I need to finish my outline.
I need to take the trash out.
I need to be spending time researching.
I need to do the laundry.
I need to revise that chapter.
I need to go to the grocery store.
These to-dos buzz around my head like mosquitoes on a muggy night. Irritating yes, but so common, so expected, that they fade into the background of acceptance.
But why? How did writing become just another item to check off a list? The more I externalize the pressure to write, the more resistance I feel. Creativity becomes another chore. Just another thing that needs doing. And all the while the part of me that wants to spend the evening doing nothing more than playing Civ is making more and more convincing arguments.
In his book Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg tells a story about how the Marine Corps use why questions to focus and motive through months of grueling training. “Why are you climbing this mountain?” they ask each other. “Why are you cleaning this mess hall?” And answers–real, personal answers–are expected. “To become a Marine and provide for my family.” The constant questioning forces the recruits to find their own answers, the ones they can believe in, the ones they will be willing to fight for.
Having a reason, a real reason, turns a chore into a step on the path, a meaningful action instead of something you’re doing to placate the voices in your head.
So whenever writing begins to feel like another thing to cross off your to-do list ask why.
Why write? This is not a rhetorical question. There’s a reason you’ve spent hours wrestling with your imagination and banging on your keyboard. What is it for you?
Why is the story you’re telling important? There is something special about *this* tale that needs to be told, or you wouldn’t have devoted so much time to it already. What is it that makes this story meaningful to you?
Writing is not a chore, it’s a choice. The clearer you are on why you made and continue to make that choice, the more clarity, focus, and consistency you’ll bring to your work. And the less the mosquitoes of obligation will bug you.