It’s OK If You Don’t Have Lion Mode

Today I saw a status update from a writing teacher who said:

Lions spend most of their time relaxing but turn into focused predators when there’s food nearby.

Writers should also spend most of their time relaxing.

But when it’s time to write, they tune out distractions and be 100% focused.

Whenever you write, turn on “Lion Mode.”

I have a real problem with this. A few problems, in fact.

This approach to writing is both sanctimonious and privileged, and I would like to set the record straight in case you feel like your writing is somehow not valid against these standards.

Problem 1: Writers are humans, not lions.

I’m not trying to be facetious here. If being ruthless with distractions was the only prerequisite for being a good writer, we’d all be fine. Most of us can manage a couple of hours of focused time every now and then.

But writing isn’t hunting: it’s creating. If you set out to kill something every time you sit down to write, it might end up being your inspiration and motivation that comes under attack.

The point is not to white-knuckle your way to a word count because you’re “being focused” — writing done that way is dead on arrival. The point is to create a space for yourself where you can actually hear your ideas and translate them onto the page with as much veracity as you can manage.

Problem 2: Writers have to eat in order to write.

Some writers will eventually be able to eat because of their writing. But for most folks, writing will feed their spirits far more effectively than it feeds their bodies, and for those writers, it’s not really feasible to spend most of their time relaxing.

The goal of writing doesn’t have to be making a living: it can be self-expression and self-exploration, it can be stretching your creativity, it can be a spiritual practice, it can be strategic. It’s OK if you have to do other things with most of your focused time in order to be able to write in the little pockets of time elsewhere in your life.

If you’re trying to make a living with your writing, then by all means, be decisive and bold when it comes to grabbing new opportunities. But take your time with the writing. Put care into it — don’t just rip through it so you can get on with the next thing. Giving yourself enough time and space with a project (enough time to get distracted occasionally, so that your brain can serve up an interesting new angle, for example), is how you start to build a reputation for good work.

Problem 3: ‘Relaxing’ does not mean ‘not writing’

Every writer I know is writing all the time. They might not be putting pen to paper, but they think about their work a lot. They think about their ideas while they’re walking or working out. They’re always pulling out their phones mid-conversation to capture an idea before it vanishes, or waking up in the middle of the night to scribble things down on a notepad.

Yes, there’s a point where daydreams and imagination has to translate to the actual act of writing, but there’s no way most writers can not think about their work while relaxing. If they didn’t, there would be nothing to write.

For many writers, there’s little distinction between thinking about the work and writing it up. If you thrive on deadlines and ticking stuff off a list, fine. You can do it that way. But sometimes the work just doesn’t go like that, and it’s FINE if you are not 100% focused in every session.

There will be times when you have to exert some discipline and push yourself, no doubt. But there will be other times when everything comes together easily, without you having to put strict rules on yourself.

What do you think, ?

Do you work well under strict conditions, or does the writing come easier when you give yourself a bit of room to dream?