Look where you're going
and go where you're looking
I do not love being on a bicycle.has a new picture book about a bicycle, Wild Blue, and she posted about how when she first got her training wheels off, she fell over and the Flaxington girls from next door stood by, observing derisively. Every time I get on a bike, I emanate such enormous waves of discomfort that people who enjoy biking are compelled to offer advice. The Flaxington girls show up. “Are you sure you want to use those sorts of pedals?” “How do you feel about those handlebars?” “You should sit up / lean forward / use your down pedal / get out of my way.”
I dislike the instability. I want to love it. I like the idea of pedaling through the woods, getting sweaty and muddy near birds and frogs. I like the idea of running errands using only my muscles to power the trip.
One time years ago Dave (who loves biking) and I unwittingly ended up pedaling into a mountain biking race, and so while I was shakily making my way slowly over roots and around trees, every few minutes someone would come up behind me, yelling, “PRO!” which meant I should get out of the way, fast. It didn't help me love biking more. And eventually, I fell down and skinned my knee and grumpily walked my bike out of the woods. FOREVER. (Not really, but it felt like a moment for drama.)
So while I am much happier with my feet firmly on the ground, I have been thinking about how when you’re on a bike, you go where you’re looking. When you’re teaching a kid to ride a bike, there’s a point after they figure out the balancing bit and you have to start shouting, “Look at the path! The path!” because they are grinning at you, looking at you in delight, and also riding right into your knee.
Maybe when I’m biking I spend too much time looking at the ground. Maybe that’s why I often end up there.
I’ve talked before here about how I’m working on a novel right now. It's hard. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve written novels but this one is more complicated than anything I’ve done before, in plot, in setting, in world building. I keep seeking the comfort of picture books, writing picture books to procrastinate. I’m confident as a picture book writer, but a novel is something else entirely. I’d like to say the process is the same (stringing words together until a story emerges), but it’s not the same at all. There’s so much more happening, so many more characters, and it all has to weave together and be beautiful and interesting and relatable and emotionally real. I have gotten good at not sitting down and working on this novel because I am so unsure of what I’m doing. It’s demoralizing.
Writing picture books is like walking for me – grounded, sure, steady. This novel is biking -- unsteady, unbalanced, tippy, unsure. And so often I see people who might as well be yelling “PRO!” – people who have written many novels, novels like the one I’m trying to write.
It’s so easy these days to avoid looking where we’re going. We might have a glimmer of a destination (write a novel) but then we look away from our own path and see all the other people revealing covers, announcing book deals, filling the shelves of the library with truly beautiful books. I am running into all their knees from looking at them instead of my own path.
I thought about all of this when I was cross country skiing, something I do like to do, and I got going in the grooves someone else had made, and I suddenly realized that those pre-skied grooves were not where I wanted to go. I stopped, and looked at where I wanted to be, and then took big awkward ski steps to step out of someone else’s tracks and started making my own.
Unlike those mountain bikers yelling “PRO!” writing and publishing is not a race. It does me no good to hurry. But there is something to going fast. When you get momentum on a bike, you’re more stable. Elayne wrote something in the comments of my snow day video about going slowly that led me to think about the word momentum, and to see how it’s mostly the word moment. And, indeed, etymologically, they are so connected as to be almost the same word. Momentum is the forward movement of moments. In order to get momentum on anything – a bike, a story, a new habit – you string together moments.
Right now, I am making moments with writing this novel, but so far am unable to assemble them with any kind of forward movement. This is what I need as I add words to this book: momentum, and to look where I’m going, which is, for now, that I’d like to finish a draft of this book. That’s all. I can handle that. I can build the moments that lead there. The only way to get better at it is to sit down and do the work – and make sure I’ve got my eyes on my own goal, and am not getting distracted by other peoples’ paths and destinations. It can be awkward and unstable forging your own path to your own destination, but if you want to make the art that is only yours to make, it’s the only way to get there.
A Berry Good Time
GUESS WHAT? I partnered with my favorite snack people, Driscoll’s Berries, to write a book about berries. A Sofia Special is about a girl who has a rough day, and then her dad, in a genius dad move, makes it better with ice cream and berries. Also there’s square dancing and interpretive dancing from the college dance troupe. Driscoll’s is teaming up with Reading is Fundamental to bring A Sofia Special and more books to kids. In the meantime, there’s a super cool animated read-aloud video. Check it out!
Behind the Paywall
Hi! I am here reminding you that you have until March 31, 2023 to get 30 days free access behind the paywall on Do the Work. It’s a try-before-you-buy situation! Poke around, click on all those posts with a lock on them, knowing that you can read them now! Maybe you decide to stay as a paying subscriber, and maybe you don’t, which is fine too.
This month so far, behind the paywall there has been an essay about how you can choose to do analog things if you want (and how maybe we have to actually intentionally choose), a Q+A about whether writing is a grind, and some story prompt glimpses into the poultry running rampant in my neighborhood.
Thoughts and Links
Thank you tofor linking to the Smithsonian Open Access website. If you ever wanted to curate your own imaginary Smithsonian museum around a particular interest of yours, you will love this. I don’t know what it says about me that first I searched cow, and then shoe.
I always enjoy‘s newsletter, but the one from two Sundays ago, “Things I’ve Been Telling Myself Lately,” resonated with me in about a billion different ways.
I love Sebene Selassie’s newsletter, and I’m still thinking about her last full moon one about protecting your vibes (it overlaps with this essay — your vibes only / look where you’re going).
You know I loved this essay about walking in cemeteries.
RIP Dave Jolicoeur, and I am so happy that De La Soul’s music is streaming now.
This is a reminder that you can always ask me a question or tell me anything by replying to this email. I love to hear from you. You can also leave a comment on Substack.
Books I read recently and loved
Disclosure: book links in this newsletter are affiliate links to Bookshop.org, a site which supports independent bookshops.
Lindsay Eagar is my friend and also she writes in a way that continues to astonish me. Her characters! Her details! Her world building! I am so glad that The Family Fortuna is finally out in the world. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s a young adult novel about a half bird girl who is the star of her family’s circus, and what happens when she starts to consider what else she can be in the world, if she’s not that.
I read Remains of the Day for the first time, and loved it. Why is it so compelling? I might need to reread it to figure it out. All I know is that there were six pages in a row about polishing silver, and I was super into it. And it’s so funny, while declaring itself not funny. Amazing.
Parfait, Not Parfait! is extremely silly.
I don’t know how many people told me to read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (a lot of people), but I finally did, and you were all correct. I loved it.
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