Aaron planted his butt on the chair, feeling energized and determined not to get up until the day’s work was done. He had gotten up early, as he managed to most days now, and gotten through his morning ritual of workout, visualization, contemplation and a big yummy breakfast.
He sat down, fresh out of the shower, ready to kick ass and take names.
They say that it takes three weeks to build up a habit and stick with it. Well, Aaron discovered that’s not the case. For him, it took at least 90 days to make something permanent.
Today he’d reach that milestone. After three months, today, his mind and body would lock in the habit of daily writing and keep it with him for the rest of his life.
Alright, he thought to himself, stretching his fingers as the computer powered up. If I win today, I win all days.
With a smile and a water drop falling from his still-moist hair, Aaron opened the document he’d been writing and put on some inspiring music and let the fingers dance on the keyboard.
It felt great. Wide awake and energized from the exercise and the quick shower, he was doing what he wanted most. All before the rest of the world even woke up. He had two solid hours to do his writing, before he’d have to drive to work.
The thought of that mind-grinding slavers camp he was forced to call a ‘job’ prompted a sour taste, but he quickly let it go. He knew that if he finished his daily word count before going to work, the rest of the day would be a breeze. It was that simple. Do the most important thing first in the day.
No exceptions. No excuses.
The phone vibrated.
Damnit, he thought, concentration slipping for a moment. I forgot to put it on airplane mode.
His eyes automatically glanced at the phone, diligently trained over the years to respond immediately. Just before the screen darkened, he could see a message from his friend C.J., asking him if he’d want to go bowling.
Bowling? When? Aaron wanted to reach for the phone, then he remembered - no distractions.
He turned back to the typing and had to wait a few moments for the flow to return. He finished the daily word count with minutes to spare.
With a whoop, he glazed over the draft-in-the-making he’d been writing for three months and felt like he’d just had a wrestling match with a T-rex, where the lizard went home limping.
Then, he checked the phone. C.J. was asking him to go bowling after work. The message said that the guys all agreed to go, and since it was Friday, they’d hit the Brewster Bar afterward. Have a little adventure.
I should go, Aaron thought. I should celebrate my victory.
He almost started typing a confirmation, when he remembered. I have to edit what I wrote. Then I have to plan for what I’m going to write next. Also, if I want to keep the habit, I need to wake early…
With some reluctance, he wrote C.J. that he couldn’t make it. He had to work on his writing - and he couldn’t stop now, not when he was so close to making it a habit.
“Sorry my man,” he mumbled as he wrote the reply. “I’ll give you a signed copy of my first book to make it up to you.”
Feeling like a boss, Aaron left his apartment and drove to work.
“Hey man, are you gonna watch the game tonight? I’m all stocked up with supplies, we can watch it at my place!”
Aaron stared at Tom, his coworker, reading the enthusiasm on the man’s face as they typed away data into their computers. Tom was a huge fan of the sport - yet he never played it himself.
“I’ve asked the guys and they’ve agreed to come,” Tom continued, glancing from his screen to Aaron’s face. “We’ll be meeting right after work.”
“Right after?” Aaron asked. “Isn’t the game at eight?”
“Yeah, three or so hours is not much time for analysis but it’s all we got, right? I’ve prepared files on both the teams and background on the players. I’ve got printed interviews from both coaches, team managers and even some personal intel on one of the team’s former coaches - one that didn’t make the cut. It’s gonna be interesting man! Can’t wait to share my predictions and analysis with you guys!”
Aaron shook his head. One group of people was inviting him to go bowling this evening, while another invited him to go hardcore analysis on a football match. Well, diversity of friends did help with writing rich characters, right?
“I’m sorry man,” Aaron said. “I understand how much you like doing these game analysis, and I’d love to come but I can’t. Not tonight.”
Tom’s fingers stopped typing. “Oh.”
“Sorry. Maybe next time?”
“I mean… this is the finals…”
“I’m really sorry.”
He turned fully toward Aaron. “C.J. got to you first, didn’t he? Yeah, he stole half the guys for his stupid bowling night!”
“I turned him down too.”
“Oh. Something wrong?”
“No, I just... have other things to do.”
Tom grinned. “Aaron, my man, you shouldn’t be hiding her from us… we’ll know soon enough!”
Aaron frowned. “What? No, it’s not that.”
“I… I’ve got work to do.”
Tom laughed. “You’re doing work now. Are you pulling overtime?”
“Oh, right. Writing.”
“How’s that going?”
“It’s going great!” Aaron beamed up and stopped typing himself. “I’m on a ninety-day streak now and a good three-quarter of the first draft in. I’m also doing some editing at the same time, that’s why it’s going a bit slower, but nothing major, just the typos and stuff… I mean, there’s also the matter of plot which is quite tricky, but I think I’m starting to get a handle on it. Character development has been super fun and intuitive, I think I’ve connected…”
He cut off as he noticed Tom’s bemused face. “Anyway, it’s going great.”
“I… see. You sure you don’t want to come watch the game? You could use some relaxation, right? Every man needs a hobby.”
“Not me. Hobbies are distractions that society tells you you should have so that you can keep sane after having to be a slave to it. But in truth, they are either a complete waste of time - like collecting paper cups or something - or a distraction from looking at your life and seeing what’s not working there. I mean, if you already did what you loved and were passionate about, you wouldn’t need a hobby, right? You’d already be content with what you’re doing.”
Tom blinked. Right. That’s the last thing the man wanted to hear; that the only thing keeping him sane - his hobby - was a distraction.
“Anyway, thanks for the invite,” Aaron said. “Maybe next time?”
“Yeah, sure,” Tom said and turned back to the typing. His fingers moved with a little less enthusiasm as before.
“Dude, dude, dude,” Jake’s voice shrieked over the phone, as Aaron held it a few inches away from his ear. He was at the grocery store, getting some food, when his friend called.
“Dude, tell me you’re free tonight!”
Aaron sighed. An old lady gave him a stare, hearing Jake’s voice from twenty feet away. “Jake, I told you, I have to edit what I wrote-”
“Yeah, yeah, cool, but hey! Listen to this! Why don’t you bring your laptop with you? You could edit while you wait for the next round of combat and that gives you some time to finish the thing! What do you say?”
“Jake, it’s D&D. I’m not getting any work done if I’m playing. Besides, you can’t just ignore what’s going on while waiting for your turn in combat! How would I know how to act?”
“Hm, you’re right,” Jake said and thought for a moment - a silence which Aaron capitalized on by ordering a fresh piece of salmon from the butcher.
“I’m sorry, but you picked the worst time for a session.”
“Today’s the only day Kayle and Marsh are free,” Jake said. “Don’t you want to see Kayle? I know you do…”
Aaron scowled and the butcher gave him a confused look. “That’s a low move, Jake.”
“Hey, I’m the DM. Don’t you mess with me, Radhaghar Stormborn, dragonborn sorcerer from the Island of Winds!” He said the last part in his DM voice, which, combined with the scenery of a packed grocery store seemed ridiculous.
Aaron sighed. “Look, I know it’s an inconvenience, but I really can’t come. I have to do this, Jake. It’s important to me.”
“Well, I guess I can always say that some wandering Cyclops ate you in your sleep…” Jake said. “But Aaron; don’t you think D&D would be good for your inspiration? I mean, it’s fantasy! It’s what you write! And you of all people should know how important inspiration is!”
“Inspiration alone won’t write the book, Jake,” he said. Though his friend was right - inspiration was important, and D&D had plenty of that.
But it was also a distraction. Such a juicy one…
“Are you sure there’s no way I can convince you?” Jake asked, sounding desperate. “It’s gonna be a big fight with the boss and all… gods will fall… worlds will shatter… you’re not interested?”
Aaron paused at the vegetable section and stared into a bunch of carrots.
“Oh, Radhagar,” Jake said, imitating the voice of Kayle’s character, “we need your help. I need your help! Your magic is so strong and powerful, whatever will I do without you-”
“You’re a dick, man.”
“Sorry. Next time.”
“Fine. Good luck with the writing, then.”
“Thanks. Have fun.”
Aaron hung up, grabbed what he needed and got the hell out of there.
“I can’t believe it,” Derek said, as Aaron came round the corner, keys of the apartment in one hand, a bag of groceries in the other. “Aaron! You live here?”
“Oh, hey, Derek. Long time no see, huh?”
“Tell me about it!” The guy jogged up, making a fist in the air. “You know the rule!”
Aaron sighed, pocketing the keys he’d been fishing out forever, then fist-bumped with his friend. The man’s fist was stronger than he remembered.
“What’s it been… a year?”
“Nah, not even close, man,” Derek said. “More like ten or eleven months. That’s how long I’ve been working out really hard. Like, I’ve been spending more time at the gym than at work, yo!”
The man flexed and proved his point. “I see.”
“You still pumping, Aaron?” Derek asked and slapped Aaron’s stomach. “Whoa, feels kinda flabby here!”
“I’m doing home workouts these days,” Aaron said, feeling annoyed for not walking faster so he could avoid meeting this guy. “It saves me time and money.”
Derek nodded. “Yeah, and fat. Saves you fat. I’ve been home training a few years back - never again. Now I’ve found the perfect combination of gym, food and sleep. Check this out! This is pure muscle. You could make an extract from this and there’d be no fat in it!”
He lifted his shirt and showed his rippling six-pack, glistening in the yellow light of the streetlamp.
“Feel it man,” he said. “Feel it and get a taste of what you’re giving up.”
Aaron glanced at the muscles, then shook his head. “I’m fine, thanks. Looks great, though.”
“Thanks man! The bitches love it!
“Hey, what’s in the bag? Show me what you eat, man. Let’s see if there is hope for you yet.”
Aaron reluctantly showed him the bag. Best to do away with him as fast as possible so he could get back to the writing.
“Where’s the pork?” Derek gasped. His giant hands dug into the bag, threatening to tear the whole thing up. “Eggs - good. Veggies - good. Berries - what the hell? Why? You got some salmon, but where’s the good stuff? Not even cottage cheese?!”
“I’m eating light so I can stay more focused.”
“Yeah. Clear minded, you know?”
“Listen, the only focus you need is to keep a two-hundred-pound weight from crushing you while you’re doing reps at the gym. Oh, whatever has happened to you, Aaron…” he shook his head. “Good thing I stumbled into you. And even better that I live two blocks down the road. I’ll get you back on track in no time, you’ll see! I just came back from an all-day at the gym, that’s why I’m so rippling. I can show it to you tomorrow. Or hey!” He snapped his fingers and clapped, thinking of something.
Aaron wished he could magically teleport into his room.
“We could go out! Like in the old days! Hit up on some chicks, bang them and then get wasted! You could crash at my place or I at yours and when the sun is bright we could hit the gym and pump! Whaddya say?”
In his mind, Aaron rolled back the time and asked himself - was I really friends with this guy? Was I like him a year ago? He shivered, as the answer was yes.
“I can’t, Derek.”
“Yeah you can, you wuss. You’re a man. You’ve got balls of steel - I haven’t forgotten what you did back then. I’ve been working up, but I still don’t think I can beat you. Come on, bro. Chop chop!”
The man danced and laughed, clapping his hands. Then he became serious, checking his phone for a minute. After that, he looked at Aaron expectedly.
“I have other plans.”
“What? Jerking to a cup? Or eating those blueberries of a chick's butt?”
“I’m working on my dreams.”
“You work in your dreams? Shit man, sounds like a nightmare! Come on, let’s go party!”
“Derek, no,” Aaron said. “Look, I understand this is your thing, your… hobby, but it’s not mine anymore. I’m past that.”
Derek frowned as if Aaron had just spoken in a foreign language. “Hobby? What are you talking about? This is life, yo! You saying you’re past life? You saying you’re dead?”
“No, all I’m saying is I have other priorities now. I’ve grown.”
Derek snorted, poking Aaron’s arm. “You haven’t grown one bit. You’ve shrunk. Shit man, home workout sucks.”
“I’m writing my first book, Derek. It’s been my dream since always and I’m finally doing it now. Today’s the 90th day in a row that I’m doing it every day and it’s important to me I see it done. So I prove to myself I can do it.”
“You… write? Shit, I thought only girls did that.”
“You gone gay, Aaron?”
“What? No! And even if I did, what does that have to do with anything?”
Derek looked at him like he was looking at something distasteful. A sick old man, perhaps, who coughed all over the place.
“You… write. You don’t go to the gym, you don’t want to go party and have sex… do you even drink beer? Or just water?”
“Actually, I prefer water because it’s pure and doesn’t clog up my mind, nor does it upset my stomach.”
“Yeah, I had no idea back then, but every time I had too many beers, I would get this bloated feeling…”
“No, not that,” Derek shook his head. “It’s you. I don’t even know you anymore. Shit.”
He just turned and left. Didn’t look back.
Aaron watched the man go, remembering all the wild nights he’d spent with him, going on all sorts of parties. He smiled. Good times. But best to keep them as memories.
He had something else that was calling on his soul right now. It used to be beer, fun time with friends, games, sex... It used to be that need to belong, to feel like he’s doing something, playing that whole status game. It even used to be the call for hobbies, such as reading books or going cycling outside - he could spend the whole day doing either.
But now, the call was different. A deeper one, more personal one. Almost spiritual. It was like the combination of all the things he ever enjoyed in life, distilled into one pure form, converted into passion, that revealed itself to him only after he’d tried so many other things before it.
Writing stories was all he wanted to do now. He could still enjoy other stuff, but they all came second. Writing came first.
Aaron fished out the keys from his pocket again and went up to his apartment. There he put the groceries in the fridge, turned off his phone, sat on the chair and closed his eyes. He listened to a group of teenagers passing by under his window, probably headed to a party. He listened to a couple arguing next door and a baby crying. He listened to two neighbors that stopped in the hallway, talking politics.
He took it all in. The life unfolding around him. The life of cause and effect, of reacting and responding. The life at the mercy of the winds of the mind, the waves of emotion. He searched within and found the same life inside. He spent a few moments observing that life unfold, much like the life around him. He felt at his tired body, at the emotions of excitement, frustration, worry, anticipation, gratitude and many others, floating around. He looked at his thoughts, ranging from the meeting of all the people that tried to sway him today, to the writing he’d done, to the dreams he had, to what he’ll do tomorrow.
Then, he opened his eyes and turned on the computer. During the time it took for the machine to load up, Aaron stepped out of his thoughts and emotions, into that place where nothing existed but everything that ever could.
And from there, he started typing.