L.M. Montgomery wrote what I consider to be the happiest books of all time. When I read Anne (of Green Gables and other lovely places – 8 books in all), life tastes better. This is all the more mind-blowing to me when I read her journals and see the real person behind the books, the real person with sometimes years of more unhappiness than not (that is, if our journals tell the whole story – which they don’t). Of course, you can also see in her journals the ability to achieve happiness whenever possible. I think it’s from there that she wrote her Anne stories.
Since I love her finished products so much, I thrilled every time they were mentioned in her journals as works in progress. “I did a little spadework on Anne… today,” she would write. I thought I was left to imagine what spadework might be, a gardening metaphor I assumed. I knew it happened in the beginning stages, and I could tell it wasn’t actual writing of the narrative exactly. Turns out, spadework is a thing, “preparatory work for a project or activity,” an online dictionary says, so I don’t actually have to imagine that much.
I’ve never been a spadework kind of person when I write books, but consider me a recent convert. It’s really painful for me to start in on the blank page, trying to make words pretty and turn them into an interesting story. A little spadework goes a long way to get a rough outline together. I’m doing it right now with a book I imagined up in April. It’s not hard at all to face the page each day when all I have to do is plop down ideas and suggestions for the future sentence writer.
What’s so very interesting to me, is that the pieces that make up the current work-in-progress did not exist ten years ago. It can only be written – even the spadework can only exist – because of the life I lived in that time, the decisions I made, and the things that happened to me whether I wanted them to or not.
You see where I’m going, right? It’s all spadework. I read a lot of great authors and bloggers in this world who seem to know exactly how they want to do all the things: spend money, eat food, educate kids, watch TV. And I love their big ideas, and I totally take them in, and I apply them the best that I know. But when my kid strikes out every single time he’s at bat for several games running, and I see him struggling not to cry for the entire half-inning that follows, all my big ideas are mush. I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know when to let my children be and when to rescue. I don’t know when to tell them to be tough already and when to swoop them up and be the one place in all the world that never hurts them.
I don’t know whether to stay in a day job or take a risk for the dream. I don’t know how much money to spend on me when there are so many other places to give it. I don’t know whether to cut my hair since I was involuntarily bald once and sort of never want to cut it again. I can’t decide what I believe about public education in America or how in the world to fight against the parts that could maybe work better. I am walking around, making decisions on a daily basis, completely unprepared, still in the philosophical spadework stage for all projects and activities that are already happening.
Life is happening, People. You’re in the story you’re telling. All we can do is keep up with the spadework as we go. Try to find our mission statement, do our best to keep to our big ideas, and have a little faith that trying is the thing as much as finishing will be.