Sunday, August 5, 2012

Small Change, Big Change

Yesterday I was indulging in the pleasure of reading this month's Oprah Magazine, the annual "makeover issue": "How to transform you luck, habits, stress level, friendships, health, style, attitude, and have fun doing it!"  This is exactly the kind of thing I cannot resist!  The entire issue was excellent.  And the best line in it?

Here's the marvelous truth about improving your life: You barely have to change anything to change everything.

Oh, that is so true!  It's true of revising a manuscript, and it's true of revising your life.

In revising a manuscript, I've made huge changes in the impact of a story simply by reworking the one paragraph in which I describe the character's epiphany moment, which alters the whole way the theme of the book is expressed - or by deleting one small incident that the set the reader up to dislike my character - or by adding one small incident that established a bond between two characters that resonated throughout the rest of the book.

In revising my life, I've spun huge amounts of gold out of teensy amounts of straw in the same way.  Once many years ago I was making myself miserable every day by having to serve as the editor of an academic book series.  I hated it so much that I couldn't make myself even open the envelopes in which the manuscripts arrived at my door.  My sister and I had always loved the poem by Richard Le Gallienne that begins "I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree."  Cheryl helped me rework the poem: "I meant to open those envelopes today. . . ."  So here's the tiny tiny thing I did to change the situation.  I spent two minutes - two! - sending an email of heartfelt apology saying that I couldn't serve as editor of the series any more.  And I never had to open one of those envelopes ever again.

I changed my life for the better this year in the one moment I took to sign up for the free online weight-loss website, My Fitness Pal, after I was feeling so pudgy and portly after eating all that free food on offer nonstop at DePauw.  I fell in love with tracking my calorie intake and outtake on their site and now since February I have lost a total of 19 pounds while eating ice cream sundaes, Snickers bars, and other treats I love, but all in moderation. I've actually learned how to eat half a Snickers bar on Monday and save the other half for Tuesday!

I changed my month vastly for the better when on August 1, in honor of the start of my new life for August, I got up at 4:30 a.m. and actually starting doing a few of the things on my seemingly endless and oppressive to-do list for the month.  Five days later, I find that I have really done most of them, fueled by the momentum of that one early start. What looked impossible turned out to be fairly easy, after all.

Now I'm casting around for other teensy changes I can make that will have enormous reverberations, given that I've found that a change can be as simple as saying no, or saying yes, or getting up two hours earlier on one August morning.


  1. I love this Claudia. The other day I was thinking, what if I got up fifteen minutes earlier than usual and wrote. I wonder if it'd make a difference. I think i'll try.

  2. If you like it, too, then maybe it doesn't need to be a "guilty pleasure" after all. I loved that line in O this month, too! I'm working on those small changes that make big impacts, too. But getting up earlier is not on my list, despite what the new puppy thinks I need!