In Which Writing is Like Living with RA
2 1/2 years. 67,000 words. 268 pages.
The Book is done. At approximately 12:37 PM, Saturday, November 17, 2012, I closed down the finalized manuscript. And then I said out loud to no one in particular - Lucy was ignoring me - "I am done."
Well, not entirely done, but it’s now in the hands of my copy editor for a final ripping apart. I'm kind of excited to see how well my instinctive approach to grammar stands up.
And it's weird. It is really, really weird to be done. For so long, it has been about finishing one chapter or one section and then picking up another, being done, but never Done. And now that I am, there is this odd, restless silence, both in my head, my heart and my apartment (I keep expecting confetti and marching bands, but so far it hasn't happened except through lovely digital pictures and cards with confetti from friends).
Wait… what’s that? Ah. There they are
Anyway, so there I was, flailing about for something to think about, plan and write and my brain started gnawing on the outline of the second book in the series approximately 10 minutes after I’d finished the first one. I very quickly got a grip on myself. An action which I’ve had to repeat at least twice a day since then.
Having made the decision to do nothing related to writing for a week or so, but not yet being out of the obsessive stage, I started thinking about this book and what creating it meant in a larger context. It's convinced me I can do anything I set my mind to. My parents told me that I could, but that's a theoretical thing that parents are supposed to tell you. Writing this book put it all within a practical context. It became a living example of the process of doing something hard, meeting a large goal or fulfilling a dream. And I think this process can be generalized almost anything else in life. To wit:
Set a Goal
Write a book. Get a degree. Lose weight. Rebuild your strength. Clear the dining room table. Pack up your house for moving. Change a habit. Heal yourself after a loss. Get through a really bad flare.
Divide it into Smaller Goals
Having a big goal to meet or dream to shoot for is a wonderful thing. It's also completely overwhelming and impossible to do unless you parse it into smaller goals. Something attainable. Many somethings attainable. Chapters. Courses. Pounds. 5 minutes of exercise every day. Clearing three pages of paper from the table every day (trust me, I’ve been there). One box at a time. Get through one day with a new habit or without an old one. Grieve, cry, reach out. Get through today, try a new medication, try to control the pain.
Take the First Step
Stop talking and start doing. Don't look at the final goal, don't think about how far it is until you get there, just look at today. It's only one step. You can do it.
Take the Next Step, Celebrate
You’ve take one step, you can take another. Do it. Be pleased with yourself. Don't think about each step in the context of the bigger goal, it will only make you minimize the importance of your accomplishment. Focus on the huge achievement that is you taking each step. Celebrate every time you take a step.Surround yourself with people who'll celebrate with you and cheer you on. I had a lot of them and am beyond grateful for their patience. They'll be thanked properly and publicly soon.
Keep Taking Steps
Show up. Keep going. Even when you don't want to, even when you hate the thought, even when you want to curl up and cry at the thought of doing it again today. Drag yourself kicking and screaming to the computer, to the books, to the healthy food area in the grocery store, to the chaos that needs to go into a box. And because you have divided into smaller steps, it is easier to do, even on the days where you don't want to. Look at the steps you've already taken, not at all the steps that are still in front of you. Then take the step.
Taking the steps, showing up, doing your one thing becomes habit. Something you do automatically. Maybe something you complain about, but when others suggest you take a break, you look at them as if they grew another head. Because not doing it – whatever it is - makes you itch. Makes the day feels wrong. You may occasionally veer off the path, but you come back again. Because it has become habit and nothing feels quite right without that step.
And then I thought some more about this process. About taking the steps, getting back up again, about this creature of stubborn determination you become. And I realized that what I had described was life with a chronic illness. That living with RA, this cantankerous and obstreperous partner who so often seems to live for putting obstacles in your way, prepares you better than anything else for doing something hard and something big. You go through your life, year after year of negotiating obstacles, flaring, dealing with pain. Of taking two steps forward and three steps back, four steps forward and three steps back, repeating the pattern all over again, day after day. Sometimes, stubbornness and will are the only things that keep you going. Never giving up, holding on, putting your head down and keep going forward are skills that are honed when you live with a chronic illness. And they are skills that will enable you to do anything you set your mind to.
Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't. RA has taught you how.