Bad Habits (and a month without booze)

Beneath the Floor - November 2020
Hero dark forest

There was a time when I used to think drinking alone was a strange practise that I would never have a part of. What a young and doe-eyed fool I was. Slowly, but surely, as life has gone on and small stresses of the day add up, I’ve slowly taught my brain a persistent little trick - “That deserves a beer!”

Now this is a fun game you can play at home; any time you think you’ve worked particularly hard on something, or achieved something special, you celebrate with a nice, cold can of lager (or your tipple of choice - no judgement here). The problem is, when you’re master of your own universe, you set the rules. Over the course of a few years, “that deserves a beer!” can devolve rather rapidly. What qualifies as ‘hard work’ becomes a bit less strict. You celebrate victories and bemoan losses in equal (500ml) measures. You start playing fast and loose with the rulebook. “It’s thursday!” or “there’s one in the fridge...” become reason enough. Soon, you might find somehow you’ve skidded down the slippery slope of “that deserves a beer!” and are drinking every night.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting battered. I’m not over here in a vest, eight cans of Stella-Artois deep and wondering where it all went wrong. I was just having a can or two a night. To some people, that’s probably not a big deal. But to cut a lengthy explanation short - I was drinking more than I personally wanted to. Chuck a global pandemic and a literal world of problems onto my shoulders, and maybe in a few years I could have a genuine problem on my hands.

Apparently “Oc” rhymes close enough with “Stop” to make Stoptober a thing, and a good enough excuse for me to curb my enthusiasm for a nice cold lager to relax after work, or relax when I’m off work, or just relax full stop. I did a few stints in September to practise, and proudly announced to my wife and friends that I would not be drinking alcohol for the month of October.

They quickly reminded me that I’d booked a day of drinking with the guys on literally the third day, which I’d totally forgotten about in my excitement for sobriety and abstinence. Normally I would have said no, but we’d not been out properly since March and it looked like we soon wouldn’t be allowed to again with ‘Lockdown 2: Judgement Day’ looming large on everyone’s minds. So I drank on the third. But more importantly - I think - I haven’t drank on any of the other past twenty-two days. As petty compensation for the third, I started a day early.

Some would say this makes it all a bit pointless, but I’m not one of them. I was developing a bad habit, and I’ve shaken myself loose. It might not be perfect, but self-improvement rarely is. And I’ll be coming out the other side with a hardened plan; only three nights a week where I drink. My mathematics skill is a bit rusty these days, but that seems like a big improvement over seven. And at the end of the day, when it comes to drinking alone, the most important person’s opinion is yourself. Because nobody else is there.

I’m starting to quite like giving month’s a “theme”. I’ll have to start developing new bad habits to break (suggestions welcome). But next month is one that, as I’ve taken to writing in my spare time, has always been vaguely on my radar. NaNoWriMo. Whilst it may look like the chanting of a drunk wizard to outside eyes, it actually stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be in November. Essentially what people do is aim to start and complete a novel in a month. You probably don’t need telling how crazy this is. My first novel took almost two years. Around my work, my social life, (very) amateur DIY, walking my dog, finishing a monthly short story, blogging and not neglecting my wife, I probably manage an average of 500 words a day, and that’s when I’m on a roll. In order to finish even a small novel of 60k words, we’re talking (pass me the calculator) 2000 words a day. The only time I’ve gotten close to that was when I realised my dissertation was due next week and I’d not started yet. Technically possible? Sure. Enjoyable? Nope. High quality? No comment.

So, just as I played fast and loose with the rules on “not drinking”, I’ll be doing the same with “writing a novel in a month”. I’ve got a book that’s halfway there. I know what happens, I just need to take it out of my brain and put it on paper. I’m guessing there’s about 30-40k words there. 1000 words a day suddenly sounds a bit more within my limits. Cheating? Maybe. Realistic? ...Maybe.

I’ve set myself up a little spreadsheet to track my progress (and my beers), so time will tell. I’ve even started jogging. So, feeble excuses aside, it feels like I’m moving in the right direction. Less beers, more exercise, more words. What could go wrong?

Ask me in a month...

Newsletter banner
Get involved. Join the newsletter and get monthly stories, reports and blog posts.