How My Daughter & Robin Wright Inspired Accountability

My eldest daughter (age 12) asked me to go for a walk and a bike ride this morning. She wanted to do a mile walk and a two-mile bike ride.

For those of you who run marathons or exercise regularly, you may think that sounds all easy-peasy. But for me–someone who let her exercise routine go after Daughter Three (age 5) was born and who starts her day with coffee rather than a protein shake–I was overwhelmed. Walk a whole mile? And then bike for two? On the same day?

I almost didn’t say yes.

But it is summer. And I love being outside on summer mornings (to drink my coffee on our patio).

I went because I remember days where I could walk briskly and not be out of breath, and when I wore a tank, I would show off arms shaped by bicep curls. I went because I used to be strong enough to water ski and not need chiropractic care later. I went because I did not want to turn down any invitation from my tween who is often repelled by my presence in public.

The walking part was fine, a nice warm up. My daughter outpaced me in her sandals, but who cares, right? I was exercising again. I was training to water ski again. I would look great in my shorts this July if I kept this up. The biking part was fine, until we were pushed back by the fifteen-mile-an-hour wind.

As I peddled, muscles weary with fatigue, I thought about how I wanted to turn around and go home. I thought about how I would have turned around had I been out on that county road by myself.

I knew I was being ridiculous. The whole bike-and-walk workout was thirty minutes—maybe. Certainly a healthy adult could endure thirty minutes of challenging major muscle groups and raising her heartbeat. Certainly I could finish. I’m not that far gone.

I thought of the actress, Robin Wright, and the preparation she did for her role as an Amazon Warrior in the new movie Wonder Woman. She lifted weights, trained in sword fighting, ate 3000 calories a day to build muscle. She kicked butt in the movie’s battlefield scenes. She is 51. If she can do that, I can bike and walk with my kid for thirty minutes. I’m 46. I can aspire to be more. And yes, it would be completely ridiculous to model as a parent anything else but finishing what I started.

It is that accountability that kept me going this morning.

As writers we all need that same accountability. When we sit down in our chair to type a few sentences into our laptops, what is it that keeps us in our chairs? It is so easy to get up to grab another handful of chips or to move the load from washer to dryer or to turn on the television. It is harder to keep those words moving from brain to fingers to keyboard to screen. It is easy to procrastinate, to put off.

And like my days when I exercised regularly, I remember writing so regularly that projects and deadlines kept me in shape and every moment away from my writing was material to use when I returned to my notebook. I was in a constant state of writing. I remember flow: getting lost for hours when all the imagery and plot finally came together and I knew, this was it. This piece is going to be good.

Yeah, that feeling. I want to stay accountable enough to find that feeling again.

Being accountable keeps us showing up. It keeps us on the bike and in our chair. The reward is knowing that just by showing up, we get better at showing up. And by getting better at showing up, we get better at writing itself.

contributed by Carey McLaughlin

In Your Hands

It’s likely the hardest part about being in a writing class or group: offering our most intimate thoughts and projects up to strangers to be analyzed and discussed, all faults laid out on the table. No matter how many times I go through the process, my heart still beats a little faster every time my piece is discussed. Usually though, by the time everyone is done, I am buoyed up, encouraged, and eager to work harder, make changes, and improve my writing.

I’ve always loved to write, ever since I discovered in first grade that I could put words together to make my own stories. I was hooked, and I began to write. In those early days, I had no qualms about sharing my stories. I showed my mom, showed my friends, showed my teachers. In fourth grade, my teacher told me that there were magazines that published children’s writing and that I should submit the Christmas story I had written for class. I was ecstatic. Not only did my beloved teacher like my story, but she also thought others would too! But when I told my mom, my mom shrugged off the suggestion with: “Oh, well, we’ll see.”. She never mentioned publishing again and I learned to keep my stories to myself.

Years later, in ninth grade, I wrote a story about my great-great-grandfather, who was sent to America because he’d fallen in love with the wrong woman.  I polished that story, poured my soul into it, and proudly turned it in to my Lit teacher. Weeks later, it was returned to me. “Good,” he’d written at the top of the page. Disgusted, I stashed the story away, perplexed by the vagueness of the adjective he’d chosen and craving genuine words of criticism.

The point of writing is, at some point,to share it. And when it’s shared, we all hope it will be liked. Which makes giving and receiving feedback so tricky. My mother’s feedback was that my writing wasn’t that important. My lit teacher’s feedback was that my story met all the requirements. Neither of them challenged me to be more. Even though both of them liked my stories, it wasn’t enough. 

Yes, I want you to like my writing, but then I want you to point out my weaknesses, make me see my own style in a new light. I want to know how you reacted as a reader, what made the piece good or only okay or even not your favorite. I want to know what lessons you’ve learned about writing that I can use, too. I want you to be part of my creative process.

So despite the fact that my heart may beat a little faster, I continue to place my writing in your hands. Because together, we can grow our small texts into amazing literature.