It all started with an email from a very thoughtful friend. Did I want to have lunch at the JCC and hear Anna Quindlen speak? Um, yes. I don't think I've ever replied to a message that fast.
Today was the lunch. We settled at Table 9, nibbled on our seared salmon, listened to information about the JCC's wonderful literacy program. And then there she was. Anna. An author and New Yorker I've long admired. I recently finished her latest novel Still Life with Bread Crumbs and adored it. Last summer, I inhaled Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and wanted more and wrote about Anna's decision not to drink on my blog. Just weeks ago, I wrote a Mother's Day piece for the Huffington Post called The Biggest Mistake We Mothers Will Make which was inspired by Anna's famous and beloved piece Goodbye Dr. Spock.
Long story short: I love Anna Quindlen.
So there I was today, floating in a sea of well-manicured Manhattan women, taking small bites of salmon, listening to this woman and artist I so admire. She talked about many things - her latest book and previous books, her career in journalism, her three children, and more. At a certain point, the moderator opened it up for questions and my heart began to do its telltale jig. You see, I'm not a terribly introverted person, but for some reason, I feel wildly anxious asking questions in these settings. I hung back, listened to the questions and answers and then I did a funny thing: I raised my hand.
Suddenly, I was clutching a microphone. I held it up to my mouth and I asked the question I wanted to ask, the question I always want to ask writers I love.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or for relatively rookie authors?
Anna smiled and was quick in her reply.
"Butt in chair," she said. "Butt in chair."
She elaborated of course and eloquently so and I'm paraphrasing here, but she said that we cannot wait for inspiration to strike us because it won't. She tossed out that wonderful Madeleine L'Engle quote, “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” She said how no books have been written by thinking about writing them. She said that every single writer, even the Joyce Carol Oateses and Philip Roths of the world, sit before a blank screen or page and think one thing: Disaster. And then, she said, we begin to write and, yup, it is a disaster, but then we keep going and it gets better and better. But the very first thing we must do is get that butt in that chair.
If you know me or this blog at all, you know that I'm working (hard) on my second novel for years. I've been doing what I can to chip away at it, this story I'm really coming to love, and recently that's meant waking up at the unkind hour of 4:30am to write before my family is awake. Anyway, what Anna said today is just what I needed to hear, perhaps all I needed to hear, that if I sit and sit and sit again and again and again, I will get there. Oh, and another thing. Anna offered the Nike iteration of her advice: Just do it. This was my Eighth Grade yearbook quote, guys. Um.
After her talk, Anna stayed to sign books. And of course I waited in line. When it was my turn, I said hello and handed her my book. I'm the one who asked for writing advice, I said. She looked at me and smiled. I know, she said. I told her how to spell my name and asked if she could write her advice in my book and she obliged. As she scribbled away, I rambled on. I am working on my second novel. The protagonist of my first novel was named Quinn like your son! It's hard to find time with three kids. There's something really tricky about writing the second book. Oh silly me. I went on and on, but she was kind and she handed back my book, smiled again, and said, They say you have thirty years to write your first book, but three years to write your second.
I walked back out into the world and opened the book and read Anna's words and smiled. And then I came here to this coffee shop and sat down and wrote these words. My husband called while I was writing and we talked for a bit. I raved about meeting Anna and told him about this post. Is it crazy if I call it What Anna Quindlen Said About My Butt? He chuckled and said to go for it and we decided our girls would be thrilled and perhaps adamant they inspired this title as butts are their favorite topic of conversation. Their joke just yesterday: Why did the butt go to the doctor? Because he had a crack. Brilliant and totally appropriate, no? Anyway, I chose a safer title, but in my mind this piece is still called What Anna Quindlen Said About My Butt.
Anyway, I had to share this. And I really think this is another example of writing advice really being life advice, right? If we want to accomplish something, we must put our butts in our chairs and, yup, just do it.
Thank you, Lauren, for asking me to lunch.
Thank you, JCC Manhattan, for bringing us Anna and for supporting literacy.
And thank you, Anna, for telling me (and all of us?) exactly what I (we) needed to hear today.