This is Red Rock Coulee, just west of Medicine Hat, AB.
These rocks are among the largest of their kind in the world, up to 2.5 meters across. They were formed by the prehistoric seas that repeatedly covered most of North America. And it’s iron oxide that causes their redness.
The salesperson for one publisher said it would cost me $19,380 just for the editing, and another salesperson said a novel that length would have to sell for at least $34 as a hard copy. Moreover, he warned, if I added even one color photo, and I plan to add several, the price would at least quadruple.
But I like to photograph, and I would like to include photos of a few of the key scenes in my novel.
So if I try to publish in hard copy, I, an unpublished and unknown writer, would be asking readers to pay $136 for a novel. I don’t know about you, but Sisyphus and his humongous boulder immediately come to mind.
However, I can’t even imagine trying to push that boulder on the right downhill, let alone up.
But the good news is I’m not Sisyphus, and Zeus is not punishing me. Besides, I’m not responsible to get a rock of any size to the top of a hill or even to the bottom of one. That would be an outcome, and I am not responsible for outcomes.
I’m only responsible to create possibilities.
I can put out birdseed, but I’m not responsible for whether a Northern Flicker comes to my feeder. I can cast a dry fly next to some deadfall in a stream, but I’m not responsible for whether a brown trout takes it. I can buy a lottery ticket, but I’m not responsible for whether that ticket wins anything.
And I can write a novel and try to publish it, but I’m not responsible for whether anyone ever reads it.
“The readiness is all.”
When I first thought of writing, I came across a quotation by Raymond Chandler that was an absolute fit with my approach to things.
I say that because I always work on a large task for a certain period of time, usually thirty minutes, rather than working until I complete it or until I complete a significant portion of it.
When I was teaching, for example, I didn’t have to mark an entire set of papers – I just had to mark for thirty minutes. Then I could quit if I wanted. And today, I don’t have to vacuum the entire house – I just have to vacuum for thirty minutes. Then I can quit if I want. And today, I don’t have to – etc.
But usually, once I start it’s easy to keep going and even easy to add another thirty minutes, if I want. Or not. My choice.
It’s the same with writing, Chandler says. The key is to set aside a period of time each day, three to four hours perhaps, where you sequester yourself someplace that’s distraction free, then wait. This waiting is very, very important. You can’t check your emails or your calendar, or browse through magazines or your notebooks, or tidy up your closet. Your sole job is to wait, distraction free.
It’s that simple, he says. You either write, or you do nothing.
But I think that doing nothing invariably ends up being quite productive. Ideas and insights can’t stand a void. So when they spot one, they very quickly jump into it and try to fill it up.
My job at that point is to notice what they’re up to and help them.
And soon, if I stay out of their way, my characters begin writing my novel for me. That, folks, is when the magic truly happens.
But if I ever have a day when I can’t write, Chandler says I shouldn’t try to force it. A good novel is not a conscious, lock-step process.
I like what he says very much. If I put in my three hours, I’ve had a great day even if I didn’t write one good sentence. I don’t have to feel guilty about not getting any words on the page, and I don’t have to feel as if I’ve failed.
My goal was to make those three, distraction-free hours, and I did that.
Fortunately, however, most of my days truly are non-stop magic, where my characters do, indeed, write a few paragraphs for me.
And in my next post, I’d like to suggest how I think that magic happens.
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