I’m often asked how I manage to do so many things: write books, teach, raise children, travel. How do you do it all? You must be so disciplined, so organized, people say.
Yet really I am not disciplined and certainly not organized at all. What I do: writing most of the day when I’m not teaching, is what I love to do. It is a pleasure to return to the page, though of course there are always moments of discouragement. I am lucky enough to be able to write almost anywhere: on trains, airplanes, on the airport, snatching a moment here or there wherever and whenever I can. The one thing that interferes with my concentration is a cell phone conversation in the next seat, and I have sometimes almost been thrown off a train because I have protested my neighbor’s loud and long conversation. “If you shish me one more time I’ll throw you off this train,” a large passenger once told me!
So, should one just go with the flow, do what you want to do? Follow as they say, your heart’s desire? Of course, it is not as easy as that, and many people, particularly when they are young, and perhaps gifted in different fields, are not sure what they really want to do.
There are moments, obviously, when I am obliged to control my impulses: for example to eat too much! I do step on the scale and make sure I’m not putting on too much weight and eat accordingly ( cutting out the starch and sugar!) . I do resist the impulse to check my internet for the tenth time. Wait until midday to look again, I will tell myself. Even in order to get enough exercise, I will trick myself into keeping at it: Just another fifteen minutes, I will say to myself as I plough up and down the pool. But for the most part I have found that if you really love what you do, and you have some outside encouragement and support, you don’t need a great deal of discipline or self control.
Many of these things , too, like regular exercise or eating well, sitting down to write every day, become habits early on in one’s life. I was lucky enough to attend a boarding school in South Africa where our days were divided up into periods of learning and sport. We were able to play sport for two sunny hours almost every afternoon. Also, there was no television, let alone the internet, so we had no choice but to read books. When I see young children today hooked onto the internet, stabbing at some game on a tablet at three years old, I want to rush in with a book, lift them into my lap, and READ to them!
But perhaps these children are learning skills I do not possess, and perhaps they are following their own interests. It seems very important to me to find what you really love to do and then to persevere. Don’t allow yourself to be too easily distracted or discouraged. Find some way to do what you want to do even if it’s not perhaps exactly what you intended to do from the start.
My son in law, for example, who wanted to write the Great American Novel got a business degree and now makes a very good living writing for business magazines. And who knows, perhaps one day he will write the Great American Novel! If you work with enthusiasm and desire, you are much more likely to produce something worthwhile.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including Becoming Jane Eyre and the recent Dreaming for Freud.