Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Streak


I had a streak going on 750words.com when I first found the site. This was a couple years ago. I was dedicated as can be to writing every day and getting the days to add up one after the other. It felt fun to be doing it. Somehow it also felt important. I got through fifty, then sixty, and then seventy days. But on my seventy-first day I simply forgot about it. I was doing the writing in the evenings and so it was easy enough to be occupied on that seventy-first night and forget about it. I fell asleep without a care but woke realizing that I had lost the streak.

My reaction was telling. Again, this was a couple of years ago. I fell into something of a funk about it. A pretty deep funk. I had amassed seventy days in a row of writing but that morning those seventy days counted for nothing because all I could see was that I had broken the streak and that to fix things I would have to go for seventy more days. The fix seemed very far down the road, too far to feel probable, almost too far too seem possible.

Beyond that, I got into a cycle of pity for myself that included feeling that I was a failure and going into a period of self-flagellation. (I'm hoping that flagellation means what I hope it means and isn't indicative of suffering from bad gas.) I rode myself down, called myself all the names I most fear, and set about making it impossible to succeed. In short, I decided to become the failure I imagined in that moment of anxiety that I was.

Why? Well, that's actually a simple question to answer. I did it because it is much easier and safer to fail and declare myself a failure than it is to fail and get back up again. It's the equivalent to people who say things like "I don't do math" or "I'm not athletic" or "I guess I wasn't meant to succeed." I chose failure because I knew that I could accomplish it without risk.

I'm resisting that way of thinking now.

All of this comes to me because I came awfully close to breaking the streak this evening. I have had a busy day and so there wasn't a good time to write. Then, tonight, we had people over for dinner and wine and I was just lying down to sleep when I remembered the streak and got up out of bed. So, this time around at least, I'm still Cal Ripken.

I've set myself a goal to get to one hundred days in a row of writing on this thing. That seems reasonable given that I made it to seventy days once and am on my eighty-second day today. But after I hit one hundred things become much more interesting. That's when I need to decide what the streak means and what I'm really after.

As things stand right now, the streak is a discipline for me. It holds me to a task that has proven to be useful and enjoyable. But soon enough I can imagine that streak becoming larger than the thing I'm trying to do, that it will eclipse the real purpose of this exercise.

So what is the real purpose of this beyond the streak?

Writing every day to an audience is proving useful. I'm learning what it is that people want to read, I'm learning how to say things, and I'm beginning to develop some discipline in my writing (though tonight's piece lacks some of that). Beyond all that, and coming as a surprise to me, the writing is telling me what I want to be doing going forward. It is telling me that I can be a writer. That's a wonderful thing to find out.

But I'm not where I want to be in my writing. Not yet. The streak has gotten me this far and I'll ride it a bit farther, but after one hundred days, I might purposely take a day off just to get the streak out of the way and concentrate on writing. Then again, I might not. The nice thing is that I don't have to have that planned out.

What I need to do is to keep writing and keep thinking. What do I want? What can I do? What will I get myself into? These are the questions I want answers to. And, streak or no streak, failure or success, the only way to find out is to write on.