Friday, September 9, 2011

Simplify, Simplify

By Susan

My twelve-year-old and I spent early August in Northern California on a mother-daughter getaway. We visited family in the Bay area, took an Amtrak train up the coast, hiked in the Sierras. On our second day in the city, we made a quick detour with my husband's Aunt Elizabeth to visit Sausalito. To our delight, we stumbled across an artist we dubbed rock-stacking-man, a fellow who, with Zen-like mastery, stacks rocks on the shore. You must see it to believe it, and my girl and I were mesmerized. (Do you see his masterpieces in the background of this photo she snapped of me?) Four rocks, a little gravity, and a keen sense of balance made his art and his task appear so simple. It was anything but.

It reminded me that one of the best pieces of advice my mother ever gave me was that the key to life, family, work and happiness was one word: simplify. I have to admit: in our culture, we seem to add rather than subtract, to buy more rather than reuse, and to hoard rather than purge. How do you take your four rocks and balance them so precariously in our mad, mad world?

I'm shuffling these ideas as I attempt to craft a perfect query letter this morning. It got me thinking about rock-stacking-man. What are the key themes and plot points that I want a potential agent to know? How do I balance the boulder on top of the pebble; can I keep the stack from collapsing? Was my mother right after all, that when in doubt, simplify?

I think yes. I'm taking my mountain of a manuscript and reducing it down to the four primary rocks that hold it together. I'm stacking them on top of each other in a delicate balance between the earth and the sky, confident that they will not tumble, even with an audience cheering for me, even with my own self-doubt chattering in my head.

Simplify, simplify and get rid of the clutter. Good advice in a home, a stack of rocks, and a query letter. I should introduce my mother to rock-stacking-man. I think they're on to something big.


  1. Susan, thank you for such clearly stated advice. Your mother's advice - simplify is so true. I am busy getting rid of much of the clutter in my home, so I can concentrate on other important matters.

  2. Well-said, Susan. We've tried to simplify our schedules a feels good to breathe!

  3. Terrific lesson here, Susan. Definitely think your mom and rock-stacking-man have it figured out. One of the benefits of my moving and traveling so much is forced simplification. No doubt you'll find just the right balance for your book and that query letter. BTW, can't wait to read your book. I'm working hard on mine. You truly asked the right questions; leading me closer to my primary rocks and balancing them just right. Thank you.

  4. Love it, friend! Amy sent me a pebble-shaped magnet one year for my birthday that says, "Balance." It's on my fridge where I see it (and try to achieve it) every day. Now it will make me think of you and rock-stacking-man, too!

  5. Cindy Keeling10 September, 2011

    I loved this post, and the analogies. Thanks, Susan! And best of luck with your query.


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