Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Problem with Daily

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

In 1992, I set out to write one poem everyday for a year. To this day, I’m not really sure why. I’m not actually a huge fan of poetry, except as far as it is used as song lyrics. I think desire to write songs is why I’ve found myself writing so much poetry in my life, even when most of it is not very good. If I had to guess why I decided to write a poem a day, I think it’s because I have a belief that writers will sometimes work on shorter one-off projects just to complete something. In concept, there is nothing wrong with this as long as you don’t use it as a crutch. I think I wanted to make the shorter one-offs something much more grandiose. What better way to do that than to make a huge, possibly impossible to complete, project?

In 2004, I tried again, because somewhere around April of 1992, I started missing days, and eventually gave up trying to do makeup poems. I did about as well in 2004, crapping out around April. I tried again in 2006, but didn’t make it two weeks before missing some days. In 2007 and 2008, I made some very halfhearted attempts at doing it, but I gave up really before I started. I’m not sure why, but the challenge of doing a poem a day for a whole year would not leave my head.

In 2009, I tried to up the stakes a little. I thought that by adding to the challenge a challenge to write 365 songs, and shoot 365 videos during the year as well, would have my mind so focused on what I needed to be doing next that I couldn’t possibly forget to write the poem. When my band, The Pentagon Missiles, hit a snag that I’m guessing we never recovered from, and I couldn’t find much support otherwise on a project that I said all along that I would need some outside help on; I realized pretty quickly that I should do my best, but that mostly, I was only really worried about the aspect of the project that was writing a poem a day. All told, I was involved in the writing of six songs, three with The Pentagon Missiles, and three solo. I shot one music video, though I worked on others that never were completed.

I managed to maintain the poem a day through some crazy stuff: attempting to write a novel in a week and a half, which is still sitting at 66% complete after writing half of it in that week and a half; playing three shows in a weekend with The Pentagon Missiles; working two jobs; and the six days of Nathan’s stress that was the principal shooting of “According To Whim – Season Two,” which if you have read much of this blog during 2010, you will know that those six days were nowhere near as stressful for Nathan as the almost two years that have followed trying to get the Season completed.

Then one night I was out at a club, and I realized that it was ten minutes after midnight, and I had not done a poem yet. Ok, minor hiccup. I whipped out my phone and wrote very short, severely substandard poem to my email explaining how dumb I was. I thought, “If I was in Phoenix visiting Adam, and wrote this just now, it would be considered on time, and it wouldn’t be the first time the poem a day project crossed timelines. I’ll allow it.” But by June, I was screwing up. The two jobs were starting to really get to me (I ended up quitting one by August and the other by December) and I was finally in the mode of thinking that was, “Maybe if I just do 365 poems, it’ll be close enough.”

I did something a bit different this time though. I maintained doing a pretty high volume of poems, though I didn’t quite reach 365, and freed from the stress of doing a poem a day, much of what I wrote came out pretty good, and I even felt freed up enough to write some music.

So 2010 rolled around, and I figured what the hell. I’m just going to get it done this year. I wrote a large number of poems called, “Quick One for [fill in date]” that were two verses long and only really hinted at any sort of meaning. I still wrote some good stuff throughout the year, but it was mostly just crap to fill up the page. But I did get it done. Well, officially I still have poems for December 26 through 31 to do, but as long as nothing catastrophic happens, I don’t see a real issue with getting them done. [This didn’t get posted up when I planned, and I have now completed the goal successfully.]

So shouldn’t I be excited? One would think so, right? Even if I decided to drop the whole thing right now, the fact remains that I really did it. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it. But I didn’t feel the need to start this article out by screaming as loud as possible (in ALLCAPS, of course, and tons of !s) that I had finally done it. So what’s the issue? Why am I not excited? The truth is that while I am walking away with a clear victory, my prize is simply a new collection of knowledge, and the theme of the collection is that, “Goals that utilize phrases like, ‘one everyday for a year’ are not a good idea.”

I can see Nathan blissfully reading this, and then his eyes getting really big at the end of that last paragraph, because I said that we should do the daily blog everyday during 2011. I would like to explain the issues with those goals, and as I do, I would like to clarify how they do and do not apply to the daily blog.

Two Different Timeframes – Not only is there a goal that spans the course of a year, but there is a goal that must be accomplished each day. The “each day” is really the issue. If my goal had read 365 poems in a year, or a poem for each day of each month by the end of each month, or 7 poems a week, any of those would have been easier to maintain than one a day.

The Daily Blog – For the daily blog, we have at least three posts each in reserve at any given time. If my goal had included having three poems in reserve to use in place of a missed day, if my goal had allowed me to write as many poems as I wanted in a given day to use later, and while we’re at it, if my goal was shared with someone else, then it wouldn’t have been so hard to finally complete.

Six Pages a Day and Eight Hours a Day – This is one reason why my goals for 2011 actually allow for some stockpiling of work if I have extra time and some makeup if I get a little behind. I have a post cued up detailing my 2011 goals. It’s not all that interesting, but it’s written. Most days, I should maintain the work as scheduled, but I have some flexibility if I go to a club one night and forget something. I should have had that flexibility for the poem goal.

The One Flaw – I actually screwed up this year too. I brought one of my poems in twenty minutes after midnight. This time I was working pretty diligently on another project, sometime in May ironically, and completely didn’t realize that I had yet to write the poem. So even during what was basically a perfect year of writing a poem each day, I still by all technicalities didn’t complete the goal to the satisfaction of how it read. I’m simply going to pretend I was in Arizona at the time. This is really a testament to properly stating your goals, so that you are in control of the goal rather than the opposite.

Vacation – I would even say that a goal that read 540 poems over the course of two years would have been a better stated goal, even if it spanned a much longer timeframe. This would have allowed for weekends and some vacation time to avoid burnout. I think that in 2010, Nathan and I burned out at some point, and you can see that we didn’t post for a couple of months. One thing that I have said to Nathan is that we should gradually increase our reserve, so that at the end of the fifth ten-weeks, we can take some time off for Christmas time, and still run articles on the daily blog. The truth is that if we plan for possible burnout this time by building our reserve, we could take another vacation at some other time during the year, and avoid the burnout wrecking our otherwise productive year writing for the blog.

The Time to Start Is Now – Another issue I have with the way the poetry goal was written is that it wasn’t one poem each day for 365 days straight, but rather that I had to start on January 1 and finish December 31. And 1992 was a leap year as I recall, so maybe I should have waited for 2012. Sheesh. This meant that when I screwed up in 2004 I had to wait for 2005, which then turned into 2006 because I didn’t try in 2005. I didn’t even really get started in 2006, 2007, or 2008 because I screwed up too early in January and had to wait another year. I also have a post cued up about New Year’s resolutions that shows why I don’t tend to wait for a new year to get started.

Paranoia – Finally, there is a pressure that goes with timeframes. The pressure can be good when it’s more of a motivator than something that drives you by fear. Having a good reasonable deadline for your goals can help you a lot towards completion. But I found myself becoming superstitious and paranoid near the end of all of this. I’m not a superstitious person by nature, but I have to watch myself because I’ll start thinking superstitious thoughts. Once I was well past the halfway point of the year with the poetry, I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was doing so well with the goal, because I thought it would somehow screw it up. Goals should make you look over your progress, not over your shoulder. This is why I finally said something to someone who knew of the goal from before. And after I said it out loud, I told myself that the fact that I made it into December is good enough. I’ve won the race. I can walk in the rest of it, or if just for the hell of it I want to finish it out in full form, I can. But at this point I’ve already considered myself successful. Sometimes when you know you’ve done the best that you can, you just have to let the rest of it go. Goals that are stated the way of the poetry goal don’t allow you to do that. Your goals should be stated in such a way that allow you to step down if you need to, and not feel guilty, as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and know you did your best.

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