The Writing Habit

I’ve never (until fairly recently) bought into the idea that practice is important. My life just didn’t lend itself to sustained effort. There were too many interruptions in a volatile household.

And the things that spelled success in school came fairly easily to me. So, mostly, I didn’t need to practice. Indeed, the subjects that required practice, like math and music and foreign languages, were pursuits that I shied away from. I did (sort of) get the idea that practice was important in athletics. But even there, when it got hard, I was inclined to back off.

Use it or lose it…

This lesson has come as something of a surprise to me. But it’s impossible to ignore. If I don’t exercise one day, the next day it’s more difficult. The muscle I built on Tuesday will be gone on Thursday if I don’t keep using it.

Humbling and a little bit daunting, I find that I simply have to devote increasing amounts of time in order to maintain a certain level of fitness and function. It’s definitely still possible to improve on those levels, too. But then if I stop, the gains melt quickly away. And the whole enterprise takes place within the framework of the sobering inevitability of loss.

So I’m learning that a regular routine of exercise is very important. And slacking off, unlike in the past, has real, palpable consequences. As I go through my routine now, I recall some of the exercises my grandmother used to do. I remember finding them quasi-amusing in my youthful hubris. Now I see what she was doing and I’m at once impressed and taken aback (“How the hell did I suddenly get to be this old?!”)

What does this have to do with writing?

Recently (like, on January 1, 2019) I recommitted to my blogging. This is something I’ve done pretty regularly since 2009. Generally, I’ve had the same success with that commitment as I did with quitting smoking. It was a resolve that I repeated over and over, ’til the last time, when it held.

So, is that where I am with this writing? I don’t know for sure, but something is definitely feeling different. Perhaps it’s because my goals are less grandiose and more in line with the simple act of practicing. Lowered expectations enhance the sustainability of the enterprise. This, in turn, has a very real and positive impact on the results and, by extension, the rewards.

And yes, the rewards are palpable. Even one month in I find that I’m shaking off some of the rust. The words come more easily and exotic, long-forgotten synonyms are rising up from the depths. Confidence and creativity peep out from the underbrush, and I’m more willing to take risks and explore.

But, not getting ahead of myself and slipping into grandiose complacency is vital. Practice is the key. What emerges will emerge organically, from the sustaining work of focusing on the next step, then the next.

Just keep showing up and just keep doing it.

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