I’m reading Drew Brees’s book Coming Back Stronger, which he wrote with Chris Fabry. For those of you who don’t know, Brees is the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, and of the first Saints team to ever win a Super Bowl. I’m a big Saints fan, and although I don’t often say that I “admire” human beings, I do have a level of admiration for what Brees has accomplished. He came back from both a knee injury in high school and a shoulder injury in the pros that could easily have ended his career. And he came back, not merely to play well, but to play exceptionally well at the highest level of his profession.
I’m always relating the stuff I’m reading to my own chosen profession, which is writing. Brees’s book is no exception. One thing the quarterback said early in the book really resonated with me. It’s something I’ve thought about often enough but hadn’t really put into effective words. When Brees started rehabbing his shoulder, a process that required an average of about 9 hours of work a day, he got some advice from a friend. His friend told him to focus only on “winning the day.” Brees knew it would take at least 8 months of rehab to regain most of the strength and flexibility in his shoulder, and he came to understand that he simply could not manage if he tried to consider that long period all at once. He could only think about what he was going to do “that” day, what he was going to do to “win” that day.
One could easily argue that life is like that, too. I know that writing certainly is. Novels, and even most stories, are like Brees’s months of rehab. Writing a “novel” is an impossible dream, a somewhat preposterous dream. No one sits down and writes a novel. What you write instead is a page, a scene, a chapter. Getting too far ahead of the immediate needs of the manuscript can be deadly to one’s progress.
I think is why many writers swear by an outline. The outline sets up the “steps” they’ll have to take to finish a book. And once that blueprint is there they can focus on one step at a time until the whole is completed. Such a plan makes the impossible, possible. Now, I don’t do a detailed outline myself for novels, but I do develop a rough outline of what is going to happen in my books at least a few chapters ahead. I’ve discovered that there’s a pattern I follow in every book. I get an idea and run with it for a few chapters. Then I hit a wall. Then I’ll figure out what’s going to happen a little further along and I race along for another few chapters before hitting another wall. The reason is that when I reach the end of my “few chapters plan,” I’m now faced with the monumental task of writing the whole book instead of having it broken down into manageable steps. I can’t “win” the novel. I can’t “win” 8 months of time at once. I can win today’s pages, today’s scene. I’ll let the rest take care of itself. Until I get there. I also know that I can even “lose” a few days. As long as I consistently win most of them.
So, what’s your idea of “winning a day?”