No Little Choices

So Election Day will be upon us in just a couple days, and if you haven’t voted already, I hope you do so on the day. I did not vote in the first two Presidential elections for which I was eligible. A child of the Seventies, I’d adopted the cynical attitude toward politics typical of that time. Watergate suggested that forces were at work that could not thwarted by single ballot. What difference did my vote make? Voting felt like tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. As a young artist, I already spent enough time worrying about my own insignificance. I didn’t need one more reminder of it. My decision to vote for the first time also coincided with my decision to write my first novel. I’d been writing stories and poems and sketch comedy since I was a boy, but now I was going to write a book, which I understood from the outset was going to take a while. Moreover, I did not outline: I found one little idea that seemed interesting and followed it until it lead me to another idea and then another idea and by and by I’d finished a first draft.

I learned early on that I could not concern myself with all that I did not know about the book I was writing. Whenever I did, I’d feel overwhelmed and as if I’d already failed. All my security and confidence lay in paying attention to the choices that stood immediately before me – the next scene, the next sentence, the next word. The more I cared about each choice, the more I paid attention to my preference for one word over another word, the more the book made sense to me even when I couldn’t perceive its entirety.

You could say this was also how I learned to vote. I looked at the two candidates that year and could feel my preference for one over the other and I decided that that preference mattered. It mattered even though I did not live in anything close to a “battle ground” state. It mattered because acting on that preference felt better than not acting on it, in the same way writing felt better than not writing. So I voted, and did not worry about the role my single vote played in that year’s election. I couldn’t worry about it – I had a book to rewrite, and I had to pay attention to the difference between what the book was and what I wanted it to be.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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