The Buddy System: 100 Days

I had other plans for today’s post, but what is the point of a blog if you can’t be spontaneous? This isn’t an actual newspaper or litmag. Sheesh.

My cyberfriend Micheal T. of Philadelphia, whom I met through a Facebook-group post about the cello and about whom I know fairly little, emailed me today to confirm that he is approaching completion of his New Year’s resolution: 100 days of practicing the cello. (Or at least 99. We agreed that one slip-up in 100 didn’t count.) A complete beginner, he has discovered that about 100 days was sufficient to get him through Suzuki Book One. At mid-life, learning a new instrument (or language) at any pace is significant — one might even say heroic.

Way back in late December or January, I suggested to Michael that we have a little “daily cello practice smack-down,” and he won, no question. We had agreed to buddy-up and egg each other on via emails and Facebook, and I said I’d send him a copy of my novel if he succeeded. We also enlarged our support system into an online weekly discussion thread that now has about 14 members, who report weekly on how well they practiced, what they’re having trouble with, and so on. It’s been just enough to keep me slogging away at an instrument I adore, but can not — and will not — ever play with any finesse.

The world does not need me to play the cello. The world in fact (certainly my dogs), might be happier if I did not play the cello. Even my husband and children would fail to grieve if I stopped sawing at my scales most nights after dinnertime. But I love it (except when I hate it), and that passion has found a way into my writing, so those few shrill practice hours a week can’t be a complete waste.

My point today, though, is not about the glory of the cello and the pains of the untalented amateur, but about the necessity of a buddy system.

If you are a writer, do yourself a favor, and find someone to whom you may confide your ambitions, whether it is to write a poem a day for 100 days, to finish your novel within the year, to write at least two mornings a week, to apply for three new grants or residencies. Be specific. Create goals that you can control. (Better to say you ‘plan to write an hour each weekday’ or you ‘plan to send out 20 queries to prospective agents’ than you ‘plan to be published by December’ because the latter is less controllable.) Establish a check-in procedure. Include some affordable reward options. Include a little slack.

The ideal buddy may not be your spouse or best friend. I’ve had (and lost) friends who did not respect my desire to write or to be self-employed, and I’ve known writers enmeshed in extended families that actively discouraged their success because a writer in the family is a ticking timebomb, ready to explode with secrets. If that sounds like you, look elsewhere. But look.

And if you are alone, make yourself the ideal buddy. Write down your goals, leave yourself reminders, reward your own efforts, and keep visible reminders of your successes along the way.

It’s never too late to learn to play the cello, as Michael T. reminded me today. It’s never too late for anything that really matters.

7 thoughts on “The Buddy System: 100 Days”

  1. good for you both!!

    i do think it’s too late for me to resuscitate my violin playing. i tried a couple months ago and nearly cried. but that’s not the point of your post 🙂

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Maybe now just isn’t the time, because you are so busy with other passions. But you won’t forget, and if the right time comes, you’ll know it.

    P.S. Yes, yes — the tears.

  3. This is a great place to find cyberbuddies – looking back at yesterday’s post, we’ve got a poem-a-day practioner and a warm-up list-maker. Who else is out there?

  4. Great post — and so true! A couple of years ago my mom and I committed to giving each other our writing once a week. I had to give her a new chapter from my novel and she had to give me a new poem. We had one simple rule — because these were often rough drafts, we could only give positive, encouraging feedback about the writing. And like your cello friend, we allowed ourselves a few times when we just couldn’t make it happen, but we mostly kept to the schedule. At the end of a year and a half, I had completed the first draft of my novel and she had written some of her best poetry and had one published in a national magazine. Now that I’m working with my agent to revise the novel, the system doesn’t work as well. But my mom still gives me a poem most weeks and I can talk with her about my revisions because she knows my novel inside and out. Without this weekly agreement, I doubt I’d have finished that first draft yet, much less have representation for it. I thrive on deadlines and sometimes think that’s the only way I can write. Having the agreement made me feel like I would be letting her down if I didn’t at least try to give her something new. It also made me work harder knowing that someone, even if it was just one person, was going to read what I’d been agonizing over. As for my violin, which I haven’t played regularly in years? I think I’ll leave it in the closet for now.

  5. Love the idea of sharing creative work with your mom, Eowyn. My mom have done something similar, though we’ve fallen off lately. More motivation to get back on track.

  6. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Wow, Eowyn, that is a great mother-daughter relationship. Congrats to both of you for making it work.

    And to Kay — yep. The hardest part is finding a relationship that is equally balanced and mutually beneficial.

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