Four Lessons Of Going Long

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Mark Lundegren

As mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been at work for about a year on a book spanning my seven Natural Strategy workshops.

I’m happy to advise that the book is now fully drafted and on track to be published by 2015. All that stands between the draft and eventual publication is several months of editing and polishing on my part.

That may sound like a lot of work, but compared with writing, editing is a far more specific assignment – and even a welcome prospect, after a year of waking to blank pages each day.

With this background, I hope you will allow me to characterize writing a book as going long and to point out a few lessons from the experience. There are of course many ways of going long, and I’ll define the phrase here as any personal or group endeavor that lasts several months or more, involves change or creation, requires our full attention and pulls us from other things, and has at least a little uncertainty about how and where it will end.

Writing a book has these qualities, but many other projects do as well – creating a new product or service, cultivating an organization, taking up a social or political cause, raising a child.

As I reflect on my particular and recent instance of going long, and prepare for the going short of cleaning up and closing out my book draft, here are four lessons that come to mind. I hope they are of value to you, especially if you are at the beginning or middle of going long in one domain of life or another.

> #1: You will learn and your ideas will change – I began my book with a plan and specific goal. This is usually the case when we are going long. But extended journeys have a way of altering our plans and even our destinations. We learn and change as we proceed, and may find that we need to change our goals and approaches as we go. For me, the person that started my book project is someone slightly different from the person that completed its draft. I’ve been changed by the project and now want to alter parts of the work during editing. I know not all instances of going long have this luxury of editability, but change is a constant force of nature and it is naturally magnified by time. We must therefore plan for ongoing learning and learn how to bring it to our efforts when we go long.

> #2: Break work into parts to reduce and balance effort – I don’t know who invented the chapter, but they should get an award. Chapters divide books into more autonomous, manageable, and malleable modules. They make writing easier, mentally and spiritually. Chapters allow us to pause, as between sentences, but in larger and more reflective ways. And they make revisions and reorganization of work easier too, both within each chapter and to the larger works they form. Though your endeavor or instance of going long may not involve writing, you  likely can use the tool that is the chapter – building breaks and review points into your project – so that you can more easily reorganize and revise prior, current, and future sections of your work.

> #3: We must balance creative and daily life – whenever we go long, we are inevitably engaged in a creative endeavor. This is obvious when writing a book, or when working on an extended artistic project. But in other areas, we may fail to see that we are creators and engaged in the creative process – in creative life. But life intently focused on a creation is not normal life, and it can be easy to miss this when we are caught up in the ebb and flow of sustained creation. Relationships can become weakened and people in our lives can begin to look elsewhere for the time and attention we are not giving them. Daily life continues without us and supersedes us in important ways, even as it pales at times in comparison with the engagement of creative work, estranging us from the normal world and it from us. But we will return to the normal world before long, and in any case need normalcy for rest from and perspective on our creations. We therefore must continue to have life outside our creative task and our going long, if we are to remain healthy and if our creation is to remain relevant to others.

> #4: There is always more – by this, I mean both that there is always more to do and that there are always more skilled ways of doing what we have just done. Perfection is not possible when going long, or in daily life, but attentive improvement and ongoing progression are. The idea of there always being more to do, and always more skilled ways of doing what needs to be done, can either dampen or excite our creativity and commitment, depending on how we approach this natural dilemma of all sustained creative effort. If we seek absolutes or absolution in our work, we will be reliably diminished and frustrated. But if we instead set ourselves on progress and growth, our way is made clearer, and the world and our work, each inexhaustible, become paths of learning and wonder instead barriers and trials. As progressives or learners, rather than idealists or knowers, we mature as people and as creators, and become both more patient and more ceaseless agents of life.

A few thoughts on this occasion of having gone long and survived to tell of it, which perhaps will help you to be more creative or more effective in your creative actions over time.

As I turn to several weeks of editing, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on long endeavors and creative life more generally, whether via the comments section below or by email.

Health & best wishes,

Mark

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