by J.M. Phillippe
In 1988, a group of advertising execs created possibly the greatest, most influential fitness campaign slogan ever:
An entire generation, MY generation, has been living by these words of wisdom ever since. Or, at least aspiring to. Want to get good grades in school? Just do it. Want to learn to play guitar? Just do it. Want to see if you can eat an entire bag of cookies in one go? Just do it. Whatever it is you want to do, just go on out and do it.
Do an internet search on writing, and you’ll find much the same advice:
Writer’s write. The end. Want to be a writer? Write. Want to become good writer? Write more. Want to become the greatest writer that ever lived? Write, write more, and then write some more after that.
The doing makes you the thing. Runners run. Swimmers swim. Competitive food champions eat lots of food in really short amounts of time. Writers write.
If only it actually were that easy.
What the ad execs were getting at (in an attempt to sell shoes and other various fitness apparel) is that there really should be no excuses between you and the thing you are setting out to do. “Just do it” cuts through any possible block you could put up. “I don’t have time” becomes “make time.” “I don’t have the right equipment” becomes “get the right equipment.” “I don’t know what to say” becomes “say anything, keep saying anything until it becomes something, and then say more about that.”
There is — or there should be — nothing that keeps writers from writing. Like running, swimming, and sure, probably competitive eating, daily practice is the key. Just do the thing. Just write.
People obviously underestimate just how creative writers can be in coming up with excuses why they can’t, in fact, just write.
I have had some of the best naps of my life starting about 20 minutes after I sat down to write, because something about the process suddenly makes me super tired. The amount of resistance I have to the actual doing of writing is tremendous, so much so that it often takes a Herculean effort to even sit in front of my computer for ten minutes. It’s as if I am a beginner runner trying to convince myself I can make it through this one lap, or this next minute, without stopping (or actually dying from an acute inability to breathe). In fact, I have gotten in better running shape with more ease than I have gotten through certain sections of a book — and I am not in any way, shape, or form, someone who has ever actually enjoyed running; running, like writing, is something I have only ever enjoyed have had done.
I have never been a particularly disciplined writer, relying on the sheer terror that a looming deadline evokes in me to get me through that giant cloud of resistance so that I can actually write. I don’t have great writing discipline, or, really, any writing discipline, and it frankly shocks me every time I actually finish any piece of writing. It’s almost as though I finally force myself into a fugue state, after which I have something I can maybe sort of push and prod into something else that I feel mostly okay having other people read. At some point, despite all my best efforts not to, I finally do in fact, just do it. I write.
This is less than ideal. I would love a daily writing practice. I would love to get to the point where I can sit down in front of my computer and get to work without a certain tightening of my chest, a sudden thirst or hunger, or a desperate need to just rest my eyes, just for a few minutes, and then I’ll totally knock out some pages. It’s not like I don’t know what I have to do. Nike has been telling me what to do for the past almost 30 years. Just do it. Just. Do. It.
And I’m totally going to.
J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.