I am late to writing a blog today. I had locked myself away until I finished writing a short piece that has been unfinished for weeks. It shouldn’t have been that hard—just a very short essay for a professional journal, a personal piece, something I expected to simply whip out.
But I didn’t whip out, dash off, write in a flash, or even complete anything slowly. Whatever I wrote didn’t please me, so I kept putting it away then coming back to it. Then today, when I finally had something I thought was going to be good enough, I discovered the piece was 25% too long.
First I got irritated with myself that I hadn’t checked the length requirement more carefully. Then I cut out 100 words and brought it down to size (surprisingly easily once I parted with the entire introductory paragraph and a few choice phrases). Now, with relief, I am saying I am done, and I can cross this off my list.
Some things outstay their welcome on my To Do list. Sometimes the reason is perfectionism, sometimes it’s distaste for the task, sometimes it’s a deeper, personal meaning within the task that makes it uncomfortable. And in the case of writing, sometimes it’s because that’s the nature of writing: you have to mess with it, struggle with it, wrestle it into different shapes. Then, like a cat pretending to be disinterested in prey, you have to walk away for a bit, giving yourself time to refresh your eyes and plan the next attack.
But no matter what the reason, I find that once something stays too long on the list, it takes on a different life, creates a different pressure, its own kind of imbalance. It’s always there, always reminding you that it is not yet done. It becomes the old-but-not-yet-moldy food that you hesitate to throw away from can’t bring yourself to eat.
I am giving these long-incomplete tasks the label “the undone” (I am a new fan of The Walking Dead, thus the slight zombie reference). The undone are not simply things you need to do; they are frustratingly resistant, particularly onerous, carrying with them the guilt, shame, annoyance, and mystery of tasks that elude you, tasks that invite avoidance and then linger to mock you.
As I face the remaining weeks of the year 2011, I am committed to finding the undone that have infiltrated my life. I plan to slay them, erase them, and swear I will not let them reenter my life. Of course, even I know that the undone are never permanently eliminated. For every one vanquished, there is a new one waiting to be born. Knowing this does not lessen today’s pleasure from completing my small writing piece. As with writing, so with life: no matter the struggle, it’s worth moving through it to the next thing on the list.
Questions for Reflection: Are there any tasks on your To Do list that have been there too long? What reasons keep you from completing tasks as you wish? What would you most like to complete before the end of 2011?
Writing Prompts: “When I can’t finish a task, it usually means ______” (then keep writing); “The biggest problem I face in getting things done is ______” (then keep writing); “I am going to commit to completing ______ before the end of the year” ((then keep writing).