On Saturday, I set a goal to edit one more chapter of my novel. The bigger goal was to be done with this stage of editing by the time I leave for vacation on Thursday. Ok, the real bigger goal was not to bring my laptop on vacation, and I knew I would if I was still trying to edit.
I got on a roll, and before I knew it, I was through the Word tracked changes I’d made as I’d read the entire thing aloud, through hand-written edits on a previous version, through (for now, anyway) comments and ideas from an online workshop this past spring.
I was done with Draft #4!
I raised my arms in victory, sent a quick email to my cohort from a writing retreat, and went out my office door into the backyard to exclaim to J.
Both the email and the exclamation included something along the lines of, “I’m done! I don’t know what’s next – beta readers? Yikes that’s scary.”
J’s reaction: “Weren’t you going to go for a run? Do that next!”
One of the many things I love about J is his ability to be in the now. Perhaps I love it about him because I’m insanely jealous that his brain doesn’t overanalyze to the point of missing what’s in front of his nose.
Of course – I could stop, enjoy the moment of accomplishment, and not need to immediately start spinning into the next step.
Doing so, going for that run and taking Sunday off, allowed me to not just haphazardly jump into the next thing just because I needed forward momentum. I could think in an unstructured way about what I want for my novel at this stage, what would be helpful, and how to get it.
I’ve always liked moving things along quickly—things like projects or experiments back in my lab days. It was the answer I’d give to that interview question, “What’s your biggest weakness?” I don’t even mean it to be one of those bullshitty answers, where you pretend a strength is a weakness and flip it around to wow your interviewer. I meant, that I have a tendency to have the next eight steps plotted out and working in my head, that I don’t stop along the way to reassess, get buy-in, communicate my plan. I just plow along, sometimes hitting rocks but trying to clear a path by brute force and forget there’s a way to function with a bit more finesse.
I’ve become more self-aware of this at work, especially on projects that involve other people. But it took J telling me to go for a run to realize that I’m doing it with my writing life. Just plow ahead until it’s done, the words are written, the words are polished. It’s easier to do, I think, because I’m very much in isolation—nothing is dependent on another person, I don’t need anyone else to approve or check my work, it’s not feeding into another process.
I’m tempted to throw in a running analogy here, something about enjoying the process over the end goal because the process is what consumes your life in the weeks and months leading up to a race. Even without a race in mind, there are things worth celebrating along the way: a beautiful view in the middle of a run, a good conversation with a friend on a run, a sunrise, a sunset.
But maybe no analogy is needed. Stopping long enough to look around and remember that there’s a world around me is pretty universal to all facets of life. The ability to recognize even every day moments of accomplishment, let alone big milestones, ensures a bit of gratitude infuses into my life. The ability to stop, rest a moment, ensures I can check in with how I’m feeling, which then allows me to ask, “What, Erin, do you want?”
Not, what does the situation call for, or what do you think you should do, but what do you want?
And, sometimes, what I want is to just go for a run.