Thursday, April 10, 2008

If You Build It, They Will Come :: Anne McAllister

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!

They came.

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 Kin
sella 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.

It works.

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 tomorr
ow and on my blog as well.


Isabel Swift said...

Love this post--thank you for the inspiring words and examples.

rebekah said...

I really live this post. I love the quote by John Lennon saying "Life happens while your making plans." To me it really says to go out and just do it. Planning to do it isn't going to get you anywhere. My husband always tells me that you never fail as long as you try. Even if it doesn't happen the way you want to at least you can say I gave it my one hundred percent. When you don't try is when you truley fail. I always think of that when something I want doesn't work out the way I wanted it to and it makes it easier to deal with.

limecello said...

Hi Anne,
Thanks for visiting today. This was such a great post. Hehe - that's so fun you can say you were in Field of Dreams. I'm afraid I don't remember much advice [I'm young - that's my excuse], but there is one quote that really hit me the first time I saw it. Now, it can be a bit cliche, but it's "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi. Seriously. If you want something to happen, *do it.*
Good advice, and inspiring.

Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Isabel, Rebekah and limecello. I'm so glad you stopped by and that you found the examples inspiring.

Rebekah, I love John Lennon's saying about life happening while you're making other plans. Boy, does it. And a corollary to that is, "Don't worry about the things you can't do anything about." In other words, give it your all, and know that you can't control everything. Your husband is very wise. And it's certainly easier to deal with things if you don't feel ultimately responsible for every outcome, just for the effort you make.

Lime, I think those are great words to live by that you've provided. It's too easy to say, "Let the other guy do it," or "It's not my problem" but then complain about it anyway. I try to live by those words, too. Thanks for reminding me!

Anna Campbell said...

Anne, what an incredibly inspiring way for me to start the day down here in Oz. I LOVE what you've said. It's all so true - especially the bit about showing up being the big deal. I love Bird by Bird too - it's really helped me. I'm a Virgo. We like to do things absolutely perfectly first time out and of course, writing's just not like that. Or at least my writing isn't!

My favorite bit of advice comes from the fantastic Robyn Donald. It sounds a bit trite until things get tough and then it REALLY makes sense. "The people who fail are the people who give up."

Cryna said...

Loved your post. I think that the best advice is the quote that I have in the computer room here - and it pertains to so much.

Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present.

But it is really a hard one to follow, because we often forget that today is truly a gift to us all.

Helen Bianchin said...

This is one of the most inspiring posts I've read in a long time, and so very true.
Thanks, Anne.

Estella said...

Wonderful post!
The best advice I was given was---Just do it.

Annie West said...

Anne, this is the most terrific post, and just what I need as I sit down to attack this draft. In fact, I had shivers running down my arms (in a good way!) as I read it. Good on you for such an inspirational blog. Thank you!

You and the other people here have already touched on some of my favourite quotes - and thanks Limecello for the Gandi quote - I haven't seen it in a while.

I suppose one thing that has always resonated wth me is the 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' And specifically for writing - that 'You can't fix a blank page' - a reminder to do as you say and keep at the writing.

Off now, on the basis of your inspiring advice, to work on my story. I'll definitely look out for you in 'Field of Dreams'.


Jane said...

Maybe I'm just suspicious in nature, but my favorite advice/quote is "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

Ellen said...

My parents always use to say "If you don't try, you can't win but if you try you've already won". It didn't make sense to me as a youngster but it did as I grew up.

Dina said...

Great post. :)
I've been told many things, but "just do the best you can" and to "smile at least once a day" is what I try to do to make life easier.

Nathalie said...

The best advice I have received is to stop comparing myself to others and be happy with what I accomplish ;)

Anne McAllister said...

Anna, Robyn is a very wise woman. And a wonderful writer and teacher. I'd have that quote emblazoned on the inside of my eyelids!

Cryna, you are so right -- today is a "present" and it's always a surprise, too, isn't it? What a wonderful quote. Thank you.

Helen, thanks for your kind words. You and your books are an inspiration to me!

Estella, I was thinking about the Nike commercial as I was writing that post. It is "just do it" isn't it? That's the same thing as showing up and sitting down and getting the job done. Thanks!

Annie, I think I'm glad you got goosebumps! Anyway, the golden rule can't be beat. And as far as writing goes, "You can't fix a blank page" is very smart advice. I have to keep reminding myself of it, because, like Anna, I want things perfect from the start and, of course, they aren't.

Jane, I think you're just being smart! Always good to keep an eye on the baddies!

Ellen, isn't it interesting how things our parents say make more and more sense as we grow up. My grandmother always said, "That's just the way he is, dear," about people I'd carry on and rant about, wondering WHY they did something. And you know, she's right. People are different, and they aren't just the way we'd like them to be. But it is "just the way they are!" I totally understand that now.

Dina, what a great thing to be reminded -- about smiling. I need to have someone remind me of that a lot. I try more now than when I was younger. It makes me happier -- and it can't help but improve my outlook. And doing the best you can? Oh, yeah. And then letting go of the guilt for not doing everything perfect.

Nathalie, that's really good advice. I think we'd all be better off if we took it!

Lee Hyat said...

Anne, love your post. Very inspiring!
One of my favorite advice quotes is-

No one can predict to what height you can soar; even you will not know until you spread your wings."

It reminds me to believe in myself and not be afraid to take a chance. I need the reminder because I am (like most of us) my own strongest critic and also cautious by nature. This quote helps me push myself a little more out of my comfort zone.

Anne McAllister said...

Lee, That's a wonderful piece of advice. I'm so glad you shared it with us. Thank you! And thank you for your wonderful "Tote Bags 'n' Blogs" site which brings us all together.

Pat Cochran said...

Honey says "buy low, sell high!"

For my reluctant self, it was "Give
the guy a chance!" That was forty-
seven years ago!!

Pat Cochran

Virginia said...

Great post. If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

A job is not worth doing unless you can do it right.

Gigi said...

The best quote of advice I can think of that I truly try to believe is "When one door closes another door opens".

Don't count me in this months drawing I was the lucky one last time.

This was a great blog, Anne.
I'll have to take a closer look at the movie and ssee if I can find you in it.

Anne McAllister said...

Oh, Pat, I think "honey" is probably right! And I totally believe in your "Give the guy a chance!" I might be telling my heroine that any day now. Of course, MR HERO is going to have to give the girl a chance, too!

Virginia, thanks for both of those. I'm especially attracted to the "Try, try again" approach. Certainly, as Anna pointed out, we writers rarely -- if ever -- get it right the first time. We are always doing multiple drafts. And editor once asked me how many drafts of something I did. And I said, "I do as many as I need to get it right."

Gigi, I love "when one door closes, another opens." It's such a hopeful outlook. And it gives me faith that plans that don't work out are not "dead ends" but opportunities by another name. Thank you for that. And thanks for reminding me about last time. I hope you enjoyed the book!

Michele L. said...

Wonderful post Anne!

I got to thinking about the best advice I have been given and the words that best resonated with me since I am religious is to, "Bloom where you are planted." I have taken those words to heart and do the best that I can where ever life leads me. God watches over his children and inspires them to do great things. I try not to complain and grumble. Sometimes it is hard when things don't go your way. When that happens I think of the movie Forest Gump and his great line, "Sh*t Happens". You have to pause here and think, ... , life is not always going to be a bowl of cherries. You have to make the best of every situation. To that end, I have to say, peace to all and to all a good night!

Michele L.

Anna Campbell said...

Lee, seconding Anne on the thanks to you for giving us this great site! It's such a great place for readers and writers to get together!

robynl said...

'to thine ownself be true' is the best piece of advice I've ever been given or read. It does not benefit oneself to follow others oftentimes; stay true to what you yourself believe.

acdaisy95 said...

I enjoyed your inspiring spots. Thanks for sharing.

Michelle said...

Thanks for a great post, Anne. I think I may print this out and save it for those moments when I need a good pep talk (or comfort!).

Most of my favourite pieces of advice have already been mentioned... but I have to admit I always look for silver linings. And I try and live the idea of doing as little damage as possible (in all its permutations).

Michelle Douglas

CrystalGB said...

Great post Anne. Very inspiring and motivating. The best advice I ever received is: Don't let your fears and insecurities stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Anne McAllister said...

Michele I, Thanks for the "Bloom where you're planted." I think we often thnk "the grass is greener..." and it's really not. Sometimes it's just an excuse not to dig in and get things done here.

Robyn, oh yes. To thine ownself be true is fundamental, isn't it? If everything you do is built on a falsehood there's just so much possibility for collapse. No foundation, no belief system to support it. Thank you for that.

Michelle, I love that you mentioned "silver linings" because that's the color of the paint my heroine is using to paint a houseboat at the moment. It captures her optimism and her ability to bounce back from tough stuff. And they are wonderful words to live by as well. Thanks!

Crystalgb, I think that's great advice! It's so easy NOT to do things because you think you can't or won't do it right or it won't be good enough. Fear like that is just paralyzing. Not to mention all the good stuff that doesn't get done as a result of peoples' fears.

Anne McAllister said...

acdaiy, I miss your post when I went down. I'm sorry! Thank you for stopping by -- both here and on my blog. It's great to have you visit!

Anne McAllister said...

There was soooo much great advice posted here in the last day that I, like Michelle, think I'll print it and save it to read because it's always helpful to have good advice.

It was really hard to pick a winner, too, as you know, because all the advice was fabulous. But because I particularly need to be reminded to smile sometimes,I picking Dina as the winner of my book.

Congratulations, Dina. If you go to my website: and click on the "contact me" link on the left hand sidebar, you can send me your address and I will send you a copy of One-Night Love Child to say thanks.

The truth is, you're all winners! And I really appreciate your taking part in the discussion. Thank you so much for all the great advice.

May you all have a fantastic weekend!

Dina said...

Oh, thank you Anne. :)

I even have "smile today" on my cell phone, when it turns on, it says that. :)

I have to remember some of the others one as well.