The Only Way to Stop Smoking

July 9, 2020 #Writing

A few years ago, I was staying at a friend’s apartment in New York City. On the trip across the Atlantic, my suitcase had been lost and the airline told me it would be delivered sometime the following day”, so I was stuck at the apartment rather than being able to walk the streets of Manhattan. With absolutely nothing to do I paced the apartment and found a worn copy of Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking”, and though I’m a non-smoker I began leafing through it. The only way to stop smoking is to stop smoking”, the back cover proclaimed, and it’s a phrase I’ve been turning over in my head ever since: The only way to do many of the things you set out to do is to… sit down and do them.

I’ve spend about a year trying to come to terms with what happened to my habit of writing. It’s something I used to do almost casually, without thinking much: I’ve had a blog that I started when I was an exchange student in the United States almost 20 years ago, and it served as this simple, frictionless medium for publishing some of my casual writings. I would post photos, thoughts, quotes, and through the (wholly underrated) logic of doing a little thing consistently, I racked up a pretty dramatic body of text.

I had even started publishing that writing elsewhere, on Medium, turned some of it into a podcast, and generally been very happy with it—it never felt like work, but rather like something I did on the side, and so I didn’t have to set time aside for it or establish some kind of routine of successful people”, where I would get up at the crack of dawn to write. It just kind of flowed from my general enthusiasm about the things I saw out in the world, stumbled upon on the internet, or learned as I was reading books.

All this changed in 2018 when I had a bike accident that I barely remember. I recall going down a street in the outskirts of Berlin and all the sudden being on the ground, my face covered in blood, paramedics lifting me into an ambulance. At the nearest hospital, where three kinds of surgeons would restore the various injuries I had gotten from colliding with a car.

Almost two years later I have mostly recovered, save for a few teeth and some lasting scars. I cycle more than I ever did before. That leaves my writing as the only lasting casualty of the accident: That collision disrupted my habit of just sitting down to write, and I’ve struggled to pick it back up—what used to be spontaneous has been feeling like it needed to be planned for, no longer a natural habit but something requiring concerted effort. And I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

It’s dawning on me now that all along, the solution has been hiding in plain sight. Doing the thing I want to do, the thing I feel passionate about, isn’t about planning, making time, and waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s almost entirely about building the habit back up, sitting down and doing the work—or rather hitting the keys and filling these pages back up with thoughts and ideas that eventually grow into something much bigger.