In second grade, having finally taken her flower as far as she could, Georgia dedicated herself to the cartwheel. Weeks became months. "You've got it!" I'd tell her. "Not yet," she'd reply. She wanted to start and end on an imaginary balance beam, like her friend Amelia did. I'd say, "Try a headstand." But she wasn't looking for a quick win. She was working on something small and specific, something well beyond basic proficiency. "No," she'd say, tossing her legs over her body again.
Meanwhile, after a year of writing my newspaper column, it was getting harder and harder to produce 800 original and meaningful words about family life. That's when I came up with my coolest party trick yet. I decided to write a book—a memoir about growing up; I called it The Middle Place. Each week I'd bang out a new chapter, which I'd oblige Edward to read the minute he walked in the door on Friday nights. Eventually, my story had a beginning, middle, and end. My sister-in-law found me an agent, the agent found me an editor, the book was published. True, in every chapter, there's a phrase or a paragraph or a whole page that I wish I'd worked harder on. But to everyone's astonishment, for one splendid week, the book was tied for 15th place on the New York Times best-seller list. (Special thanks to Aunt Peggy, who bought 15 copies that week instead of 10.) It did okay with reviewers too. All in all, pretty good for my first time.
It's been a year since The Middle Place came out, and naturally my agent wants to know how the second book is coming. "I'm thinking about it," I say, as I flip through my rough outline for Hello, World (so much easier to name a book than write one). I look at the document almost every day—sometimes touching up sentences, more often just tweaking the formatting. I want to write it, I do. The subject matter—deciding what faith to teach our children—feels important and provocative and worthwhile. But when I get inside a chapter, I can't get any momentum going.
So rather than suffer through the hopeless periods that every decent writer has, rather than delete and rewrite, outline and restructure, rather than advance by those tiny increments my daughter seems to relish, I've started something new: Saving Fairyland, an original screenplay! Step 1: Buy special software. Check. Step 2: Bang out a draft. Voilà! Step 3: Drag my friend Betsy into the project. Done. Right this minute, we have 89 index cards on my dining room table, one for each scene; by the time you read this, the fifth draft will be complete. That's right, finished! If this were Hello, World, I'd still be suffering through the first chapter. "You're too much!" my friends say. "What next—an opera?"
Of course, as I'm busy reinventing myself, Georgia is still working on her cartwheel. The same damn thing, over and over again. Except, as Edward points out, her cartwheel has actually changed—a lot. She can do it anywhere now: on a grassy hill, in a crowded living room, on a painted line on concrete. Where it was once mostly momentum, it's now controlled and exact. What appeared to be fruitless repetition has turned out to be...mastery.
"That's some cartwheel, honey," I say. And I mean it.