Every personal problem in life consists of either doing too much or not enough of something. Every habit is either bad or good, and just “doing whatever” becomes less and less of an option.

I was doing well at maintaining an almost daily routine of practicing drums for an upcoming competition. Suddenly I was hospitalized with an infectious disease, and it threw me out of my habit. Now, having returned home, the deadline is three days sooner and I know I haven’t practiced enough. I find myself in a habit of NOT practicing, and a habit of anxiety has also appeared: worrying about the fact that I haven’t practiced. These two habits feed off of each other, so that actually returning to my practicing habit gets pushed further and further away.

Yet, while I was in the hospital for three days, I started editing the manuscript of my novel-in-progress, and a positive editing habit came out of this unwelcome interruption to my practicing habit. It wouldn’t be unlike me, either, to bury my anxiety about the one bad habit of neglecting my drum practice in the good habit of novel-editing. But why is it so difficult to just have them both running at once, like two programs on my computer?

Here I am, productive and secure, yet there’s always another good habit I could be cultivating. Even this blog, and virtual life in general…it would be swell to write on this thing every day, to get followers on twitter (@mrludas), friends on facebook (search for me), visitors to my website (here), et cetera. But that’s another habit that requires my attention, to get into and stay into. And it doesn’t pay to mess around with them sporadically. Therein lies half-assedness.

There was period in my early twenties when habits were unnecessary, or so it seemed. I went from one creative endeavor to the next, to the next, and accomplished something in each one.

When I was having what is sometimes described as a quarterlife crisis, a friend of mine told me about something John Cassavetes once said: “Part of you dies in your early twenties.” Is this the part that wants to be free from anything clear and regulated? The part that wants to be spaced out and unattached to anything practical so that all creativity can flow unimpeded?

I was given a great gift to have some years free for creative development. And I have, at one time or another, wished to return to that state, only to find it impossible. As a twenty-seven year old, I find I need something that I didn’t need back then: motivation. Back then, inspiration drove everything. Anything that got in the way of inspiration was my enemy, like a work habit, for instance. When I started working at Starbucks (at my father’s earnest request for my employment), I found it was difficult to whip out a notebook and scribble down my idea while making someone’s complicated beverage, or cleaning the cafe floor during peak hours.

That work habit, the first real one of my life, almost destroyed inspiration entirely, for once you get out of the habit of answering Inspiration’s phonecalls, she soon stops calling. Now, habits like being a late sleeper still keep productivity down, by depriving me of daytime when I could be writing, editing, drumming, painting, cleaning my home, communicating with friends or relatives, working out, eating to supplement my current weight-gaining diet, scoring with chicks, ANYthing. But all of those tasks seem to require habits now, concerted efforts, and they didn’t before. By “they,” I guess I mean the things that were important to me didn’t require either habits or effort. I just went ahead and did them. Now, these more grown-up tasks require going outside, interacting with people, researching, making dates, driving, purchasing things, even, God Forbid, earning money. This is the natural way of things, for as we get older and more developed, we get into more complicated areas of life, where more thinking is required, and more personal responsibility. And so the simpler parts of our minds may atrophy if they aren’t actively maintained, through positive habits. See my post on First Love Syndrome for more on this uplifting phenomenon.

Now, I need to feel motivation, direction, clarity, reasoning. And I need to be constantly resisting and sloughing off the bad habits, getting out of them, in order to stay in the good ones.

But it’s hard to conjure up motivation from nothing. It was easier when my dreamy, half-baked mind just got up and did things on its own. I guess what I’m doing now is better, in style and in execution, in strength of voice and in quantity of experiences to draw upon. So it should be harder.

Without a doubt, its betterness is partly due to my later efforts to write something that someone else would actually want to read when I realized I wanted to be a writer for a living. This, as opposed to writing mainly (though unknowingly) for myself with a vague hope that my earth-shattering genius would eventually buy me an uncompromised future of societal acceptance and adulation.

But such are the naive notions of youth. It’s easy for a young literature student to believe that everything Kafka or Dostoevsky or Shakespeare wrote was a first draft. If I’m really good enough, I should be able to write perfect first drafts too, I thought, and innovate not by learning and understanding literary conventions but by rejecting them.

As a wise, roadworn, habit-driven writer once said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” This describes perfectly the raw truth of the situation: if you do anything you love for long enough, eventually it becomes work, a means to an end, no longer an end in itself. And once you’ve actually done it, you can enjoy it because it brings you satisfaction. If you love it, you’ll do it for your entire life and be glad to do it. But you better get into a habit of finding that satisfaction, or else you’ll find yourself failing at the one thing you know you love, and failure of that sort can be the hardest habit to break.

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