West Virginia was lovely. It is a state populated by friendly people and gorgeous mountains. My sessions at the book festival were filled with teachers who want to become writers. How can we do it, they wanted to know?
I gave my usual advice: Write every day, find someone you trust to give you feedback, revise, revise, revise. I made the suggestion I myself find impossible to take: Read the best children's books you can find and analyze them chapter by chapter. How does the author begin chapters? End chapters? How does the action rise and fall? Track the story arc through the course of the book.
The problem is, and I admitted this to my audience, if a book's really good, you get sucked into the story and forget to analyze. You can't stand back from the story and examine the parts. At least I can't.
Lately I've been on a kick to see where my time goes so I can figure out how to use it better. But I'm finding it's as hard to analyze my life as it is to break a book into its parts. Time flies away from me, and I wonder why I can't get more done. Is it the lure of the Internet? Is it the siren call of books? Is it just my own massive laziness?
One thing I've realized: When trying to analyze why I don't get anything done, I neglect to count all the stuff I do get done. Getting breakfast and a proper dinner on the table is quite a time-suck, for instance. From 5 to 7 every evening, I'm in the kitchen, chopping, sauteeing, stirring, grating, preheating, baking, basting, plating. During this time I'm also putting together lunches, washing dishes, and overseeing the boys' chores. From 8-9, I'm supervising bedtime and showers and laying out clothes for the morning and setting alarms and turning back the covers on various beds.
And let's not forget the driving. There's driving to school in the morning and picking up in the afternoon. There's taking Jack to taekwondo twice a week. There are dentist appointments and hair appointments and play dates. Oh, the play date driving! There's the time on the road and the time preparing to get on the road--time spent corralling the dog and turning off the lights and the radio and setting the alarm. I start getting ready to leave the house ten minutes before I leave the house, and since I leave the house three or four times a day a lot of days, well, there's a good chunk of time right there.
Add the time it takes to make appointments, break appointments and talk on the phone with my mom or my co-coordinator for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, call the Man at work to remind him to pick up Jack from taekwondo. Time spent quizzing Jack for his French quizzes and History tests, for helping Will with his Superstar Math.
Gathering the clothes in laundry baskets and putting them in the wash, in the dryer, taking them back upstairs, folding, folding, folding.
Walk the dog. Knit the sweater. Practice the fiddle every day from 2-2:30. Write in the Blog. Return the library books. Spend entirely too much time in the library looking at books there's no time to read, but check them out anyway, just in case there's a sudden two-week gap in my schedule where I have absolutely nothing to do.
Hang out with the Man, who likes to be talked to now and again.
There is no way to break my day into its parts and sum it up and make it seem organized. There is no narrative arc here, no exciting beginning or dramatic end. But if I step back far enough, I can see that each one of my days is like a paragraph. A paragraph doesn't seem like much on its own, but string enough of them together and you've got yourself a story.
It's a story where not many letters get written and the floors are rarely mopped, where the main character would like to knit more sweaters and take a class or two, but it's got its juicy parts, nonetheless, its fair share of conflicts and resolutions. Lots of chocolate is eaten. It's a story with chocolate and dogs and a fire in the fire place on cold winter days--not to everyone's tastes, but I'd read it.
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