Inertia is defined by the dictionary as ‘a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged’. The word comes from ‘inert’, which means ‘lacking the ability or strength to move' and is derived from the Latin word iners, inert- ‘unskilled, inactive’, from in- (expressing negation) plus ars, art- ‘skill, art’.
It’s probably true to say that writers who suffer from a lack of time to write, and from procrastination, do so because they are pinned down in their lives by a set of circumstances which keep them exactly where they are. Struggling to get a ‘little bit of writing’ done each week, or maybe each month, and then coming back to that piece to find that it is inadequate and needs to be done again, all the while battling with semi-conscious urges to bounce away from the thing altogether and look at videos on Facebook and so forth, is probably a familiar picture to many would-be writers. Surveys that I have done over the last few months show that there are a huge number of writers out there screaming for a solution to all of this - they are desperate to write and are reaching for some way out of the inertia trap.
That puts them at the second level of the climb towards freedom as a writer.
The first level is worse than that: that’s when a writer is so submerged into whatever his or her circumstances are that there is no hope at all. In fact, at the very bottom, the person has usually decided that he or she ‘never really wanted to be a writer at all’, and has instead sublimated that desire into something else. This can go so far as to lead a person to adopt an entirely new identity and purpose, and to embark upon a quest to fulfil entirely different and perhaps even opposite dreams - several writers in this frame of mind sadly become critics or even editors and build their careers around undermining the lives and careers of writers who are actually writing. The dream of writing has perished within them - or almost perished. Because it's actually quite difficult to stamp out of existence completely a purpose like that of being a writer.
What does it actually mean to be a writer?
It has much in common with the idea of being a magician. Writers usually are passionate about being writers because it gives them the ability to create worlds of their own, in which people of their own manufacture can be set doing tasks of the writers’ own design, moving towards ends foreseen and constructed by the writer. Quite often, this goes wild: the devised characters ‘break ranks’ and seem to pursue of their own accord ends which were never consciously in the minds of their creators. Stories take on a life of their own, adventures unfold which were never planned, glorious new horizons open up which were never predicted. That’s part of the joy of creation, and part of the appeal of being a writer.
But whether the writer is creating a complete fantasy world, a science fiction future, a reconstructed historical period, simply super-imposing a story over contemporary times or whatever, the crux of the matter is creation. Tolkien called it ‘sub-creation’, and did it very explicitly by devising an entire world full of races, languages and long histories; most authors fabricate a world not dissimilar to our own and play with it, having characters perform before them like gladiators in a Roman arena, but with much more of a variety of finale.
With these creations, writers then contribute to the wider reality of the culture. Creation, indeed, becomes contribution: the resulting tableaux, along with other forms of art, forms the backdrop of whatever passes for civilisation in any given period.
When a writer for one reason or another cannot find the time to write, or is distracted from doing so, therefore, the consequences are potentially more grave than at first glance: an individual’s ability to create a world and to contribute that creation to the larger picture is blunted, diverted, impeded. There can be psychological impacts upon the individual - frustrations build, dissatisfaction grows, tempers flare - but there are consequences for the wider society too. Whatever unique creation a writer had to offer is prevented from contributing to the culture.
When I think of the works of Tolkien and Lewis, and their contribution to the culture of the late twentieth century and beyond, I sometimes ponder how lucky they were not to be killed on the front lines of the First World War - and then I think of all the young people who were killed, and the massive loss to the civilisation that their deaths entailed, with all their potential contributions never having been formed or added to the wider picture.
In other words, it's a big deal when a writer doesn’t write, not just for the writer but probably for the rest of us too.
The thing is that inertia is real. The way we set up our lives carries real weight. Responsibilities, habits, routines, are not usually things that can just be dropped and walked away from. A helpful image in all this might be the pattern of the solar system - inertia becomes gravity, a force which keeps us ‘in orbit’ around certain things that we set up as priorities. Unless our path around our central ‘sun’ is disturbed in some way, we will keep on moving around that sun, round and round forever. The stars will be eternally out of reach.
So the first level of the seven levels of becoming a full-time writer is this blind submergence into a kind of ‘anti-writer zone’: the suppression of any inborn wish to become a writer. This normally takes considerable force and intention, by the way - as we have seen, the powerful drive to become a writer is not a small thing and is not easily suppressed.
The second level is, as we saw at the beginning, that strata of discomfiture which accompanies the awareness that one wishes to be a writer but is trapped by gravity or inertia into a pattern which prevents actualisation. That’s probably where many writers reading this are right now. 'Lack of time' and 'procrastination' are symptoms of this.
The third level is when a writer is able to eke out some time, using various remedies which I and others have written about elsewhere. These episodes or islands of time give that writer some hope: at least some writing is getting done, piece by piece, even when the gravitational pull of his or her normal life circumstances tugs the writer back into line again. It’s better than nothing.
But it isn’t the fourth level. That’s when the writer realises that he or she has to make big changes to a complete lifestyle - and sets about doing so. To do that, as we have covered in earlier articles, one needs to develop a fire strong enough to achieve ‘escape velocity’; one needs to understand that one has something to say, and that one’s message is important enough to be a contribution to the culture as a whole. What message, however inadequately it might be understood even by the writer, is so strong, so central, so irresistible, that it will have the power needed to push the writer out of the orbit into which he or she has become accustomed, and into a new course entirely?
What do you have to say that will put the stars within reach?
That’s why we have been spending time looking at that message.
You need to reach level four.
Then of course you need to recall that there are three other levels above that.
But let’s try to achieve escape velocity first.