There is a pile of wood at the end of our driveway, right in front of the garage door. It’s early fall, here in upstate New York, and the nights are becoming chill enough that we want fires. After the hot, dry summer, it is both relief, and warning, this transitional season. Soon enough, we will want that firewood inside.
In previous years, the pile grew slowly. Jim would cut the wood with his chain saw, then split it with his maul and wedges. Once that was done, I would carry it down to the end of the driveway, little by little, and from there into the garage where it would stay dry and free of snowdrifts.
This year, we knew it would need to be different. Jim was involved in a serious motorcycle accident last February – a collision with a deer left him with several injuries, including a broken hand and eight broken ribs.
He might be able to operate the chainsaw, but he’s already re-injured one rib during a workout, and so splitting firewood is out of the question, for him, this year. I am a little too– well, uncertain – of where I stop and other things start – to be safe, and the kids aren’t yet strong enough to do more than split kindling and very small logs.
So Jim arranged for us to buy some wood from my older brother, who had been given access to a woodlot this summer, and had far more really nice firewood than he could use.
We’ve had three deliveries now – and, each time, a new pickup truckload joins whatever remains of the previous pile (s). There will be at least one more delivery, or perhaps two, so the pile will grow…..and then shrink again, as it is stacked, and then the stacks will shrink, as we utilize the wood to warm and cozify our house throughout the long New York winter to come….
What does all this have to do with writing or ROW80?
As I have moved through the process of assessing my progress on the diverse and numerous array of goals I set for myself this round, it strikes me that they are rather like a woodpile…
Some of the goals were accomplished quickly and almost without effort. They were like ultra-seasoned kindling wood, so dry and ready for use that they are almost weightless to carry. These goals fed others, in the way that kindling helps a fire to get established – they burned hot, and bright, but were quickly spent.
Others were like the solid, seasoned, split pieces – pieces without splinters or complicated angles, pieces that are not hard to grasp bare-handed, and, although there is an effort involved in moving them, it’s the feeling of honest work, joyfully done, with a clear measure of progress built in – the pile gets smaller, and the stacks higher…these are the goals that move right along, like creating story arcs, writing the children’s reports, and other goals that are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated, even though effort and attention is required to tend to them. It’s easy to see where you stand, in any moment, with these goals.
Then there are those trickier pieces – those that have rough edges and off shapes, or are so heavy or thick they are hard to pick up. They require extra attention, extra finesse, to get into the stack, but they will burn and keep a fire alive for a long time – so they are well worth the effort. These are the goals I tend to struggle a bit with, even resist as I focus on those that give faster, surer results. These are the ones like commenting on blog posts regularly, reading, and other ongoing projects. They move me a long way toward my writing goals, and they require a good deal of strength and finesse on my part to achieve…
There are the surprises – my brother pulling in with a fresh load of wood just as we are rousing ourselves for the day (we are famously late risers). Although inconvenient and a little unbalancing – lurching out of bed and throwing something on, to go move a truckload of firewood before that first cup of coffee – they bring many rewards: the promise of warmth and comfort, conversation while getting an impromptu workout, and sharing a cuppa with my husband and my brother, once the work was done.
Deciding very spontaneously to join August Camp NaNoWriMo was a surprise, even to me. I had only the sketchiest of ideas about the story, going in. I had a lot of homeschooling paperwork due on September 1. There was a degree of insanity in even making the attempt…but making it brought me the realization that I can actually write 50,000 words of an extremely rough first draft in 10 days flat, if I am motivated. That’s a useful to know surprise, and, although I am floundering a bit with the middle (no surprise there, for me), I really like what I have learned about these characters, and how certain elements that seemed unrelated have suddenly connected….I made some new friends – both in my story and in real life, because I jumped in. Yes, pursuing this goal took me from others – and I acknowledge that without regret. Staying true to the little voice that says “Go for it!” is pretty important to me, these days, even if it means rearranging some things, and letting others go.
There always seem to be a few pieces of firewood I just don’t want to touch. I don’t like the feel of wet wood – when it rains, I tend to wait until the wood has dried again before returning to my stacking efforts. Some pieces are muddy, or covered in moss that has gone all slimy and nasty – I’m not squeamish, by nature, but I am highly sensitive to textures.
One or two of my goals were like that. Try as I might, I could not quite make myself find touching them appealing. I dropped the Bookmark Break Challenge – there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it; it just didn’t bring me joy to read frantically, to rack up a quota. I prefer reading at my own pace, and what I choose to read – whether I have finished it before, or not. There’s more sanity since letting that go, and I am really enjoying reading again.
I wrote very little in the way of flash fiction or formal essays this round, although I had fairly extensive goals for both. It turns out that concentrating intently on flash fiction and noveling aren’t compatible together, for me – so, henceforth, I will focus on one or the other, or dabble in both, or neither, at times. Essays had been much of what I wrote at 750words – but, once that space was used for my NaNo project, it seems the best things I wrote, essay – wise, were in the form of comments on Facebook. In the last week, I’ve come to accept that, and have moved two rather passionate posts to The Unfettered Life, so that they will have a more permanent home.
The copious homeschool reporting my state requires has been a nasty, slimily moss-covered log in my life since we began this journey. I want to ignore it, but the consequences of doing so are too severe, so I choose not to. Making that choice palatable has been another matter. I thought working on the reports intensively after completing my mad dash to 50,000 NaNo words would help, reasoning that my creative juices would be spent for a bit, and this schoolspeak reporting, so utterly unlike our big, passionate sprawl of a life absorbed in relevant learning, would seem less tedious. Nope. The truth of the matter is that the reporting is the opposite of good writing. It’s taking something unique and vibrantly alive, and reducing it to lifeless goals and objectives.
I have come up with an idea that I hope will let me blog our doings throughout the quarter, in a way that is at least a bit more representative of life here, and then draw out the reports from there. It will take quite a bit of groundwork to be ready, and this quarter’s reports, due on December 1, will likely not have the full benefit…but it’s a beginning, a way to let the wet logs dry until I can bear to touch them again….and move them inside, where they won’t get rained on anymore…
A few pieces of wood always seem to be impossible to use. They won’t fit in our stove, or they are too full of knots to split. Those need to be set aside for later, else let go. Likewise, some of my goals were just impossible to meet. The rough edit of Chameleon’s Dish never took off, because I ran into a problem with Scrivener, and I haven’t had the acuity available to really focus on what Eden Mabee said the fix was…and not wanting to add to the problem, I let it be. Submitting and researching markets failed, this round, because we were busy with birthdays, travel, and activities.
So, now that I’ve dissected the generalities of the woodpile of my goals…here are the particulars.
So, what have I gained, from this woodpile of goals?
Some of it is obvious. I completed some goals. I moved more forward. I adapted others. I let some go as being not right for me, at least not now.
Other benefits are not so visible, but perhaps even more valuable. I now have a mission statement, and a much firmer idea of what I want my writing to accomplish, not only for me, but for those whose lives it touches.
I have a more solid sense of why some goals worked, and why some didn’t, and more perspective for setting future goals.
I have several new friends, and a dawning sense of the possibilities that lie untapped and waiting.
I have a deeper, fuller sense of myself and my priorities, what I am capable of, and what I wish to turn my energies toward.
And I have the tangible progress, all of which moves me toward my goals as a writer.
It was, in many ways, a grueling round, just as moving and stacking a large woodpile can be. There were aches and pains and a few scrapes and splinters along the way. I didn’t clear the piles – not the pile of goals, and not the woodpile.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.