Friday, October 3, 2014

Choose Your Hard

by Elizabeth

It's all about the food!
Y'all know I'm a Weight Watchers evangelist, right? About ten years ago I shed some 35 pounds and have more or less kept it off ever since. All that yoga I'm always talking about? I never hit the gym prior to my weight loss adventure, but for the past ten years I've been a regular at the gym.

Weight Watchers also more or less introduced me to the internet. Oh, I'd googled before, had played some online games, and of course once upon a time had an AOL account ("You've got mail!"). But my WW membership was online only, and my "meeting" was with a group of twenty or so women on the "Less to Lose" board, women I still count among my friends and think about regularly. Women who I've met in person, whose homes I've slept in and who have slept in mine; a number of them women who read an early (and now embarrassing, natch) version of my first completed novel. Well, manuscript. Well, first draft, but that was a long time ago and I've learned a lot since then. (Including not to print and bind first drafts and ask non-writers to read and critique it. Without writing on the pages.)

The message boards at WWOnline are rife with good advice in pithy phrases. I contributed a few to the cannon myself: If life hands you lemons, you still have to count the points. My diet is what I eat, not what I don't eat. There was another really good one, but somewhere between my first kid going to kindergarten and my second to junior high, I lost track of it. Nonetheless, one of my favorite one liners from my losing days is more than one line:

Being fat is hard. Losing weight is hard. Choose your hard.

I loved that, still do. It sums up not only the whole reason behind undertaking a difficult journey (be it losing weight, ditching a bad habit, or, gulp, finally writing a book instead of just talking about it), but also the stakes. Come to think of it, it's not a bad question to ask one's characters about their own conflicts. My characters certainly face either/or decisions, and the good path is not always the easy one.

My skinny almost-16-year-old son does not have to worry about the difficulty of being overweight at this moment in his life, but change the words and they still apply. The kid is smart, which has traditionally meant he has aced his work without too much trouble. While that has certainly helped him over the years, it's now causing him a little bit of grief, because high school pre-AP math is not the piece of cake that elementary or even junior high course work was for him. For the first time, really, he is finding he needs to (gasp!) listen in class. Finish the homework at home, instead of completing it before the bell rings. Maybe even have the teacher review a problem a second time. Yes, I know: the horror.

I am utterly baffled by this math lesson.
Let me just say I am not a math girl, and never was. You want to know what kind of relationship George Washington had with his mother, I'm your woman. Need to know how to spell "buccaneer"? I can help you out with that. But anything much beyond basic arithmetic? I wouldn't trust me.

But what I do know is that if math is hard, failing to learn your multiplication tables is harder. If you think memorizing the periodic table of elements is hard, trying to conquer college chemistry is harder. If trying to complete a second problem in the time it takes to do just one is hard? Hello, kid! Choose your hard! En route to school this morning we had a talk about the grief he was suffering because he's unwilling to accept that what has always worked for him just won't work any longer. It's not that he's any less able; it's simply that the work is more complex and takes more time as a result. Remember that embarrassing manuscript I sent to a bunch of wonderful dieters? Trying to tackle Algebra II like it's single digit addition is the equivalent of finishing a first draft and sending the printed manuscript to an agent.

My kid needs to choose his hard. Letting go of his accustomed habits, realizing he might need to take some time at home with his math, abandoning the vanity of finishing before the bell rings: for him, that's hard. But the anxiety he is buying himself by clinging on to those habits is harder. It's clear to me what he should choose, and his teacher and I are working together to help him see this.

And as we do, it's a great reminder for me to choose my own hard with this manuscript. I've written, re-written, polished, deleted, added, and I'm still not quite done. It's tempting to just call it done already and send out the query letter, risking the hard fact that it's a gamble. Completing the work, practicing patience until I am certain I can't improve a thing (which will be proved incorrect should I sell the book, which is fine by me), that's hard, too. But it's the hard to choose.


  1. Elizabeth, I now have "choose your hard" on a sticky note affixed to my computer. I love it because it's succinct and sums up exactly what writing is for me. It's hard but it's also a choice. And every day I choose to not work on my novel makes it harder to complete. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. You are so close and I know you can finish this up! I cannot wait to see how the story turns out.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...