In the last week or two, I’ve been hitting a rough spot in my writing practice. I don’t feel like I’m making progress on anything…more searching for something to work on, for all that I have several tasks that require my attention. I’ve not been particularly disciplined in working, either: I do sit down to work and do some writing, but when I get stuck I have very little patience to push on in the attempt to make more progress.
This is less than ideal. It would certainly be preferable to be consistently productive, consistently disciplined, and consistently focused. But that’s not how it is, and there’s nothing I can do to go back and change what has already happened. My best hope is to do better in the future.
Even looking back, I still keep attention on the little that I did do—I may not have done much, but I’m happy to say that I have done something. That’s a place to start—I didn’t completely get stopped. It’s nice to be able to look back and count any positive progress or outcomes, even if that positive progress was small. And, from the perspective of practicing—the perspective concerned with writing as an activity carried out habitually and regularly for the purpose of improving skill—the fact that I engaged with the practice of writing at all is a bit of a win. Being able to look back at a period of time and try to identify positive actions taken can be useful. Having practiced a little is better than not having practiced at all.
But even if I had gotten nothing done for weeks previously, I can still look to the future with some hope: perhaps I wasn’t regular in working in the past, but with persistence, I can develop such a practice. All it really takes is persistence, and some reasonable moderation.
If you want to develop a long-term practice, it’s important to recognize that there are ups and downs in any practice. There are days when things come more easily than others. And on the days that things don’t come easily, it’s important to remember that those bad days help set the foundation for the good days. Persisting through bad days helps keep projects moving, even if the progress is minimal in the immediate present. Persisting helps keep up the momentum on a project, which is valuable.
I was speaking with a writer who had a death in the family. This quite reasonably interrupted the writing practice, but what then is the next step? Well, persistence, of course. Getting back to the process is what’s important, not looking bad and regretting the lost time. Given the significance of a death in the family, it’s totally reasonable to lose time to grieving and to family gatherings to celebrate the person and mourn their loss. If some extreme and unusual event prevents writing, well that’s ok, too. But all the while, one can maintain an underlying idea of persistence—the notion that in the long run, it’s necessary to persist through the interruptions and distractions., but also that, if one maintains the long-term practice, then those unusual interruptions won’t actually pose a danger to the larger practice.
Keeping any eye on the importance of persistence is crucial after an interruption because after an interruption, there are two common responses, one is to shrug off the interruption and get back to work. The other focuses on the interruption and on the lost time, and often turns that focus into critical self-judgement that then inhibits future work.
The persistent attitude can be flexible—it can decide to return to an interrupted project because that’s the place of persistence. Rather than letting the bad result—slow days or days with no work—dictate future behavior, the attention focuses on what can be done to keep moving. One small step at a time, but persistently!