After the thrill of learning I was a grant recipient last November, I floated in a delightful haze for quite a while. Me! A grant! To write a novel!
Then, earlier this month, I got an email from the State Arts Board with my signed grant contract.
Shit just got real.
What was I thinking? I'm going to fail. I'm going to fail BIG TIME. I'm going to fall into a miserable heap of sniveling sorriness. I will become a cautionary tale to the entire Minnesota arts community. All those wonderful Minnesota artists who are endlessly talented--and productive--will shake their heads sorrowfully at the complete and utter collapse of one who wished to join their ranks. She just couldn't hack it, they'll say. Too bad she thought she could and wasted all that money. All that taxpayer-funded money. What a poseur. Don't anyone invite HER to our parties.
I have one of those twirly office chairs in my office. I'm a fidgeter. As my panic grew, I twirled faster and faster and faster, round and round and round, terrified--I'd never be able to write a novel. So what if I have previously written a novel? So what if I already have the idea and have pieces and parts in production, and even one part that's been published (and, may I add, nominated for a Pushcart Prize)?
Too much more twirling, and I was likely to be motion sick, especially given how queasy I was before I began spinning. I slammed my feet on the floor and found myself staring at one of the bookcases in my office:
One book caught my attention: Anne Lamott's classic Bird by Bird. Early on in the book, Lamott tells this story:
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
Well, there you go. Bird by bird. I don't have to research and write an entire novel by tomorrow. Like any other large project, it has pieces and parts and big components and little components. So, thinking about it, I picked a bird: I needed to determine what kinds of research materials will be of use to me at the Minnesota History Center and if I can access them online or need to go there, and if I need to go there, what the various policies and restrictions are.
I spent a very pleasant hour surfing the Minnesota History Center website, checking out collections, watching introductory and how-to videos (kudos to the History Center for having quick and easy video instruction), and by the end of the hour, I had a plan. I will need to go there, and now I know that I can bring my tablet but not my purse, but I can bring a quarter to lock up my purse, and I can bring a pencil but not a pen, and I will have access to tons of mid-20th century small-town newspapers, which are exactly what I'm looking for.
That bird was checked off the list. And then I made a new list of birds, but the list itself didn't intimidate me; it's just a long list of little birds that I can go after, one by one.
I knew all this before my day of panicking and spinning in my twirly chair. But apparently, I needed to be reminded.