This will never become a book.

2012 June 22 Friday

Of Habits and Broken Glass

Filed under: writing — kdefg @ 08:15

May was such an easy month.  May 1st, May Day, followed by thirty days of a daily writing habit.  Thirty posts and then a day off as a reward.  I told myself that it would be easy to track my progress through June, as the day of the month would correspond with the number of posts.  June 1st, followed by a week of writing, and then it happened.  I missed a night.  June 7 should have been my 37th post, but I had a headache and fell asleep on the sofa, and woke up on the 8th a day behind.

Another week of posts made it look like I was back on track, but it was getting harder to find time to myself.  With summer came the end of school for one household member and the end of a job for another, and the end of privacy.  Its my own illusion, I know, thinking that I cannot write when someone might walk past my computer and see my personal project.  I haven’t shared this with them, because we share so much of each other’s lives already in this tiny house.  I tried to write in the odd moments during the day but rarely got into the flow.  It was just an excuse, but it was easy to blame circumstances for my own lack of motivation.

Seven posts had followed that one break, and then my brain went blank.  I struggled to think of things to write about.  I let my internal editor reject ideas and prevent me from simply letting words flow.  I was now three days behind on my stated goal of 500 words per day every day.  Another day, another filler post, and then another lapse, and then I was six days behind.  It got easier to say, “Oh well, what’s another day at this point?”  And then I realized that I underestimated the power of routine and habit.

Waiting for a spare moment to open up, or waiting for a wonderful idea to pop up out of nowhere, either way was giving control of this project to the whims of the universe.  I was treating this as an experiment but not giving it priority.  In May it was part of my routine, but when that routine around me changed I didn’t change with it.  I did find ways to pass the time on the computer by playing games and reading, but my experiment died for lack of attention.

A school teacher once pointed out to me how easy it is to let things fall apart by simple lack of maintenance.  Her example was a building in a poor section of the city which looked fine at first, but then one day a window was broken.  Everyone knew that it needed to be fixed, but no one ever made it a priority.  People grew accustomed to the sight, and it became easy just to live with it.  When a second window was broken, people accepted it as part of how things looked.  Eventually the building fell into complete disrepair, and it would take a massive effort to start cleaning it up now.  The teacher said that her household used this analogy when someone left a dirty dish on the kitchen counter, saying, “It’s the first broken window.”  This reminded her family to make it a habit to leave the kitchen as clean as when they found it, knowing that the small effort has its rewards.

I see I used the phrase “make it a habit” there.  A habit doesn’t make itself.  Making anything takes effort, and maintaining a habit takes an ongoing effort.  The word “habit” is sometimes used for actions that take no thought and no effort, as if habitual actions are easier than consciously doing something.  In that sense, ignoring a broken window is a bad habit.  In my case, ignoring a broken resolution is the easy way out.  Until I reach the stage where I absolutely can’t breath without writing, I cannot rely on habit to reach my goals.  This will be work for a while, and 500 words per day is just the minimal maintenance required.



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