Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fresh starts

I've always had a cycle of starting a project with wild enthusiasm, and then losing the last little bit of enthusiasm once the shiny newness wore off, and the persistent slogging took over, way before the end was in sight.

I did this in school: if you charted out the grades on my elementary and high school report cards, they'd form perfect sine waves, starting out high, dipping as I lost interest, peaking again when new classes started, dipping as I lost interest. I do this with quilts: I have a sudden design idea and start putting together some test blocks, and get just enough done that I can see how it will look in the end, and then I lose interest until it's so old that it's new to me again, and I do some more work on it. I do this with manuscripts: I have a brilliant idea for a plot or a character, and I just have to get it down on paper, and figure out all the nifty stuff that can go into the story, until it's worked out enough that actually writing it is work instead of play. 

I'm nothing if not consistent. I follow the same pattern with eating (diet starts Monday!), gardening (this season, the garden will be weed-free!), and housework (I'm going to do spring and fall cleaning this year!). The diet lasts about 24 hours, the weeds are taller than I am before I even get out to the garden for the first ti me, and the less said about housework the better. 

Eventually I get back to the projects and finish them (I've made a couple hundred quilts), but there's a lot of backtracking and angst in the process. The biggest problem with this pattern is that I tend to wallow in the self-loathing that comes with the failure to push straight through to the end. Once my enthusiasm wanes, I'm done. In the past, every time I tried to stick to the schoolwork or quilt or weeding or cleaning beyond the loss of enthusiasm, I was overwhelmed by the negativity associated with the project. I would tell myself I should have finished this quilt five years ago, or the weeds had already sapped the onions so much that it wasn't worth dealing with them now, or the house was beyond mortal help (although this last one is probably true). 

Recently, I've decided to make this pattern work for me, instead of against me. I thrive on fresh starts, and they energize me. A new class in school was always an opportunity to explore a new subject. A new quilt idea was an opportunity to play with color and line. A new story idea was fun, fun, fun. As long as these things were new and fresh, without the weight of the past, I was tremendously productive. I studied, sewed, wrote, and weeded. (Okay, I never scrubbed the house, but hey, there's a limit to everything.)

The trick, for me at least, is to make things new all the time, or at least keep the past from weighing them down. For the last several months, I've been consciously using the first day of every month (and sometimes the first day of every week, when I need extra motivation) as a fresh start.

Whatever my previous month's goals were, I either accomplished them or didn't, and the new month is the cue to let go of the past. This approach works with both accomplishment ("I wrote 200 pages last month; I guess I don't have to write any today." No, no, no.) and disappointment ("I meant to eat better last month, and instead I ate a gallon of ice cream for breakfast every day, so I might as well keep on doing that." No, no, no.) Each month wipes the slate clean, and I get to write fresh new goals on it, even if they're the same old goals.

Inspired by Seanan McGuire's "inchworm girl" posts, I'm going to make myself accountable here for those fresh starts, with a list of WIPs updated on t he first of each month, beginning with September.

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