Hope everyone is having a good Christmas Eve. I’m headed off to spend a few hours with six other professional fiction writers, then back here for the rest of the holiday. Today, the sun is shinning, I’m sitting in my office looking out over the ocean and the calm surf with a white cat on my lap biting my wrist when I move too much or forget to pet him. Yup, life is good.
As I said before, each day as we get closer to a new year I’m updating and reposting motivation and goal posts from last December. I had intended to write new ones completely and then looked back at last year’s posts and thought that they worked just fine with just a little bit of work. So onward with number three.
(Before you read this, read the previous two posts on goals.)
About a month ago I got a phone call from a wonderful women who works at our small city water department. She had been informed by the water meter reader that we had an unusually high usage and more than likely, we had a leak somewhere.
Talk about eating an elephant. How do you find a leak in two buildings served by the water, in ninety feet of lawn covering a water pipe, under a concrete slab where one pipe ran, and then, worst of all, down a steep hill for about eighty feet through trees and brush to the street below.
Somewhere in all that was a leak. So I took a deep breath and started with just one detail at a time, like writing a big book, one page at a time.
I did the standard first steps, checking to make sure toilets weren’t leaking with dye, checking under the buildings, all the simple things, including walking the yard looking for soft spots. (Not highly likely, since our ground is all sand and water would go right down.)
Nothing. So I turned the water off at the top of the hill, made sure nothing was getting to the house, then went down the hill and looked at the meter. Still spinning.
The leak was in an eighty foot run two feet down through deep brush, some tall trees, and a thirty foot drop. I remember standing there and thinking that was impossible.
The size of the elephant just stopped me cold. So I called for help (something you really can’t do when writing). The guy I called said it would cost me a number with a comma in it for his guys to dig up that run and just lay new pipe, much simpler than trying to find the old leak. Then it would cost me a bunch more for a plumber to hook it up on both ends of the new run. Ughh. Suddenly tackling the elephant seemed like a better idea.
So, not wanting to write checks with commas just yet, I got a young friend of mine to help and we started digging down at the street by the water meter.
One shovel full of sand at a time.
I kept thinking it was like writing a novel. One shovel full, one page. I did not allow myself to look up at that impossible hill of brush and trees. (At least not very often. )
We dug out the entire meter, and about four feet of old metal pipe until it vanished under a huge tree stump. Clearly when the pipe was put in originally, the trees were very small.
So, I gave up on that end for the moment and we went to the top of the hill.
Just like writing a novel. I often do false starts on books, toss them and fire again. So we went to the top of the hill and dug out the shut-off valve there, one shovel full at a time.
Slowly the pile of sand grew (like completed pages) and the task at hand made progress. No leak at the valve, so we started following the now plastic pipe down the hill, figuring that where the plastic joined the metal was a likely place to find the leak.
As it turned out, we got lucky about six feet along the run, where the plastic black pipe went directly at a large tree. The roots of the large tree had warped the pipe into such a shape that it had finally just split. Plumber is coming tomorrow and it won’t even be a check with three digits to fix. Very simple.
What I thought was going to be a novel’s length of work turned out to be a short story’s worth. Yeah!
But I was willing, day after day, to go out there and just move a few more shovel fulls of sand, work my way down that hill, cutting roots and facing the challenges of the project, until I found that leak. Just like I write a novel, one page at a time, facing the challenges, getting it done.
Interesting how knowing how to write novels can help in a real world situation.
And the other way around. Look at your life. Figure out which tasks you do that take time over days and months. Quilting and knitting are good examples of tasks that take the same type of drive and small detail to add up to a larger product in the end.
Construction of any sort is the same way.
Cooking a good meal is also the same thing.
A simple round of golf is also the same. One shot advances you forward, then the next and the next until you have moved to a finished goal.
Life is full of examples that are exactly the same as writing a book or a story. So when I talk about these goals, setting small detail goals, doing the math, just think of all the things you do in the real world that work on the same process. It makes this writing thing seem a lot less scary.
And a lot more fun than digging up old pipe to find a water leak.
Cheers and happy holidays