all pent up on purpose

In his his excellent guide A Writer’s Time, Kenneth Achity offers a choice little tip:

Since writing a book is no mean undertaking, you owe it to yourself to start the project with a vacation, let’s say, on Maui.

This is the kind of practical writing advice I’m all too happy to take. I mean, in theory.

“One of the best beaches for this purpose,” Achity adds, helpfully, “is between the Wailea Beach Hotel and the Intercontinental.” The Intercontinental closed years ago, but I believe Achity was referring to either Wailea Beach or Ulua Beach. In case you’re booking your ticket.

It’s an interesting notion, taking a vacation as the first step in the writing process. I can get behind it. It feels less like procrastination—deciding to start writing and then doing anything but—as much as fermentation. You’ve made the decision to proceed, you have a general direction in mind, you’ve gathered some initial notes…and now you're going to bottle all that up and stick yourself someplace nice and warm. Things will start bubbling.

I’d like to say I’ve been soaking up the rays since sending my last essay. Unfortunately, it’s been less beach than swamp on my end. Still, I’m making time this weekend (enjoying the massage chair at a trampoline park while my daughter plays with friends) because I know how important it is to write in my own voice now and then or risk forgetting what it sounds like.

For me, holding off—versus procrastinating—when I want to start writing something creates an energizing, even pleasurable, tension. It’s that little pent-up tickle you feel when you want to jot something down and you can’t find a pen. Sometimes I like to sit with that tension until it becomes genuinely uncomfortable before giving in. The relief of sitting at the keyboard gives me a running start.

No one should have to drag themselves to write! It’s hard work—you should feel propelled into it with a velocity born of joyful enthusiasm. You should crave those first words at the top of a writing session. Without that vim at the start, how will you ever finish?

So yes, absolutely kick off the book with a beach vacation, assuming that’s feasible for you. Or just pamper yourself with an iced coffee or a fancy-salts bath. Throw a spa playlist on the Bluetooth speaker. Why not? If you want world-class output, treat yourself like the world-class writer you are (or hope to one day become).

Steven Seagal: I just read the greatest screenplay I’ve ever read in my life.
Rob Schneider: Really? Who wrote it?
Seagal: I did.

That exchange really took place. Sure, Seagal is, well, Seagal. But how refreshing to see anyone express such warmth and affection toward their own work. All too often, it’s the opposite, even among the most objectively talented you’ll ever meet.

Surrender the sturm und drang. Be like Seagal. Love the hell out of yourself and your imperfect but perfectly promising book project. Think of how lucky its readers will be to receive it when it’s finished. Bottle that wild energy up in your cranium until not writing is simply no longer an option. At that point, put down the first words, and let all the pent-up-then-released enthusiasm carry you through to completion.

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