About a month ago, Mimi Meredith shared her mother’s advice for cold Montana mornings: “Darlin’ girl, just put one foot on the ground.” I’ve been smiling over that ever since.
And I’ve begun noticing how often I begin projects that feel huge, day after day: creating a proposal for a workshop, reading a book manuscript for a consultation, grading a flood of student papers. (I’m sure you have your own version of this.) Once I’m in the flow, I don’t want to stop. But there’s that moment that can feel like a winter draft: do I really know how to do this? do I have enough time set aside? Am I up to this one? Will I know what to do with whatever I’m in for?
I’ve been noticing those moments and thanking Mimi as I just put one foot on the ground and realize I’m up and running.
If you want to write a book, maybe you could put one word on a page.
“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” — Anne Lamott
This is one of my favorite writer quotes, and my chief excuse for not promoting myself, but on a blog, it materializes at light speed. Recently, I noticed I was up to 73 flags on my blog’s flag counter–probably more by the time you read this. The other day my visitor report might have formed a quorum of the United Nations and resolved for world peace. You’re from Canada to Argentina, Finland to New Zealand, Ireland to Japan. Russia to Madagascar, Cambodia to Romania, Peru to Indonesia, Northern Mariana Islands to Brazil, Mexico to Luxembourg, Latvia to Bolivia, Greece to Vietnam, Saudi Arabia to Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria to Taiwan, Switzerland to Pakistan, Israel to Bangladesh, Czech Republic to Nepal, Ukraine to Venezuela, Papua New Guinea to Lebanon, Serbia to South Africa, Singapore to Portugal. And 35 more.
With English being the chief second language in many nations, I assume most of these visitors understand me, while I’d be lost in their languages. It’s mind-boggling.
With so many readers whose days are my nights, or whose autumns are my springs (or both), I have to wonder! How did you land here? Were you looking for a topic I wrote about? Did you meet me through someone I’m connected with? Was it purely accidental, like a misdialed phone number? (I can’t imagine you’d actually heard of me, though this week was another milestone. Recommended Tags began suggesting “Gwyn Nichols.” Do I tag my posts with my own name? How odd!)
And when you got here, did you feel welcome? Lost?
I’m sparkling with curiosity. Please feel free to comment and let me (and my other guests in the room) know where you’re from, why you’re here, and whether I’m making a lick of sense. (Suddenly, I’m self-conscious about my idioms.) What would be helpful to you?
(1) Those who make their own writing their highest (or almost highest) priority.
(2) Those who try to finish every other task before they feel deserving of writing time.
Confession: I am the latter. See, I have to finish this blog before I can write!
Where did this come from? For how many years did my English homework get top priority? What happened?
You would think this would be fabulous for my clients, students, employers, and children who know I’ll drop everything for them. (Though it’s not so great for the established novelist generously awaiting my novel manuscript.) But actually, how am I serving you well by postponing an hour of writing with an hour of clearing every minutiae of my inbox? Or even talking to you now, instead of contributing to the critical mass of writing concentration in the world?
Lisa Yee, at an SCBWI conference about six year ago, said she was serious enough about her writing time to take her children’s laundry and throw it on their floors (where it will end up anyway) and to be the weird sports parent writing on the sidelines. (I thought I was the only one!) Of course, she and editor Arthur Levine then bantered about how much Lisa was blogging instead of writing books on schedule. Arthur is not my editor, so I hope he won’t be objecting to this post.
I took comfort from Laurie Halse Anderson at the 2011 SCBWI conference describing her top priorities. Writing is only number–five, I think she said–and she manages to be prolific. There’s something to be said for having real lives and, therefore, something to write about.
But all the same, I’m going now. I have a writing appointment. I hope you do, too. Let me know how it’s going.
For example, bucolic doesn’t make my list. Its meaning, in a lovely rural setting, certainly qualifies, and that definition chimes beautifully in the ear, but bucolic’s cacophonous sound suggests it would mean sick cow.
Nor do I care for long latinate words when a more accessible word will do. I prefer cat lover to ailurophile.
I concur on onomatopeia and panacea, but my favorite word has to be lullaby.
Remember when Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street sang the L song? Bert had “light bulb and lamp post,” while Ernie advocated the “lilting and lovely ones” like “laughter, lullaby, lollypop.” So Bert the boring came up with “linoleum!” The humor came in juxtaposing a melodic word with its pedestrian meaning.
For me, the most beautiful word captures the precise meaning you’re looking for, its phonetic symbolism matches its meaning, and its cadence fits the prosody of your passage. Good thing we can rummage around in this language with the largest vocabulary available; with a half million words to choose from, sometimes we can have it all.
“Are you published?” It’s the first question an industry outsider will ask, while a fellow writer will get to it eventually, however tactfully. “So tell me about your work!”
But being unpublished in a free land is not the same as being unpublishable in a not-so-free one. On my nation’s Independence Day, I’m thinking of an international social media “friend” who once shared her anguish with us: as a woman, she’s not allowed to publish in her own country, so she courageously posted her story online.
I’m counting my blessings. And I’m also counting hers. Here online, borders don’t hold long. “Let freedom ring.”
I realized today how burned out I’ve become in the last few weeks. New quarter, new classes, new students, new preps, new circadian schedule, forecast of 116 degrees and no rain, no summer vacation. When students whined, I felt their pain all too well, and my short fuse required amends. Already, life had been warning me so strongly of impending burnout that three of the four classroom projectors I had touched in the past week had refused to shine, and today, the fifth worked barely long enough before burning out. Colleagues comforted me, assuring me that vulnerability is wonderful for my growth as a teacher, and my students received me better in that vulnerability. The spill gates had opened and I came home weepy.
My son is writing a musical, Invincible, in which he explores vulnerability. (He’s wise beyond his years. And we were discussing it way too late last night.) So maybe I can receive the message now?
So here is the unvarnished truth: I came home, looked at my computer, and resented my blog for the sixth blogging day in a row. I hadn’t even been here in a week. I wasn’t being consistent anymore, felt I’d lost my stride, and had nothing I wanted to say in public. Vulnerability schmulnerability. (There, Drew, we’ve finally rhymed it.)
Here I’ve been writing all year to encourage your writing fluency and confidence–and my own had fizzled out.
I did check e-mail this evening, where I found several congratulating comments on this recognition. It could not have been better timed. This challenge itself has been a blessing in my life, and today, when I hit that wall and wondered whether I should quit, there you were, handing me a cup of water and cheering me on. Bless you all!
I look forward to visiting the other nine. Maybe one of them is as thirsty as I was today.
You remember inertia: a body in motion tends to remain in motion; a body a rest tends to remain at rest. This blog has been a rest a few weeks, and how heavy it feels!
How often have I suggested to you that it’s easier to sustain a daily writing habit than a weekly or sporadic one? Maybe you can come and go that way, but I’ve had computer access about a week, and I haven’t dragged myself to this particular blank page. If you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks, shouldn’t I say something profound or fascinating?
All I can do for you to today is to say again that the only way to begin is to begin. Smear some ink on the blank page, shovel coal into the steam engine, prime the pump, sharpen the pencil.
Much happened while I was away. It was obviously meant to be. Two computer logic board transplants (the second for an attached faulty graphics card), followed by a modem ‘s death and replacement, and today a new Internet outage. A writing retreat, much of it writing by hand, was what I needed, so other projects, connections, and insights could arise.
I can tell I need a running start. Excuse me, I’m going to brainstorm my next blog ideas, maybe surf a bit for ideas, and see you again tomorrow.