Over the past two months my reading and writing habit has dwindled away to almost nothing. What free time I have, I tend to spend paying SimCity on my phone, instead of improving my craft. I have no specific reason for this change in behavior and routine, other than that, with my COVID shots, a certain tension released, and I think all of the stress and burnout which I had kept bottled up came to the surface and began to dissipate.
And that was exhausting.
But now we are in the beginning-to-middle of June and I have many things I wish to accomplish this year, writing-wise. I want to complete the first draft of the novel I started last year and abandoned in November. I want to start sending out poems for publication again. I want to polish up some short stories and send them out into the wild.
All of these goals take time, focus, and mental energy. And while I don’t have a lot of extra time in my days/weeks/months, I do have enough to do a fair amount of writing if I put my mind to it. I just have to put my mind to it.
There are also external factors. There always are. We are not perfectly spherical writers of uniform density in a vacuum. We are fragile and fallible. We are social animals, and those slings and arrows didn’t magically manifest out of nowhere. No matter how much we try to isolate ourselves from the world, the world still exists.
Behavior changes from higher energy expenditure to lower energy expenditure are a lot easier than going from low to high. But such changes follow the same framework. First get out of the habit of doing the old thing, then get into the habit of doing the new thing. This applies to any deliberate (-ish) change. Not doing a thing is not the same as doing something else.
So for me, in this circumstance, I am slowly getting out of the habit of not writing, and getting back into the habit of writing. To encourage this behavior I am transcribing the three dozen poems I wrote during National Poetry Month in April. I also plan to start actively taking notes on the books I am reading, as I am reading them, with the eventual goal of either posting the notes, or writing book reviews, or both. While these tasks are not the creative practice I wish to eventually return to, they are part of the craft of writing and use the same muscles.
Two months is not a lot of time as the crow lives, but it is enough time for atrophy and entropy to take their toll on unused neurons. I am 52, and almost certainly have more life behind me than I do ahead of me (although at least one close relative has lived to 99 years old…). While objective time is not moving any faster today than it did yesterday, I feel a subtle yet growing sense that time is a resource which is not to be squandered, and the sense of urgency I feel to get to work on things ironically saps my mental energy and makes it more difficult for me to get to work on things.
Thus the importance of habit and routine in this practice. I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to improve, or at least not backslide.
All of this takes work and attention.
Getting back into a habit is more work than maintaining the habit.