(CLUBHOUSE TIME MACHINE: 18/7/2022) I’m sorry, Monsieur Bauby – Jack Heath

In retrospect, I might have been a little bit harsh on Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Cast your mind back to the old days. The deep, distant darkness of 3 July 2022, when I told you about the author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, who was struck down with locked in syndrome and wrote the whole book using only his eyelid. I suggested that maybe his illness made it easier to write the book.

Well, yesterday, karma caught up with me.

I’d just gotten back from the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival, where I’d spent three days presenting to thousands of students alongside dozens of talented writers (including founding Clubhouse blogger Oliver Phommavanh). I was exhausted, not just from the talking and the air travel, but also from lack of sleep – I never sleep very well or for very long in hotel beds, no matter how comfortable they are. I’d recently taken some antibiotics to combat a chest infection, and the antibiotics had wiped out my gut flora, which made me especially vulnerable to . . . I don’t know, something. I spent yesterday morning puking my guts up, and I knew I was supposed to write a post for the Clubhouse blog – I’d promised to do one every two days – but I didn’t. I could theoretically have written one after the vomiting stopped, but I was too tired.

So, I’m sorry, Monsieur Bauby. Writing with gastro is hard, writing with locked-in syndrome is probably even harder.

When you’re deciding how to schedule something, it’s a good idea to assume some things will go wrong. If you think a task will take a week, then it will probably take two weeks, because there will be unforeseen problems along the way. Maybe I should have promised to write three posts a week instead of one every two days (which is 3.5 per week) to give myself some wiggle room.

Except, I know myself. I know that if I’d promised to write three posts a week, then that’s what I would have done. I wouldn’t have exceeded that goal. I would have lived down to the expectations I’d set for myself.

Instead, I was ambitious. I promised to write one post every two days, knowing it would be hard, and that I might fail. And I did fail, eventually. But BEFORE that, I did really well. Much better than I would have with a less ambitious goal. (I’ve only been blogging here for two and a bit weeks, and you already have nine posts to read.)

As a writer, I’m often torn between these two desires: to be ambitious, and to be realistic. If I’m too ambitious, I’ll fail, and let other people down. If I’m too realistic, then I won’t push myself hard enough to reach my full potential. Every writer I know struggles with this.

Most of the time I use double-think to bridge the gap. For example, I have a daily writing target of 2,000 words. But I have a monthly writing target of 30,000 words. This works fine, because the monthly target only comes into play when I’m scheduling deadlines. “A sixty thousand word book?” I say. “No worries! Give me two months.” It means that almost every day I feel like a failure, because I’ve only managed 1,500 words or so. But at the end of the month, I’ve still done everything I promised and more.

I don’t know how to turn this into advice for you, specifically. You’ll have to ask yourself some tricky questions, like, What does success look like for me? What am I really capable of? What am I willing to give up to reach that goal? What am I not willing to give up? Do I have a history of quitting when the going gets tough? In that case, how tough can I make it without tempting myself to quit?

I can’t answer those questions for you. But I do know this. If you never fail, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.


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