Eating ElephantSeptember 18th, 2004
Okay, so I'm rewriting All American Girl 2. I realize I've been telling you I've been doing this for a while, but whatever. It's taking a long time. I really hate rewriting. I hate it so much, in fact, that I put it off for as long as I possibly can, and wait until the last possible minute before starting it.
This is because I know it's going to be awful, and that I'm going to hate every minute of it.
(Note: There are some authors out there who will tell you that rewriting is their favorite part of the writing process, and that they love the back and forth with their editor about what stays and what goes and the creative challenges this brings up.
I would just like to say, for the record, that I don't think I could be friends with any authors like this. But I digress)
Anyway, for a long time I couldn't even BEGIN the rewrite, because it was just so daunting and hard. I couldn't even THINK about doing it. Every morning I'd wake up with this horrible feeling of oppression, this WEIGHT on my chest (and it wasn't Henrietta) and I'd be like, “Oh my God, why do I feel so awful? Am I sick? Do I have a fever?” and then I'd remember:
The All American Girl 2 rewrite is due.
And I'd want to throw up.
Well, okay, not really throw up. But it put a definite downer on the morning.
I just felt like it was all TOO MUCH. I couldn't FACE IT. I had no idea how to even BEGIN to face it.
Then, from out of the blue, a sports psychologist cleared it all up for me.
Yes. A sports psychologist.
You wouldn't think sports and writing have much in common, but it turns out they totally do. I know this because a friend of mine, who is a professional athlete, told me something his sports psychologist said to him—something that finally made me be able to face my All American Girl 2 rewrite.
See, my friend had a huge tournament looming in the future, and he was freaking out about it. I mean, FREAKING OUT. Like, waking up every morning with this huge pressure on his chest (and it wasn't Henrietta) and not being able to figure out why until he remembered: Oh, yeah. The huge tournament.
So he told his sports psychologist about it, and she said, “Look. It's simple. If you're going to eat an elephant, you have to start with the tail.”
When my friend first told me this, I was like, “Yeah? And did you ask for your money back? Because that's the lamest advice I ever heard. She should be dismissed from the sports psychologists' union.”
But then my friend explained what “start with the tail” actually MEANS.
Which is this: You can't look at this huge tournament you've got coming up as a huge tournament, or you'll never get through it. You have to look at it as a SERIES of small steps that you are going to take to get through it.
Put it this way:
Let's say the tournament is an elephant, and to win the tournament, you have to eat the elephant. Don't ask. Just go with it.
So instead of sitting around being all, “OH MY GOD HOW AM I GOING TO EAT THIS WHOLE ELEPHANT?” you say to yourself, “OK, I'm going to eat this elephant, and to do that, I have to take one bite at a time.”
In other words, you have to start with the tail.
Really, if you think about it, this is brilliant advice for anyone embarking on a huge project. Don't think about the project as a whole. Think about the first step you have to take to complete the project.
Then, when that step is done, think about the second step. Then the third. Then the fourth.
Until, finally, miraculously—maybe even before you know it–you're done.
Which is—finally–how I started thinking about rewriting All American Girl 2. Instead of being all, “Oh my God, I have to rewrite this WHOLE THING,” I started thinking of it as, “Okay. I have to turn on the computer.”
Then, “OK, I have to read my editor's notes.”
Then, “OK, I have to rewrite Chapter One of this thing.”
Which is what I did. I started with Chapter One (the elephant's tail). Then Chapter Two (more tail). Then Chapters 3-7 (elephant butt). I would just like to say, as an aside, that during this period, when friends would call and ask what I was doing, I would say, “I'm eating elephant ass.”
And when they, understandably perplexed, would ask why I was eating elephant's ass, I would tell them what the sports psychologist said. Then they would say, “Oh, I get it now. Well, enjoy your elephant ass!”
Later, I progressed to the elephant's stomach, guts, ribs, and shoulders.
And now, several weeks later, I'm at the head (last two chapters).
I know I still have the ears and trunk to go. And that's a lot.
But hey, I'm almost done, whereas before I heard this brilliant Elephant Eating Strategy, I couldn't even turn on my computer.
So, with this new school season, when you find yourself facing a huge term paper or science project, DON'T FREAK OUT. Take the advice of a professional sports psychologist, and just start with the tail.
Because my friend the professional athlete? He took his sports psychologist's advice, and came in 6th in his tournament (out of hundreds), the highest score he'd ever gotten (at the time).
This huge improvement over his previous scores gave him the confidence to try even bigger tournaments. At a national tournament last month, he moved up to third place.
All because he learned to start with the tail—something I'm slowly learning to do as well.
Just something to think about.