Priorities And Other Bullshit About Being An Adult

Getting the extra arms was expensive, but totally worth it.

I want to be awesome at everything.

I don’t know if it’s my classic Type A, overachiever personality or just my relentless interest in just about everything from robotics to art to yoga to cooking to combat sports, but I want to be good at stuff. All the stuff.

But, not being possessed of infinite time, energy, and resources, I have to choose.

Being human is like character development in an RPG. You start off with so many points and you can put those into whatever you want, but they are finite. You can’t do everything. And even when you figure out what you want, you might have to prioritize those as well. Is it better to put all your ranks in Perception, or to spread them out and be less good at seeing that the goddamn dungeon floor is trapped?

We all have to choose what we want to spend our time on. And, since practice is usually correlated to performance, by extension what we want to be good at. If you want to be a great dancer, you need to devote a lot of time to it. Likewise if you want to kill it at Halo, or be a world-class chef, or, say, a writer.

And the very act of choosing what to specialize in means that there are other things that you have to let go. Or at least let go of doing extremely well.

I devote the majority of my time to writing, because I want to be awesome at it. Therefore, lesser amounts of time get devoted to my artwork, my video game skills, my coding projects, and my robot army. And some things, like fencing, knitting, and digital painting, have been put aside for the moment. I might come back to them one day, but right now, they’re simply a lower priority than everything else.

This gives me enough time to work hard on my writing, have fun with yoga and running and art, and still have time for a modest social life. And, you know, being married. And I love all those things, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the occasional wrench as I realize I have to let something else go to prioritize what I really want.

But there is good news. You probably have stuff that you want to do. And stuff that you have to do. And stuff that you’re just doing without really considering whether you want/have to or not. You can mine time from the things that you just do out of habit and repurpose it for stuff you actually want. Like taking your tv time and using it to learn French or Python. Or letting go of a volunteer position that has become a burdensome obligation and devoting the time you’re no longer spending in meetings to writing.

Ultimately, your time is yours. You have to choose how you want to spend it.

What have you given up to pursue something you wanted more?

I Need This Whiskey For Research

Give me all your research material!

People always throw around the old advice “write what you know”. I entirely blame that single phrase for every boring, insipid, slice-of-fucking-life novel I have been forced to read. Slice of life? Slice my wrists, more like.

I hate this advice because people take it as an escape hatch. I know about being a piece of human cardboard, so I will write about that.

It’s not a prescription, people. It’s a challenge.

Write what you know? Then you better know some interesting stuff. And most people do. The average person is, frankly, not that fucking average. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have at least one interesting thing about them. Maybe they’re an expert in knitting sock heels*, or they can name the stats of every NFL player who has ever been indicted for a major crime. People are interesting.

But tell those same people to write what they know and they gravitate towards the most boring, everyman incarnation of themselves. Because characters are supposed to be relatable.

You know what I relate to? People who do things. Instead of sitting around waiting for the plot to start, they’re out there learning to code, hiking mountains, teaching a robot to love, or perfecting their blintz recipe. They’re talking, learning, fighting, fucking. When the plot happens, it’s interrupting a life that was already in progress.

Take the advice, but take it in the spirit of learning. You want to write about a computer programmer who’s an expert on scotch? Read up on some coding languages and try a few lines. After that, get thee to the distillery or local watering hole and start trying stuff. If you’re really dedicated, you’ll learn about hangovers at the same time.

Now, some things are obviously impossible to actually learn. I’m not likely to become a sorcerer through watching YouTube videos.** You will not gain superpowers by letting radioactive spiders bite you; you will probably gain a rash, though. But those things are not all that make that character interesting. Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but he’s also a scientist, a nerd, and a photographer. Someone writing him would probably do well to crack open a few science books, or take a look at the standards in newspaper photography these days.

So, maybe it shouldn’t be “write what you know” at all. Maybe it should be “write what you can learn”.

*Seriously, there are a lot of variants. I know like 8 without even trying, and I’m not a hardcore knitter.

**Much to my chagrin, I assure you.