For the past twenty years, maybe more, I've walked three times a week with my friend Sharon. We met when our kids, then wee, were in a cooking class together, started walking, and kept up the habit ever since. We were a familiar sight on our route around the Rose City Park golf course in northeast Portland.
Until last year.
2009 was rough on me in many ways–my mother died, my daughter's husband got deployed to Iraq, my beloved pug died in my arms. But it was also a year in which I saw the breakdown of lifelong habits, walking among them.
Sharon injured her Achilles tendon, later snapping it, which resulted in painful surgery. She and I quit walking together in July, and haven't walked since. But I myself had a knee injury that I needed to nurse and nourish all year long. It prevented me from walking much the first few months of the year, and after that the pain came and went sporadically.
The worst of it, though, is that I've gotten out of the habit of walking. I used to know, innately, that if I didn't walk I'd feel bad. That if I walked, I'd feel good. A no-brainer. Even on the days I didn't walk with Sharon, I generally got myself out the door, either for a walk or to the gym. But, suddenly, last year, that all changed.
After a year of acupuncture, with the best acupuncturist in Portland, my knee is in quite good shape, thank you very much. But my walking habit has been awful. I've been lucky if I could drag myself out the door even 2 times a week. I hate being so slothful. My body hates it. My brain hates it.
Something had to be done.
And finally, I realized, duh–follow the same advice I give my students. You know, that idea I beat into everybody's head repeatedly, until they are so sick of it they want to scream? This advice: write every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.
Translated to walking, this means, walk every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.
Now, I'm a woman who is used to walking several miles every day, so 15 minutes is, um, not much. But what I find happens is that once I get out the door it feels so good that I often keep going. And even if I don't, at least 15 minutes is better than nothing. And the consistency of it is helping me to rebuild this habit I've lost.
So, by lowering my expectations I've managed to start walking daily again.
As is so often the case, writing bleeds into life, and life, writing. What works in one works in the other, maybe because, at least for me, I cannot seem to separate writing from life or life from writing. So, if you've hit a rough patch with your writing, try lowering your expectations. In writing, this can be seen two ways:
Time–As detailed above, lower your expectations for how much time you need to get writing done. You don't have to have hours of uninteruppted time in which to work. Here's a little-known fact–sometimes even full-time writers like me don't have hours upon hours to lavish on our work. You can get a lot done in short bursts. And even if you only take a few notes, you're keeping the work on the front burner of your brain.
Content–Lower your expectations for what you are writing, also. Perfectionism has killed many a writing project. Put it all on the page, even if it is total crap. The first time through, it will be. So just expect that. Better yet, require that. Tell yourself you have to write a bad page. And then another. And another. Pretty soon you have a bad draft that might not be quite as bad as you think. And even if it is, that's what God invented the concept of rewriting for. So have at it.
Lower your expectations and raise your writing output. Now excuse me, but I have to go walk before I head off for a Superbowl party.