Imposing Structures

I am one of those people who really love the allure of those X-day programs. You know the ones–30 Days of Yoga! 20-week Triathlon Training Program! National Poetry Writing Month (April), where you write a poem a day! My friend and fellow author Jennifer Nestojko is writing a sonnet a day throughout the month of October, which is pretty badass, and leaves me envious of her steadfast dedication.

So much ambition stuffed into one title. The promise of having one thing to do each day, step by step, yoga pose by yoga pose, until you end up at the end with an accumulated body of work, the ability to stretch farther than you could at the beginning, or some other concrete sense of accomplishment.

I love them … I’m terrible at them. I think I once (ONCE) in my life was able to write a poem a day for all 30 days of April, or maybe it was October, I forget. That’s one year out of 41, and it was a fun experience, but I’m unlikely to repeat it.

In Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem, he leads the writer through the 30 days of writing a 50,000-word novel (also known as NaNoWriMo.) In the book, he gives a week-by-week explanation of what it’s like to write 1,667 words a day and end up with a novel at the end of the month. The first week is, as one might expect, full of eagerness and motivation and sitting down every day to hammer out those words! Then, by the second week, that joyful sprint becomes a down-to-earth slog, and the work becomes much harder than it was in those first, happy days.

Yeah. That’s basically the story of every novel I write, and every habit-forming multi-day plan of ambition that I’ve come across. Sometimes, I succeed in making it through to the end with the requisite number of whatevers I’m trying to create. But even if I do, it’s never because I was able to hit that daily to-do list.

Instead, during the month of NaNoWriMo, or that 30 Days of Yoga, or that triathlon training plan, I’ll find myself veering off schedule, wandering down rabbit holes, relaxing at the end of the day and choosing a beer over a bike ride, the sorts of things undedicated, unmotivated people do. And sometimes–many times–I face the choice of completely giving up.

Or, the next day, opening my to-do list and starting again from the top. It often helps to start with the thing I didn’t accomplish the other day. Or a series of short, easy tasks. Or get my spouse to help me with the day’s schedule so I can’t use cleaning the dishes as an excuse to procrastinate.

As we head through PrepTober and into NaNoWriMo, I find myself once again wondering if I’ll be able to win this year. I also wonder how I’ll do on my triathlon on November 3rd, and if I should try writing a month of poetry. (NO, YOU MAY NOT WRITE A MONTH OF POETRY YOU HAVE A NOVEL TO COMPLETE.) But, I also recognize the importance of daily list tracking and, every once in a while, giving myself a break to have a beer.

Hope you do, too.

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