Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Inch by Inch

This morning at a ridiculously early hour my four year-old son Mason threw a tantrum. He was working on a 231 connect-the-dot of some castle in Germany and his fingers, which have only just learned to properly grip a pencil, slipped and he drew a line where he didn't intend to. He started weeping uncontrollably, punctuated with angry shouts of, "I can't do this. It's too hard. I should just throw all my dot-to-dots away!"

To be perfectly honest, I've heard this tantrum many times before and at quarter to six in the morning my first response is likely to be to position the pillow tighter over my head and mutter, "Sounds great, honey. Five more minutes." This morning, however, I had a parenting break through. I sat up, bleary-eyed and comforted my child. I told him that it was perfectly natural to be frustrated because when you look at the whole page of unconnected dots it _does_ look insurmountable. Instead, I told him, it might be helpful to break the puzzle down into smaller parts. Just connect a line from one to two. Stop. Then, find three and connect two to three. When you do it like that, it's not such a big job. It becomes do-able.

After a few more tears, he started to believe me. I showed him how I did it -- and if there's one thing Mason can't stand is if someone else is doing something he wants -- so he took it from me, and finished the whole thing.

A novel is a lot like that. When you sit down, as I am, near the beginning the whole thing seems so HUGE. How can I possibly write 500 manuscript pages in seven months? Like the construction of Rome, it takes time. One scene at a time. Inch by inch.

Eventually the dots connect and you're finished and wondering what all the fuss was about.

6 comments:

Kelly Swails said...

Great analogy, Tate/Lyda.

jpj said...

When she was writing her dissertation, Michele tackled it the same way. We even coined a verb for it: "to chunkatize." As in:

"You need to chunkatize the puzzle and just do ten at a time."

We fully expect credit in the OED.

Nancy P said...

Great parent. Great writer. Instead of "bird by bird," I will now sometimes think, "dot by dot."

Have a great reading at Dreamhaven!

Nancy P said...

Oops, sorry. I thought that was Kelly posting. Well, maybe you're having a reading, too, Tate, in which case, have a great time. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Hey Nancy, thanks for the compliment, or at least whatever part of it I can claim. The herd of us who post here gets confusing from time to time.

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