Friday, March 12, 2010

The Slog

There are times when, even though you know you need to do it, even though you know you're going to do it, you still don't want to do it. You might be tempted, as I am frequently, to simply not do it and be done with it, but then you get to thinking about it, and you know what happens if you procrastinate, and put it off, and eventually you're just not doing it, and that makes it twice as hard to get back into the habit of doing it in the first place.

"It" can be lots of things, but it applies to anything you should be doing on a regular basis, from exercise to writing. In my case I've been doing pretty good at both, but this isn't about those times when you just sit down at the keyboard and the words flow, or you hit the gym or the pool and before you know it your workout is done. No, this is about those other times. When, yeah, you're going to do it, but it's going to be an uphill battle all the way. A long, long, long uphill battle. Like trying to roll a marble uphill by blowing through a straw.

These are the times I think of as the slog. (No, I didn't make that up. It's a real word, I swear, you can go look it up and everything. Go on, I'll wait. ... See? Told you.) Slogging does imply progress, of course, so it far beats not doing it at all. But it takes a fair amount of discipline to get through it, or even to just get started. Especially when you have distractions calling you. Not just calling you but enticing you, reminding you that you could be doing something else that will not require slogging. Like watching television. Or reading a book.

Although there have been some books where I could make a counter-argument to that, but that's another post.

This voice is especially tempting when you know, you just know, that no matter what you do you're not going to get into the rhythm of it. The slog is not one of those things that you shake off in the first ten minutes of your workout, or with the first 200 words on your daily wordcount. No, the slog will slap leg chains and iron balls around your ankles and drag you back every single step of the way. There will be no shaking it, and the last ten minutes or hundred words are going to be just as much of a struggle. There is no groove to find, no zone, no flow. Just the slog.

I suppose this is one of those things where having set goals comes in handy. If you're workout is only so long, you can set the clock, and watch the seconds tick slowly, inexorably by, tick by tick, until at least you can hop down off the treadmill or the stationery bike or whatever. With words, you just keep checking until you get there. If you go by page counts you can probably hedge some if you write dialog like I do, which means sparsely yet able to take up half the page in a heartbeat, but at least you're meeting a goal. Even if you have to trudge and plod and hack away to get there.

There is a reward at the end of the slog, but it rarely feels like it. This is the other factor to this in that, even when you're done, it still feels much the same as when you started. Yeah, you burned some calories, you wrote some words (or paid bills, or cooked dinner, or ran errands, or whatever it happened to be) and you know, intellectually, that you accomplished something. But it tends to lack that satisfying "hurrah!" moment that you might get from overcoming adversity under normal circumstances, those days when you start slow but then it's flying and you feel great afterwards.

No, the only cure for the slog is to just get through it, and then press on to another day. I take comfort in knowing that while the immediate after effects aren't any different, if I get through it the first day without giving up or procrastinating, I'm much more likely to do better the next day. The slog rarely strikes two days in a row. (That would be it's slightly more evil sister, the blahs.) The trick is to step up, or sit down, and just get it done, no matter how hard it feels or how long it seems to take.

And then do it the next day, and the day after that. Because eventually, that way lies real progress, and meeting long-term goals can do an awful lot to help overcome the slog the next time it strikes.

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

I know the slog all too well...