There are things I do every day. And then there are things I mean to do… and often don’t. And then there are the things I never do, but of which I would really like to form a habit.
Half the battle is in beginning. Without word from on high (ie. the calendar) it’s hard to feel like any given day has the clout to be the beginning of something great. It’s New Years, we make resolutions. It’s the start of a new school term or there’s a group all together planning on working hard, we’ll give it our all. We give up something for 40-or-so days and we start because it’s Ash Wednesday, and that’s what you do. Or at least, that’s what some people do.
But outside of a community or calendar date, or both, when do you start? And why that day? I find it helpful to choose a date on the calendar, in advance – that’s the day I’ll start project X. I’ll plan for it, put things aside, plan other things around it… all to make it easier to stick to project X. I’ll tell myself I’m not allowed to start before then, but I can plan what I’ll do that first day, and the second day, and the day after that.
A community helps if they’re doing something similar. A community helps even if they’re not. If I write on this blog that I’m going to journal every day, for a month, starting on Easter Monday (and I swear it’s not an April fools joke), then I’ll probably stick to it because I’d be embarrassed to give up. In fact I might just do that. April is the month I’ll journal – six times a week.
Planning helps because it makes the whole thing more achievable. Planning takes a big formidable task and breaks it down into bite-size, realistic parts. I plan out WHAT I’m going to write so that when I sit down I already know what I’m doing. I have an outline or perhaps just a note on my calender, eg. ‘finish party scene, read over and edit conversation with K’. I also plan other things that affect my writing time. I plan what we’re going to eat for dinner (takeaways are not always a bad idea). I plan to do the laundry/cooking/tidying with the kids, or while they’re playing on their own, so that when they’re napping I’m free to write.
Expecting failure helps. I know, that doesn’t sound right in this culture (though god knows which culture I refer to: a New Zealander in France, living with a bunch of Dutchies, inundated with American media and a melting pot of stuff of other origins). What I’m trying to say is that I build in back-up plans. Rather than saying ‘every day’, I say five days a week, and then if I forget one I can catch up. My resolve remains unbroken.
But if you need to say ‘every day’ in order to set a fire under your butt and make things happen, then it’s important that you expect to fail. And expect to keep going anyway.
The problem with resolutions is that they’re so fragile. I break a resolution it’s broken – munted, rubbish, worthless, gone. What? No it’s not. It’s one bad day. If you do something six days a week, on average, are you failing every week? No you’re not. You’ve got a fantastic sustainable habit.
Every day counts, but every day is just one day. So chill out.
But don’t water it down, making it easier on yourself but poisoning your true intent. I will write SOMETHING REAL each day. Something might just be a couple of lines of a poem, or a bare-bones idea, or two sentences of a scene, or boring old editing. REAL means something other than my blog, or a shopping list, an email, or a journal entry – usually a glorified to-do list with a little whining thrown in.
Some days SOMETHING REAL is also something significant, but significance is not required. Usually I’ve got no idea how significant my writing is until weeks or months later. Some days it feels like a waste of time, my head and heart are miles away, I’m ticking the box. Some days it starts like that and the magic comes. I show up and ten minutes later so does the muse. Some days not.
For Lent this year I said I’d read a bit of the bible everyday. I’ve skipped a couple of days, by accident, and probably one with illness and one with laziness (there you go, the whole ugly truth), and I’d be tempted to quit but for the fact that Lent is such a short period. That’s my next hot tip, I guess:
Don’t resolve to do something every day forever. Resolve to do it for a month, or two, or three. Who can plan further ahead than that anyway? If you’ve stuck at something, more or less, for ten weeks, then you can probably keep on going without too much trouble, if you want to.
Starting is hard, but everything had to start at some point. Everyone was a beginner one day. Every master faltered, failed, and got up the next morning (or afternoon perhaps) and eventually tried again.
There’s a lot of smarts in this silly movie but this is top of the list:
“Suck with style. Embrace the suckiness.”
I love that I suck. Even more than that, I love that I don’t suck as much as I used to. And one day I’ll suck even less.
And now I’m going to stop saying ‘suck’.