Chisel and Stone

I returned home from my conference in Chesapeake, Virginia to discover that my 5th grade son hadn’t done his math report or this month’s book report. It was a huge surprise, especially as I didn’t know he had a math report and he’d told me the book report wasn’t due for another week or so.

Hmmm. Not good. Especially as this isn’t the first time it’s happened. We’ve been doing this report denial thing for years. Country report, cultural report, science fair, history project, you name it, if it’s a big report or project requiring research, note taking, compilation of notes, writing, revision and an impressive, creative error free finished project, it’s not going to happen, at least not in my son’s mind. He’s not going to bring the assignment home. He’s not even going to read the assignment. He’s just going to bury the paper in his desk and pretend the assignment doesn’t exist.

Now, has he ever been able to get away with not doing a huge report? No. Has he found the consequences of not doing a report, and/or not starting it early (versus the night before, or the day after) enjoyable? No. So why the absolute melt-down in the face of big projects? He’s overwhelmed. He’s a big picture guy, likes the big picture, enjoys things fun and open-ended, and he can’t figure out how to get from point A to point G. He doesn’t know how to break a project down into smaller, more manageable bits. It’s just one horrendous overwhelming, frightening, and exhausting nightmare. A nightmare best dealt with by avoidance, aversion, and denial.

And you know, after I’m done yelling and being the righteous former schoolgirl/teacher, I totally get it. I totally relate.

In fact, it wasn’t until I bumped into a friend and fellow writer, Karen Hughes, at Ooba’s restaurant in Redmond last week, that I realized how overwhelmed I felt about starting my new book for Harlequin. Like my son, I had the assignment, I had the due date, and I had incentive–I just couldn’t get going.

But when I saw Karen at Ooba’s, and we sat at the counter during lunch talking about writing (or in my case, not writing), I realized avoidance wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I’ve written books before, just like my son has written reports before, but that doesn’t make starting them any easier for either of us. It doesn’t make the pressure go away, or the fears and self-doubt vanish. It doesn’t make the writing time shorter or the process smoother. It just means we�ve tackled difficult challenges and eventually succeeded.

As Karen told me about the progress she’s made in her writing, and how good she feels about her recent finished manuscript, I envied her energy and confidence. The best writing is confident writing. Writing where you charge it, go for it, believing that what you need to say, will (eventually) get said, believing that the story you want and need to tell, will (eventually) get told is writing that sells, and writing that touches others.

As I left lunch and prepared to fly out to Virginia the next day, I knew it was time for me to start writing again. But the question of how, remained. How do I do it? How do I find the words? How do I find the excitement, the energy, the passion to sit alone, apart from everyone, and focus, and write?

Like my son, I didn’t have the answers. I didn’t want the answers. Because if I got the answers, it’d mean I’d have to do it. I’d have to write the book, just as he’d have to do the project, and we’d both have to work, and working isn’t always easy, or immediately gratifying.

But because my son had me squashing him and pressing him, he sat down this last Thursday and started working.

But I don’t have anyone sitting on me, squashing me, pressing me to produce pages. I just have me. And once the passion to write is there, I’m good, but finding the passion can be tricky.

So last Thursday I knew I had to jump all over me. I had to get serious. It was time to stop worrying and avoiding and just get down to it. If I was going to yell at Jake, I’d yell at myself, too. If I told Jake, the best way to start a report was by breaking the project into smaller, more manageable pieces, then I’d do the same. Obviously he couldn’t read the book and write the report in one day, he�d have to do it in pieces, over time. But clearly, the key was getting started. The only way to get anything done, is by starting in the first place. I’d never get my book for Harlequin done, if I didn�t start, either.

So Thursday was start day. Just like first diet day. It’s a today’s the day mind set. No more excuses, no more binge eating, no more little Halloween chocolates and candy. Today is the day. In fact, this very minute is the minute.

Thursday I had a babysitter come over for two hours and I went to a local Starbucks with one goal: to write for those two hours. At the end of two hours I had to go home, regardless of the number of pages completed, so I just dove in. I wrote what I could, as best I could. To be honest, it hurt. It was ugly. Uncomfortable. The writing was jerky and repetitive, with lots and lots of false starts and sentences that were left dangling and fragments of dialogue. But I stuck with it and when I got home found I had 6 pages. They weren�t great pages. Not even good pages. But they were more than I had when I woke up that morning.

Friday, I did the same. I ended up with 7 pages, although the writing felt somewhat better.

Saturday, 10 pages.

Sunday, I only had ninety minutes but got 8 pages.

I haven�t written yet today but will soon.

Today Jake also returned to school with both reports finished. He’s exhausted and I’m exhausted from staying on top of him. But I’m also relieved. I�m relieved he�s gotten his work done, and relieved I�m writing again.

But that doesn’t mean the writing is easy and the words are flowing. Right now the writing is like taking a chisel to stone. I’m just chipping away, pounding the edge of the chisel against the stone, hammering, hammering, and little splinters of marble fly and I’m not getting anywhere fast. You can’t even see what I’m trying to make. There’s nothing here but formless cuts and chips. But I know–with that confidence of having completed difficult things before–that somewhere in the middle of this hulking piece of stone, is something beautiful and real. And I’m going to find it, I know I can. I just have to be patient. I have to keep pounding away, bit by bit, day by day.

Eventually I will have a book. Eventually the writing will become easier and the story will be mine and it just takes time. Effort. Discipline. Oh, and confidence.

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