In first grade, our construction-paper caterpillars grew based on spelling test scores. Or maybe the reward was phonics-related; I don’t recall precisely why we received cookie-sized circles to add to our caterpillars’ abdomens, only that it was essential my caterpillar grow. Nor do I remember how my caterpillar rated compared to my classmates’–only the satisfaction of looping a piece of masking tape in on itself, sticking it on the back of one of those colorful circles, and adhering my little reward to the wall below the chalkboard.
Some people, and I’d include myself among them, say that they’re “not competitive” when what they mean is that they’re not athletic (no quotes required). I’ve seen these same “not-competitive” types draw blood during Balderdash and flagrantly cheat at Taboo (plea to Hasbro: Can we get some new Taboo cards already?). Apples to Apples has surely ended at least one marriage. Writing feels more like swimming, though, in that you’re only competing against yourself. Of course, there are other people in the pool, and maybe my own high school swim coach was careful to emphasize this only-racing-against-your-own-best-time approach to the “non-competitive” types on the blocks. Still, non-relay swimming or long-distance running–lonely sports that draw small crowds and require endurance–seem suited to writers. All that time to think. All that fastidious list-keeping (x miles, x laps, x words, x pages; journal submissions / average turnaround time x size of rejection notice= % despair; fartleks). All those tiny triumphs.
See a bigger version of this poster at the 826 National Shop.
A few years ago, I bought The No Plot? No Problem Novel-Writing Kit by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month (it starts today). I have a plot, but the kit solves a different problem in the form of the tiniest, sweetest little gold star stickers you have ever seen. Could it be that I spent twenty hard-earned US dollars on this kit in large part to receive one small sheet of shrunken-down, monochrome versions of stickers that are widely available sometimes for as little as $1.49 for 440 stars? Yes. Still more ridiculous, I have yet to use one. This month, though, I think I’ll stick them on the window frame above my desk on days I write two pages, push myself to watch my wiggling little constellation grow.