The myth of the writer who cuts herself off from the big smoke, who pens her masterpiece in a remote country cabin, is just that, a myth. Who in their right mind would endure isolation when you can lift your head from your pen and spy a tram wrapped in an image of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, all guns and battles? Inspiring, I call it.
My Big Decade: The first 4 years
I’ve been on this Earth a bit over 64 years. Four years ago, I launched a Big Decade of goal-oriented daily obsession. I’ve run 11 Big Years since. Were they worthwhile?
As discussed a few days ago, my four grandiose writing-related Big Years packed a punch but were not unqualified successes. In contrast, as trumpeted yesterday, the three very different Big Years that targeted my body rather than my mind succeeded brilliantly.
At age 60, I envisaged some nutty cultural blitzes. “Read a book every day, Andres,” I promised, for example. Well, I’ve only tried one such Big Year, listening to a rock music every day over 2017. Although that habit hasn’t maintained much momentum, the Big Year was a hoot and hugely enriching. That said, I can’t see myself trying any other cultural extravaganzas for the next couple of year at least.
Something I did not imagine in 2015 was the idea of doing some interesting study each day, but I’ve tried the concept twice in recent years, with satisfying results. In 2018, my Tractor Big Year saw me committed to researching, each and every day, the vista of self publishing. Two mystery novels in late 2018 and early this year were the heart-warming result. And this year my Wings Big Year, covering the generalities of birds, has given my knowledge a fillip it wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t think 2020 will see any such “new knowledge” Big Year, but surely I’ll try something else in future years.
Weirdly, my 2018 Stillness Year, which involved only ten minutes a day of Headspace-app-based meditation, was a spectacular triumph. Who would have thought allocating so little daily time would add so much? Enriching my days with tiny stabs at something new will probably be a feature of the next six years.
Overall, the Big Decade idea rocks! I’ve worked harder, stayed healthier, learnt more, and added variety. Bring on the next six years, I say.
Author Big Year: Winding down a long year
With 14 days to go, I can accurately round up this exhausting writing year. This Big Year actually commanded a number of daily strictures, to do with rising time, concentration focus, and organisational methods – these were honored in theory (they were at the top of my mind each and every day, but messy 2019 swamped them every now and then), but I won’t report on the detailed results (I did keep stats).
More vital were the overall writing hours per day. The Big Year demanded 6½ hours each day. How did I do? Only a bit over 5 hours a day, which represents a 20% shortfall. I also really, really wanted to focus on the nuclear book and targeted 4½ hours a day. Here I fell even more behind, clocking up only 3 daily hours.
So 2019 as a writing push, a Big Year of 6½/4½ hours each day, something that sounds routine (I mean, that’s just a morning, right?), proved to be beyond me.
I could and should call this Big Year a failure. It wasn’t and I’ll explain my reasoning in a later post, when I’ve thought it through a bit more fully. That said, I certainly can’t call 2019 a resounding success.
Indeed, since I began the Big Decade at age 60, I’ve included a massive writing push in each year: the 2016 Writing Big Year, the 2017 Writing Big Year, the 2018 1,000 [words] Big Year, and now the 2019 Author Big Year. They’ve had varying emphases and aims and methodologies, but they’ve placed writing at the center of my “let’s obsess daily” approach to living. Looking back now, all four writing Big Years have generated worthy results but none have been resounding successes, and only now can I discern why.\
Daily obsession does not work well with huge projects. It’s simply too difficult to guaranteed huge blocks of time every day. Life gets in the way. Setbacks quickly demoralise. Perhaps most significant is the realisation that big projects need a project management approach, not a simplistic daily “get up and do it” mechanism. Conclusion: I’ll not do a big-writing-project Big Year again, at least not for the next couple of years.
Back in paradise
Recuperative, inspirational, taxing vacation over, a wet Melbourne day of buffeting winds greets me. I get where I belong.
My memories of a month traversing Japan thirty-four years ago are hazy but I recall a Kyoto temple where a field of sand was raked daily in a Zen style. I remember a sense of peace. Yesterday I asked a walking tour guide about such a place and he showed me a Google image of Ryoan-ji Temple about an hour from where we were staying. It matched my recollection.
So today we caught a bus to check it out. It proved to be a highlight of our fortnight in Japan.
I tried an experiment at the karensansui (dry landscape) sand-and-rock garden. Last year I ran a Headspace Big Year, diligently using the app to do ten minutes of meditation-lite each and every day. The habit didn’t stick long in 2019 but at least I can sink into some level of quietness, so I set my iPhone timer to fifteen minutes and sat next to a shaped tree facing the white sand, an expanse that stretched beyond its physical dimensions, or so it seemed to me. In spite of the clamour of tourists as around, I succeeded in resting my mind on the images needed.
I had a couple of purposes in mind. One was to finally agree with myself on two Big Years for 2020. Mind in a rare unruffled state, I did just that. 2020 will be selfish and unselfish. Each day I’ll run a race or train towards a race (we’re not talking athleticism here, I’m as slow as can be), call it the Racing Big Year. Each day I’ll work on something for Extinction Rebellion; call it the Activism Big Year.
Slinking towards the end of a Big Year
This Author Big Year – a massive effort daily, with rules and strictures – is nearing its December 31, 2019, conclusion. Maybe after the event I’ll say it was worthwhile but right now I can’t pretend that. Perhaps it was badly designed. Too big? Too exhaustive? No matter what the cause, all I know is that I’m slinking, not striding, towards year’s end.
Leaving the late spring of Melbourne tomorrow for the encroaching winter of western Japan. Some hiking, some laziness. This fortnight will screw up my Author Big Year daily averages, but guess what? I couldn’t care less! A break will be a salve.
Quietens the raging beast, steady work does. I’m taking great care with a book’s chapter, making sure all the technical bits are clean. Soon I’ll be able to do the permissioning (make sure I can reproduce copyrighted quotes, etc.) and photos (where on earth do I get them from?). I could do this kind of work for hours. Hey, I just did.
Hail the routine
After a week of solitary desk and café work, sometimes highly productive, sometimes meandering, I’m beginning to gain perspective and strength. A routine of routine work delivers routine results, it seems to me. What I can now see is that over the last few months, taking on new, exciting projects has dumped on my shoulders a ton of preparatory “get to know the subject” research that I’m only now clearing. More to the point, some of the research/reading on these new frontiers is done and dusted, some of it can take its own sweet time to be explored, and some of it isn’t all that pertinent in any case. Suddenly I’m shedding tasks and getting back onto an even keel.
I need to work on the nuclear book (see my Nuclear Power History blog and note how sparse it’s been lately, a state I’ll correct this upcoming week). Beyond that, I need to promote the mystery novels and pick at more work on them. I need to do ongoing research into and preparation for my 15 Cranes project (see my 15 Cranes blog). I need to steadily review for my Read Listen Watch review site. I need to prepare my Extinction Rebellion arrest case. Of all these tasks, the first should take nearly three quarters of my time; lately, that’s been only a quarter or sometimes less.
The more I can just work in quiet, with anticipated interruptions, with a steady heart, the better off I’ll be. Bring on the routine.
Author Big Year: Assessment as of Day 330
Here I am, mortal and confused. Working so hard but blurry of focus. I don’t need you to tell me this is not a recipe for success.
But what of my 2019 Author Big Year? It’s actually 13 months because I launched it on December 1 of last year, and as of today, it’s been sitting in the middle of my brain each and every day of 330 days. That’s five-sixths of my “year” done. Have I delivered what I promised, which was 6½ hours of writing (4½ hours of which was meant to be “focused” on the big reactor book)? My daily record shows 5¾ hours at desk or in café or in transit, which isn’t too bad, but the “focused” writing has only been 3 hours a day. In other words, the Author Big Year is doing its job, motivating commitment, but not necessarily on the right projects. I’m not surprised – I’ve launched a number of “nifty new projects” and they’ve jostled for space in my head and heart.
Over the remaining sixth of my Author Big Year, I can’t claw back the undelivered portion of my initial commitment. But I can do better. Tomorrow I start doing better. Tomorrow I’m better.