Day 31/30 – a reflection

I am disappointed in myself for not having completed the 30-day challenge faithfully. I did write something every day, but it wasn’t always in the morning and it wasn’t always for 15 minutes. I didn’t keep very good records. All I did was note down whether I wrote or not, and that shows me I did for 29/30 days. That looks good on the surface, but I know I didn’t do it as I’d wanted to on all of those days, so it’s not an accurate record.

I made choices on some days. I had an opportunity to spend that time with my son instead of getting up in the cold and forcing myself to write. I know that the opportunities to have time like this with him are few even now, and they will decrease and eventually stop as he grows more independent. I choose to take those opportunities as I get them, and that means that other things I value take second place.

What I do at any time is up to me, and I make the choice about what I do. No one forces me. I could have got up on those days where I didn’t. But the time with my son is precious, so I chose to place a higher value on that than on writing in that moment.

And I’m ok with that. I have to be. I chose it. Yes I don’t have a perfect row of check boxes for 30 days of morning writing completed, but let’s acknowledge what I did do. I have 24 entries tagged “morning words” so, assuming that I didn’t cheat and incorrectly tag a day that I didn’t do the writing in the morning, that means I completed 24 of the 30 days of the challenge. That’s 80 per cent, if my maths is correct. I think that’s perfectly acceptable. We aren’t talking brain surgery, where 100 per cent precision is vital, we’re talking about building a new habit.

Obviously it would be better to not have broken the chain – I always think of the Jerry Seinfeld story, which I think I first read on James Clear’s site about habit formation, where he tells an aspiring comedy writer to write every day and to cross off each day he writes with a big X, which serves as inspiration to not break the chain. Perhaps this is worth a try – and to put the calendar somewhere where I can see it – not tucked away in a notebook that I occasionally remember to update.

But anyway that’s for the future – take my learnings from the past 30 days and use this to move forwards. I think I’ll abandon the steam of consciousness writing for now. I know the morning pages is supposed to be a critical step in getting yourself unstuck, but I want to write something that makes sense! I haven’t written fiction for a long time. Definitely not regularly since I was in primary school. I don’t recall having done it for fun in high school, and maybe only once or twice as an adult in a workshop or something like that.

This might be fun, or it might be agonising. It will be interesting to see which it turns out to  be. And, therefore, a new category will be born on the blog and I will start a new 30 day challenge: 30 days of fiction.

Day 29/30

It’s Day 29. I have written for 15 minutes a day for 28 days. Now it’s ten past nine and I’m tired and want to go to bed. I am still worn out from my illness.

I need to take my contacts out and go to bed. Tonight is a write-off.

Day 28/30

Louise smiled. “Look at you Elena! Look at the passion in you when you talk about this. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. So you do know!”

“I do,” said Elena, a sliver of doubt creeping back into her mind. “But do you mean to tell me you can just get into that state whenever you feel like it and write for hours? I mean how? I sit down and nothing comes. Ever. I don’t know how to write. I don’t think I’m a write at all. I feel like a fraud.”

“Well sweetie, of course you’re going to feel like a fraud if you never write anything,” retorted Louise. “If you go round calling yourself a writer but you don’t actually write anything, then what other conclusion is there for your mind to come up with?”

“That’s right,” said Elena with a sigh. “So I’m not a writer after all. That guy was right.”

“Yep. He was,” concurred Louise. “One hundred per cent correct.”

They drank their coffee in silence.

“Question is,” continued Louise, “Are you going to sit there and take it?”

“What?”

“It sounds to me like you’re giving up. Is that what I heard? You’re sure that you’re not a writer and you’re going to give it all up because you believe what some dickhead at a party told you. And now you’re no longer a writer.”

Elena started. “No. I mean yes. I mean . . . Oh I don’t know what I mean. I want to be a writer, I do. But I’m  not. I mean look at you. You’re a writer and you sit down every day and the words come and you write beautiful pieces. I just sit down and surf the internet and write shitty little documents at work that everyone says are great but no one ever reads. And they aren’t even my words. I translate someone else’s words into some different words and pass that off as writing.”

She finished her coffee and put her cup back on the saucer defiantly.

Louise looked at her. “You know the only difference between you and me?”

“Of course. You’re a writer and I’m a pretender.”

“Not quite what I was thinking, and no, I see it another way. The only difference is that I sit down and write, and you don’t.”

Elena laughed. “Yeah right Louise. That’s the only difference. Have you heard anything I’ve said?”

“Of course I had,” said Louise. “And I still think I’m right. You just told me you sit down and surf the internet instead of writing.”

“Yeah, because I can’t think of anything to write about,” replied Elena. “So that distracts me and helps me forget I’m not writing.”

“Like a drug!”

Day 27/30

That’s just stupid,” Elena protested. “What’s the point of that? I need to write about something, not just whatever comes out of my head.”

“Well sure, if you want someone to read it,” said Louise patiently. “But we aren’t talking about anyone reading it. That comes later, when you have the ideas. Right now we need to get you back into the mindset of being a writer, and all you have to do to do that is write. Trust me.”

Elena looked unconvinced. “I just have to write?” she asked. “is that what you do when you get stuck? When you don’t think you can do it?”

“It’s what I would do,” replied Louise.

“Huh?”

‘I guess you could say I’m incredibly blessed,” said Louise. “I’ve never had that problem. I just sit down and the words come. I don’t have to think at all. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a mindset I can get into where the words just flow. I don’t doubt myself, I don’t doubt the words. They are just there, and I go with it. It’s beautiful.”

“How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

“Well that’s really no help for me Louise. I’m not that lucky that I can just get into the zone whenever i feel like it.”

“But you know what the zone is like then? You’ve been there?”

Elena paused. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Do you mean you don’t know what it’s like? Or you don’t know if you’ve been there?”

“I don’t know,” Elena repeated.

“Think about a time you were doing something that you were so engrossed in that time flew by and before you realised it, it was hours later, or dinner time, or time to go home. You must have experienced that somewhere along the line.”

“I . . . I guess so.”

“Well, that’s a start. What were you doing?”

Elena was silent. She closed her eyes. “I don’t know.”

Louise sipped her coffee and finished off her caramel slice. She loved the crunchy bits on the edge where the sugar had caramelised alongside the baking tray. It was probably seen as an imperfection in cooking circles, but she thought it was the most delicious part of the entire slice and basically the whole reason she continued to eat them.

“OK, yes.” Elena had opened her eyes now. “I can remember. I was working on a manual where I had to translate what the law said into language people could actually understand so they’d know what they had to do to not break the law. It took ages and I used to take it home every night to work on it, and I’d be up from after dinner till past midnight working on it. I got so much done, but the time passed so quickly I never even realised until my flatmate got up to go to bed and started turning lights off. I was so engrossed in it and I enjoyed it so much.”

Her eyes were shining and Louise observed how much more animated and interested she seemed.

“Is that what you’re talking about Louise? Is that the zone?”

Louise smiled. “Look at you Elena! Look at the passion in you when you talk about this. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. So you do know!”

“I do,” said Elena. “But do you mean to tell me you can just get into that state whenever you feel like it and write for hours?”

To be continued. Maybe. It’s a bit shit.

Day 26/30

Continued from yesterday

“. . .   If you want to call yourself a writer who writes for the public service, that’s up to you too! You pick the label that you want to wear. Whatever anyone else thinks is their business, not yours. Think about it.”

Louise took a sip of her coffee before continuing. “I know it’s hard, but you have to stop caring what other people think, and focus on yourself and what you believe.”

Elena sighed. “But I don’t know what I believe. I think I’m kidding myself most of the time. I mean when was the last time I wrote anything that was any good? I can’t even remember. It’s hard enough just getting through the day, without making myself sit down and write at the end of the day. I’m not a writer am I? I just write as part of what I do.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” said Louise. “You get to decide what you are. You. Not a dickhead you meet randomly. What would he know? You don’t even know this guy, yet you’ve let him undermine your belief in yourself. You did that to yourself.”

Elena was silent for a moment as the truth of Louise’s words sank in. “But even if I am a writer, even if I say that every day and I start to believe it, I’m not really am I? Because I don’t actually write anything.”

“Right,” said Louise. “So what do you do about it? I think you really do want to write, and that you really do think you’re a writer, so now, my friend, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” replied Elena. “What can I do? I have no idea what I even want to write about, let alone any time to do it.”

“Does it matter?” asked Louise.

“What?”

“Does it matter if you don’t know what you want to write about? Why do you have to know that?”

“Um, because how can I write if I don’t have something to write about?” Elena sounded irritated. “I can’t just sit down and write garbage. What’s the point of that?”

“Of course you can,” replied Louise. “In fact that’s exactly what you have to do. You have to write for the sake of writing. To get into the habit. So you know what it feels like. You need to get your mojo back, and you can’t do that by sitting round drinking coffee and moaning that you aren’t really a writer. Just write. Write about anything, whatever words come out.”

“But that’s just stupid,” Elena protested. “What’s the point of that? I need to write about something, not just whatever comes out of my head.”

“Well sure, if you want someone to read it,” said Louise patiently. “But we aren’t talking about anyone reading it. That comes later, when you have the ideas. Right now we need to get you back into the mindset of being a writer, and all you have to do to do that is write. Trust me.”

To be continued.

Day 25/30

Elena and Louise found a free table and sat down. They sipped their coffee silently.

Finally Elena spoke. “I just don’t think I’m cut out to be be a writer.”

Louise reflected for a moment before replying. “What makes you think that Elena?”

“I can’t do it. I can’t write, and when I do, what I write is crap. I’m so embarrassed by it. It’s just crap. Everything.”

“Well that sounds like it would be frustrating,” replied Louise.

Elena nodded miserably. “I’m kidding myself thinking I can be a writer,” she said. “I met this guy at a party last week and spent the whole time trying to persuade him that I’m a writer, and he was all like, ‘Have you had anything published?’ like you can’t be a writer unless he can walk into Dymocks and see a book with your name on it on the shelf. I told him I’d had heaps of stuff published, like my blog and stuff that I write for work that they’ve put online. I even told him about my journalism work experience when I was in high school! But he dismissed the whole lot and labelled me a public servant, and that was it. If I can’t convince a dickhead like him that I’m a writer, how will I ever believe it myself?”

“Oh dear,” said Louise. “That’s harsh.” She thought for a moment. “You know you really don’t need someone else to validate you as a writer you know. His opinion is just that. His opinion. He’s one person. I bet there are lots of people out there who would see you as a writer – people read your blog don’t they? I bet this guy never has, or he wouldn’t have said that.”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Elena unconvincingly. “But he’s still right isn’t he. I’m a public servant who writes as part of my job. Not a writer who writes for the public service. I blog on the side. I’m not a proper blogger.”

“Elena, really,” retorted Louise. “Just listen to yourself! You just talked yourself out of it. If you think you’re just a public servant who writes as part of their job then that’s exactly what you are. You’ve given yourself that label. Not that guy. Not your boss. You have. If you want to call yourself a writer who writes for the public service, that’s up to you too! You pick the label that you want to wear. Whatever anyone else thinks is their business, not yours. Think about it.”

To be continued tomorrow.

Day 24/30

This is Day 24 and I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything. I certainly don’t feel like I have set up any sort of disciplined routine or got myself in a frame of mind to write regularly. It’s been so inconsistent and ad hoc. Maybe I need to scrap the train of thought idea and actually write something that comes from me, rather than sitting down here writing the first thing that comes into my head.

One of the exercises in the Fearless Writing book, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post (I think. I’m sure I did. I remember googling it so I must have. William Kenower. Right. Excuse me.) was to write a conversation between a writer who is always confident and able to get into a flow state and for whom writing comes easily, and one who is plagued with self-doubt and who doesn’t think their writing is good enough. Something like that. I don’t have the book in front of me, but let’s not use that as an excuse not to write a fictional exchange.

Let’s start now.

The characters are Elena (you met her on Day 1) and [tries hard to come up with a name that sounds like the person is super-confident] let’s call her Louise.

“Hi Elena! How’s the writing going today?” Louise sees her friend in the line at the coffee shop.

“Louise – hi, how are you?”

“Going pretty well ” says Louise. “I nailed 3,000 words of my new novel this morning and decided to reward myself with a coffee and one of those caramel slices. They look so good!”

“Oh wow,” says Elena, picking up her coffee. “I’m the exact opposite. I couldn’t write a damn thing this morning and had to get out to take my mind off it. I’m hoping the caffeine will give my brain a kickstart.”

‘Sorry to hear it,” says Louise. “Do you want to sit down and have a chat for a bit?”

“Oh I don’t know,” says Elena. “I don’t want to hold you up, since you’re doing so well at the moment!”

‘It’s fine,” says Louise.

“Thank you,” she says to the young woman serving her. “Can I get a caramel slice as well please?”

She pays, picks up her coffee and cake, and turns to Elena, who is standing awkwardly at the back of the line. “Come on Elena, let’s sit down over there and you can tell me all about it.”

And just like that my 15 minutes is up. I’ve set the scene for the conversation, and that’s what I’ll be working on tomorrow. Hooray!

 

Day 23/30

Another day where the 4.30 or 5.00 am wakeup didn’t happen and I am trying to cram the time into the end of the day.

Tsk.

Today I’m trying an idea that I borrowed from The Write Practice, which is to write your own writers manifesto. In the article about self-doubt, author Ruthanne Reid says that when she is plagued by self-doubt that prevents her from seeing the truth that “[she is] a writer, and [she is] getting better, and if [she keeps] going, the story [she’s] trying to tell will take shape”, to help her hold onto that truth she has a manifesto. Hers goes like this:

  • I will write when I don’t feel like it.
  • I will write when it hurts.
  • I believe I can write, even if I suck a lot.
  • People want to read what I write. I know because I want to read it, too.
  • It’s okay if I suck right now. I will figure it out and get better.
  • I will not stop writing.

So today’s writing exercise is to come up with my own version of this that I can hold onto when I doubt myself and don’t want to write.

I don’t want to copy what Ruthanne wrote, but I like it. I went back to my 100 reasons why it’s important to me to write that I jotted down a few weeks ago to kick start this process. None of them really seem to fit a manifesto, so I’ll try a few out and see how they look.

  • I will write when I don’t want to.
  • I will write because I’m a writer.
  • I will write for the sake of writing.
  • I will write even if I’m scared.
  • I will write when the voice in my head tells me I can’t write.
  • It’s ok to write badly, because writing badly is better than not writing at all.
  • I will write because writing will make me a better writer.
  • I will write because it’s what I do.
  • I will keep writing.

There. That wasn’t so hard was it? Something else needs to go in there about what I learn from writing permeating my whole life. I can’t remember what it is, but it’s from the book Fearless Writing by William Kenower. I’ll look it up and add it to the post.

I think I’ve cheated my 15 minutes a bit today, but I sat down and did it and I didn’t get distracted. All of this is building my “focus muscle”, which is a muscle that needs significant development in my case.

So I will continue.

 

 

Day 22/30

It’s nearly 6 am and I have spent almost two minutes of my precious writing time setting up the post, waiting for the internet. I don’t think this has been spectacularly successful in terms of a writing experiment. The blog posts probably aren’t necessary. I don’t know what I thought I would achieve by this, but I don’t feel any different and I don’t see the point of what I’ve been doing.

I know. Part of it is the discipline of doing it, but that got wiped out by being sick for a week and writing at random times during the day instead of at the set time to try and build the habit. It’s also meant that the other projects I was going to work on during that precious time in the morning have been set aside, and they were supposed to be my priorities for the period of three months that we are currently in.

I feel confused and focus-less again. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing or even what I want to be doing any more. It’s like being sick has thrown me off course and I can’t find where I was to start making my way back there. I don’t want to start all over. I want to pick up where I left off, but I can’t remember where that was.

I need to exercise but I don’t think my body is ready for 4.30 am walks. (Well let’s face it, they were really 5.00 am walks weren’t they? I wasn’t getting up at 4.30, even though that’s when the alarm went off.) I have so much I want to do but my time in the morning is limited. I can’t get up any earlier without going to bed at a crazy early time that isn’t going to work for anyone. When I do go to bed early/on time, say around 10 pm, it seems like I can only get a good night’s sleep if I had a bad one the night before, so what’s the point?

I had goals for this three months and have done basically nothing towards them. Maybe they are too vague? But this isn’t the case. There are exercises to do and other things that are concrete. They are actual tasks. And I am a great one for rolling tasks forward in my task manager so I never do them. I need a system to deal with excess tasks rather than keeping them on my list forever. Maybe I need one of those “days of pain and suffering” to clear all my backlog.

I don’t wanna. Some days I feel like I’m getting nowhere. My meditation practice sucks. I’ve been doing it for 15 months, close to 18 in reality and I still can’t focus for more than three or four breaths. It’s horrible and I’m starting to hate it. I don’t know what keeps me going with this when there are other things I need to be doing that would actually have a tangible benefit to me that I don’t do and keep rolling over and over and avoiding.

Is this Resistance of which Stephen Pressfield speaks? Perhaps this is where I’m at. Something that I actually need to do I can’t or won’t and something that has no benefit at all I persist with for the sake of a green star on my profile.

Do I turn back to the Epic Quest and gameify everything? I don’t know. I’m confused.