Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On doing your job (when you are a groundhog)


So, I’ve always wondered what Punxsutawney Phil thinks of Groundhog’s Day. 

Now I’m no expert on groundhogs—or Groundhog’s Day, for that matter—but I can imagine that most days Phil wakes up and goes about his normal groundhog business.  This probably involves breakfast of some sort.  I’m almost certain it involves a quick trip to the toilet.  And then it is off to work, doing whatever it is that groundhogs do to keep busy (digging and staring at stuff, according to Wikipedia).   
But every February 2nd, things are a little different.  Even before he has a chance to make his morning coffee (I lie.  Groundhogs don’t drink coffee—probably), Phil is rudely yanked from his burrow by a man in a top hat and held up in front of a crowd.  There is music, applause, and a crowd gathered for a celebration.  Then Phil is ordered to look for his shadow (which he probably doesn’t.  First of all, I doubt he can follow English language instructions, and secondly, he’s probably busy thinking about how he still needs to pee). 

It all seems fairly traumatic.  And since groundhogs don’t use calendars (probably), he’d never sure when it’s going to happen again.  And this is bad, because my two-minute internet-based education on groundhogs tell me that they are kind of paranoid little creatures to begin with.  So no one should be surprised that groundhogs are wrong about the arrival of spring 63% of the time.  After all, how could they possibly be good at their jobs when their working conditions are so stressful?

Sometimes I feel like finding the motivation to write is a lot like wrangling a recalcitrant, paranoid groundhog who desperately needs to pee. 

Most mornings I sit down at my desk, fire up my computer, put my fingers on the keyboard, remind myself that I have deadlines and ambitions, and that people counting on me and have expectations for my work, and that I must write vast amounts and write well in order to do my job.   Then I freeze up.  My motivation (quite sensibly) has burrowed deep into the earth and is digging an escape route to get away from me while I try to grab it by its furry ankles, drag it out into the sunshine, and tell it to get cracking.  This method—not unlike the method of getting weather predictions from a terrified woodland creature in front of a large and boisterous audience—fails to produce anything of use 63% of the time.

The lesson that I have to learn over and over again is that motivation runs when I chase it.  I have to coax it.  And coaxing it involves forgetting about all of the things that are external to writing (like deadlines, expectations, ambitions, etc.) and searching for that elusive state of mind where the story seems to write itself.

A state of mind that, if it were described as a place (because there is nothing I love more than stretching a metaphor well beyond its limits) might look an awful lot like a quiet wood—where a well-rested groundhog has just finished his morning coffee and is preparing to step outside to quietly check the weather.
Lizzie K. Foley (www.lizziekfoley.com) is new to Smack Dab in the Middle.  She is also the author of the middle grade novel REMARKABLE (Dial/Penguin, 2012)--a story about a deeply ordinary girl who has to save her extraordinary town with the help of a pair of criminally-minded twins, several pirates, the world's worst science fair project, and an elusive lake monster named Lucky.  

2 comments:

  1. Very good points well made, Lizzie Foley. "That elusive state of mind where the story seems to write itself."

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  2. I love the idea of motivation needing to be coaxed, rather than chased.

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