I have lived with my share of slackers; people who couldn’t be bothered to clean their hair dye out of the sink, to sweep up all their broken glass, or close the door on their way out of the apartment. These were people who used scuffed CDs as coasters for the beer bottles they were using as ashtrays. They stacked towers of dirty dishes in the sink, too high to soak.
One night, at the old place, a girl was too drunk to figure out how to get the toilet to flush. She lifted the lid, found it was too heavy and dropped it into the tank. It fell straight through the bottom, shattering it. The toilet gushed its gallons across the hall and into my room. Later that day she tried to superglue the porcelain pieces back together. When that didn’t work she left an envelope full of cash on the counter. This was the same envelope the roommate who’d invited her in used to paid his rent.
My room was a mess, with a closet overflowing with laundry, but compared to my roommates’ spaces it looked immaculate. That’s the thing. If all of your roommates are lazy slobs the act of sweeping makes you a neat freak, tossing expired milk makes you anal retentive, and taking the trash out means you have OCD.
In school some teachers graded on a curve, giving A’s to the top 10% of the class, B’s for the next 10%, C’s to 60%, and D’s and F’s for the bottom 20%. If the majority of the students were putting in failing work it didn’t take much to earn an easy A.
As my roommates illustrated, this curve exists in all areas of life: in offices, customer service, and even creative endeavors. If all of your classmates are tapping on their phones then simply looking in the professor’s direction counts as participation. If all of your coworkers punch in late and leave early then merely working your entire shift makes you a model employee. If all your fellow writers are in the idea stage then just typing a page puts you ahead of them.
If you surround yourself with people who do the bare minimum you won’t feel compelled to rise that far above them. If your peers set the bar too low you will plateau before you peak. Writers encircled by slackers will have a hard time getting to the professional level.
When you’re writing it’s important to distance yourself from people who regularly declare their boredom. Dissociate with the couch ridden binge watchers jonesing for junk food. Step away from the compulsive status checkers, declaring their envy of people they haven’t seen in years. Get clear of the habitual heralds; the hot headed hurricanes spinning through the bad news cycle. You need to find peers who will pressure you to work harder.
How the Right People and the Right Places Can Improve Your Writing
Writers should surround themselves with passionate people who aren’t afraid to challenge them. Writers can find this in a writers’ workshop, but be sure to select the right group.
A writers’ workshop full of hobbyists won’t do much to raise novices to expert status, not when the sole goal is to create a nurturing environment. Here’s how I recommend auditioning a writers’ workshop to see if it’s right for you. Bring an old short story that you don’t like, or an old draft of something that didn’t work. Act like you have a lot of pride in this piece. If the workshop praises it without giving any constructive criticism find a different workshop.
Writers should seek out people who humble them not people who inflate their ego.
Sometimes it’s the people you know who challenge you to work harder, sometimes it’s the people you don’t. Try sitting shoulder to shoulder with productive strangers, people erecting their own walls of text, typing so fast they give you keystroke envy.
Find a coffee shop full of freelancers, someplace where you don’t know anyone, someplace that makes you feel uncomfortable, where people are always replying to important messages in their inboxes, where the clientele seem further along in their careers than you. I’ve found that these intimidating spaces inflate my word count, because I’m less inclined to fall into a black hole of click bait articles and movie rumors.
It turns out this method of surrounding yourself with passionate professionals can be done on social media as well. I’m starting to understand why writers on twitter post their hourly word counts like high scores. It gives the rest of us something to aspire to.
What Beds and Writing Spaces Have in Common
It’s hard to work from home when you don’t live alone. Home is where most people go to relax. Good luck getting any writing done in a minefield full of legos and children competing for your attention. If you have roommates good luck resisting the lure of entire seasons of television, viral video recommendations, and marathon gaming sessions. Good luck visualizing anything with all those screens in your sightline. Good luck hearing your thoughts with speakers blaring all the time.
Writing can be just as tough when you live alone, especially when you use your writing space, and writing tools, for other things.
There’s a reason sleep experts tell you not to browse the net, watch TV, or eat in bed. You risk developing insomnia, because your mind stops associating your bed as a place for rest.
You should treat your writing space with the same respect as your bed. Whether it’s in a home office or a cafe downtown you should only go there for one reason: to get work in. That’s why I have a coffee shop I go to write and another to have conversations with friends.
I still associate with my share of slackers. I have people I only hangout with and others I can also work around. I try to surround myself with creative individuals. When none are available I go to places where I can at least rub elbows with them. I go to these strange lengths because I’m always trying to raise my personal curve.
My audiobook Terms and Conditions is now free on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here!
After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.