When I began working on Mesabi Pioneers I hung a small blackboard above my desk. On it I planned to jot down notes that would come to me as I wrote, thoughts about upcoming chapters, words that would remind me where I was going with the writing, and from where I had come.
The first thing I wrote across the top of the board were the words “Sleeping Giant Wakes.” At the time this was my working title, but more than that it was one of the more prominent themes of the book. I referred to that line many times while I was writing, especially when I found myself questioning a scene or a character or a turn of phrase. It gave me guidance when I felt I had too many choices and didn’t know which way to turn the story.
The second thing I wrote, just below the theme, were these words: “Enjoy the process; embrace the journey.”
I have a tendency in my writing, and in my life, to focus on the end result, to concentrate my energy on the final product. When I’m driving somewhere I dwell on my destination, and wonder, like a child, when I’ll get there. When I run I think about crossing the finish line, of getting to the end, of sitting down.
I find that when I do this I enjoy the journey less and less. When I drive and think only about getting to the end of the trip I miss seeing the land all around me, miss seeing the roadside historical marker and finding out that Stephen Decatur was born in a house that used to sit right here. Or that the very road I’m driving was once a foot path used by native peoples who were following herds of animals.
In writing, especially during the first draft but also during the editing phase, I tend to want to rush through the work. I want to get to the end product as quickly as possible, to have something I can start to send out the door, to get into the hands of people. But in doing that I find that I don’t enjoy the work in part because I’m not writing for the pleasure of writing but for the end product alone.
Enjoying the process means giving my mind the freedom to explore, to take that side turn down a dirt road that meanders through the foothills that might lead to nothing but it might lead to the most spectacular view of the mountains I’ve ever seen. It means embracing the process of getting each word on paper, and considering not just the end but the beginning and the middle and all the stuff in between.
Strangely, when I embrace the journey and enjoy the process I feel like I am working faster. In part that’s because the time I spend working doesn’t feel like drudgery. Doesn’t feel like plowing through a field of rocks because the purpose is not to clear the rocks but to plow the field. Enjoy the process means focusing on what you are doing when you are doing it not on the intangibles that are out of reach and out of sight.
I bought a new blackboard for the second book. This one is much bigger and takes up a lot more space on the wall behind my desk. The first thing I wrote on it was three simple words: enjoy the process. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.