On Baby Steps

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I have set aside some time this month to revisit my manuscript, which needs a third draft. I know of writers whose process is so iterative that they might write forty drafts of the very same manuscript, over a period of five or more years, and honestly, I bow down to them. To their stamina, their stick-to-itiveness, their willingness to engage and re-engage with the same material.  

I watch Cosmo, our rescue puppy, circle a spot where he’s going to sleep, around and around and around, before plunking down. It reminds me of me right now, circling my computer, circling my material in my head, around and around and around. I’ve been doing this for two days and still haven’t plunked down!  Still haven’t found my way back in! This could very well be because I am circling instead of sitting.  

Many writers use the A.I.C. method: Ass In Chair. Mine hasn’t been. When I finally do sit, I spring back up, as if my chair has an Eject! button. I know resistance is part of the process, at least part of mine. This is what I do. I circle. I sit, then spring right up. I pace. I clean the house, pay the bills, find broken things that need to be taken to repair shops, errands I have been putting off for months if not years. I have done this so many times in my life that I’ve come to trust that all the while, in the back of my mind, I am probably already writing. And when I finally do get to A.I.C in earnest, I will be ready.

Every day after school, our nine-year-old neighbor comes over to take Cosmo out of his crate and bring him outside—because we are usually out of the house at work all afternoon.  But yesterday I was home, trying to write, aka circling, and forgot Natalia was coming.  I was not quite A.I.C., but was getting closer. I was A.I.B.—in other words, in bed with my computer and my puppy, re-reading my manuscript in search of an entry point. I heard Natalia’s footsteps in her snowboots trudging up the stairs to find Cosmo, who wasn’t in his crate as usual.

“What are you doing?’ she asked, when she came upon me A.I.B..

“Trying to write a book,” I said. “But I’m having a hard time.”

“What’s it about?”

“Well,” I said.  “It’s about two sad things that happened in our family, two accidents, that ended up turning into miracles.”

By this point, Cosmo had made his way into Natalia’s arms, tail wagging, licking her face, eager to go outside. Having doubled his size and weight since we got him over Thanksgiving, Cosmo is almost too big for Natalia to carry. She lugged his wriggling body downstairs and outside, and I went back to my manuscript (aka checking email, shopping online). I figured I’d bored Natalia with my description of my book, but when she came back in with Cosmo about ten minutes later, she brought it up.

“Um, Hilary? I think what you should do is tell people that miracles are very important.”  

So I’ll start here: Miracles are very important!

Overcoming resistance, right now, would be my minor miracle. Another is that I know exactly how: baby steps. Baby steps almost always lead to miracles. I worked with a client who felt too sedentary to overcome his exercise aversion, but committed to setting a timer for three minutes of jumping jacks a day, which over time became five, then ten minutes, until he found himself with enough energy in his system to start going regularly to the gym. For another client, spending fifteen intentional minutes a day out of her comfort zone lead her to complete two daunting goals, one personal, one professional. The trick was, and is, taking the baby step no matter what.  

Mine is revisiting my manuscript everyday, whether I feel like it or not. (I don’t.) This may feel like circling. It may feel fruitless. I may make messes in the work that I end up throwing out. The other trick is, remembering it’s all progress. Baby steps aren’t always linear. When babies learn to walk, they fall down. Maybe they crawl a little before standing up again. Then they take another step.  Or two, or three.

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