15 Uninterrupted Minutes

"Not all who wander are lost."
-- J.R.R. Tolkein

I want to make a strip quilt. I want to sew prayer flags. I want to carve pumpkins and toast the seeds. I want to nap. I want to organize my pantry and rearrange the contents of my kitchen cabinets. I want to chop carrots and make soup. And more soup. I do not want to mop the kitchen floor.

I need to stack firewood -- it's supposed to rain tomorrow. I need to clean the bathroom. The car needs to go to the shop. I haven't been to the dentist in four years (don't say it). The grass needs mowing, the garden needs putting to bed. I've stopped composting. Again.

Paperwork looms. LOOOOOOMS. The political climate is making me crazy. Of course I will have to watch the debate tonight.

And what about the Pilgrimage to Mississippi I wanted to take in September? Oh. It's October. I've got 30 days left at home before traveling in November/December: Seattle, Nashville, Augusta, D.C. In December, I'm teaching personal narrative writing to third graders. My *mind* is in third grade right now, spider-webbing in every direction possible.

What to do? Buddhist Jack Kornfield says we must "train the puppy" to concentrate. So here I sit, bringing my puppy-mind back to the page, over and over again.

Sometimes, however, I give in to the endless lists and the cacaphony of craziness in my head and my mind wanders, distracting me from the task at hand..., the task being to draft this novel, understand my story and storylines, and finish, finish.

Instead, I think it's too hot, too cold, too early, too late, there's not enough time, there are too many interruptions... on and on goes my blender-mind, whirling my writing hours into frothy, insubstantial bubbles.

NOT TODAY. Not today! Today, and every day this month, I promise myself 15 uninterrupted minutes. And then 15 more. Soon I'll have an hour, and when I look up again, three. I know how it works, if I Just Do It.

I want to go to IKEA.

BIC! BIC, as I tell my fourth-grade students. BUTT IN CHAIR. Turn off your email, I tell my students, don't play computer games or IM your friends, or get on the telephone -- no texting! I must take a dose of my own medicine -- I subbed to a bazillion political blogs this crazy election season, and this morning I summarily wiped them off the face of my RSS reader. I must. I must. Otherwise, I will peek all day long. Now to deal with email...

Make a pact with yourself, I say to my students, a pact to stay at the page, only at the page, even for just 15 minutes, and see what happens. This is how the magic comes. And it IS magic, in part... magic coaxed into being by discipline, concentration, focus -- training the puppy, not wandering.

A novel is a complex puzzle, like these quilts I love and collect. Can anyone identify the patterns in these quilts? I don't know the patterns but I love quilting -- so far, I'm a rag quilter only, but I want to branch out. I want to learn the patterns.

In my novels, readers don't need to see my patterns; they will intuit that they are in good hands if I do my job well. Readers will absorb the patterns in the way that I absorb the beauty of these quilts... the person who needs to understand the pattern is the maker, so I must stick with it today, reading, refining, thinking about patterns, themes, overall arc, structure. Cut, paste, sew, rip out, piece, tie off... I have my work on a quilting frame today, and I am a quilting bee of one.

I'm also deep into too-many metaphors, a sure sign I am that wandering puppy. So I'll stop and go to work. I'll eat well (last night's supper included leftover cornbread broken into homemade miso soup). I'll get up and stack firewood at the end of a fifteen-minutes or hour or three, and tonight I'll fall into bed exhausted, I'm sure, just as I did last night.

I won't measure progress by how much I get done on the page. Just as much work is being done in that non-wandering mind. Then, when I let it romp, when I stack firewood or climb Stone Mountain this afternoon, that puppy will give me the answers to hard questions I've been wrestling with. I trust that... and then, back to the page the next day, repeat.

Thank you all for those lovely guesses about and congratulations on the Big Book News -- thanks so much. YES, you are *all* right! I'm birthing a new picture book. This is my first picture book sale in ten years. It was a long pregnancy. (Metaphor Alert. Stop. Now.)

I want to share the process with you -- how an idea grew into a book -- as part of 30 days of process. So tomorrow: contest winners and the anatomy of a new picture book. But for now, 15 minutes. Another log on the fire, and another 15 minutes.

Sinking down, down.... into the magical world of story.

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