#232: Order of Operations

It’s been too long.

In the past months I’ve put in four offers on houses in Detroit. A couple weeks ago my fourth was accepted. I’m officially under contract. But that only partly explains my extended silence – other parts will be explained in weeks to come. But, safe to say: I’m still working on the book I’ve been calling GRACE. Also safe to say: I’ve been busy.

It’s hard for me to get too excited about the house until we close, hopefully in March, and I get the keys. And I won’t actually get the keys as there currently are no locks; the building’s secured with plywood boards and there’ll be months of renovation before I can move in.

It seems daunting at times, but also surprisingly manageable. Everything has a sequence, an order of operations. Go to a renovation class. Email the loan officer. Call up a contractor. Finalize a scope of work. Meet the appraiser. Sign this. Sign that. It’s usually clear exactly what I action I have to take next. And if not, it very quickly becomes clear. Refreshing for someone whose work is normally less bounded by external factors (first world problem, I know, but no less of a preoccupation.)

All this is making me remember: Creative work has an order of operations, too. The next actions are there, even if they don’t involve as much talking or other people or physical movement. I was on a panel recently walking aspiring authors through the publishing process, from finding an agent to the book coming out. It’s helpful to know these things, eventually, but we all tried to emphasize: None of it matters if you have nothing to show in the first place. Without the manuscript, there is no book.

But the manuscript itself is a waypoint, a flat spot up the mountain:

Without the first draft, there is no manuscript. Without the chapters, there is no draft. Without the paragraphs, there are no chapters. Without the sentences, there are no paragraphs. Without the words, there are no sentences.

And sometimes, the next action is simply sitting down at your computer and reading what you wrote the day before. It’s getting back in the mind of the story. Without it, there’s no first word.