The Year of the Habit

Judging by the articles popping up lately, the latest thing is about forming habits. We’re over mindfulness, we’ve decluttered everything, we’re resilient as fuck. Now we need habits. (Good ones. Bad ones are easy.)

I’ve never been good at habit. I start almost all of my writing classes by proudly announcing that I do not write every day and that I have no writing routine. The relief is palpable: somewhere along the lines, that very good advice about writing daily has become prescriptive, and most of the writers I encounter in my classes beat themselves up about not having a routine, and I then spend the our time together trying to convince them that a writing routine is not necessary to be a writer.

I know what they go through because I remember the first time I was in a writing class with a teacher who mentioned he had no routine and did not write every day. The guy had published a book! A good one! He had an MFA! If he didn’t have to write every day then neither did I!

And so I gave up on New Year’s Resolutions about writing every day. I ain’t never gonna. I don’t do routine.

But I’m at a point in my life where I realize running around crisis-driven and multi-tasking and declaring war on every problem I see is not sustainable. I’m burned out on fixing problems for things I don’t even like and no longer want to do, and the short bursts of writing are simply dwindling. Challenges are becoming too tiring.

I need a new way of operating my life. No more dealing with business problems first and writing second. Frankly, I am mostly out of the business these days, and so why prioritize something I don’t really do anymore?

And I think I need to eat my words and try routine.

I’m trying to keep it simple and realistic. Write every day. The definition of ‘write’ can be anything. Working on my novel. Writing a blog. (Day 1, done.) Teaching writing. Freewriting. A list of words that start with O. Anything.

I’m looking up these articles on habit and see that tagging it to another habit helps; we only have so much willpower, so the key is to use as little willpower as possible. I don’t have another habit. But my kids have a routine, and I can tie it to naptime. Or when naptime fails, bedtime. (Bedtime had better not fail.) I don’t know what happens when the baby goes off to daycare and my time starts free-floating. Maybe I’ll need a (gasp!) schedule. One thing at a time.

I’m resisting the urge to add in every other habit I want to work on, although genuinely, I should go to bed earlier and drink more water and read more and also hold more 5 minute dance parties.

Routine is not for everyone. I did an MFA and had several publications and a produced play and many drafts of a goddamn novel without routine. I don’t think my life was conducive to peaceful routine.

But my life needs to be different and so I need to try something different.

Here goes nothing.

Writing Forgives You

Many years ago, I wrote a love letter to Writing. I dug it up recently, and it’s so terribly maudlin that I refuse to share it lest I destroy my cool image. (Uh, Sonal? You are not cool.) (Shh! Don’t destroy my fantasy!)

But the takeaway is that as lovers go, Writing is a master of unconditional love. And very forgiving. You’ve been ignoring Writing forever? It’s cool. Writing is patient. Writing is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Writing does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Some of you might recognize First Corinthians from many, many weddings.

My tendency, throughout my life, is to come at things as a fight. Sometimes it’s a stupid fight (I have a computer science degree why?) but I have felt for a while that I seem to only accomplish anything when put up against a struggle… except, I am running out of things to struggle against. Except possibly the weird vagaries of my mind.

My therapist suggested perhaps I could come at things from love.

This sounds really great, but I can’t wrap my head around it. What, just do things because you love it? And like, if something is difficult, stop? Really? I mean, I know other people do that, but me? Can I really do that?

I’m not sure how not to make things hard. And I’ve recognized for a while that I don’t want things to always have to be hard. It’s tiring. I need a new model.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste…. some of your might recognize the opening of Desiderata from many, many email chains. Placidly. I have never gone placidly. It’s either a full-tilt charge or draped over a chair in exhaustion. I am the noise and haste.

Placidly always makes me think of cows, but what it is, is tranquility. Serenity now.

I know at some point, I have to come out of this long pause on writing. And maybe I’m delaying this because I keep thinking it has to be the way it was. A struggle. But is there a way to come at it from love? I know other people do that, but me? Can I really do that?

Writing will be waiting patiently for me.

I think we have to get to know each other again differently. Placidly.