Monday Motivation: A habit of writing
After a long break, Trish and I have taken to the River Great Ouse again on our kayak. In summer, we’d venture out onto the river four or five days a week, paddling our way up as far as the town lock, or downstream to what’s called Cardington Lock. It’s a mile each way, so these journeys – as the pike swims at any rate – demand two miles of paddling. But because we nose into one or other bank of the river in our explorations, and occasionally double back on ourselves, I reckon we’re entitled to notch up more than that.
That’s not what it’s about, of course. I’m sure I’ve alluded before to the calming effects of immersing yourself totally in the natural world. And whether we’re swimming, in the river, kayaking on it, or charging along it in our narrow boat, Patience, at three miles an hour, we’re aware of being clasped in nature’s bosom.
But it is also excellent exercise. A one-hour paddle leaves you pleasantly aware of the fact that locomotion takes effort, and effort stretches and works muscles in parts of your body of which you are otherwise only peripherally aware.
So why did we stop for at least two months? Ah, well, life is full of surprises. The first surprise was the minor op I had to remove a couple of benign lipomas from my back. The procedure went well, but it took some weeks for the wounds to heal and during this period I was advised not to challenge my back muscles with any strenuous exercise.
And then there was the tear in the fabric of the kayak. It’s an inflatable, so a tear is potentially catastrophic. It took us some time to repair it.
And then… we just fell out of the habit. That’s the key to this story. We knew kayaking was the source of deep pleasure. We knew it constitutes excellent exercise, but if you break the habit, these arguments to resume the habit lose traction.
But yesterday, with the temperature hovering at just 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, Trish inflated the kayak, launched it and we took our customary places in it – Trish in the bow, me in the stern. And we paddled downstream, stopping in the empty lock at Cardington for tea (Trish) and coffee (me). Powered boats don’t use the river much in winter, so we were reasonably sure we wouldn’t be told to move.
Having tea or coffee is part of the habit, you see – although sometimes, after we’ve been very good, we reward ourselves with a flask of whisky and, at the end of a long summer’s day, take refuge from the sun beneath the foliage of a particular horse chestnut that spreads its boughs generously across the water.
That’s my subject today, if you hadn’t guessed: habits.
They’re all the rage. One of the best selling books of the year is called Atomic Habits by James Clear (great name for a writer) in which, in a series of staccato chapters he anatomises habits, and prescribes how to develop the sorts of habits that further our goals.
The thing is, we’re fully aware that writing something clearly and elegantly brings a rare sense of satisfaction. We know that creating a complex character, or pulling off a complex scene, is deeply fulfilling. We know that writing creatively is, in itself, therapeutic.
And yet sometimes life gets in the way, and we can realise with a start that we haven’t pounded the keys for weeks… months… even longer.
There’s only one way to solve this, people. However inept you feel, however unexercised those writing muscles are, however unqualified your inner critic insists you are, you must pick up the pen, or open the laptop and start.
A paragraph is not an insurmountable obstacle. A page can appear on your screen before you’re aware of it. Of course, it doesn’t take just one session to re-establish the habit. Experience tells me that it takes a week to weave writing back into your life.
Which is why, in just an hour or two, Trish and I plan to slip back into the kayak and head off, this time, for the town lock. Yesterday we retrieved two glittering fishing lures from the bare branches of willow trees, abandoned by frustrated fishermen on the opposite bank.
Who knows, today we might find even more exotic treasures.