Monday, August 25, 2008

What Would Patton Do? Or Hemingway?

I love a good quotable. Each day my hard-copy day planner puts two motivational snippets at my fingertips. And a widget on my iGoogle home page funnels insights from literary giants to inspire me (or demoralize me, depending on the day).

Now, I don't read the daily quotes daily. My quote-reading record is pretty spotty, in fact. But I like knowing the pearls are there, ready to illuminate, annoy, or slip by unnoticed. I tend to take more regular looks at them when I have bigger issues on my mind and, thus, need (or just take) more mini breaks.

The past several days I've been mired in the task of figuring out how to balance upcoming personal activities with the responsibilities of keeping my business healthy and strong. Naturally such decisions are in play every single day for every single one of us. But the scale of that balancing act changes from time to time, and I'm in a phase where I can count on non-work issues taking an extra-special intense center stage for known stretches of time.

Enter my quote-peeking ways!

I love it when I come across a quote at the very moment I need to see it. Last night, for instance, I calculated detailed scheduling info on my calendar pages before firing off an email to someone with the power to help make or break my best-case life-and-work scenarios. I'd had to make some prior decisions . . . you know, which projects to work on, what I can and can't try to do in this life . . . just a few little things like that. Email sent, I looked at my planner notes one last time before heading to dinner with my husband. That's when I read this quote from George S. Patton Jr.:

"Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash."

THAT made my night. It felt like the universe was telling me that my decision to say yes to what matters, no to what doesn't, and let the rest take care of itself was sane. Not rash. It helped reinforce my knowledge that I had rationally examined all angles — and that risks are often necessary and usually worth it, regardless of outcome.

This morning, then, I was primed to check out at all the daily quotes at my disposal. None of 'em did a thing for me. Pretty typical, really.

Later, though, I pulled out one of those pet projects I've mentioned and stared at it over lunch. This is a nonfiction thing that I just don't know how to frame. Can I really do as I want and focus on a very small piece of the much larger story? Of course I know it's possible for someone to do it, but my real question with this has been, Can I do it? No telling till I make a serious attempt at writing it, eh?

I opened up my Stickies application to jot a couple of ideas before getting back to paying work. I saw an Ernest Hemingway quote I'd saved a few months ago:

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

Big a-ha for me even though it wasn't. For my completed works, I can easily point to ways I've omitted things I know. For example, unspoken (or unexplained) character backgrounds and motivations in fiction. And reams of detailed research that just doesn't make the cut in nonfiction.

But I wasn't seeing the obvious answer to my writing dilemma (= no dilemma) because I was too caught up in overthinking it. Of course I can tell one story that's part of a bigger one. What story in existence ISN'T one tiny part of something bigger? It's not even that deep of an insight. Sheesh!

Now that I'm feeling all "one with my brain," I can also see that there was no true dilemma involved in making the life-and-work-balancing decisions I struggled with either. In writing, as with life, you make decisions when you're ready.

Maybe someday I'll be as decisive as George and Ernest in everything I do. On second thought, maybe I don't want to be. They may have been brilliant, but those dudes were crazy!


Anonymous said...

Good luck with everything you're trying to accomplish these days!

Anonymous said...

True! True! The quotes are good for spurring us, sometimes.

But if you look at the lives of whoever said those words more closely and in an overall context, we may not want to be like them despite their brilliant quotes and works.