Fill in your desired activity. Or in this case, undesired activity. In the last 3 years since I commissioned as an office in the US Army and since deciding to seek publication as an author at the same time, I’ve learned a lot of lessons, some of them the hard way.
“I shouldn’t have” to is one of the hardest lessons for anyone to learn and one that I think is the most important one I’ve learned to date.
On the writing front, I hear a lot of writers, both published and unpublished talk about the things they shouldn’t have to do. They shouldn’t have to blog. They shouldn’t have to spend all the time and effort in promoting their own work. They shouldn’t have to spend time tracking pirate websites to take down illegal copies of their books. Or for the unpublished, they shouldn’t have to know the market or what agents represent the work they’re pitching. They shouldn’t have to know where their book fits at certain houses or keep abreast of changes in publishing.
For army life, I hear from fellow captains and field grade officers all the time the things they shouldn’t have to do or the things that I “should” already know. I spent months spinning my wheels about all the things I had to tell my platoon sergeant to do as a lieutenant. I shouldn’t have had to tell him about basic accountability. I shouldn’t have to tell a sergeant today that they need to know where their soldiers live and what their spouses do for a living.
Shouldn’t or in many cases, should, needs to be expunged from daily life. Shouldn’t to me spells out a mind set that focuses on the way things “should be” instead of dealing with how things are and trust me, I still struggle with this almost daily. And there is a huge difference between the two. Writers may not want to spend time blogging or on social networks but there is no single better way to reach out to current fans and new readers. Army leaders can talk all day long about the way things should be, the leaders who should be more fair or more understanding but that doesn’t address what the issues really are.
At the end of it all, I’m resolving this year to take the word should in all it’s forms out of my vocabulary. As a writer, I’m going to focus on where I am, not where I think i should be (for the record, I’m pretty happy with the state of my career as an author. Someday, that will involve a book, too). As an officer and as a commander, I’m not going to focus on what should or shouldn’t be but what the real assessment is and how can I impact change on the current situation.
Focusing on anything else is simply wasting energy and time, two things I don’t have nearly enough of.