Once school is out, at our house the summer break means everything changes: the habitual imperatives lifted, all the rhythms of our days are renegotiated.
I’m recognizing both the opportunity this change in daily obligations presents to us, and am also feeling the weight of possibility. Several weeks ago I spoke to a writer-friend who finished the first draft of a novel and shed some work obligations so that she could concentrate on revision and re-writing. Yet even though this was her intention, she declared, her immediate response to an open schedule was to get less writing done! Once she eliminated the usual time constraints that used to press her to squeeze in a little writing here and there, the wide open field of newly available time quickly got filled with neglected household tasks and other activities she’d pushed aside in her previous desire to just get some pages done every single day.
This complaint is not new to me: many writer-friends have observed themselves in similar predicaments—what seemed like a good change to “free up time” instead disrupted former habits, and meant that they were getting to the page less than they used to be when they were busier.
Grateful for this reminder, I’ve gone back to my own beginnings, and picked up two supports that helped me first establish a writing time.
First, I’ve started yet another “process journal,” a place where I’m recording which habits or practices help me get to the page and those that prevent my attending to my own work. Simply observing and recording my successes and failures helps me bring attention and intention to daily writing during a summer that lacks the usual structure in my schedule.
Second, I’ve picked up, yet again, a wonderful book by Gail Sher called One Continuous Mistake. The title comes from her chapter of the same name where she reports: “The effort to stay centered in one’s self, minute after minute, is what Dogen Zenji meant when he said that Zen practice is one continuous mistake” (page 54). Thus, the Zen practitioner never attains complete attention, but also never allows her failure to discourage her. Instead, she keeps returning to her effort. That continuous return is a kind of success which all the failures do not wipe out.
So I begin my summer with a sound bite running through my head—this very truth, as Sher reports Samuel Beckett using in his writing instruction: “Try again. Fail better.”