Groundhogs Day: One Hundred Percent Chance of Metaphor

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am thinking should begin this blog with a little snippet of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." If you haven't seen the movie Groundhog Day, that's A. Not gonna be funny and B. Why haven't you seen that movie?

If you are a Groundhog Day movie newbie--go, watch, and come back. And then read this post by the only person on the planet we could rely on to manage this critical moment in time.

Okay, or not. You don't really need to watch it first. But it's pretty funny. Still: how can you resist the fabulous Lori Rader-Day? Go ahead, Read this first.

Groundhogs Day: One Hundred Percent Chance of Metaphor

When I was invited to write todays post for the Jungle Reds, Hank asked me if I could take on Groundhogs Day. The unspoken question there, I suppose, was Can we trust you with the sacred duty, the nationallynay, internationallycritical topic, of Groundhogs Day?

But any writer could handle Groundhogs Day as metaphor, couldnt they? Writing is nothing BUT Groundhogs Day.

I mean, of course, Groundhogs Day the movie.

Groundhogs Day the holiday is too much optimism for me. I live in Chicago; we are always going to have six more weeks of winter. Until June. Perhaps for that reason, I like my February 2nd with a whole lot more Bill Murray than Ive come to expect from the holiday itself.

Groundhogs Day the movie is about the long, cold, never-ending days of a man whose life restarts from scratch with the prospect of the same occurrences, the same interactions, over and over and overevery morning when his alarm clock goes off.

How is that not about writing?

Writing is about chipping away at the work, day after day, week after week, with progress incremental if not non-existent. The finish line is far away, and then our focus stretches and, wait, is it even farther away than we thought?

In the film, Bill Murrays character attempts to fight his fate, then wallows and allows it to ruin him, then finally decides to use the structure hes been forced to accept to learn and grow. It gets pretty optimistic, as a matter of fact, but only after he decides to accept the time he has as a gift, working on himself instead of reaching for some far-off goal that may never be achieved.

I dont need to stomp on this point, do I? You see it.

In the writing world we often talk about discipline. You should get some, we say to people whove assembled to hear us drop pearls of wisdom. Yeah, you should get some, we think to ourselves, when weve been away from the desk too long. As though discipline was a thing we could go get at the gettin store.

But of course discipline isnt a thing you get; its a thing you build. All it is, when you strip it down, is doing the same thing as often as you can, creating some kind of consistency.

Its putting all the same markers and tools in place to guide you toward another day of the Exact Same: the same first-thing walk with the dog, the same great cup of hot beverage, the same cozy chair or business-like desk, the same notebook and pen or laptop. Different place or time works, too, but then you might be guided by another kind of structure: one hour, 1,000 words, whatever guidelines you need to get the work done.

Why have you given yourself guidelines? Because guidelines suggest that you can get it done and get back to the other things you have to do today. So many things! Without guidelines, are you supposed to write until you fall over and lose hope that youll ever finish? No, youre building something, and construction is a steady-as-you-go kind of job. Steady as you go, clock in/clock out, but then, boom, something huge.

When I turned in the manuscript for my new novel, The Lucky One, to my editor, she wrote me back and called me out about a certain passage, where an online sleuth who tries to solve cold-case missing persons talks to another volunteer, Alice Fine, who works construction in her day-job. Theyre discussing another volunteers successful track record of two cases closed:

Two matches in fifteen years. Juby shook her head. I dont think I have it in me. But thats how Lil does it. Thats how Don and Jenn do it. The people who caught the Golden State Killer, the guy who matched that body in Kentucky thirty years after she was found. Tent Girl. Do you think Todd Matthews woke up one day thirty years in and just matched Tent Girl out of the blue? This is a marathon.
This reminds me of a story my dad tells about construction, Alice said. You know, how the little daily projects that dont seem like much still add up to the cathedral. Youre putting down the stones or youre building a cathedral, its all in your perspective. The skyscraperor the six-story parking structure, I suppose. Either way, you have to put down the foundation.
Juby looked at Alice over the rim of her glass, then crunched on an ice cube. And if the foundation is rotten?
Oh, youre totally f*@!ed.

Is that about writing? my editor wanted to know.

Of course its about writing! In my experience, when youre trying to write a 100K-word novel every year, everything is about writing! (By the way, I dont consider my writing foundation to be an outline, if you were wondering.)

If the story about cathedral-building versus putting down stones sounds familiar to you, thats because its a parable. Its been trotted out by corporate CEOs everywhere, to raise sights and line stakeholders wallets.

But its no less true for people like us, for whom everything is about writing. For whom 200 words, 500 words, 1,000 words is a days work on the cathedral, no matter how out of reach the spire seems. For whom tomorrows work looks much the same, for whom every day is Groundhogs Day the movieuntil the book is drafted and its time to come out of our burrow and sniff the air.

Did I just Inception my way back to the rodent?

Punxsutawney Phil, the Official National Groundhog, almost always calls for six more weeks of winter. Why? Because its February.

But arent we lucky that writing is an indoor sport? Bad weather, good discipline, bad disciplinenone of that makes a bit of difference. Just make sure the stones get set down. Writing isnt metaphor, in the end. Its something concrete, a creation you made with your own hands. Youmade it, and it couldnt have existed without you. Maybe its no cathedral, but its a nice warm little spot to warm your hands for tomorrows work, when the alarm clock turns over again.

HANK: How much do we love Lori? And her newest book THE LUCKY ONE comes out February 18!

What're your plans for Groundhog Day, Reds and readers? Football? :-( French poetry? (A little movie reference). Reading? Playing? Or building a cathedral?

Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author ofThe Black Hour,Little Pretty Things, The Day I Died, and Under a Dark Sky. Forthcoming February 2020: The Lucky One (Harper Collins William Morrow).
National President, Sisters in Crime
Co-chair, Murder and Mayhem in Chicago

Twitter: @LoriRaderDay


From the author ofthe Edgar Award-nominatedUnder A Dark Skycomes an unforgettable, chilling novel about a young woman who recognizes the man who kidnapped her as a child, setting off a search for justice, and into danger.

Most people who go missing are never found. But Alice was the lucky one...
As a child, Alice was stolen fromher backyardin a tiny Indiana community, but against the odds, her policeman father tracked her down within twenty-four hours and rescued her from harm. In the aftermath of the crime, her family decided to move to Chicago and close the door on that horrible day.
Yet Alice hasnt forgotten. She devotes her spare time volunteering for a website called The Doe Pages scrolling through pages upon pages of unidentified people, searching for clues that could help reunite families with their missing loved ones. When a face appears on Alices screen that she recognizes, shes stunned to realize its the same man who kidnapped her decades ago. The post is deleted as quickly as it appeared, leaving Alice with more questions than answers.
Embarking on a search for the truth, she enlists the help of friends from The Doe Pages to connect the dots and find her kidnapper before he hurts someone else. Then Alice crosses paths with Merrily Cruz, another woman whos been hunting for answers of her own. Together, they begin to unravel a dark, painful web of lies that will change what they thought they knewand could cost them everything.
Twisting and compulsively readable,The Lucky Oneexplores the lies we tell ourselves to feel safe.