I was supposed to take this evening to write, but my antiquated computer couldn’t make heads nor tails of Dropbox, so I’m doing a different type of writing than fiction. I’ve been wanting to keep my fiction muscles fresh for my morning writing sessions, so perhaps my Dropbox snafu is some type of divine intervention.
Staying fresh, I’ve realized, is the way that I’m able to write–and write productively–every day. Most days I’ll write for half an hour (I find time to be more helpful than word counts at this stage of my development); though on some I’ll push ahead for twice that. Never, by rule, should I write more than an hour a day.
On one hand, this rule could translate to mere slothfulness: a refusal to push myself too hard. This, doubtless, is the focus of a great many Americans, or those of us who heard about Kerouac’s benzedrine-fueled first draft of On the Road, pumped out in three weeks (at least, that’s how the story was passed down to me). But, since my stimulant of choice is a dark roast of coffee, three weeks is far too short for me to produce anything of substance. Rather, I piddle away for half an hour or so each day, eating the whale of my novel in small nibbles.
I’m also a runner, at a rather slow and plodding level. I’ve been on a running fast this spring, with the load of working on a second draft of my novel and teaching two classes on top of my regular job. Something had to give, and I’ve tried to wiggle workouts into the beginning or ending of my days, with varied success. But as a runner, I can simply go so hard for so long. If I exhaust myself on Tuesday (generally a hard hour’s run at my athletic level) I find my legs don’t have much pick up on Wednesday.
This, I suppose, is fine for running: I’m not running competitively, and I know there’s always tomorrow. But for writing, there is little more frustrating than realizing that I don’t have anything to write: I used all my inspiration and creativity yesterday. My writing muscles are accustomed to half an hour or hour-long bouts. If I push much past that, my writing becomes forced, wooden, mandatory. I squeeze words out of the rock that is my brain, leaving a trail of broken pebbles, void of magic and wonder. Void of life.
On one hand, I’m reminded that, as physical beings contingent upon time, we have what C.S. Lewis terms the law of undulation: “As long as he lives on earth,” Lewis writes as Screwtape, “periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.” We experience peaks and troughs, often from one day to the next, or one hour to the next.
Lewis’ adage is true, of course, because on some Wednesdays–even when I haven’t exhausted myself on Tuesday–I find no spring in my legs. (I found the same tonight but attributed that to a second brownie after dinner). But I’m sure to find it so if I push myself to the limits the day before.
Writing, or thinking, or creating, or whatever it is we do for our vocations (even if it is not our day job), is a muscle. If we exhaust it without growing it, we will find it strained and weak the next day. This can throw off the writer seeking to form a habit, the pastor or musician or designer seeking to bring fresh energy to a project after an arduous day. We must protect those muscles, even if Dropbox sometimes must step in for us.
I’m reminded of the quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” which I originally read attributed to Vince Lombardi, but the internet seems to think anyone from Shakespeare to General Patton first said it. The nebulous origins do not make it less true. If I do not rest, if I do not allow margin and space, if I do not put myself in a pattern of exerting and ceasing, I rob myself of the vital energy to let my words crackle and spark. You rob yourself of the energy you need to speak truth and goodness and beauty into your world.
May we be people who refuse to be fatigued, not out of some dogged call to machismo, but out of a deeper wisdom to ensure that we have the energy to engage our strongest loves.