Photo credit: Isaac Wendland on Unsplash
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us in chapter 3 that there’s a time for every activity under heaven. He even gives us a list of activities, and that list was made into a song back in the 1960s. (He doesn’t say “turn, turn, turn,” but maybe it’s implied.) Unfortunately, his list doesn’t say anything about a time to cease activity—in other words, a time to turn off the computer and (in the words of a very different author) go the f**k to sleep.
I’m not saying this is why I finished revising a motion to quash last night at 1:15 a.m. and then pushed myself to write my 1,000 words. It’s because I know myself well enough to know that if I skipped this one day, that would be the end of the challenge.
I admire people who can compartmentalize. I’ve never been the kind who can take a quick break and get right back on track, especially not if that break involves thinking about other substantive things. I can hop up from my desk and run out to the mailbox as long as I keep my mind running on the project, but if I stop researching one client’s issue to take another client’s phone call on a totally different subject, refocusing on the first one will be challenging.
Likewise with anything like the 1,000 Words of Summer 2021 challenge, which requires me to do something every single day. There are probably people who could skip a day and pick right up again. Not me: if I miss one day, that’s it. Maybe I’ll restart the challenge later in the summer, but maybe not.
It’s the same problem I always had with WW or Noom or other diets. They counseled us that there’s no such thing as “blowing it for the day,” that the next meal is always a chance to get right back on track. This thinking literally never worked for me. Some people can do this, and I commend and admire them. For me, breaking the streak means stopping the progress dead until someday, when I reset and begin again.
So for me, the answer goes like this: As far as it is within my power, I cannot stop until I hit the finish line.
All of which is the long way around to why I was writing my 1,000 words in the wee hours of this morning. I began by writing a biography for an adorable cat named Abby who is looking for her forever home. Once I finished Abby’s bio (400 words), I thought for just a moment that I might call it quits for the night. After all, nobody would fault me for saying, “Hey, it’s 2:15 in the morning. Can’t I just brush my teeth and finish in the morning?”
Except I know myself, and I knew I wouldn’t finish in anything approximating “the morning.” Here’s the proof: it’s nearly 3:30 in the afternoon, and I’m just now writing the “I did it!” post I would normally have put up right after finishing my 1,000 words. This should tell you a lot, not the least of which is that I have a decent familiarity with what can be charitably called my “quirks.”
With 600 words left for my quota, I turned back to my novel. I didn’t return to the earlier scene, though. Instead, I began to craft a later, much more emotionally challenging scene. Rather than focus on activity and moving the story forward, I plunked my main character down in the most difficult place I could think of, a room where something life-changing had previously occurred, and now she had to go back in there. Practically no action this time, and just a few sparse lines of dialogue with an unexpected visitor. The entire point was to create the atmosphere. When I go back to it later, I’ll find out if it worked. If it didn’t, I’ll edit it.
Regardless, I didn’t break my streak. Ten days, and the streak remains unbroken.
Not bad, if I do say so myself.