Over ten years ago I read First Things First, Steven Covey's time-management follow-on to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey had the perfect diagnosis for my condition: urgency addiction. I lived my life in a fundamentally reactive manner, always tending to the most urgent matters, regardless of their ultimate importance. I spent all my time putting out fires, using the thrill of responding to emergencies to blot out my anxiety over a lack of direction. The last ten years have been a long, slogging battle against that trend in my character.
I managed to take some ground when I created a schedule for myself, and explicitly made time for important-but-not-urgent tasks: writing, reading, exercise, sleep, financial management, family time. I created routines that defied urgency and ultimately reduced it. That much was all good.
Having made some basic changes in my own behavior (a remarkable accomplishment for someone pushing 40) I was inspired to embark on a writing career. I set the wheels in motion to gradually phase out of my software consulting job into professional writing. And that's when I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of my urgency addiction.
Getting out of my IT job required me to do something I could never, ever do before: say 'no' to my customers. I had trained myself to be a super-reactive, on-the-spot problem solver, and my customers had come to expect that as well. My greatest energy and productivity was activated when someone would come to me and say, "We need your help. Only you can do this." And that love of urgency has consistently plowed under any attempt to develop my writing career. I have been able to rededicate myself to writing every day, and reading the things I should be reading, but that's just keeping my writing on life support; it's not real progress toward real goals. A year after announcing my attention, I have accomplished many other significant life goals (move my mother-in-law, serve the school community, etc.), but when it comes to a writing career, I am no further along than when I started.
Ok. I give up. I am powerless before my urgency addiction. The only way I will develop a writing career is find ways to give it its own urgency. I need an editor, or several editors, who will call me to say, "I need 500 words on so-and-so by Friday, can you do that?" That, or a genuine business concern that requires constant production. Until I get a critical mass of people in my life demanding that I write, instead of demanding other things, this won't get off the ground.
I walked into the Barnes & Noble the other day, loaded with gift cards that were part of a fund-raiser for the school. Out of habit I walked to computer section, but I drifted right through it, feeling nothing. For now, at least, that part of me was burned out. I walked to writing section, and pulled two books on the business of writing non-fiction. "They're probably outdated," I thought, "but I've got to start somewhere."
When college graduation was looming in my future, with no direction in sight, I spent a while thinking that "freelance writer" was the career for me. I got a magazine for writers, and was quite surprised at the number of classified ads in the back from people who were looking for a freelance or ghost writer. One of them was even looking for help with his spiritual book. I'll bet something like that still exists, either in a magazine or a Web site somewhere.