Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Habit Sets

Jesse Ball (one of my favorite writers) did something particularly interesting with his memoir Autoportrait: it's structure is flat. 

It's a series of individual sentences about things he saw, felt, thought, or experienced. They don't progress, and seemingly, they're just written down in a random, non-linear sequence. 

At first, it's a huge struggle to read, because the structure is so odd and unwieldy. What it does, though, is force you to focus on each sentence, and it becomes incredibly revealing in its own way, as soon as you accept its terms.

One of the things he mentions is needing to be able to have long thoughts. This struck me personally as the most important sentence in the entire book, because it corresponds so closely to my habits and what I struggle with at times. 

I have two sets of habits: one set when I'm writing, and one set when I'm not. They are wildly incompatible, and it's very difficult for me to switch from one set to another. 

When I'm not writing, I tend to consume way too much media, particularly politics. I do things for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. In workout terms, it's mostly anaerobic. I play games. I text people all the time. I just flit around from thing to thing, and while I still think about things and make connections between them, I'm not thinking very hard. 

When I'm writing, though, my habits are totally different. I don't look at websites before I work (which is right after I eat breakfast). I look at my primary websites only twice a day. I stay off the Internet as much as possible. I meditate. I try to think for extended periods of time about everything that is worth considering (it's very long thought oriented, in other words). I don't text anyone before noon. Doing these things (or not doing them) creates a kind of calm that is necessary for me to have the focus I need to write/edit effectively. 

What's particularly difficult is switching from one set to another, particularly when I've had a planned break from writing, as I've had for the last six weeks. Trying to focus is so difficult at first, and I just ease myself in an hour a day or so until I'm back in rhythm. I also feel like a five-year-old struggling with the alphabet for the first week or so. 

I'd like to some day just switch over to long thought mode all the time. 


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