Don’t Think (Just Do)
Twelve years ago, when I lived in an apartment in St. Louis and the only horses within 40 miles were the drafts that pulled the tourist carriages across the cobblestones of Laclede’s Landing, I wrote fiction. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that novels are like romantic relationships: Once you get past the beginning, when everything is new and exciting, things get complicated. Characters rarely blossom as you intended. Storylines fizzle. Plots sag. Doubts overwhelm. You develop a new understanding of the term “writers’ block.” This is why many people start novels, and few finish them.
I used to write for two hours per day, five days per week. My two hours began at 3:30 a.m., when I’d creep out of bed in the blackness and shut myself inside a coat closet I’d outfitted with a desk and computer and warming plate for my coffee. It was easy to be motivated when I was starting a book. I’d tap away in the silence, neurons bursting like fireworks in my brain, never wishing I could be sleeping instead.
Then came the middle of the book. “The muddle in the middle,” it’s often called. That messy quagmire in which so many writers drown. Getting up a 0’dark:30 was harder, then. It was easy to look for excuses. If I gave my sleep-clouded mind half a chance, it would come up with some good reason to hit snooze that day. My throat is a bit sore, I’d better sleep. I have a big meeting at work later, I’d better sleep. Yesterday’s fight with my spouse was stressful, I’d better sleep.
There’s always a reason not to chip away at a big project, isn’t there? It’s only one day. One missed step. I’ll get back on track tomorrow.
The problem isn’t just that one day tends to become many. It’s also that we can never get that day back. And like it or not, we only have so many days. Our horses have even fewer. If we have goals, we need to move toward them. Actively. Intentionally. Today.
If you want to ride endurance, you must spend hours in the saddle. If you want to train that colt, you must go outside in the cold. If you want to improve in your discipline, you must practice. Not later. Now.
That is why I developed a habit: The moment my alarm went off at 3:25 a.m., I started a tape recorder in my brain. Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think… Get up. Don’t think. Pull on warm clothes. Don’t think. Start coffee maker. Don’t think. Open computer file. NOW think…about the task at hand, because the battle is won.
I did that for years. I finished books. Later, I used the same technique to get myself out the door to train for a half-marathon. I finished the race.
Now, I need to get Ripple going under saddle. She is ready — open minded, energetic, and curious as a monkey. I should have had her out on trails last year. But I had a lot going on. There was wind. The round corral was slick. I needed to ride Consolation. I needed to ride Acey. I needed to work out. I needed an evening off.
Not good enough. It’s time to get out my mantra again.
Don’t think. Just do.