I had to drive to Erie today — a two-hour drive for a five minute post-op follow-up with my doctor.
Still, I’m always grateful when I go to the doctor, no matter what it takes to get there or how much of my day it takes. I spent a long (long) time without health insurance and those memories are still vivid in my mind.
There’s nothing like contemplating whether your ear infection can wait for the clinic to open on Monday or if it’ll slip into strep or something worse if you don’t go, uninsured, to the ER on a Saturday night.
Anyway. As I was leaving my little town this morning, I passed a church and in front of the church, there was a message board that said — “What’s behind your not?”
I have no idea what the sermon prompted by that question will be about, but the question yourself fascinated me enough that it occupied my mind all the way to Erie.
What exactly is a ‘not’ anyway?
I think the answer is pretty simple. What are you not doing?
It can get a little more complicated than that. Do you want to do the thing? Do you really want to, or only in a romanticized, theoretical way? (Like — in theory, I want to be a movie star, but in reality, I don’t ever want to the work it takes to be a movie star and I don’t want to actually have the life of a movie star.)
If you only want the thing in theory — what exactly is it you’re not doing in reality? I don’t want to be a movie star, really, but I’d love to work on a movie set — behind the scenes. I’d love to have my books made into films. I’d love to write scripts.
There it is. That’s a thing I’m not doing. I’m not writing scripts.
So, logical next question. Why not?
Well. I don’t know how. That’s pretty much a universal why not, isn’t it.
The learning curve seems insurmountable. I’m old. My neurological pathways are closed! I’m too old to learn scriptwriting, for God’s sake. No one makes a living as a scriptwriter anyway, do they? I mean, almost no one.
And I’m already super busy doing other kinds of writing I’m already good at. So there.
Yes. My inner child is sticking her tongue out at you right now.
She doesn’t like to do things she’s not already good at, and you can’t make her.
That’s why not.
What’s your why not? Why aren’t you doing your thing?
Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity. Or you don’t have the money. Or the education. Maybe there’s no one to teach you. Or you’re too busy. You’ve got all these kids. Or you’re single and no one who isn’t married does that thing. Or maybe you’re married and no one who isn’t single does it. Maybe you’re part of the sandwich generation. Or you’re a GenX/Boomer/Millennial/Zoomer who can’t get their shit together.
Whatever. Just acknowledge your why not. Look it in the eye.
And now, the $64,000 question . . .
What are you going to do about it?
The real, honest answer might be nothing. I might not be willing to do anything about wanting to write movies. But there’s a difference between wanting it and lamenting the fact that it isn’t happening — and wanting it, and owning the fact that I’ve literally never tried to make it happen.
As in, I’ve never done more than read a book or two about script writing and watched a ton of films and downloaded the free version of some scriptwriting software that I never opened. That’s the extent of it.
I can decide that it’s a pipe dream. Something I might shake off if I ever sell a book to Hollywood. Or if I ever get bit by a really good idea for a screenplay. But the truth is, I’m not a very visual person and I love writing novels. Maybe I want to write a screenplay someday, but not enough to usurp any of my writing time to give to it. Obviously.
What are you not doing?
Spend some time thinking about your thing — that one thing that you’re not doing. You really want to. It’s not a theoretical. It’s something you’ve spent time really researching and trying to figure out. You’ve tried. But you’re still not doing it.
Or you’ve started, but you haven’t followed through.
And for whatever reason, right now, you’re not doing that thing the way you want to. You’re not putting effort into itand it’s frustrating you to the point that you’re wondering whether this whole thing is even for you.
So . . . why not?
What’s stopping you? This is a time for total honesty with yourself.
Is it a time management issue? Do you have too many things going on that you’re prioritizing over your thing? Do you have some unhealthy habits that are stealing your energy? Is there some circumstance in your life that’s making it impossible to put in the time you think you need to devote to your thing to make it worth while?
Just think about today. Or maybe yesterday. If you didn’t do your thing — why not?
No judgement. Just an honest answer.
Now do something about it.
You have a few choices here.
You can let it go. Maybe your thing isn’t for you after all, at least right now — like screenwriting isn’t for me. No harm, no foul. It goes way to the back of the back burner so that something more important to you right now can take that bandwidth.
You can accept that you really don’t have it in you to give your thing time right now. But at least you’ll have a plan. Some temporary situation will be resolved soon and free up some space. Or you can give minimal time for now and in a few weeks, when school’s over or your job eases up, you’ll be able to give it more.
You can acknowledge that you’ve been making excuses and just ignoring this thing that you really want in your life. And you can accept that there’s real joy in this — because it means that right now, today, you can start doing what you want to do.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.