhile? For a start, it focuses the mind, as the prospect of death tends to. Most writers are fortunate enough to have a neverending flow of ideas running through them. Too many, in fact.  Some concepts are dreamed up then unwisely forgotten by those who don't have a notebook or Evernote. Others hang around for longer than they should. The majority sit on a kind of mental carousel, slowly revolving before our mind's eye until we deign to pluck one off and get to work on it.

If we (convince ourselves we) only have time to write one more project, then this choice becomes more important, less nonchalant and carefree. We'll think harder about this decision. After all, this project may be the last thing we ever write. Last impressions count, and we might well be remembered for it.

The choice becomes all about this: which of these projects will sum us up, as a writer and as a person? Which of these projects are we so passionate about that we feel a real urgency - something tightening in our gut? Which will make our very finest epitaph?

Of course, we should be thinking like this all the time when choosing projects. But I don't think we do. We strange humans are programmed to behave like we'll live forever. So we might pick the odd project for a bit of fun, or a diversion. There's nothing wrong with that, provided we're mostly also striving to create classic work for which we'll be forever hallowed, like saints with laptops..

Think back to your mental carousel of projects. Is there one project on there that you're holding back on writing, because it's just too good? Are you hoarding this story, like mother's best china in a cupboard, destined never to be used? Are you secretly, or quite blatantly, afraid that you won't be able to do it justice?

Embrace that fear. Haul that best china out of the cupboard now, before you get knocked down by a bus.

Are you finding it hard to imagine, and commit to imagining, the whole 'dead in 12 months' thing? Maybe it's too disturbing. Fair enough, then: think of it like this. If you persistently write scripts which don't fulfil your potential, and don't fully represent you and your unique voice, then your career will probably die. Or perhaps even worse, you'll become Just Another Writer, trudging onwards, uncelebrated, through the mires of mediocrity.  How's that for motivation?

You might be concerned that the whole Write Like You're Dying ethos could lead you to write something which gloriously defines you and your preoccupations... leaving you struggling to live up to that for the rest of your career. If you pour everything you're about into this project, will there be anything left to write about?

Here's the good news: people's lives progress in cycles. We physically change, with cells continuously dying and regenerating, giving rise to the often-held belief that our bodies completely transform every seven years. Our minds change too: slowly and imperceptibly, but decisively. Our core personalities remain, but our values, priorities, opinions and preoccupations shift dramatically. Don't know about you, but the Me from 2005 seems like a completely different person.

So you'll change over and over, just like Doctor Who. You'll still be you, but you from different angles.  There'll be new things you're burning to write about, with the approach which only you can bring to them, pouring in heart and soul. The project which gloriously defines you this year will be completely different from the one which does that job in 2019.

Still, forget 2019.

Forget next year. 

Focus hard on the rest of this year, as if it's all you've got left. Write your incredible epitaph by Christmas - the project which will make people sit up and think, "Ah, so THAT'S what they're all about".

Do it!  Just don't get too 'method' with the whole 'seize the day' thing, and end up setting fire to your former teacher, marrying your brother or trying  heroin.

Bearing those sensible caveats in mind, why not  live life itself as though there's only another 12 months to grasp?  Treat your favourite people as though you might never see them again. Mindfully absorb your favourite places and activities as though experiencing them for the first time. Ensure the world gets the best you can possibly give it. Can't hurt. Good day.

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MizzyIdiot said...

I guess it's because of the "Deadline".

Laura said...

Great advice, I've been putting off my book project & recently every post I've read have all been quietly telling me to get my butt in gear. Thanks for another reminder :)

You've got Red on you said...

Yep. It's hard to get past the "There's always tomorrow" approach. Do it today instead!