My Mantra: A Purposeful and Planned Neglect of Everything but Writing

Green Cowboy Hat

People sometimes compliment me on how much I read. I tell them: “That’s all I do.”

Some people compliment me on how much I write. I tell them: “That’s all I do.”

Some people compliment me on how often I teach. I say, “That’s all I do.”

Reading, writing and teaching. Those are the things that I love.

My activities are fairly narrow. That’s on purpose. I have zero desire to be a generalist. A jack of all trades. I simply want to be the best writer in the world.

And that’s not hyperbole. It’s truth.

Do I think I can do it? Not really. There is a bit of luck that comes with being the best. But that luck is meaningless if you are not prepared. I’m willing to give it a shot.

That means a purposeful and planned neglect of everything except writing. And that kind of ambition demands discipline. Relentless training. Cartloads of sacrifice.

Think suffering.

I try to read one book a day. Write one thousand words a day. That means no television. No video games. No movies. No basketball.

I don’t garden or build furniture or remodel bathrooms. I read, write and teach. And run.

When I’m not reading or writing or teaching try to be with people I love. Playing with my children. Being as silly as I could possibly be. Or I’m with my wife–trying to do something she loves. Or I’m with my friends–men who are infinitely smarter than I am.

I have to be purposeful in being present when I am with my wife or children or friends. My mind is working constantly. On a story. A post. Working out the calculus of my craft.

It is selfish but everything is geared towards the life of being a writer. It’s a Spartan life. Not for everyone. But one I enjoy.

How long do I plan to keep this up? Until it is over. When is it over? When I die. That is my retirement plan. Until then, it is a purposeful and planned neglect of everything but writing.

And get this: I’m not doing this for self glory. I’m doing this to acknowledge the gift I’ve been given. To show my gratitude that I’ve been entrusted with a unique ability. And the best way I know to show that gratitude is to write with all my might.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a mantra? Manifesto? What are your ambitions? Please share.

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  1. says

    Now come on, Demian. You know you are just as smart if not smarter than most of your men friends, you dastardly stealth bathroom remodeler!

    Excellent piece. I can taste the passion and the commitment.

    My mantra (one of them, at least) is Read More, Write More.


  2. says


    While no approach to honing the craft is right or wrong, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Writing is nothing more than the expression of experience whether it be one’s own or something they witnessed. I find that the “best” writers are those who delve into as many pursuits as possible. The supreme communicator does not lock himself in the room and learn to become a better writer through obsession with the craft. (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.) Doing this leaves them with no story to tell at all. The great writers “dare mighty things” and use their experiences as the fodder for stories that are more believable, real and resonant with their target audience. We listen to those who have unbelievable stories. And while reading existing ones may motivate us and help us structure our thoughts, it is what we live that feeds the fire. Otherwise we are just re-telling the same stories (which is another subject).

    • says

      Geoff, you, my man are on the money: “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I did say I run. 😀

      You say that the supreme communicator does not lock himself in the room, but this is exactly what Marcel Proust did. He was a little extreme, but every writer understands that they must write deliberately. Like Somerset Maugham said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine o’clock sharp everyday.”

      At some point they must lock themselves up.

      Now, Ernest Hemingway prescribed to your view. He felt he needed experiences to inform his writing.

      And of course we are in an age of nonfiction–the Alan Jacobs and Jon Kraukauers rule the world. I admire both those writers. Their books depend upon experiences.

      But that’s not all.

      I think you are selling the imagination short. Any fiction writer will tell you that their stories started with a kernel of truth–then their imaginations ran. Haruki Murakami is a modern example. Try telling the man who wrote a 1,000 word novel that there is no story to tell.

      Flannery O’Connor said that if you survived to twenty years old you would have enough material to last a lifetime. This is true for fiction or non-fiction. We all need our imagination and memory.

      And you are right, we do listen to those who have unbelievable stories. That’s why James Frey’s Million Little Pieces was such a hit. But then again he made most of it up.

      Like you mentioned in your opening sentences, there is no right answer to how to become a great writer. Just different approaches. I did say my Spartan approach wasn’t for everyone. It’s one I’ve found to work. And one I enjoy thoroughly.

      I do appreciate your thoughtful comment. Look forward to hearing from you again.

  3. Stefanie Richards says

    My mantra is ” I am safe”. It’s because I live in constant “fight or flight” mode.

    My life is also reading, writing, and running! Every time I read a blog written by you I so identify with each thought.

    I am needing some inspiration today, so I’m glad to have found a new post from you in my email inbox.

    My day job is doing hair. I do find it a great artistic outlet, yet it’s not feeding my soul. Right now I am looking at it as the financial vehicle that will provide the education that I can use to build for a career that I really cherish. How do you transition from hair stylist to writer?! When I fear it is an impossible challenge I remind myself – ” I am safe”. This world has infinite possibilities and focusing on the few you Love will provide much fruit.

    I am a mega-fan! So glad I found you.

  4. says

    Finding the time to write and being able to make that a priority has always been a challenge for me…well, that and also trying to settle down on what I want to be about with my writing. So glad to hear that you were able to find a way to make it work…inspiring. Enjoyed the post and loving the comments, too. Glad to have found you. :)

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