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Friday, November 1, 2013

Fall Back, then Leap In

Thought for November: I’m challenging myself. That’s my new plan. Not that I don’t challenge myself. I mean, writing a book is a challenge. Only I haven’t been writing that book consistently enough to feel like I’m really in it, really doing it. 

This comes on the heels of last week’s post about realizing that when I feel stuck – waiting to be pronounced upon was my exact description of the situation – the system collapses, partly because I don’t challenge myself as much as I could. I’ve been thinking about The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. I’ve written about it here. I’ve been thinking that my system breakdowns are possibly due to resistance. Resistance being the enemy of art, according to Pressfield. To break down resistance, therefore, I am challenging myself.

Challenge the First: Running. Since the weather’s turning yucky, I’m taking my exercise back to the Y and I’m working out harder. Choosing a tougher workout with Kimmy. Why? Because I’m capable of running faster and I want to challenge myself to actually do it. Also - and this may be a slightly stronger motivator – a lot of research shows that intense, shorter workouts may be more effective at staving off middle age spread than longer, more leisurely ones. So I’m mixing it up. Adding a couple shorter, faster runs to my routine. I know I’m supposed to accept my body changing as I grow older. I know I’m supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to grow older. It’s just that vanity and my secret vision of myself as a 5’6” leggy ectomorph won’t let go of me. In short, I’m just not ready for my Spanx to roll down my belly when I tuck into dinner. On those rare occasions when I might want to struggle into them because I’m going “out.”  So there.

Challenge the Second: NaNoWriMo. It’s November, which means another National Novel Writing Month has come around, and I’ve decided to make use of it. No, I’m not going to write a novel. In fact, the very idea of writing a novel in a month is laughable. My novels have taken 9, 4, and 5 (that last unfinished) YEARS to write. However, since I underestimate my abilities regularly, I decided to try to crank out the verbiage this year in November, while the 260, 000 plus souls who have registered for NaNoWriMo crank out theirs. I’m going to go for 50, 000 words, too, but unofficially. I’m going to write a draft of my nonfiction book. In November. The Anne Lamott (also the Hope Perlman) way: by writing a shitty first draft, no looking back until it’s over. The month and the draft. 

I'm trying to change this:

 into one of these:

What will these challenges do for me? Well, the exercise challenge has obvious benefits. All those health benefits. I’ve always been sold on those. Indeed, I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel right if I pass a day with no exercise at all.

A hidden benefit of upping the challenge here is that I will be exercising my willpower, too. I’ll be challenging myself to run faster for longer. This will take extra willpower beyond the willpower to get out and get moving. And exercising willpower strengthens it, and strengthened willpower in one area frees up willpower in other areas, too.

Another benefit of my challenges will be (let’s hope) that I establish a new habit. Since well-known research has proved that establishing a new habit takes about twenty-one days, if I increase my word output to approximately 1600 words a day for thirty days, I may well have a great routine in place to carry me through those system breakdowns when they threaten in future. Momentum. So that the next time the system breaks down, it's less of a total collapse than a slowdown.

A final benefit of challenging myself may be that I get into the habit of doing just that. I break myself of whatever fear of failure or of success, of whatever remnant of shame or who-knows-what (maybe my sister the psychoanalyst knows what) keeps me keeping my expectations low. I know, I know, if your expectations are low, you won't be disappointed. But, frankly, that's actually just a load of hooey. You can live in a state of continual semi-disappointment that way, which may be worse than living with the aftereffects of full on disappointments. 

Now I’ve told you about my challenges, Readers, so I will have to abandon my blog and crawl into a hidey-hole if I fail to stick to them. C'mon, somebody else join the challenge, too!


  1. Hope, this is a REALLY inspiring post. I love your honesty about the ecotomorph many of us are gripped by it but it is so un-PC to say so. Give me a day to think about how I'm going to formally challenge myself this November. I'm frustrated with the drift in my own writing life and have taken some steps...but I need to formalize and declare them.

    1. Thanks, Kathryn. I'm sure you'll come up with a good formal challenge. You seem very directed, always. Keep me posted!