Seven Deadly Sins for Writers: #6 – Gluttony
Some people eat to live. Some people live to eat. I’m a card-carrying member of the latter crowd. Yes, as I sit here with the seven extra pounds I packed on over the holidays I recently ate my way through, I have no doubt about which of these people I am.
My pastor recently said “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I believe that’s a good point. But has he met my life-long pal Deborah?
I admit the thought of continuous consumption of every sweet treat I can get my taste buds on has its appeal. What also sounds appealing is fitting through the front door of my townhome.
Fortunately, I also enjoy exercise. This wasn’t always true. I remember a time in my life when I referred to that demon as the “e” word. Now, aerobics and I have buddied up, and I enjoy a good sweat-inducing workout and the physical benefits I reap from it.
The result is a fairly healthy balance of input and output. I don’t look like Denise Austin, but I can live with that. The time I devote to early-morning workouts keeps me healthy and balances out the occasional unhealthy snack or party-binge on junkfood. I think I do ok. Without the output though, I could see the scales tipping, so to speak.
The same goes for writing. I doubt I’ll get much argument from a statement about the unhealthiness of overeating. Gluttony is bad. Got it. Why should gluttonous consumption in the area of writing be any healthier? If we can see that gorging ourselves on every meaty morsel will not end well for us, we should be able to see the same application for our craft.
Writer’s Gluttony shows up in three forms. Stuffing. Starvation. Stagnation. Interwoven like the latticework of Mom’s apple pie, these three create a pattern of gluttony that will leave a bad taste in your life.
How many times have we been told to read, read, read? If you’re going to be a writer, you must first be a reader. Ok. We read. Then we are told we must study our craft, learn from the successful writers around us, and research our market. Ok. We study. We read articles. We listen to webinars. We join the ranks of followers reading Michael Hyatt’s tips. We get our hands on a copy of the most recent Writer’s Market. We set up camp at Barnes & Noble, perusing every title in our niche. We research our next topic until we’re blue in the face. We gobble up everything we can about writing. We spend every spare moment consuming all we can, from literary classics to the latest John Grisham. We stuff ourselves so full of knowledge and resources that success should ooze from us like the juices of a well-basted Thanksgiving turkey.
The problem: Now our stomachs hurt. We are bloated beyond belief. We munched on tales and tips, consumed columns and critiques, and swallowed more self-help than we care to admit. And now we’re sick on it. Why? All we did was consume. We never exercised to balance out the consumption. All input. No output.
As we take in from other wordsmiths, we should spin out some yarns of our own. What that looks like will be different for every writer. Maybe you start a blog. Maybe you write the short story that’s been nibbling at your brain for eight months. Maybe you compose and send that query letter. Maybe you stop procrastinating and start producing. Whatever the step, you end the gluttony by getting into a healthier cycle of consumption and production.
This probably won’t be easy. A habit of eating is a lot easier to form than a habit of exercising. It’s work. Work can be hard (although enjoyable too.) Take this Saturday afternoon I am currently enjoying for example. The easier thing is to cozy myself up on the couch and devour a book. The harder thing is to crack open the laptop and bang out an article. I decided to devote a chunk of the day to exercising my own writing skills. My balance? While consuming a turkey sandwich and some cantaloupe around noon, I read a few pages of Stephen King’s On Writing.
Other deadly sins may try to jump in this battle. As you struggle to produce, gluttony’s pal fear may float to the surface. The key is to do it anyway. Keep putting things in and pouring things out. Lots of it. If it’s not all good, that’s ok. Think of it this way. If you vomit out enough stuff eventually you might discover something worth cleaning up and keeping.
The key is to break the cycle of gluttony. Stop cramming it all in your little notebook and start filling someone else’s.
With this last thought in mind, we can avoid gluttony’s second shape.
If we are consumed with gluttony, we take, take, take. We are selfish. We never give. While we gobble up everything we can, we leave others starving.
We are busy meeting our needs (or what we think our needs are) and forget the hunger of others. Where would we be if the writers from whom we are consuming never gave? We need to put some morsels out there for others to sustain themselves. This could take the form of simply writing that book or blog, or pouring into someone on a more personal level. It is likely God has put something in you that no one else could give, based on your unique talents and experiences as a writer. Don’t deny the world of what you have to offer.
Maybe it’s helping a friend with a cover letter for a dream job. Maybe its composing a pro bono article for your church website or local nonprofit organization. Maybe it’s reading a book to a child, or teaching someone how to read. Maybe it’s offering to edit your neighbor’s book. Maybe it’s publishing a book that will have a great impact on its readers. The opportunities are endless. The point is to not be consumed with our own input and instead focus some time, talent, and energy on the input of others.
The formats vary, but the results are the same. We fight off gluttony in ourselves and fill others in the process. Starvation stopped.
As we produce in addition to consume, we not only avoid stuffing ourselves and prevent the starvation of others, we also avert gluttony’s third shape – stagnation.
Mosquitoes, malaria, and the mata mata turtle.
These thrive in stagnant water.
While I’ve come across many small cute turtles, and others so large they were awe-inspiring, the mata mata falls into neither of these categories. In fact, I have read (as part of my healthy consumption-production cycle) that South Americans call unattractive women mata matas.
My point? Stagnation produces some fairly ugly and unpleasant things, and gluttony produces stagnation.
If we don’t get away from gluttony and move toward a healthier pattern of production, we become stagnant in our writing. Never stretching ourselves to create something new, we only continue to pour into our puddle of knowledge, with no outlet to drain out some of our own thoughts. The result? The rain keeps adding ideas to our little pond but no one ever drinks from it. We find ourselves with a cess-pool of ideas that never flow anywhere. They arrive at stagnation station and stay there.
We need to create some drainage. Stir the waters. Create a culvert. Start pouring words out of our pond. Pour into others. Establish a flow of ideas. Write.
If we never do, we end up bloated and miserable, with a case of malaria, surrounded by mosquitoes and mata matas.
Up next – Deadly Sin #7 – Greed – if I can spend enough of my unpaid time to write it.