I just hung a picture of a Carolina Wren above my desk. It’s taped to my wall, just over the corner of my laptop screen where I see it from the corner of my eye as I type.
Wrens are common where I live. They roost above my porch columns and visit my feeders regularly. I often shoo the neighborhood stray cat away while he stalks wrens in my bushes and trees. So why do I need a photo of one in such an obvious place?
Quite simply, it’s all about accountability.
Here is some backstory: Kathleen M. Jacobs, my once high school English and Creative Writing teacher is become a dear friend of mine. In high school, I learned about theme and metaphor in her class. I learned to write words and paragraphs full of imagery and light. And in the 20 years since I graduated, we’ve developed that relationship away from student-teacher toward friendship and partners in writing. It’s a beautiful thing.
So last year, an idea for a story practically knocked me flat, because that’s how all the good ideas come. There’s a wren in the story and a woman who comes across him; her reaction creates the tension. I told Kathy about it. Every month or so, Kathy would text or email, “How’s that wren?” The story pulsed in me without ever making it to paper. I’d see glimpses. I’d hear that bird sing, but life got in the way. Excuses are easily made.
When I saw Kathy over the Christmas break it was a chance to giggle through the aisles of the book store and to visit face-to-face. But Kathy also used it as an opportunity to offer up a challenge:
Write 1 paragraph a day of my wren story. By the end of each day, email my progressing story to her. Every day.
I negotiated to start after the kids were in back in school. I tried to buy myself weekends or other moments free, because it’s scary to put myself in a position where I could possibly fail. But she held firm, and now I have daily homework to sit and dream and write the story of the wren.
I’ve written about accountability before. I know how important it is, and I know the power it has over me. I might not want to share my every move with the rest of the world, but I know for sure that I get more done when I know someone else is paying attention. And I know that Kathy will acknowledge and celebrate my positive, forward movement. And likewise, if I miss a day (God forbid) or try to cheat my way through with a one sentence paragraph that will also be acknowledged, and very much not celebrated.
While a paragraph might not seem like much, even 100 words is progress that I wasn’t making last year. Plus, it’s important just to get started. I see that clearly. That blank screen is daunting. Kathy has given me a reason and a way to get over the apprehension. I now have an in, a way to begin when I couldn’t before. I’m grateful for that.
My wren, photographed perched on a delicate tree branch above my desk, is a constant reminder of my commitments. It’s a constant reminder of this story that’s bubbling just beneath my surface and just needs to be written.
Now, if you will excuse me, please. I have a paragraph to write.
“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
My use of Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote was my attempt at thanking you, Anna.
So glad to see you back at it. It’s amazing how hard one paragraph can seem. But with so many things, once you get started it’s so much easier to keep going. But with this, you still have permission to keep it small on those hairy days.
Yes. It’s a way to dip a toe before I jump all the way into the waters of my commitment. And I recognize that this is what I need right now. Thank you for reading!