Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stick with What Works

I am dating the official start of my new life as a full-time children's book writer as this past Monday. That was the day that classes began for the fall semester at CU, and I was not there handing out my syllabus and greeting my students. I celebrated this huge life change by heading out early with my friend Rowan and my little dog, Tank, for a hike on the Shanahan Ridge trail, followed by seriously facing the revisions I have to do on the second book in the Nora Notebooks trilogy. Hooray!

But exhilaration lasted only a short while, alas. I got two good hours of work done on Monday, one good hour done on Tuesday, and yesterday, a grand total of nothing, no work at all.

What did I do instead? I did amazing amounts of walking, logging steps like crazy on my new adorable Fitbit, which I bought myself as a big 6-0 birthday present, It's basically just an extra-small and extra-cute pedometer, but it also syncs with your computer, keeps track of all your walking activity, and allows you to compare results with any friends who are Fitbit fanatics, too. I started using the Fitbit mid-day on Monday and racked up over 10,000 steps by the end of the day. The next day I walked all over town on errands and racked up over 20,000. And yesterday I came close to 20,000 steps, too.

Go, me?

Well, not really. I didn't leave a well-paid, satisfying position as a philosophy professor just to be able to brag to my friends how many steps I take. Fitness is important, yes, but it's not everything to me. And in all honesty, I've been logging fewer minutes on my feet than I have on Facebook. I've felt sadder and sadder about myself as the days passed, until yesterday I found myself Googling "inertia" and "stuck" and other similarly dispiriting search terms.

But then I realized: I already know what to do to make things better. All I need to do is the same things that have worked for me my entire life.

1. Get up early. Even if I have all day to work, in theory, I now know that I won't get any work done at all if I don't face it first thing. So this morning I forced myself out of bed at 5, even though I now know the joy of luxuriating under the covers until 6. I did good work BEFORE I walked at 7.

2. Don't think of yourself as having all day. Think of yourself as having, yes, one hour. This morning, I turned over my cherished cherrywood hour glass once again and clocked one sweet productive hour as its sands slipped away.

3. Give the hour to what you love best, or at least, what most needs doing so that your spirit won't be utterly crushed under the misery and dread of having to do it. Today I didn't give my hour to my Nora revisions (what I love best), but to writing a last-hurrah tenure/promotion review, a leftover obligation of my professor days. That has been hanging over my head all summer, and now it's done, done, done, oh, joy, oh, rapture, a full four days before the September 1 deadline.

So I need to do what works. Different things might work for you, but for me, all I need to do is to get up early and spend ONE HOUR doing what's most important to me for the day.

It's a bit deflationary to realize that my new life is going to be built on the exact same principle of my old life. I was already devoting an early morning hour to what I love best over the course of the last thirty-five years of writing around the confines of my day job. If the new life isn't going to be appreciably different, why did I walk away from the money, prestige, and satisfaction that my other career brought me?

I don't know the answer to that yet. I'll have to figure that out as Act III of my life continues. For now I know to start by sticking with what has always worked for me. My early morning hours have to stay unchanged. I can reinvent myself all I want during the rest of the day. But tomorrow at 5 a.m., expect to find me lying on my couch, mug of hot chocolate by my side, writing.

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