Reading outside is one of my favorite pastimes. When I lived with my parents, I would read on the front porch or walk to a nearby park to sit at one of the open picnic tables. My first and third apartments featured a private balcony, one open to the Cincinnati sky and the other shaded by the balcony above. Having this secluded, shaded space was a must-have when looking for a house. I spent 2 ½ hours today grateful for every little leaf and balmy breeze, even with the soundtrack of a nearby, busy road nearly eclipsing the bugs and birdsong.
In August 2020, I decided to change my daily habits. Many of my close friends and family are intimately aware of this already. Now, 9 1/2 months into this journey of self, I realize I am 8 months strong with improved nutrition and 6 months consistent in exercise, despite an illness and vacation. As most of my friends, family, and acquaintances know, I’ve also been reading more since the start of 2020.
However, my writing was intermittent at best and forgotten at worst.
As my last post indicates, I’ve been working myself up to writing consistently again. The practice of writing 1,000 words a day has been a much larger task than I anticipated, in part because of when I started. Surprise, surprise: I expected too much of myself. I haven’t creatively written consistently in years and I was still recovering from a mild bout of COVID when I decided 1k-a-day was the route to take.
In reality, I should have been leaning into my new and old good habits as I recovered, rather than starting new ones.
So, what has May looked like for my writing? Well, I wrote for a few days before ramming into a wall of my own making, hitting it repeatedly for longer than I’d like to admit. I firmly believe in the quote, “Unrealistic expectations become unmet expectations,” so I’ve reconsidered my own over the past week and realized I was in need of adjustment. Overall, I wrote little in those first few days, some 1,300 words I have since scrapped once I realized that newfound direction for my novel was several degrees off.
I’m always open to experimenting, to throwing out a plan and trying something different, but that new opening scene felt downright wrong. Its development revealed other considerations to me, which were worth considering, but that act of writing also thrusted me into what felt like outer space. I floated in this intangible anxiety, somehow too frozen to write yet grappling for answers.
Answers only I could give.
So I took a step back. I stopped writing. The guilt of stopping churned my stomach, my disappointment coating my tongue like ash, choking me up so much I couldn’t even speak of my own failure to write daily just days after declaring I would do so. This feeling festered, fermenting in my gut until I couldn’t take it, so what did I do? I willed myself to write.
Sometimes the laptop sat beside me, open and wanting like a neglected guest, whereas other times I managed to refine paragraphs I’d already written. I felt remarkably less nauseous after those moments of revision, small as they were. They built confidence in me that I had the tools to accomplish my overall goals if I could just write already.
This past week, I went from aiming for 1,000 words a day to not striving to achieve a certain amount, whether page or word count. I have noticed that I feel better for what I have written, but the inconsistency still grates me. This is not the writer I used to be. While I am well aware that I will never be that writer again, for good and bad, that doesn’t mean that this version of me is the type of writer I want to be.
I do not accept this.
Starting today, I’m focusing on keeping the habit. It won’t matter what’s produced or how it’s measured, only that I allow myself to write a little bit, every day, for the foreseeable future, until the very act of writing syncs with the natural rhythm of the other habits I’ve been keeping.
I’ll try the antithesis of my former approach, in the hopes of more positive results.
After all, in Atomic Habits—the open book pictured at the top of this post—author James Clear writes, “The task of breaking a habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” So deeply personal as writing is to me, I owe it to myself to slow down. I have been trying to uproot a forest of doubts, one that completely shadowed the flowers I’ve been planting.
Each doubt deserves my care and attention, just as the flowers.