The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. — Chinese Proverb
Every project you take on never feels like it will ever get done. You hate the opening paragraph. You can’t see the end of the story. You can’t find that article that you photocopied to use as a source. There are thousands of little roadblocks to every writing project, both internal (What was I trying to say here? Where’s the Chicago Manual of Style, I have a question about the use of semi-colons… Should I write this chapter, or go check on the squash plants in the garden?) and external (a tree falls on the roof of your house, your computer gets a nasty virus, your family is coming for a surprise visit this weekend). It is easy to get overwhelmed by the minutia and just give up.
This proverb says it all. Maybe you can’t write an entire chapter today, but maybe you can research something for that chapter online for 10 minutes or so. If you are stuck when you try to write about rhinos today, try to write about hippos instead.
Even when you know exactly where you are going on a project, you will be sidetracked. In 2004, Flash Writing was supposed to be ready for the for a writer’s conference in April. But I discovered that my early drafts weren’t good enough, there were more details to add to the book. I needed better writing exercises. The character chapter was too big, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I agreed to teach too many classes that winter and couldn’t focus on the book as much as I wanted to. My computer locked up in the middle of a brilliant draft of the character creation chapter and as hard as I tried, I was unable to repeat the brilliance that the forever-lost first draft had. These little setbacks slowed me down, frustrated me… I lost interest for a couple of weeks because I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I had classes to teach, soccer games and dance recitals to attend. There were season finales of favorite shows to be watched.
But eventually you must take one small step to move the mountain. Remove one small stone. Revise five pages in Chapter 10. <Plink>Create writing exercises for Chapter 4. <Plink> Send out an email asking someone to provide a pull quote for the cover. <Plink> Print drafts of three chapters to review over the weekend. <Plink> And pretty soon, the work is done and you have a completed project on your desk. You have moved a mountain.
How do you break down your massive writing projects? Leave a comment below.