Commitment v. Desire

18 Jun


[responsibility, obligation, duty, liability, task]


[wish, want, aspiration, fancy, inclination, impulse, yearning, longing, craving, eagerness, enthusiasm]

I don’t know about you, but to me?  One of these sounds way more appealing.  In an ideal world, the things you desire and the things to which you’re committed would be the same things.  Too bad the world isn’t always an ideal place.

There are tons of directions I could take this topic — relationships, work v. rest, budgets of all sorts, social responsibilities.  For now, because it’s a recurring theme I’ve seen at least three times this week, I’m pointing it in the direction of writer-sees-sparkly-new-project-and-wants-to-drop-everything-in-pursuit-of-said-sparkly-new-project.

As writers, we have more freedom than most to commit to the things we desire — if you’re writing a novel, a short story, even a blog post, it’s probably about a subject that appeals to you.  Right?  I hope so.

The hard part happens when new becomes old, dull replaces sheen, and our eye lands on a new desire.  There’s temptation to drop the current commitment and follow the sparkly thing, the pretty thing, the oh-this-would-be-SO-fun-RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE! thing.

Usually, that temptation arises when the current commitment becomes difficult.

So, what are you to do?  Stick with the commitment, or follow the new desire?  Or, find a way to stick with the commitment and follow the new desire?  Well, I hate to disappoint you if you were looking for a hard and fast answer, but a) I don’t have one, and b) I don’t know if anyone does.  I have been thinking about this, though, so I’ll give you my thoughts.  Then, you should give me yours.

The way things are today, it’s become normal to do what we want, whenever we want to do it.  It feels unnatural to spend valuable time on a project we don’t always feel is valuable.  There’s the problem.  Feelings aren’t always reliable.  You have to go on truth, too.

Truth #1: Shiny new things will, inevitably, get dull and old.  Truth #2: Most worthwhile things take work.  Truth #3: Work is often hard.  Truth #4: If you’ve committed to it, you committed for a reason.  Truth #5: Nothing will ever get completed if you stop working on it when it gets hard.


Misery isn’t exactly the goal, either.  I don’t think it’s wrong to want to enjoy life, or to want to enjoy the work you do.  So, when is it okay to drop a project in favor of a new one?  Here’s what I’m thinking.

[Click over to the actual post if you’re on the main page & the bullet list is scrunched/impossible to decipher.]

It’s not okay to sacrifice Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • Someone else is counting on you.
  • You are legally obligated to follow through.
  • Your financial health depends on you upholding the commitment.
  • Your reputation or your integrity would be tainted because of it.
  • You’re acting purely on emotion, rather than truth + emotion.

It’s reasonable to ditch Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • No one else suffers negative repercussions from it.
  • The reason your current commitment is hard is because the idea is lame, will never work, and you’ve spent way too much time already trying to force it into something it’s not.  You had high hopes for it, and it is still hard to let go.
  • You are overcommitted, others end up having to pull your weight, and you are hurting more than you are helping.
  • You genuinely believe, after much thought, that the new project is a more valuable use of your time.
  • It’s a commitment for an undefined length of time, one which will never end unless you end it.
  • You don’t have a jumping-from-project-to-project-and-never-finishing-anything track record.

These lists are, most likely, not exhaustive.  Also, there are probably circumstances where exceptions happen.  And, like I said before, I don’t have answers — these are just thoughts, opinions based on (a slew of sometimes painful) experience.

To sum up: commitment is good, difficulty is not bad, misery is not preferable.  Emotions can blind, and are not reliable if unmixed with truth.  Overcommitment is a draining cancer.  Doing things you know are healthy — even if they’re not particularly enjoyable — can lead to wonderful, surprising results.  And, there are times when dropping commitments can be the best decision.  (Not a lot of times, but they do exist.)  Other times, you can keep current commitments, but still try to get a marginal amount of work done on the sparkly project in time not already devoted to anything.

Okay.  Enough of me.  What do you guys think?  How do you decide what to work on, when to work on it, and when to move on?

[tweetmeme source= “olsonkayla” only_single=false]

8 Responses to “Commitment v. Desire”

  1. J.C Friday / 18 June 10 at 3:27 pm #

    I tend to work on something until that stage is finished – whether thats the first draft, second, third, a revision, polish or edit. Whatever. I don’t often work on one thing all the way from start to ‘final product’ without going and doing other things, but thats mostly because I need a break so that I can come back with fresh eyes.

    I think you covered most of the bases though and it was a very thoughtful read. I’m one of those who tends to over-commit and it’s hard to stop doing that, and also hard to step back and stop saying ‘yes’ to everything.

    Am sure I had more to say but my brain is moving very slowly this morning and I’ve only just started my coffee 😉

    • owlandsparrow Friday / 2 July 10 at 10:56 am #

      Fresh eyes are always so helpful! Even when I open the same document a day later, I see things that could improve. Now that I have more ideas to work on, I’ll have something to do in between phases, I suppose.

  2. joyofdawn Friday / 18 June 10 at 3:52 pm #

    “Doing things you know are healthy — even if they’re not particularly enjoyable — can lead to wonderful, surprising results.”
    Too true. Just getting through those difficult things is a wonderful result!
    Setting aside shiney new projects is hard for me. I often jot it down and shove it in the back of my clpboard. Trying desperatly to ignore it. If I can’t, then I will continue to work on it.

    • owlandsparrow Friday / 2 July 10 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks for your input! 🙂 I think that’s a good way to approach it. I do that, not just with writing projects, but also with to-do lists. It helps me stay in my seat, rather than hopping up to take care of whatever crosses my mind.

      Hope all is going well! Good to hear from you!

  3. Merrilee Friday / 18 June 10 at 4:47 pm #

    I very rarely abandon a first draft. I think I’ve only done it once, and I may still come back to it. But I have abandoned stories after three or four drafts have not turned it into something decent. I have learned from experience that shiny new ideas are, as you say, just old ideas of a different colour 😉

    • owlandsparrow Friday / 2 July 10 at 11:00 am #

      That sounds like persistence, there! Three or four drafts in seems like a while to work on something, but not too long. Good to have confirmation that “new ideas are just old ideas of a different color” – it’s what I suspect, but haven’t been around long enough to completely affirm with my own experience. 🙂

  4. littlehousesouthernprairie Tuesday / 22 June 10 at 12:35 pm #

    This is … perfect. And exactly what I needed to hear today. It’s like the universe blogged this for me! Except it was you. 🙂

    • owlandsparrow Friday / 2 July 10 at 11:01 am #

      Hi, Emily! Thanks for stopping by, it’s good to see you again! I’m glad you found this timely and helpful – hope all is well for you and your sweet family! 🙂

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