Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Digging Out

Yes, that's my car under a foot of fresh snow! And to tie this to writing, my car and my WIP have a lot in common. Both need digging out and seem stuck in one place. I need a shovel and a broom for each, but I do try my best to put off both jobs!

Late last night, as the snow continued to fall, I went to bed with not much thought to the task of digging out this morning. In fact, I was happy to be snowed in. With another 6-10 inches in the forecast for Wednesday, these two words -- "why bother?" were firmly in my mind. I mean, really, why not wait to dig out? I'm not planning on going anywhere soon since it's Thanksgiving week and I'm "home free" for the rest of the week. I'll watch the soaps or a movie. I could study or, what a thought, I could work on my novel, but probably not tomorrow. I have the whole week! My son's school will probably be cancelled too and he's excited about a snow day. Yes, I'm quite content to hum along to the Winter Wonderland song: "The weather outside is frightful, but inside it's quite delightful. As long as we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Oh, silly me. Snowed in? I forgot where I lived! You see, even with another big storm coming, you can't underestimate how industrious Northern Minnesotans and my little town of less than 300 people is about snow removal. In fact, almost too industrious. What was I thinking? I must have flash backed to my years in Washington, DC where, yes, you could expect a Federal holiday for a little snow. But here? Oh, no.

Nope, late into the night the snow plows flashed their lights as they went along Main Street past my house. But other than waking me up, I know what that means for me! The roads might be cleared, but they always block me in by dumping a mountain at the end of my driveway -- that hard packed heavy kind that I can't shovel. Ha! My plans to avoid the shovel and broom for the car still has merit and I fall back to sleep knowing I'm not getting out. It still makes no sense to shovel (to do work)!

Then, at four a.m. I hear the beep, beep, of the City's sole maintenance person on his Bobcat clearing off the sidewalk in front of my house. Oh, bother! I open the curtains to see him plowing away the snow blockade in front of my driveway and, moreover, clearing a big share of my driveway for good measure. He's like a whole team of the elves who made the shoemaker's shoes while he slept. Only noisier. Still, I should be grateful. I tell myself this anyway as I pull the covers over my head.

When morning comes (daylight that is), I am now, of course, guilted into work. First, I might as well get to it since, no surprise, I'm awake! *yawn* It's been a long night of lights and beeping snow plows. And there's also the consideration that I can't be identified as the only able bodied person who forgot their duty to fight a "man (or woman) against nature" battle. My neighbors, it seems, are out in full force as if the town is preparing for a winter parade or something.

So, as my son's school bus picks him up -- right on time -- I went out in the three degree weather with my shovel and a broom. I grumble under my breath (that I can see) as I start in on something I'm not sure has a point, but I do smile and wave my thanks as my neighborly maintenance elf (who is a neighbor, of course) drives by. I'm also thinking that if I don't clear my steps and driveway I'll be visited by another neighbor who wonders if I've "fallen and can't get up," as the commercial goes. Because, of course, only dire circumstances would prevent digging out. This is another small town difference from the big city that I am normally quite proud of -- when I'm not intent on being a hermit, that is.

Less than an hour later, the car is unburied, the driveway and steps clear, and I do admit to a feeling of accomplishment. I did what I wasn't enthused about and, even if my plan for the day hasn't changed I can go somewhere if I choose to do so. That is, assuming it starts. But besides that detail, there's a point to what the big call to action to dig out is all about. It's about creating possibility. No one (usually that is) wants to be "stuck" in one place, so we do whatever is in our power to clear a path, however temporary. It's also about getting started on a big task, simply by doing, even when you don't have a destination in mind. Now, after the fact, I'm a bit more sincere in my gratitude to the "maintenance elf" giving me a head start.

I see there are similarities to my writing process in my perspective toward whether I dig out immediately or if I wait to dig out my car. Whether I realized it or not, there is that same need to believe in the purpose. There's that weighing of the time and effort. For the car, I didn't see why I should put in the time (that I had such big plans for) and effort during an interval bookended by major storms. Everything I do is going to be basically "wiped out." For writing, I often don't see the interval large enough, the window of opportunity wide enough to start. Add to that a very real possibility of frustration if any changes I make in the plot will affect other areas of the story, and it's a recipe for writer's block.

The trick seems to be not think about it so much. Easier said than done, but I recall a teacher saying to always do a simpler problem that is similar to a more complicated problem. In the simpler task of digging out the car I probably still did it "wrong" or out of sequence. I started shoveling the driveway and then swept the snow off the car, which meant I again had to shovel the driveway. I know. What was I thinking? *LOL* It's not the end of the world, but if I'd done it the other way around I would have saved a step. It's a good thing I didn't think about it. I needed to clear the surrounding area first to get to the car, and I didn't think about how the car snow would change what I'd already done. Would it have been better the other way? It wasn't that bad to do cleanup, and either way, the task was complete.

For novel writing I often get stuck in indecision of whether my writing process is effective, which paralyzes my progress. That constant re-writing can seem pointless and make you feel like there must be a better way. But all that does is lead to second guessing, which really does take a lot of time. So, when the questions come up, the answer is most likely, "yes." Next time I ask, does it makes more "sense" to clear the surrounding area first or write a specific section (cleanup!), the answer is yes. Either is right.

When there aren't any helpful elves around, how do you get motivated to dig out your story?

And yes, I know the big question is, why don't I have a garage? Long story, but it would help!


  1. Wow! I'm impressed. That chore seems even harder since you kept getting woken up AND since you had mentally prepared for a completely different activity (snow day). LOL

    As for getting motivated to dig out your story, I've been doing NaNo this month and the thing I love about it is it doesn't permit me to second guess. I know I have a certain amount of words to do each day and I just do them.

    I thought I'd try to argue myself out of doing it, but I actually like seeing the word count piling up, and when I'm not working on it, I think about different plot points and character arcs.

    So I definitely agree that "doing it" is more important than doing it in a certain order. There's a lot to be learned no matter how you accomplish it. And that sense of accomplishment keeps you moving forward.

  2. Donna, that's what I need -- a writing exercise like NaNo to keep me from second guessing. I should try a mini-NaNo during the semester break. Something brand new perhaps. Then I'd have three stories to finish next summer. LOL Maybe I should try a short story! Although, that's not to say short is easy!

    I'm counting down to another snow storm arriving and I'm standing by to dig out right away. LOL

  3. Thanks for the warm wishes, Tina! LOL

    I'm in Northern Minnesota. Two weeks ago it was 60 though so all this at once takes some getting use to!


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