In my twenties, I learned how to drive a stick-shift. This was not something I wanted to do; it was something I needed to do, as a friend's manual transmission car was the only vehicle I had at my disposal one summer. No one is less suited for driving a stick shift than I am: I am extremely uncoordinated and have no mechanical aptitude. For the first two weeks, my friend and I had to switch drivers at every intersection, as I simply could not manage to get the car into gear (the drivers behind us at traffic lights were thrilled with this arrangement, as you can well imagine).
But then, after a couple more weeks, I could do it, and not only could I do it, I could do it with ease. It became second nature to me. It became unthinkable that I would stall. So this task that seemed impossible became not only possible, but easy, within a finite amount of time.
The same is true for just about every writing project that I undertake. Right now I'm working on writing my own chapter for the collection of scholarly essays I'm assembling and editing on ethics and children's literature. My piece is supposed to be an expanded and revised version of a paper I gave at a Children's Literature Association conference year before last. In the paper I look at a passage from my beloved Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where he speculates that in our attempts to moralize to children we may actually be introducing problematic behavior to them that they wouldn't have engaged in otherwise: for example, if we warn children not to lie, we may be the ones who give them the idea of lying in the first place. I then take this worry of Rousseau's and use it to analyze several recent children books that try to challenge children's prejudices, arguing that such books themselves may be the agents of inculcating these very prejudices in their readers.
The problem is that in the conference paper I had said all I had to say on the subject, and now I needed to double the paper in length. And the more I thought about expanding the paper, the more I wasn't even sure I agreed with what I had said or that it would hold up under further scrutiny. I have had "revise book chapter" on my monthly to-do list every month since January. Truly. And every month I haven't been able to make myself face it because I really thought it couldn't be done.
Then this week, I had to. The book is due to the publisher at the end of July. Procrastination was no longer an option. I considered simply abandoning the project: the book would be fine without one more chapter. But this is MY book - how could MY book not have a chapter by ME in it?
So I set to work. Starting this past Monday, I worked on the chapter for an hour a day. Once I sat myself down at my computer for sixty minutes each morning, I found I had plenty of other things to say. I could add a fuller introduction and set up the problem more effectively. If I had doubts about my thesis, which I did, I could raise those doubts myself and do my best to reply to them, increasingly confident that the discussion was thought-provoking even if not entirely convincing.
Now I'm almost done. The piece should be ready to go, for better or worse (no, for better!) by tomorrow. Five hours. That's all it took. From impossible to done in five hours. When will I ever learn that all it takes to learn to drive a stick shift, or to revise an article, or to write a book, or to lose weight, to do ANY of these things . . . is an hour a day?