Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oh no, not a writing appointment! Anything but that!

Nearly every writing expert maintains that I should schedule my daily writing session, and protect it like an important appointment. (Because it is…right?) By “schedule my writing session,” they mean that I should commit in writing to a specific time and place. Then I must show up at the appointed time and place, ready to write.

This is how appointments work. I understand the concept, and I have no problem making appointments with my doctor, my hair stylist, or my car mechanic. (Well, sometimes I have problems getting around to making the appointments when I should. But once I make the appointment, I keep it, and I do not resent these professionals for requiring an appointment.)

For some reason, writing appointments evoke a completely different reaction. They make me shudder and want to hide. My resistance is irrational, but real.

I have been writing consistently for about three years now. In fact, tonight’s writing session has extended my writing streak to 382 consecutive days. Hmmm….I just looked at my log and, wow, this ties my previous record for consecutive writing days, reached on January 22, 2013. Cool! I definitely need to remember to write tomorrow. Last time I reached 382 days, I forgot to write the next day, and was devastated to see my writing streak end. Almost none of those writing sessions were scheduled in advance for a specific time.

I have generally convinced myself that as long as I was writing daily, it didn’t matter that I failed to schedule the time. My writing streak and my finished dissertation are proof that my system is working. But is it working? Maybe I have been deluding myself. Yes, I am writing, but my failure to plan may be destroying my writing efficiency. (Well, you can’t destroy something that never existed. More accurately, my failure to make writing appointments may prevent me from ever becoming an efficient writer.)

How about a trial period? I should schedule my appointments for a week, and see if it helps. I took a deep breath and pondered my week. What time would work best? I would have to make this tough decision seven times, once for each day. I wavered and gave up. It was just too much.

Would planning one day at a time work? Maybe that would be less intimidating than planning writing appointments for a whole week. I tried it. I sat there with my pen and my calendar, and willed myself to write down a time, in ink. I couldn’t do it. Scratch that. “I couldn’t” is surely a lie. My hand muscles were perfectly capable of grasping the pen and using it to write words and numbers on the paper. “I wouldn’t” is indisputably the truth. Regardless, it didn’t happen. The thought of writing down a time was revolting to me—my mind pushed back, vehemently. It was as if I had walked into a room with a really strong unpleasant odor, and my body pushed back, doubling over and wanting to throw up. That’s how I felt when I thought of committing to a specific writing time.

Why? Why such a strong negative reaction to the notion of scheduling my writing? It makes no sense.

Is my aversion to scheduling writing-specific, or does it apply to other activities? What about running? I almost never schedule the time I run, and I usually don’t decide the mileage in advance. I have never successfully followed a training plan to completion. However, I once followed a marathon training plan for a couple months. I didn’t schedule the exact times of my runs, but I knew approximately when they would occur (10:00 p.m., when my favorite writing venue kicked me out.) During the time I followed the plan, I hit nearly all the weekly mileage targets. Planning my running doesn’t seem to evoke nearly the level of negativity as planning my writing.

Is it rebellion? Not wanting to be told what to do? I love my little Toyota Corolla (238,000 miles and still going strong), which gets excellent gas mileage. But if the government passed a regulation requiring fuel-efficient cars, or incentivizing them in some way, I would be seized by a strong desire to drive a large truck or land yacht—preferably an old rickety one that makes coughing noises and spews blue smoke.

But with writing, how could it be rebellion? The government is not telling me to schedule my writing times, and neither is my employer. The decision about when to write is mine alone.

Perhaps my distaste for writing appointments is tied up with my fear of failure and rejection. Scheduling my writing time sets me up for failure. If I schedule myself to write at 10:00 a.m. and I oversleep, then my day is a failure before I even get out of bed. If my writing appointment is at 2:00 p.m. and I let myself get sidetracked by email, I have failed. I clearly can’t hack it as a writer, so I might as well not even try.

I hoped that writing about it would help me resolve my scheduling revulsion. It didn’t. I still do not understand it, and I have not defeated it. So, at least for now, I will continue as before. As I wake up each day, I will delight in my freedom, knowing I can write at whatever time I choose. No matter how tight the constraints of the day, there is always choice…some scrap of time I can devote to writing, if I wish. Scheduling would rob me of one of writing’s pleasures—the pleasure of choice.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Goodbye, my friend Running

A week ago, on Monday, July 28, I ran 8 miles. That’s a really long run for me, these days. Until the last three weeks or so, running has been hit-or-miss (mostly miss), due to fallout from finishing my dissertation. Eight miles was probably a couple miles too long for my fitness level, but I didn’t care. You see, I knew this would be my last Running outing for at least six weeks, and I wanted it to be special.

The day after my 8-miler, an expert surgeon sliced my belly open, removed a misbehaving part, and stuck me back together with 17 staples.

I knew I wanted to get in an extra-long run the night before my surgery, but it took me a week to figure out WHY. At first, I thought it was to prove something…to show myself I could still do it. But that made no sense. I already knew I could get myself in shape to run 15 miles, if I just kept at it. Then, I thought maybe it was some sort of fist-shaking last hurrah, a way of telling my medical problems “ha, you can’t keep me down.” Except they could. I toyed with the notion that an extra 8-miler would add some miniscule bit of fitness, allowing me to return to running at a higher fitness level than would have been possible if I had only run 6 miles. Nonsense, I’m sure. Six weeks ago, when this surgery began to seem inevitable, I resolved to get myself in as good a shape as possible, maximizing my probability of a quick recovery. An extra 8-miler would help, right? No way...the fitness gains come from the recovery, not the stress. With less than a day before surgery, overdoing it was likely to overtax my system, making recovery more difficult.

Finally, I figured it out. That 8-miler was my way of saying good-bye to a dear friend. When Running and I first met five years ago, our relationship was based on mistrust, even active dislike. I found Running to be boring, unpleasant, and demeaning. For some reason, we stuck it out, moving to tolerance, then cordial acquaintanceship, and finally, steady friendship.

When I was feeling blue or discouraged, Running would cheer me up.

When I was worried, Running gave me perspective.

When my mind was overwhelmed with too many things to do and no idea where to start, Running helped me prioritize.

When I was wrestling with a data analysis decision, Running helped me brainstorm.

When I couldn’t figure out a title or leading sentence for my dissertation, Running patiently listened while I tried out endless variations.

When I was stressed or mad, Running didn’t judge me, but gave me space to decompress.

When I was struggling with a difficult decision, Running brought clarity.

When every other area of my life was marked by incompetence, Running gave me a pat on the back for doing something right.

When I was terrified I would fail, Running reminded me Who was in charge, and that I could not fail without His consent.

When I was rude or unkind to people, Running gently rebuked me, and made me apologize.

When I was convinced I wouldn’t meet people’s expectations, Running presented the facts about those people, showing me I was misjudging them.

When I needed time to think, Running gave it to me.

When I needed time away from thinking, Running gave it to me.

When my eyes were turned outward, looking at the monsters around me, Running turned them inward, toward the things I could control.

When my eyes were turned inward, dwelling on my problems and inadequacies, Running turned them outward, showing me how far I’d come and how small my problems really were.

When I disappeared for a while and didn’t make Running a priority, Running welcomed me back (though my absence took a toll on the relationship).

Even when I didn’t feel like hanging out with Running, I was always glad afterward. On nearly all our visits, I ended up in a better and wiser place afterward than before. (Occasionally I miscalculated and spent too much time with Running, throwing off the day’s schedule and stressing out. But that was my fault, not Running’s.)

So, when I found out Running had to go away for a while, I felt compelled to make time for an extra-long visit. It didn’t matter that I waited too late at night to start, and we ran out of daylight. It didn’t matter if I had to take a few walk breaks the last mile. It didn’t matter if my feet hurt, or I had a stitch in my side. On a last visit with a friend who is going away, their annoyances turn into endearing quirks. I just wanted to celebrate our time together.

Farewell, friend Running. See you on the other side.