While the intended angle of this post is in relationship to weight loss and fitness, I’m hoping that the content can be applied to any project that you might find yourself engaging in.
This whole way of thinking came from a Stephen King quote I read a while ago – “You have to stay faithful to what you’re working on.”
The context of the quote is about being faithful to whatever it is you’re currently writing. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that you can apply this to whatever it is that you’re currently working on. Be it an artistic pursuit, a professional project, or self-improvment.
Being faithful to my current writing project is something I generally have a hard time with.
If I’m at a tough point in the story, that’s usually the time when the Big New Shiny Idea comes smashing through the wall, demanding my attention.
Like the weak fool I am, I am usually dazzled by its gleaming exterior; the images moving beneath its shimmering skin show me the story I’d rather be working on and lure me in with its siren song. The exciting moments of discovery and creation are always preferable to working through difficult passages and bellicose characters who demand to do whatever the fuck they want to do, plot be damned.
But I’ve done it enough times to know that it’s not the creation and discovery that I seek, but the avoidance of the problem that’s standing in the way of my progression.
If I’m trundling along on my merry way and come across a big ole boulder blocking my path, my mind would rather walk away and smell the flowers for a bit than start swinging a pick-axe. Avoid the problem.
But that great monolithic motherfucker is still going to be standing in my path when I get bored of smelling the flowers. Or if I decide to abandon that path all-together, I could get to a bridge and find that the landslide that caused the boulder to roll down the mountain has also washed a bridge away.
Because I didn’t take the time to chip away at that fucking boulder, now I have to rebuild a whole damn bridge.
Hard work is only put off; it doesn’t go away.
One example of this is my next book, Earth to Embers.
It originally started life as Titan Wars: Annihilation. It’s a Kaiju/Mecha thriller in which giant robots and giant monsters punch the snot out of each other. Good times.
I had a lofty goal in my first draft.
I wanted to write a book from a first person perspective, in which the main character’s gender was undefined. I wanted the reader to be able to feel as though they were experiencing the story through Alex’s eyes. But the result was less than satisfactory. The character’s agency was affected, and as a result, Alex felt like a puppet. Plus, first person perspective wasn’t really working with the scale of the book.
I only realised this once I had finished writing the entire first draft, and was about a third of the way into my first edit.
So to finish the book, I needed to completely rewrite it. From first person to third person, pump some more oomph into Alex’s character, and write other chapters from multiple perspectives to truly give the story the scope that it deserves.
I finished the first draft in early 2016. It’s now April 2017, the book has gone through a name change, and my rewrite is only about 90% finished. I’ve spent way too much time chasing that Shiny New Idea motherfucker around, and I haven’t been faithful to the project that I started.
I wrote and published Meat Grinder, which ended up turning into a great little nasty, but I also started writing a whole bunch of other shit.
I wrote 20k of Deepwatch, a Lovecraftian novella.
I’ve planned out and plotted the future of the series that started with Metro 7.
Of those planned books, I wrote about 20k of Deep 6, the Metro 7 sequel.
I’ve planned out and plotted the two follow-on books from Earth to Embers.
I’ve planned out and plotted Carnifex Origins, the Carnifex prequel.
I’ve written 10k on The Bone Serpent, another colonial Australian horror novel.
I wrote The Traveller, a short story which will be appearing in 1231’s Futurevision Anthology.
So while I haven’t actually released anything since Carnifex last year, I’ve been working my arse off. With nothing to show for it.
I haven’t been faithful to a single project. I’ve been a ribald lothario, seducing each shiny beast as it walks through the door. Then, discarding it when things get tough, or I get bored, for the next Big Shiny Idea.
This is a really shitty way of doings things. It’s a terrible business model, especially for a self-published author. To succeed, you need discipline. You need to be faithful to your current project, and see it through to the end. You need to be faithful to the expectations of your readers and give them more of what they love.
Losing weight or increasing your level of fitness can be treated like a project. That’s exactly how I’m going to be treating my weight loss from now on. I am my project.
To be faithful to that project there are certain things that I need to change. Certain ways of thinking, and ways of conducting myself that are not faithful to my project.
I’m an iced coffee addict. For those non-Australians playing at home, we truly do live in paradise down under. We can walk into almost any shop on a hot Summer’s day and grab a frosty, sugary coffee to slake our thirst and keep the heat at bay. The only problem is, they’re really bad for you. Like, really bad.
Most of the varieties are high in fat, and most of them are high in sugar. The Ice Break Stripped is about the healthiest there is, but it’s still really not good for you.
I’m also a fiend for potato chips, pizza, and basically anything else that tastes great, but is horrible for you.
The biggest change I need to make is to my diet.
So to be faithful to my project, I know what I need to change. There’s no point in exercising my arse off if I’m shovelling shit into my gob.
I’ve written some baseline project parameters. These factors are what I can judge my progress on within the project.
Limit junk food intake.
Eat healthy, home-cooked meals.
Take care of yourself.
Don’t accept your own excuses.
Take responsibility for your choices.
Those parameters might seem a little esoteric, but by using the concept of faithfulness they become much clearer. The project is me. I must be faithful to myself. I can make any number of choices in relationship to health, diet and fitness, and ultimately, I must hold myself responsible for those choices.
I can choose to have pizza occasionally. Or to smash an Ice Break. Or to go to the movies and mainline some popcorn. Those choices are within my realm of possibility.
However, making those choices too often is being unfaithful to my project. It’s being unfaithful to myself. It’s like sitting down and binging a rad show on Netflix when I know that I should be writing. It’s unfaithful. It’s making a choice that is the antithesis to what I want to achieve. It’s negating hard work that I’ve already done, and sending me spiralling backwards.
Your project parameters might change as you continue on your path. I was previously working to parameters of ‘kick your fat arse. No excuses.’ But that resulted in me hurting myself in the long run. Burning myself out, running myself ragged, and spending a month sick. Hence, the introduction of the parameter ‘take care of yourself.’
It might seem a little dissonant to have two parameters which might seem at odds with each other. Take care of yourself and Don’t accept your own excuses seem like they might be at loggerheads. But I don’t think so.
There’s a very big difference between an excuse and a reason.
For the last two weeks I’ve been getting back into my afternoon walk habit. I do a circuit of the Botanical Gardens, head across the Goodwill Bridge to South Bank, walk along South Bank, cross the Victoria Bridge back to the city and continue on to Roma Street Station. The walk is about 4 kilometres, and it’s a rad way for me to reset my head before heading home and getting started on my writing.
Today, I almost didn’t do it. I almost left work and headed straight to Roma Street Station. But on my elevator ride down to ground floor, I thought about why I wasn’t going for my walk. And the reason was as insidious as it was simple. I was just about to start a five day weekend, and I wanted to get home as soon as humanly possible so I could start my long weekend in earnest.
But that wasn’t a reason. That was an excuse. Because I’m on a rostered day off tomorrow, and Good Friday is the day after, I lose two out of five opportunities this week to go on my after-work walk. Out of my three available opportunities, was I really going to waste one just because I wanted to get home and not wear pants an hour earlier?
That’s a dumb excuse.
It’s not a reason.
A reason would be that I was exercising four days a week, and I needed a rest day as to not burn myself out. That’s a valid reason to choose to have a rest day. It’s what I did last week. Four days of exercise, with a day off in the middle to rest. Wanting to not wear pants an hour sooner is just an excuse.
So I went for the walk, and I felt better for it.
Whatever project you’re working on right now, be faithful to it. When you’re presented with a choice, analyse it. Think about whether or not the action you’re about to take is being faithful to your project, and to yourself, before you do it.
If you make a choice that isn’t faithful, work out how you’re going to restore the faith you’ve lost. You’ll have to make it up to yourself later. You own your choices, good and bad.