Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wonder is an Inside Job

A few weeks ago, I went to see Frances Mayes speak at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I loved her books about Italy—Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany among others. Thrilled at the chance to see a favorite author in person, I sat alone, fourth row center, six months pregnant. She read an essay about art, Orvieto and churches. Afterwards, while being interviewed, she was funny, and smart, saying, “When people say ‘I don’t like Venice,’ I want to say, yeah, well I don’t like you.”

Most striking about her, to me, was her passion for Italy—an infatuation that has deepened into respect and devotion. She spoke of loving a place on a molecular level, how one can fall in love not just with people but with places. I have experienced that. Lisbon stole my heart at first sight. And my ardor for Mexico I can never shake, though Mexico does its best. So yes, I understand the marvel inspired by travel, by discovering unfamiliar places, by creating a life someplace new.

Yet, to my surprise, I left the lecture, not dying to move to Italy, but rather, filled with gratitude that I love my home and my life so much today. I spent many years either moving somewhere else or plotting when I could one day move somewhere else. Although I enjoyed Mayes’ adoration of Italy, I thought, I feel that way all the time, no matter where I am. In fact, immediately after her talk, I stumbled into a small hallway in the museum that I had never seen before. I stood before a giant deformed female statue with pointy nipples and medusa-like hair, and then was pulled across the room to a twelve-foot Tiffany column, covered in shiny blue mosaic tile. And I felt that child’s wonder of discovery, of adventure, of life being full of beautiful surprises.

Frances Mayes speaks of Italy as “endless,” and I’m sure it is. But so is Ocean City, where I find untold beauty in the sandpipers scuttling, the giant horseshoe crabs washed up on the sand, the coin-shaped iridescent gold shells. Narberth in Spring can steal my breath with entire lawns covered in purple crocuses, bulbs bravely sprouting through the still-cold ground. Just observing my puppy as she sleeps with her head resting on a pillow and her pink tongue poking through her teeth makes my heart swell. There is endless wonder in my life, no matter where I am, if I take the time to look for it. I’m so grateful that I often do.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Productivity Trick

It was inevitable. I knew the honeymoon would end. Or at least pause. The initial infatuation with my new novel is gone, replaced with the knowledge of what a long cold slog it is to the finish line. Forget about finishing. Right now I'd settle for some forward momentum, some semblance of a plot.

I forgot that I once felt this way about the first novel--uncertain of where it was going, of what my protagonist's problem was, if there was even a story worth telling. Luckily I have this blog and friends with good memories to remind me it was like that for the first one too. This is part of the process--fumbling toward a plot, putting words on the page, not knowing if they will add up to anything worthwhile. Man, this part is hard.

In hope that structure and deadlines would help me--they usually do--I signed up for an online writing workshop. For the class, I can submit up to 50 pages over ten weeks, which in and of itself, has scared me into working harder.

The class has already paid for itself with this advice from my teacher: "Make a small and manageable writing goal, and meet it every day." I've heard this before, in various forms, but this time it struck me. That's exactly what I needed to do.

So last Friday I made a tiny daily goal for myself: write x number of words every day, no matter what. I made it so small that I can accomplish it in 15 minutes if pressed. And guess what? It works. The goal is so minute that even mornings when I'm rushed, or tired or resistant in any way, I know I can still meet it.

I'm happy to report I've met my goal, every day except Sunday, (which is after all, the day of rest.) The great thing is on mornings when that's all I can manage, I still get a great sense of accomplishment, from meeting a goal. Other mornings, I find myself on a roll, happily typing, well beyond my limit. I believe that's what we call a win-win.

Sure, my inner critic still shouts--More! We need to be writing MORE! But I can see that momentum is building. Forward progress is happening. Maybe best of all, because I'm thinking about the book every day, my subconscious is starting to work on it. The characters are starting to live in my head. First sentences appear seemingly from nowhere. Magic is afoot.

Set a small, manageable goal, and meet it. Genius. Who knew?