Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Get One Thing Right

Last week I spent a happy day reading Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser, in preparation for the reading group I'm organizing on ethical issues in life writing. There were so many terrific essays in the book written by prominent memoirists reflecting on their experiences; some of the best were the ones by Russell Baker, Eileen Simpson, Annie Dillard, and Ian Frazier, or at least those are the ones I chose for my group to read.

Here's one passage I loved from Ian Frazier's discussion of how he worked on his book Family:

"I began with the premise that I wanted to get at least one thing right. My analogy comes from hunting. When you're in a field and a whole bunch of quail go up, if you're a beginner you put your gun to your shoulder and just go BANG. You see all those birds and you shoot at them all and you won't get one. If you want to get a bird, pick one bird and shoot it. . . . So first, get one thing right - one thing that you really want to say."

Hunting metaphor aside, this struck home for me. Lately I've been having too much of a scattershot approach to getting my work done: take a bunch of work off to my office at the Prindle, stay there all day with nothing to do but that work, and figure that at least I'll accomplish SOMETHING. That doesn't always lead to the best results. Often on this approach I tend to accomplish only easy, lazy, peripheral things.

Today I'm going to pick one bird and shoot it - well, pick ONE task and DO it. I'm going to revise the first three chapters of a novel-in-progress. I'm in luck because I actually have to do this today, as I'm submitting these to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) retreat that I'm attending in early November here in Indiana, and today happens to be the deadline for mailing them in. Of course, that doesn't guarantee that it will happen.

Still. I'm picking ONE thing. I'm lifting my gun to my shoulder. I'm taking aim. I'm taking aim RIGHT NOW.

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