A couple weeks ago, my fellow Fathomless Abyss explorer Mike Resnick posted on Facebook about all the books and stories he finished in 2012 and I was simply blown away by his output. It put my meager word counts to shame, and I told him so. His response to me:

Phil> The trick is to love what you do. Someone once asked Picasso what he did for a hobby. His answer: “I paint.” The interviewer said no, that was what he did for a living. What did he do to relax and unwind? Picasso’s answer: “I paint.” Me, I write.

Well, haven’t I given that same advice here? Pretty much, but I also generated a fair number of excuses. And speaking of excuses, how many times have I bemoaned my tendency to slack, watching too much TV and so on? Too many times.

I have this secret project that I’m working on—can’t tell you what it is, but it’s a writing project and it’s fun and interesting and challenging, and all that. Yesterday, I posted the following message on Twitter:

Okay, Twitterverse (and emailers) prepare to hear little from me. Deadline approaches, so today I #amwriting

And you know what I did? I did my morning exercise routine (which is also important) then I got cleaned up (which is important to those around me) and went to the bank to deposit a check (which is important to my mortgage lender) and then I came back home, fired up the laptop, and wrote for the entire rest of the day.

And, my friends, did it feel wonderful! This is a paid project—as significant a part of my work day as any other project, and one that deserves my attention. But while I was actually writing for what ended up being seven straight hours with about twenty minutes off for lunch, it didn’t feel at all like work. It felt like a hobby. It felt like what I would rather do than watch TV, fiddle around with household projects (though that new kitchen faucet remains steadfastly determined to not install itself), or all those other things that I allow to drag my attention away from the true joy of my working existence.

This morning I found a few more emails than usual awaiting me, and here it is just after 10:00 in the morning and I’m only now writing this blog post, haven’t gotten on the exercise bike yet, and there’s a full to do list of follow-ups and emails that need to be sent or responded to and this and that and the other thing.

Reality intrudes.

Most of us can not afford to go rent a cabin in the woods for a month and just sit there 24/7 pounding out our next literary masterpiece, but here’s the good news:

None of us have to.

I will ride the exercise bike, break for lunch, get back to some people who are waiting to hear from me, and spread my efforts around to a few other projects, but I will also spend a significant part of today writing.

How will I accomplish that with all this other stuff to do?

I’ll start by taking the advice of Mssrs. Picasso and Resnick and devote today’s “hobby” and “relaxation” time to my most favorite pursuit: writing.

And every once in a while . . . actually, let’s commit to this: At least one day every week, I will warn the worldwide web that I might be a bit slow on the uptake becuase I’m writing.

At this point you might be saying, “Yeah, Phil, I get it, but easier said than done!”

Is it?

I live in the real world. I am not independently wealthy. My wife is a preschool teacher and is gone every weekday from 6:30 am till about 5:15 pm. I have to get my son off to school, and greet him when he gets home, making sure he does his homework, or picking him up after Jazz Band. This morning I had to figure out some details on my daughter’s college loan. Did I mention my kitchen faucet is leaking and I need to replace it? The garage won’t clean itself any more than the faucet will install itself. Yesterday evening when my wife got home we went grocery shopping. I’m prospecting for new work. I’m managing my own career, running my own small business, and trying to get any attention at all for the National Buy a Book Day Foundation. I’m paying bills. I’m cleaning the house, doing the dishes, and doing the laundry (you wish you had as capable and dedicated a domestic engineer as me in your house!) and so what?

Still, I have to sit my ass down and do it! Writing requires time and effort. You can’t just think it into being, you have to type (or write longhand, or speak it into speech recognition software . . . whatever) and type and type until you’re done (at least for the day).

On my list of new year’s resolutions I had:




Notice how those are too different things? There’s work and then there’s writing.

Anyone who can do the latter as a full time job might just be the luckiest SOB in the world. But you don’t get that job by not writing when you also have other stuff to do.

Enough of this now, I need to get on the exercise bike so I can reward myself later with an afternoon of writing.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, National Buy a Book Day, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, The Fathomless Abyss, transmedia, Writing, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: SIT YOUR ASS DOWN AND DO IT! « Jake's Blog

  2. Hi Philip!

    Great post! I just wrote one recently about Picasso’s advice: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Someone left me a comment about the BIC (Butt In Chair) Rule & I think that ought to be the #1 Rule for every writer, get your butt in the chair and write, write, write. I love this line: “But you don’t get that job by not writing.” True. Only way to get your dream job as a writer is to finish your novel/short story/article/whatever & move on to the next & the next.


  3. Pingback: Goals are Good...In Moderation

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