A thought I had when I was thinking about running (with apologies to Haruki Marukami)
I recently started running, and found I would falter on long runs around the 13-minute mark, or about when the voice on my podcast would notify me this was the halfway mark. Halfway? Halfway? I’d been counting the minutes – the seconds even – and felt I must be further along than that. Disappointment turned to frustration which was immediately transformed into blazing lactic acid and my leg muscles informed me I could absolutely not go on.
The trick is to chunk it up. I could do longer runs when I imagined them in terms of physical distance – not minutes or tenths of a km on a watch, but physical milestones: round once more, or just to the main gate, or past that tree.
It’s the same with writing manually. A blank page on a computer screen is as formidable as a 20-minute run (hey, I didn’t say I was an athlete). One hundred thousand unwritten words stretch ahead of you, an unending document with no sense of its length or shape. Just like with Runkeeper, and with the same purple-faced desperation of an unfit jogger, I check any software that offers targets and progress bar charts obsessively, adding long diversions and expanding adverbs to get my word count up.
I needed something in between; not so ineffable as to inspire despair, and not so minute as to contract anal retentive disorder. Physical spaces and things are both tactile and approximate, the exact opposite of what is offered to us by technology and the digital world.
So I chunked it up. One of my notebooks, when filled, makes up roughly 20,000 words. At the start of each one, I sketch out what I want to cover on the first page, with spaces for additions, and get going.
Just like when reading, there’s something about the physical boundary of the end of the book as a motivator that’s more effective than daily word counts or time limits.