“To achieve great things two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” Leonard Bernstein
I am in Raleigh, making soup, listening to NPR, and hear this quote. Interesting. I find myself mulling it over, simmering it in my mind like the vegetables stirring in my broth.
Homemade soup takes time: browning beef bones, making broth, chopping vegetables, adding them in the order of speed of cooking, longer for celery and onions, shorter for carrots and potatoes. A good minestrone takes time, though you can open a can and settle for a decent soup. No slow build up of aromas in the house, no long melding of flavors, but an acceptable meal nonetheless. Not great but ok.
Writing a book, deepening a relationship, developing a skill, raising children, things creative and delicate, also take time and best happen with some sort of thought or plan, rather than haphazardly.
So I get the plan and I get its relationship to time. I believe it was a life lesson for Bernstein. Writing a symphony, creating an opera, formulating West Side Story, must have taken time. Like writing a book, a song here, a scene there, linking ideas, exploring themes, his great musical creations must have evolved over weeks and months and then been adjusted, edited, “fine-tuned” and perfected over an even longer period.
What Bernstein has me pondering is the phrase: not quite enough time, especially that adverb, quite. Makes me think it’s not just about creating but finishing.
When I don’t have enough time for something, I rarely finish. I have started many projects with enthusiasm only to find they take more work than I expected. So I set them aside. Later, I happen upon them on a shelf and think, someday, someday I’ll have more time. Someday, (will I?) I’ll finish them. Please pass the guilt!
Not quite enough time. I find myself considering the difference between just enough time, not quite enough time, and in the nick of time, a personal favorite. I find the pressure of a deadline is motivational. Finishing a paper for college in time to print and race to class, or completing a grant with only minutes to get to FedEx before they close, pumps my adrenalin. I find my creativity soars as the time crunch increases. But we can’t live every minute pumped on adrenalin – even if energy drinks are all the fad.
Time. Not quite enough time. Enough pressure to push us to prioritize, make us finish our projects, enough time that the tyranny of the urgent doesn’t make us set aside the creative for the mundane. It takes the right amount of time and the right amount of pressure to turn a lump of coal, or a life, into a diamond.
Bernstein was right.
But that’s the problem with trying to get a book published or a personal long-term project completed. No one is holding a firm deadline. How do you make yourself feel you don’t have quite enough time if no one is holding you to a finish date?
I have set many writing deadlines for myself, so many pages by the end of the day. But writing my book was the easy part. I loved writing it – even editing it. Right now I’m left with how to make myself prioritize the pragmatic things that go with getting a book published: the synopsis and query; and marketing it. The stuff I don’t like, but must have in any writing plan if my goal is publishing, not just completing, my book.
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Napoleon Hill wrote, and sounding a bit like Bernstein, “Without a purpose and a plan, people drift aimlessly.”
I am no drifter! So next weekend I am off to the Hampton Roads Writer’s Conference. The first 25 pages of The Call will be reviewed with me by a writer and agent and I will get to pitch my book to another. I will go to lots of workshops. I will network. (ugh) Better yet, going has created a deadline. I finished a brief overview to send to the reviewer with my pages and my synopsis (and pitch) are almost done. I will take copies of both. I will take personal business cards. I will follow all the selling research I have read.
Will it be great? Will I love it? I don’t know. No guarantees. But I will learn from it – and I will share what I learn. No matter what, it has me moving forward. After all, Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.” So next week I roll up my sleeves! Rome wasn’t built in a day or a diamond created by a dream alone. Let the hard work begin.
- Making a Habit of Writing (wordswithsharpedges.wordpress.com)
- On Writing: Sweep Someone Else Away (darsba.wordpress.com)
- Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, etc. (shannonathompson.com)