The Long Arc of Consistency

Image by Davide Cantelli @Unsplash

Yesterday, at the end of the day, I tried to force some writing. It was partly a workday for me, and I felt that I hadn’t yet done ‘enough’ of what counts as proper ‘work’.

I quickly got completely engulfed by a feeling of futility. Too many ideas and none I could really connect with.

I don’t want to!’ the voice of my inner wild part said. ‘I’ve already given you ideas, connections and sentences for task x and project y. Now it’s time to let go, sign off, cool down, not to find more words. The well is dry.’

I didn’t persist. I backed off, but not without a sense of failure.

***

It’s a story that bears telling, firstly because it is so ordinary. This happens all the time – not just for me (as a coach and facilitator who is deeply interested in academics’ relations with their writing, I am my own Exhibit A), but also for many of my clients. And maybe it happens for you.

We notice ourselves trying to force some writing, it doesn’t work, and part of us goes ‘of course not!’ ‘that makes sense!’ and another part feels that whatever we’ve done in our day was not enough and that there should have been more.

The long arc of consistency

Simply telling such stories, especially if we can maintain respect for ourselves as protagonists, already does something supportive. It builds capacity to connect with a sense of ‘how very normal that it should be this way!’ and to meet our desires and complexities with warm acknowledgment.

In a recent Facebook post, the business coach and spiritual teacher Mark Silver said something that further drove this home for me.

As context, he shared that during the recent month of Ramadan he had not been very actively reaching out and posting on Facebook due to a lack of energy. And then he added that such ‘lapses’, which each of us experience in our own ways, are really okay, because – I paraphrase – “with business and with friendships and other things in life, consistency is a long arc.”

I love that so much: consistency is a long arc.

When I think about my writing life in that way, it gives me a feeling of trust and of spaciousness.

The long arc of consistency is way more interesting than the measure of whether I did or did not ‘get done’ what I’d hoped to do yesterday. Not only does it allow for an amount of downtime, turbulence, going with how the mood strikes me, and discovering that my writing-energy is used up sooner than expected. It also suggests that the robustness of a writing life is the sum total of all of these. Consistency shows over the long term and envelops all these aspects of lived reality.

***

Sure enough, returning to my writing this morning after yesterday’s disappointment, there was new clarity and inspiration available to me. What I’ve written now is much better than what I could have imagined. Clients sometimes report similar experiences, or related ones, such as finally sending something off after a delay only to find that it landed in the other party’s inbox at exactly the right time.

It’s really consistency as a long arc, not machine-like reliability to ‘just get it done’, that’s asked of us, and that we want to be aiming for.

And a part of me really wanted that machine-like reliability anyway, yesterday. That’s okay, too. That’s also part of it.

***

What kind of storytelling and what kinds of images help connect you to your capacity to carry on writing? How might frustration, incapacity, and wishing things to be more (or different), be given space within your long arc of consistency?

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Catelijne Coopmans

Life coach, interdisciplinary scholar, advocate for inspired paths in and beyond academia.

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