Some nights, at midnight, all resolve dissolves. So my Wednesday came to be a day of reading/watching: “living in Spain” memoir; immersive dystopian sci-fi; Yakuza in London; psychopath in Barcelona; Shane set in outback Australia; Scotland procedural; a city come alive; Thomas Cromwell in my head. This change of tack worked.
My best and worst days are a blur of one task to another to another … editing these pages; rummaging through reference books for background material; conjuring a draft of a new chapter or at least the beginning of it, the beginning always being the most fraught part; taking notes on another new technical history; fussing over photographs to use. Those days are the best of days because every day, progress can be seen. They’re the worst days also. At the end of a blurry day, I feel like I’m stripped bare.
Last week, even with the boom on our lockdown starting to be lowered, I stayed on song every day, and worthwhile hours resulted. I averaged close to my daily target of 7 hours on “real work,” plus my target of 2 hours on “other writing crap.” I put in 16 hours on an obscure but weighty thesis on Australia’s nuclear history (amazingly, I’ve done little work on that subject up to now). I almost got Chapter 2 into Kindle-print-ready mode. I almost completed the early history of Japan (why is it so hard)? I’ve a clear picture of next week’s work in mind. Although some of the week was grouchy work (the thesis taxed me), the reward right now is a feeling of quiet satisfaction.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Around planet Earth, so many people face an ongoing pandemic of plague-like characteristics, of indefinite duration. My lockdown lasted six and a half weeks (strictly Victoria isn’t out of the woods and restrictions remain, but my psyche rocketed out of strict isolation last Thursday). I spent a month of my lockdown half-working, vaguely anxious, forever needing to reassure myself with treats and laziness. But towards the end, something in my mind shifted and I clicked into a productive work mode that is heavenly. So … it’s dark outside. I’m back from my jog amongst a handful of cars and no other pedestrians. I approach my workspace, a welcoming sliver of light amidst the blackness of night. Inside, pen and paper and desktop await. The work awaits. Bliss hums in the air.
Imagine the prodigiously cunning lethality of Covid-19! Admire it?
In 2015 I turned 60 and promised myself a decade of different annual obsessions or challenges, calling them Big Years. I had some grandiose aims conjured out of thin air. Some of the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Big Years have been huge successes, others have been effective but underwhelming, and some have chafed rather than inspired.
I’m demonstrably a failure at my most heartfelt aspiration, to be a “successful” writer, although nothing seems to have dimmed that aspiration. Over the last five years, then, writing has continued to chew up a huge portion of my waking hours. Naturally, I’ve tried to make writing a central thrust of those “Big Years.” The 2016 Writing Big Year, the 2017 Writing Big Year, the 2018 1,000 Big Year (i.e. 1,000 words a day), and the 2019 Author Big Year were each attempts to instil measurable writing disciplines, day in and day out, that deliver authorial productivity. All of them helped me immensely. None of them produced the miracles I hoped for. So when 2020 began, I decided to forego any form of writing or publishing or authorly “big year.”
Well, Coronavirus has turned our lives around. I’ve abandoned a Parkrun Big Year, although I’m jogging. I’ve abandoned a Rebellion Big Year, although I’m as active as lockdown permits in Extinction Rebellion. Four months into the year, what does the future look like? Well, strangely enough, the rest of 2020 and the whole of 2021 presage a lack of travel (dampening other hobbies and another big writing project) and a much “quieter” life. Guess what those conditions are fertile ground for? Writing, that’s what.
So I’m calling the rest of 2020 a Writing Big Year, the same old title for a slightly differently organized life. The nuclear history project is the urgent target and I’m going to mimic the recent lockdown existence by committing to 6 hours a day, nearly all in the morning before noon chimes, hammering out book chapters. (I’ll target another 20 hours per week on other writing projects/work.) This is boring, routine stuff and I’ll post regularly about it, just as a way of talking “motivation talk” to myself. Grand times with Pam, plus other writing work, plus activism, plus grandparenting to the max, plus regular exercise, plus some walking/hiking, plus a cultural life, plus a social/food/wine life … all these will fill out the days, but in essence the next eight months are a slogging, absorbed, wonderful tilt at finishing the “never-ending nuclear project.” This 2020 Writing Big Year … please wish me luck.