Low Bars and Baby Steps: Finding My Way Back

This blog has become something of a ghost town. I posted a year ago, then nothing for six months. Then nothing for another six months. This is my blog, so it’s my fault. The blog only goes quiet if I go quiet. But that’s kind of the theme of this post. You see, not only haven’t I written anything here in the past six months, I haven’t really written any fiction at all in those six months. No submitting, no writing, no outlining, nothing.

Last time I posted here, it was to make a new year’s resolution. Yesterday was my 39th birthday—another auspicious day to look back and to look forward. It seems fitting to post about my way back.

Greying Out

I could give you all sorts of reasons why I didn’t write. I moved into a house that needs a lot of attention. I have a two-year-old daughter. I have a job that has required me to learn new project and team management. But home improvement projects usually stop when the sun goes down; every now and then my daughter sleeps; and I can put work aside when I leave.

The truth is, I just didn’t make writing a priority. It was just easier to come home, cook dinner, put the kiddo to bed, grab a drink, and watch TV until it was time for bed. The days became a blur. Life kind of greyed out a bit.

I was coasting. My evening routine went on autopilot. The dishes I cooked for dinner became repetitive and boring. I would have wine with dinner and then a cocktail after. Not only was I going to bed later, but I was also getting lower quality sleep. I had been losing weight, but then I plateaued.

I wasn’t experiencing the anger and panic attacks I did in the past, but I haven’t exactly been at my best either. I’m sure I wasn’t the husband and father I want to be. So it’s no surprise I wasn’t the writer I wanted to be.

I stopped developing story ideas. I focused only on outlining a novel and then revising that outline. Then I stopped writing all together. I wasn’t even coasting even more. After all, coasting implies forward momentum.

Turning Things Around

So how did I start turning these around? Well, like any good nerd, I read. I read a lot of self-help and productivity books. One book I found helpful was Activating Happiness by Rachel Hershenberg. In that book, she describes how when depressed, people tend to do less—the emotion drives inaction. But if we get moving, the action can improve emotion. So I have looked for opportunities to get a little more proactive and get out of my rut.

I’m eating better. I’m drinking less. I’m sleeping more. I’m going to the gym three times a week. I’m lifting more than I have maybe ever. I’ve been meditating (well, off an on), and trying to stay more present.

I also read Cal Newport’s latest book, Digital Minimalism. It’s led me to rethink my social media usage and to cut back. I’ve managed to cut down my average phone use to about 15 minutes a day.

I’ve also been working on getting myself better organized, both personally and professionally. I’ve found the Eisenhower decision matrix to be useful for organizing my days and weeks. I’m still working on this, to be honest, but I know I’ve made progress keeping myself on task, projects moving forward, and my team working better together.

Baby Steps

As I get back to a healthier, happier place, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I find a few creative embers hidden among the cold ashes. Maybe I was just in the right frame of mind to connect with a couple pieces. Or maybe it was just fate. But it just so happens that I read two things, one long and one short, that got me moving.

The first was Tobias Buckell’s It’s All Just a Draft.* The second was a blog post by Chuck Wendig. Both talk about the value of baby steps, of setting the bar low that it is easily cleared, helping develop positive emotions and a lasting habit.

So I’m focusing on baby steps. I’m not worried so much about quality or sophistication. At this point, I just want to fill up one notebook page a day with a scene, a character, a plot idea, something. All I need to do is clear that bar. Anything else is bonus.

It’s like those first days at the gym. I feel awkward and self-conscious, but all I have to do is show up and start. That’s enough. That’s a win. The rest will come in time. The goals I outlined in January are too big, too much for me right now. So this isn’t about great promises or big, public declarations. Not yet. Instead, I’m going small and simple. One page at a time.

*I simply loved this book. It was so friendly, so motivating. It was just what I needed. I would also recommend reading Buckell’s book Nascence to get a sense of his development as a writer, his priorities, and a sense of enthusiasm that is contagious.

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