Momentum–Or Not

November 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Today I am picking myself back up after a hard week of being sick.

I lost my momentum. Psychologists say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, to get used to an exercise or diet regime or get in a working groove. I can’t remember the last time I had 21 consecutive good, healthy days in which to get in the habit of doing anything.

Before I got sick with this sinus infection that also revved up my neurosarcoidosis I was writing every day. I wasn’t being brilliant in my every word, but I was showing up to my desk and my computer every day. I didn’t have 21 days under my belt, but enough that I could feel it becoming easier with every day I spent making words. By easier, I don’t mean that I was pounding out dozens of pages. But I didn’t have to deliver quite as many stern chats—and sometimes reassuring talks—with myself to get me to my desk to start writing. For the first few days of this regular writing routine, I was grateful I’d parented a toddler because I had to engage in the same constant and annoying boundary setting with myself. But, then, miraculously, I didn’t have to tell myself “No” a thousand times. I got up, went to my office, and wrote.

Then I got a cold, which became a sinus infection, which kicked off a freak show of neurological symptoms. My writing streak ended. My habit crumbled away beneath the steady pressure of illness. It is disheartening, to say the least. It took all kind of rule-setting, limit-making, and brisk self-talk to get my ass back to the desk chair.

I have been here before—many times since arriving in Chronic Town seven years ago. If you were to graph my working life, it would look something like this:

I think the goal is to look like this:

These contrasting graphs show a stark contrast.

Nevertheless, I have a choice here. I can either A) decide that my life’s circumstances are too hard for anyone to make much of—and then get deeply bummed about it—or B) I can dust myself off, remind myself this is the way of the world, and get back to work.

In the past 7 years, I’ve tried both of these options. While A) has some dramatic flair to it, and it’s kind of entertaining for a day or two to feel like I’ve got the hardest life ever in the history of the world, it really does become a drag quite quickly.

Then there’s that niggling pest of the truth. Life is tragic and obstreperously uncooperative for everyone. It’s not as if everyone else gets to zoom down a 10-lane highway to their goals, while I toil on a dusty, rutted, mountainous path. Writing is hard work for everyone. I’m not sure anyone finishes a book without having her momentum interrupted. (And, if so, I sure as hell don’t want to know about it).

So today, I’m going to choose B). And I’m going to keep choosing B) until it becomes something resembling a habit. I’m sure life will step in the way of my habit, and it will piss me off all over again, but it wouldn’t be life if it didn’t.

Thus, once again, I get to re-learn another time the single most important lesson of Chronic Town: Live the life you have because it’s all you have. My life is one that doesn’t allow for much momentum. But I am back writing today anyway. Who says you need 21 days after all?

How about you? Do you have a tough time generating momentum to accomplish your goals? Or are you able to work steadily every day?


  1. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    There’s a book title (or subtitle) in that lesson. Really.

  2. Barbara Barnes said,

    I am glad you chose B. And, being (Ayurvedically speaking) a Kapha (earth, dense, water) if I did it yesterday I do it forever until I don’t do it for a day, and then I don’t do it forever and on and on. Kaphas love ruts, we love examining the edges and worship the ones that are so very deep they have walls that can be adored. On the other hand, Kaphas are very hard to knock off their pins, however once knocked, they can have a a hellish time regaining balance. YOU? Well, since you have red hair and are, shall we say, competitive in spirit and occasionally in flesh, you are more of a Pitta. Fire, “get to the point dammit”, can do better, direct and burning for truth or at least the winning opinion. So, where was I? Oh yeah, habit. ** I have an idea from Tich Nhat Hanh, “Breathing in, I am aware I am inhaling; breathing out I am aware I am exhaling”. OR.. Going to write, I am aware I am creating…. or something. Love you!
    **Free idea/advice… no need to heed and feel free to discard at any time!

  3. Randy Bekkedahl said,

    Hi, Rebecca. I’ve been following your blog since October (after the Flathead River writers conference where I got your address), but have not taken the time to comment. I think it has taken me this long to comment because I have a similar medical condition (Psoriatic Spondyloarthropothy) but have a hard time talking about it. I admire your courage to write about it and lay it all out on the line. I find comfort in reading your posts. Maybe because they remind me I’m not alone, that other people share similar difficulties. And you do it very well–the writing I mean. I promise to comment more on your future posts, this one I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know your efforts are helping someone else.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Randy,

      I am glad to meet you–and glad that my words resonated with you. It means a lot to me to know that other people with chronic or serious illnesses get something out of my posts.

      I’m sorry, though, to know you are sick. From what I know of Psoriatic Spondyloarthropothy, it’s a tough disease–and, like sarcoidosis, one of those terrible diseases that no one else has ever heard of (so that you have to give practically a dissertation when people ask what is wrong with you.) Hang in there.

      Yay for you to going to the Flathead writers conference. I was hoping to go there this year, but was late registering. (I live in Helena, so it was close to home,) So I went instead to one in Surrey, Canada. It was a huge boost and very motivating. What type of writing are you working on? Would you ever be interested in guest posting here?

      Thanks again for the nice note. By the way, just out of curiosity, who at Flathead sent you my blog?


      • Randy Bekkedahl said,

        Hi Rebecca,

        I got your blog address from an attendee from Helena. Unfortunetly, I can’t remember his name at the moment, but he knows you and when he found out about my disease, he immediately said, “oh, you have to check out this great blog….”

        I started writing about six years ago and did mostly short stories, then about a year ago I started a memoir. Then my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and that brought everything to a screeching halt while we dealt with the ramifications of that–which took about six months. Now I’m writing again, like you, when my body allows me. I have put the memoir on the shelf for now and am back writing short stories.

        As far as guest posting–if I came up with something worthy I would, but at the moment don’t have anything up to snuff that deals with the disease. In short, I’m chicken.

        Time for me to feed the cats and hit the sack–four a.m. is just around the corner and I need as much sleep as I can get.

        Thanks again for sharing your blog,


      • Rebecca Stanfel said,

        Hi again, Randy,

        You’re not a chicken. Sounds like you know what you want to write about now and don’t want to waste precious time on ancillary projects. Sounds darn smart to me. 🙂

        Short stories…wow…I am impressed. Fiction in general is daunting for me (I’m a former journalist and reference book writer, so that whole imagination thing is tough for me), and short fiction doubly daunting because you’ve got to be so tight and there’s so little time to develop ideas. But I love reading short fiction–Alice Munro, Maile Meloy, New Yorker stories.

        To be honest, I can’t imagine how I’d manage if both my husband and I were chronically ill. That is a lot. Just getting through every day. I’m amazed you get any writing done. I can totally understand putting the memoir aside for now. I’m working on a memoir now. It is more work than I ever could have imagined. I spend more time worrying about it and thinking about it than writing. But, like I said, I went to the writers’ conference in Surrey and agents/editors seemed genuinely interested in my project and were very encouraging. I’m loosely doing NaNoWriMo (though it became quickly apparent that 50,000 words in a month is beyond my physical capacity right now). Finding a middle way between over-doing it and writing more than my brain and energy level allow and then crashing after over-doing it is my greatest challenge these days. I’ve been sick for 7 years, yet I continue to try and live the way I used to–working full-time, running the house, being everything to everyone. That’s just not tenable now. But I’m learning–slowly, slowly–to pace myself.

        Hope your writing goes smoothly, you and your wife’s health are as good as they can be, and you have a nice Thanksgiving.


  4. Marianne said,

    We all need small goals to make the big ones. I realized I wouldn’t make nanowrimo goal when I started driving to Utah for Thanksgiving. So I will start again in January and I have a goal to write 25,000 this month and at least 15000 next. And if that is too lofty, I will change it.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      That sounds downright sensible, Marianne.

      I also am going to be carrying my Nano project into the coming months. Writing 50,00 words on November, I realized, would kill me. I actually made myself sick by overdoing it. So, I’m cultivating my inner turtle. Slow and steady. Who knows? I might even win a race or get a book done.

      Good for you for recognizing what is possible!

      Happy Thanksgiving

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