Home » Things I have learned so far » The 100-Day Challenge, Redux

The 100-Day Challenge, Redux

craftsman-3008031_1280So I said to myself, “What better time that New Year’s Day to begin a writing challenge?”

Forget the details, like the fact that I didn’t actually start writing this until after midnight on January 2. As far as I’m concerned, until I go to sleep, the calendar doesn’t turn over. (An exception exists when I work all night, but I didn’t do that with this post. Instead, I reached a stopping point and went to sleep, and now I’m back again on the “second” day of the month.)

As you may recall, I started a 100-day writing challenge on September 1, 2017. I was making dandy progress with it until an inconvenient house fire upended my life. While I was incredibly fortunate—no one harmed, no structural damage—the effort of handling crisis management on top of a full schedule eventually wore me down. My writing became little more than a series of scrawled journal entries, interspersed with sporadic blog posts. The closest I came to working on fiction was seven weeks ago, when I printed the latest draft of my novel.

As of this writing, those pages remain pure, untouched, virginal.

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This is not because I’ve lost interest in the book. To the contrary, I’ve found myself thinking about it a number of times. But I haven’t quite dared to pick it up. It’s as though I’m afraid of it—afraid of being sucked back into the work I want to be doing, at the expense of the work I need to be doing for my clients, my household, my family, my life. By holding the manuscript at a distance, I’ve enabled myself to focus on unpacking boxes, researching briefs, managing family health crises, juggling deadlines, and rising to such delightful events as spending Christmas morning standing in my snow-covered front yard next to an open septic tank while the nice young man from Skip’s Wastewater Services snaked the line as he and my neighbor chatted about the advantages of a manual snake over an electric one.

As last week unfolded, I found myself thinking that I would return to writing on the first. Granted, starting a writing challenge on New Year’s feels downright cliché: Hey, it’s the New Year! Let’s start a self-improvement project! Join a gym! Go on a diet! Write a novel! But in a dusty corner of my exhausted mind, the idea took hold.

Isabel Allende always starts her new book on January 8. She does this because she began writing her first book on January 8; now, she says it’s a matter of superstition and discipline.

But her reason almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s found a routine that works for her. I suspect that after all these years, there’s a part of her—perhaps subconscious, perhaps conscious—that starts to prepare days, or even weeks, in advance. Maybe her mind begins to play with ideas. Maybe her senses are heightened, noticing scents and tastes and textures that might have gone unnoticed before, but which now provide fodder for the muse. Maybe her body begins to hum with anticipation as the starting line approaches.

Sure, I could wait. With two briefs due this week, it’s tempting. Nobody would fault me for holding off until my desk is clear.

Besides, New Year’s doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just another day. There’s no rush, no deadline. I could start any time.

Like today.

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Because it isn’t the calendar that matters. It’s the starting. The decision to begin. To remember that the circumstances will never be perfect, that there will always be an unexpected something that threatens to derail the project. That sometimes it will be necessary to put the work on hold for a little while, and that the important part is coming back to it and beginning again.

E. B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.”

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Conditions are most definitely not ideal for me right now. But I’m not willing to wait any longer. I’ve given the crises and the clients and the clutter all I’m going to. I know they’re not going away, but it’s time for them to move out of the driver’s seat. Even if I can only manage snippets and dribbles in the interstices, even if my progress makes the tortoise look like the hare, it’s time.

Day #1. Check.

Day #2. Check.

Ninety-eight to go.

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