A story in four parts.
1. You’re trying to find time
You will never find time, just like you will never stumble across a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow: you have to hack chunks of it out, like a 19th-century ice-harvester working on the Kennebec river. Except even that is difficult – if your life is relatively uncomplicated, then maybe you can find huge, unbroken, marble-smooth slabs of time here and there in your work, but if it isn’t then you have to make do with pieces here and there: work done in snatches and parts, tapped out on your phone using coffee-shop wifi. Relatedly, if you’re waiting to find the time to go to the gym, you will never go: you have to make that time and protect it, like you would protect a meeting for a work project or a date night: by getting the other stuff done somewhere else if you have to. And if you can’t do three uninterrupted hours once a week, the solution is the same as it is for a writer: do what you can, when and where you can. If you wait for the time to arrive, you are doomed.
2. You’re waiting for the perfect space
Yes, it’ll happen, just as soon as you get your back office organised/find a coffee shop with the right Feng Shui/finally sign up with a gym that has a goddamn GHD machine.
Here’s Stephen King, from On Writing:
‘For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study…for six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind. A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity [and] got another desk – it’s handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner…I’m sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover. It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.’
Your space will never be perfect. Your gym will never be good enough. If it is, it might ruin you: whenever I train at a place that has too much kit, I dither between the Ski-Ergs and the stall bars and the strongman yokes, uselessly unable to decide on what I want to do that day. Give me one bit of kit – a single kettlebell, a barbell, a pull-up bar – and a goal, and I will come up with a workout that gets it done. Take what you have, and use that.
3. You haven’t started
You know this, but it’s still crucial.
If you are thinking about writing a book, crafting perfect little phrases and the broad sweep of the story in your head as you go about your day, then you aren’t dealing with the realities of actually writing it: the fact that your Dickens-tier opening line has to be followed by 80,000 words of other lines, that characters have to get from here to here, that problems need to be solved as you go.
Similarly, while you craft the perfect fitness regime in your head, waiting for the day you can get a clear run at the gym and the oven, you aren’t dealing with the realities: maybe it’ll be too hard, maybe you’ll hate it, maybe you’ll be hungry or tired all the time and you’ll need to change things.
Maybe these will be problems, or maybe not. Until you start, you won’t know.
4. You can’t finish
The truth is: your book/body/rock opera/blogpost will never be finished: it will just be as good as you can make it in the time you (or if you’re lucky, your backers) allow. You have to decide where the finish line is and stop putting it off, and if the finish line is too far and indistinct it means creating smaller, faster ones (entering a strongman competition, posting a chapter online every week, telling everyone you know you’re going to post a shirtless selfie on your birthday whatever you look like by then). On Arrakis, they call this the Attitude Of The Knife:
‘Chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.’
Decide on an endpoint. Then start with whatever you have.
HOMEWORK: Chop whatever you’re working on into the smallest units possible, and decide on a thing you’ll have done by the end of this week. Post it in the comments, and check in next week.