Yesterday was November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo. My NaNoWriMo dream is to be able to write with less fuss and bother and procrastination, to be able to just sit down and write. So how did yesterday go? Well, it took a good four or five hours of procrastination, but eventually I started, and managed to eke out 1681 slow, awkward, painful words, plus another 450 words of false start that I discarded.
Does that mean my Nano dream is a failure? Hell, no. It means it’s the first day, and I haven’t quite mastered the skills involved yet. Rome wasn’t built in a day; when you learn to walk, you fall down a lot; blah, blah, blah. Reasonable and Logical Me knows all this.
But Unreasonable and Reactive Me? She’s terrified. She’s sure this November will end up a dismal failure. This isn’t a rough beginning so much as an omen of despair. The pattern’s too big, too entrenched, too hard to shift. I’m doomed. DOOMED! I gotta say, all that DOOM is pretty scary; no wonder she’s trembling. She’s the secret terror at the heart of the Jerkbrain.
So, one cool thing about the Dance of Shiva? It’s supposed to be hard. If you’re practicing a particular pattern, and it’s coming easily, and each movement flows naturally into the next, and you never make mistakes — well, I’m sorry. That kind of practice feels nice, but it isn’t doing your brain any damn good. It’s like an advanced weight lifter doing bicep curls with a 1-lb weight.
You deliberately make it harder every time you practice. You deliberately set yourself an impossibly hard pattern to master, and work at it until suddenly everything clicks into place and it’s too easy. And then you start working on another impossible variation. All this is very good for your brain, and you learn control and coordination and agility, and you create gazillions of new neural connections — all the good stuff.
But it’s also incredibly useful to get comfortable with doing things that are too hard, with failing. Every day you show up and every day it’s too hard. Every day you think today is the day I master this! and every day you’re wrong. (It’s also a lot of fun — but it’s never easy.) This sucks!you think, and you’re not wrong — but slowly, slowly, you start to notice something.
You notice that failure is a little less scary, a little less risky.
You notice that the things you were failing at a few months ago are easy now — you’ve expanded your comfort zone.
You notice that failures are becoming information, not a judgement — so you can say, well, let’s try something different next time, instead of I am terrible and doomed to die alone under a bridge.
You notice that failure stings less.
Slowly, patiently, I am teaching this to Unreasonable Me. And slowly, slowly, she’s learning, in a deep and physical way, in her bones.
Yesterday was hard. Yesterday I procrastinated a lot and failed to find the ease I was looking for, and the words themselves are thudding and ordinary. But that’s ok, because I know: failure ain’t that bad. So today, instead of moping about how hard yesterday was, I’m going to settle in and write the next installment.
I’m teaching a Dance of Shiva class for NaNoWriMo participants in November. If this sounds awesome to you, join me. There are still a few spots left in Saturday’s class.