In my days as a movie star . . .
What? You mean you didn't know I was in Field of Dreams?
Well, I was. That was me walking down the street away from the camera when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones were crossing the street to go to the newspaper office and talk to Burt Lancaster.
Admittedly, you had to look quick or you'd miss me (my mother missed me, though the librarian at the public library stopped me one day and said, "I saw you in Field of Dreams last night!" which might tell you the relative amount of time I spent in the library as opposed to visiting my mother in California, but I digress. . . )
As I was saying, when I was in Field of Dreams there were two taglines for the film which we all knew. One was Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa -- which goes without saying, of course.
The other was If you build it, they will come.
That was what the voice in Ray Kinsella's head was telling him about why he ought to build a baseball diamond out in the middle of his cornfield.
To say it didn't exactly make sense was, um, putting it mildly. Not even Ray himself exactly understood what compelled him to hear the voice, much less do what it said.
But he did -- over considerable opposition and quite a lot of heads shaking in disbelief -- and, guess what!
The ball players came. Shoeless Joe Jackson came. Ray's long dead father with whom he'd never really connected came. All because Ray listened to that voice and more than listened, put his body where his ears were and built that field.
He didn't just think about doing it. He showed up.
There are a lot of people who want to write books or be baseball players or engineers or astronauts or architects or dancers or deep sea divers. They have dreams, hopes, aspirations.
I'd be willing to bet that virtually everyone hears something, feels some drive, some desire, some need to accomplish something, to use their talents, to give something that only they can give to the world.
They hear something inside their head that says, "Do it."
But the question is, Do they?
Or do they just simply think it would be a good idea if only they had the time or the opportunity or the education or the strength? Do they get started and then stop, shrug, decide it's not such a good idea after all? It's raining or it's icy or it's too hot or their pencil lead broke or they sprained their thumb.
Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, says he believes that "most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us."
Ray Kinsella began to lived that 'unlived' life when he showed up and built his baseball diamond, when he tapped into something he didn't quite understand but learned to trust and believe in.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp lives that life every morning when she gets up every morning at 5:30, puts on her workout clothes, leg warmers sweatshirts and hat, then goes outside her Manhattan home, hails a taxi and tells the driver to take her to the gym where she works out for two hours. There she spends two hours stretching and weight training. But that isn't the ritual that has given her the life she wants to live. The ritual, she says in her book, The Creative Habit, is the cab.
She takes the step, makes the commitment. She shows up.
Every time I start a new book, I have to think myself into the characters, into the story, into the scenes. It's new and interesting and different for every book. It's also intimidating and I can always think of LOTS of other things I should be doing.
Not, you notice, that I would 'rather' be doing, but that I 'need' to do -- feed the dogs, clean the oven, fold the clothes, shovel the snow, call my mother, peel the carrots, write a book review.
But if I give in to those things I 'need' to do, I'm dead.
The book is dead. It will be hard enough to write just because books are. Characters don't always cooperate. Plots meander (well, mine do). It will be impossible if I don't show up. Books never write themselves!
So every day I have to show up. I have to sit down and boot up the computer and call up the file and stare at what they were doing yesterday. I have to stare and stare and think. And I have to put words on the paper. Any words to begin with. First drafts are just that -- first, not last.
It's the way every book gets written at my house -- and so far there have been 60 of them.
It's the way one of my sons plays baseball. He goes to the gym. Every day. Every day. It's the way another one studies land use issues. He's got his nose in property records, tax records, records I didn't even know existed. Every day. Every single day. It's the way my mother-in-law created well over a thousand pieces of art in her life. It wasn't just that she was 'an artist.' She painted. She drew. She sketched. She collaged. She etched. Art was -- every day -- what she did.
Anne LaMott famously quoted her father telling her brother how to write his 5th grade report on avians. "Just take it bird by bird, buddy," he said.
It's the best advice I've ever read.
Show up. Do your job. Build it. They will come.
Now, excuse me for dashing off, but I have to get back to the book!
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Share it here and you'll be entered the drawing for a copy of my most recent Harlequin Presents, One-Night Love Child. I'll announce the winner at the end of the comments tomorrow and on my blog as well.