This post is directed at myself, but you might accidentally benefit from it as well. It started with rereading this quote from a Paris Review interview with Stephen King:

You have a short life span. You need to stop this crap about sitting there and talking about what we do, and actually do it. Because God gave you some talent, but he also gave you a certain number of years…

I do primarily make my living talking about what we do (writing), more or less, but I get what he’s saying and so should we all. Are you, like me, setting writing goals then watching them go right past you? Are you going days, weeks… longer…? without writing at all? Are you talking/posting (etc.) about writing instead of, y’know… writing?

I know I am, and as part of the ongoing project that is the Year of Phil, I’m determined to put a stop to that this year… or at least the last eleven months of this year. I have no choice but to set aside January to finish the last of the late 2022 editing (etc.) projects and finish the first big project of 2023 so I get to February 1st in the magical state of “caught up.” This has not proven easy so far, but it remains entirely possible here at about the halfway mark in the month, so then, all this motivation to write stuff starts in a couple weeks. It’s never too early to get myself psyched up for it, though, so let me remind myself that writing isn’t a chore, a task, just a to do list item to cross off. I like the way Elisa Gabbert describes it in “Why Write?”:

I love writing, but I hate almost everything about being a writer. The striving, the pitching, the longueurs and bureaucracy of publishing, the professional jealousy, the waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen that might make it all feel worth it. But when I’m actually writing, I’m happy.

I’m a little less negatively inclined to some of the business stuff, but I fully embrace the feeling of happiness I get when I’m in that great “flow state” and words are just pouring out of me. I make a swell living as an editor, consultant, etc., so from a purely financial standpoint, I don’t have to write—I want to write, and it’s well past time to embrace that desire the same way Ray Bradbury described in that Paris Review interview I advised you to read in November:

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.

Now, this is Ray Bradbury, the successful full-time author talking here, so the rest of us mere mortals do have to, at least from time to time, “worry about schedules.” But I don’t have to always or only worry about schedules, do I? Definitely not after I’m “caught up,” starting February 1st (which I will keep repeating in an effort to help conjure it into existence).

I know, writing can be hard, and it can feel like some terrifying monster we have to somehow wrestle to the ground—but does that stop me from doing it? “There’s a lot of mystery to me about writing and performing and showing off in general,” Joan Didion said. “I know a singer who throws up every time she has to go onstage. But she still goes on.”

I’ve never thrown up over anything I’ve written—yes, including Baldur’s Gate—but I have had nightmares, and anxiety attacks, and still I went on, which means now with the economic and “success” pressure off, I certainly should be able to go on from here, yes?

Every Wednesday morning so far in 2023 I’ve watched the same TED Talk about procrastination and jot down a line or two. One I’ve kept next to my desk is, “It’s just a deadline, not a bear attack.” This is pushing me through editing deadlines, but can also be a good reminder when it comes to writing. I know it all feels so do or die sometimes, the stakes so enormous… be the next J.K. Rowling (hopefully without the transphobia) or die trying… publish a new Kindle ebook every week in service to an ever-changing and unbeatable algorithm… It makes me nervous even thinking about how nervous this business can make us all.

So let’s all, starting with me, take a deep breath and remember that “Writing, contrary to popular belief, should not be a form of suffering,” Marcy Dermansky wrote in “On Revising Without Losing Your Mind,” “Writing can be a form of absolute play; you never know what you are going to write. Even if you have an outline, you still don’t know. Your fingers may betray you. And literally everything that has ever happened to you is material.”

So it’s all there, waiting to get out, and if, like H.P. Lovecraft, we remove the pressure of worldwide fame and literary accolades from the process… “There are probably seven persons, in all, who really like my work; and they are enough. I should write even if I were the only patient reader, for my aim is merely self-expression.” …fucking write already and have fun with it.

And finally, another quote I pasted into the top of my daily to do list, just so I get exposed to the message every day in the Year of Phil and beyond, once more courtesy of the great Ray Bradbury…

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

Hell, maybe I need to live the Year of Ray!

—Philip Athans

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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.
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  1. I enjoyed this immensely, and it comforted me, because I have stopped seeing writing as a form of play, I have made it something as terrifying as a bear attack (or based on my part of the world, a lion attack) Thanks for sharing this.

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