Do you remember the last time you committed to something because you had to? You weren’t offered an alternative, it was this option or you’re screwed? I hear this a lot from writer friends: there’s something that drives us to the blank page; a feeling that we need to write this story or that book. It’s part of our genetic code, and there isn’t room for compromise on the whether you do or you don’t.
It’s the only way to scratch the itch.
Do the thing, writer: On discipline, practice, and diligence
I’m in a surprising amount of pain following a yoga session gone awry. I’ve been contending with a combination of tendonosis and tennis elbow — both repetitive stress injuries from spending lifetime shackled to my computer. Last year, when my physiotherapist and my masseotherapist (I like getting rubbed *and* hurt, obviously) told me I needed to build up the strength in my wrists, I listened up.
I started yoga.
I got strong and my ailments abated, and the twinge in my elbow was a shadow of its former pain-in-the-ass self. I also got full use of my right thumb again, which, as an opposable digit, is actually quite necessary for normal function. Gripping things, for example. Giving people the thumb’s up when they’ve done you a solid, another.
Then, as per the ebb and flow that wanes along with my dedication to these physical-type pursuits, I said “eff this” after few months of strenuous practice. I had reasons. I had excuses. They seemed pretty valid at the time.
Idiot. Look that up in the Miriam-Webster dictionary, and I’m sure you’ll find my picture next to that particular definition.
If I were Superman, stopping yoga would be the equivalent of shoving a chunk of kryptonite into my ear. Or up my ass. I don’t know. I’m sure one of these is worse. (Probably the inability to poop? Feel free to weigh in on this in the comment section.)
Two nights ago night, suffering the recurring twinge in my elbow again, I finally gave in and rolled the mat out in the living room; the cute one, the one that’s a lovely spring green and has the abstract render of a tree on it that’s supposed to make you feel balanced and whole? That mat. Motherf*cker.
The session was fine. I realized five minutes in that I’ve lost all my gains, my flexibility, and my paunch is in the way of doing a proper twist to wring out my spinal tension. All things I can work through or dispatch to get better at the practice. (That’s why it’s called yoga practice — you keep at it, you get better, you don’t flake out or give up or slack off when life gets in the way, or you lose the motivation, or you’d rather be watching The Expanse, or reading the infinite books on your side table . Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.)
Skip forward to two p.m. the next day, and imagine yourself sitting at your desk at the office, and you’re hammering away at a particularly difficult user interface design, and in between mouse clicks, your spine feels like it’s sinking into the bottom dot of a question-mark-shaped arc.
The question it’s asking is, “WTF did you do to me, woman?”
I have an appointment at a chiropractor, and a mountain of work that needs to be done despite pain-induced sleep-deprivation, and I’m feeling rather frustrated about the fact that all my lower back wants is to pop back into place, and it can’t on its own.
The Moral to This Story (because obviously, I’m feeling a little like Aesop today): don’t stop when the getting’s good. You can always return to that thing that was doing good for you, but the return is about as pleasant as taking a walk through Mordor. Be persistent, don’t give up, don’t get side tracked. Head down, hood up, block out the world, fuck all distractions, get back to work, and don’t you dare stop so you can lose all your gains and lose that precious momentum.
P.S., while this anecdote appears to be about personal health, I’m actually alluding to writing too. Trying to get back in the saddle with anything after time off presents a world of challenges tied to whatever it is you were originally developing. Imagine yourself ninety thousand words deep in a manuscript and you’ve got the story floating under your fingertips — the characters, their motivations, your setting, your intention, all your subplots, all those little snippets of dialogue that were relevant at one point — now take a month off unplanned. The struggle to return to that flow is as painful as borking your back doing yoga, and as an added bonus, you now get to re-read ninety thousand words of draft drivel.
Don’t quit. Do the thing.
(And if you’re starting yoga again, good lord, go slow on those back bends.)