Monday, January 28, 2008

Adding up incremental change

Following up on my past few days of talking about how one must push forward--even a little bit--on days when things aren't going well, when there seems to be no progress and when there seems to be no inspiration, I want to talk a little about perceptions of incremental change.

The analogy that pops into mind is growing up. As a child, of course, we grow rapidly; my friend was saying that his son grows something like a quarter of an inch each month. But as a child, we don't feel the impact of that change because it is incremental: each day we're slightly bigger. Even to a close outside observer the change isn't immediately obvious: if we see the change every day, we don't notice how those changes add up. But what happens if we don't see a child for a year or two? Obviously that child is much larger than before: the change is obvious and striking.

The same is true in our lives for many other things. Especially our writing progress. Especially our writing process when we're struggling through a rough patch. If we can stick with it, day to day, committing ourselves to do at least a little work each day, that little bit of work can really add up. It can add up in obvious ways--for example if we write 400 words each day (which takes an hour or less, depending on your writing ability), we have a book in half a year (yes, half a year is a long time, but that's my point). It can also add up in less obvious ways: it can impact how we think about the project and how we think about writing: by getting used to working regularly, and by creating a situation where we don't demand of ourselves immediate and obvious production, we can completely change how we interact with our writing process. Or at least I know that I have seen this kind of progress in my own life: I don't have the book (at least partly because I haven't been trying to write a book), but I can look back and see that I feel differently about my writing than I did last year, or the year before. I don't just feel different, I feel better. But that's the thing about sticking with it day to day.

Other analogies that match well: playing a musical instrument, or athletic endeavors. We have to stick with these on a regular basis. We start slow, and day to day, practice to practice, workout to workout, we may not notice much difference, but in the long run....

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