Sticking with Things Isn’t Easy

November 7, 2009

Fifty-five days ago I was a blogging virgin and now I find myself here, fifty-six days later, having sustained the writing longer than I thought possible when I began. It’s a lot like being in school and wondering each quarter if you’ll make it through the next. Each successful quarter—each day I post—convinces you that you can continue if for no other reason that it’s satisfying to keep on going, to know that you have the self-discipline to stick to something. Perhaps someday I will “graduate” from this just as students will finish up and move on to life beyond school, but for now, I’ll keep on.

As I’ve told people that I’m blogging, I’ve been surprised by the number of other folks who’ve told me that they want to start a blog too, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve heard the same thing many times over the years about going back to school: when I began work on my bachelor’s degree, when I continued on to get my master’s degree, and when I decided to go on for a doctorate. Many people have told me that they’d go back to school too, but . . . . .There is never an exactly right time to do anything. There is never enough time for everything. There is only time and the determination to go ahead and begin regardless. Here’s my advice about blogging. I think it applies to schoolwork too:

1. You need to have something to say and you need to have an imaginary audience you’re writing for. This seems completely self-evident, another of those duh! moments, but I am often surprised by papers I receive that don’t say much of anything. If you aren’t interested in what you’re writing about, readers probably won’t be interested either. That’s not to say that what you write will interest everyone, but if you interest yourself, sustaining your efforts will be much easier.

2. You need to just do it and realize that your efforts probably won’t all be equally wonderful. Sometimes you have to accept that what’s done is done and that doneness is good enough. I do not believe that everyone should put forth her or his best effort in every endeavor. This doesn’t mean that I think you should turn in something that is deliberately thoughtless or shoddy, but rather that sometimes the wonderful is elusive and you just don’t enough have time or energy to continue hunting for it. This is particularly difficult for me. I’ve been writing for much of my professional life and I like to craft my sentences carefully. That’s not possible in this venue where I’m writing daily as an addition to an already busy life. You’ll know when you’ve done something that’s worthless and when you’ve done something that’s just worth less, but still worth handing in.

3. When it’s done, it’s done, and unless it’s so bad it must be redone, leave it and move on. There’s an edit feature on a blog that makes it possible to go back and rework, reword, and redo. ARGH! I could still be working on my first entry except that I promised myself I wouldn’t edit unless I discovered missing words, misspelled words, or grammatical errors. There’s no way I could deliberately leave these. During my undergraduate studies I once drove back and forth between home and school three times in one day to bring in new drafts of a paper due that day. I do not recommend such craziness.

4. Have ideas and write them down somewhere so you don’t lose them. Whether you’re blogging or getting ready to write a paper or working on a presentation or processing course content, you need to capture your thoughts so you can revisit and process them later.

5. Don’t give in to fear. Someone asked me recently what I would do when I didn’t have anything else to write about. I had a moment of panic, but then I realized that I have to believe in my own possibility and trust that I will find words when I need them.

I have other advice, but this is enough for now.

Each of has our own list of things we get around to and stick with as well as a long wish list of things we haven’t found time for. If you’re in school and facing the ongoing challenges of staying there and doing good work, what strategies keep you going?

Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it, whether you chose to persevere.
• Barack Obama


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