2017 Writing Big Year: See the dawn every day . . .

The upcoming fifteen months (I call it a long calendar year) is my make-or-break effort to draft 20 chapters, to conquer the chaos of too much research.

That’s the end goal but I’m centering this Big Year around one precept: every day, wake up early. Rise and get working before dawn’s first rays.

Plenty of writers swear by getting their wordsmithing done first thing in the day. Of course night owl scribes exist as well, but mornings have always been best for me, so I tend to rise as early as possible and focus effort on the AM hours. The trouble is, I don’t do it regularly enough. Late morning starts intrude every few days and they wreck me: dissipate energetic focus, bring on stress, result in conflicts with life’s demands, etc., etc., etc.

No and no – let’s do this right, Andres, just get up early each and every day. No exceptions, no excuses.

I appreciate this comes across as a lame notion for a one-year obsession. Trivial, right? Certainly easier than training for a marathon or “getting fitter” or learning French? Not so, I can tell you. I’m practising for 2017 right now and eliminating the sleep-in is tough and unforgiving.

Next year fills me with fear. Fear is good, right?

Writing Big Year: I’ve failed . . .

The Jogging Big Year: a cinch to write about because I’m on target. Most of my energy, however goes into the Writing Big Year, this book that fires me up but threatens to crush me. And that much grander daily preoccupation has not achieved what I’d hoped and planned.

I commenced 2016 committed to writing daily (lots) in order to finish drafting the book’s 20 chapters by year’s end. Over the past years, I’d often laid out such “plans” and then drowned, just drowned, and so it proved this year. On July 1, I revised the deal to two big years, drafting Chapters 1 to 8 this year, Chapters 9 to 20 next year. Well, on December 31 I’ll have in hand drafts of Chapters 1, 2, 5 and good chunks of 3 and 4. Statistically 2016 has been a 50% failure.

I wish it were otherwise. I wish I had no regrets. I wish I wrote this without a hammering heart.

But the Big Year notion has, in fact, driven huge changes in my writing approaches and methods. I’m doing better and, perhaps naively, have faith in my mind and my pen. On some mornings, a vision of the end flickers before me.

2017: Let’s attempt a Fitness Big Year

After nixing a full-blown cycling Big Year, I knew I needed something next year that carries on the good work of this year’s almost-completed Jogging Big Year. But what?

Let me try to exercise each and every day. Can I learn about cycling, keep up some running, and progress my gym work? I’m no longer obsessing on one set of muscles, I’m being an all-rounder. I’m retaining good habits but working on more holistic “fitness.” Do I know what “fitness” means? Not really but hey, why not have fun puzzling this out?

Specifically, here’s what I’ll target. Each and every week, from January 1 to December 31, I shall cycle 3 times (2 longer ones of a couple of hours, 1 shorter one of one hour), jog 2 times (my current 10 kms), and go to my gym 2 times (no specific rules set). Over 2017, the goals are: 5,ooo kms of cycling, 1,000 kms of jogging, and 100 gym sessions.

2017: Cancel that Cycling Big Year

Oh, the thrill of anticipation. Next year I’d cycle my heart out each and every day. Seven days a week, 180 kms a week, aiming for 8,000 kms over the year. I’d become a proper cyclist, a slick combination of human plus machine.

It’s not to be. I intended to retain some jogging capability, say twice a week, and I couldn’t bear zapping what little gains I’d made at the gym, so add two sessions a week there. All up, my 2017 week would contain 13 hours of vigorous exercise, 6 hours more than this year. A week or so ago, desperate to finish writing a chapter, I had a mild angst attack and the thought cropped up: if I’m panicking now, what will it be like next year? My 2017 Writing Big Year must – repeat, must and must – be top priority. I suddenly comprehended that the dream of a full-on cycling year was just that, a dream.

And my Plan B is?

Jogging Big Year: Try something new

Desperate to restore motivation, today I jogged East without a plan, taking random streets, keeping away from main roads, plodding along until Strava told me I’d gone 5 kms, then returning a slightly different way. This worked a treat: the run was slow but unusually enjoyable. Best of all, that insistent inner chatter – “haven’t you done this enough times, give us a break” – vanished, for the mind had to work at not getting lost.

So . . . back on track. 60 kms to go.

Writing Big Year: Word choice is key . . .

Writing an “everyperson” history in a technical area means having to make tricky word/phrase decisions. Consider radioactive waste. Very broadly, countries categorise their radioactive waste into high-level waste (that is, deadly shit) and low-level waste (much less dangerous although still dangerous). (Some countries also interpose intermediate-level waste, a complication beyond me.) High-level waste has an acronym: HLW. Similarly there is LLW. Different countries use different definitions of high-level waste versus low-level waste – but an easy decision for my book is to skate over those differences unless they’re important for some event. The definitions have varied over the decades, indeed in the early days, after WWII, there really weren’t any definitions – again I’ll glaze over this unless it’s important.

So here’s the question: do I write “HLW” or “high-level radioactive waste” over and over again. “High-level radioactive waste” is a horrid mouth stuffer that gums up paragraphs, but it has the virtue of being full words that carry meaning. Nonetheless it’s still jargon. “HLW” is concise but it’s gobbledygook. Which is better?

Jogging Big Year: Motivation plummets . . .

As I’d noticed earlier in the year, it’s the mind, as much as the body, that determines what you can do. Now that I’m less than 100 kms shy of my year-end 1,700-km target, disaster has struck. I stopped halfway last week but then restarted. Yesterday, after only one kilometre, the insidious thoughts began: “nearly there, why don’t you take it easy” and “surely you deserve a break.” Particularly horrid was a thought that arose after 5-6 kms. As background, my year’s total stood at 1,615 – if I jogged 9 more times, as was scheduled, I’d end up at 1,705 kms, 5 kms ahead of my goal. Clever, nasty mind: “You can stop now and still hit 1,700 kms.” I channelled Pedal Pete, imagining how he’d tackle loss of willpower, and somehow I completed yesterday’s run, but I was wrecked for the remainder of the day.

None of that made any sense. Today I headed off again. It was hot but none too tough with shade to run under. Then, quite unexpectedly, up a hill halfway through the distance, bang! Crash! The same words rose up unbidden and without hesitating, I halted.

At least this time I didn’t cheat. I stopped Strava at 5 kms and walked home. I’m now at 1,930 and have 7 more runs in store, so in theory I’m still on for the target. But I know I need to do something to boost motivation. The question is: what?