“Will he finish what he begins?” asks Yoda in the classic The Empire Strikes Back. A new project always has the siren call of the new, shiny, sometimes the unexpected. But do you finish?
Sometimes it is the small stuff that counts. Work, time management, planning, and yes finishing. Starting new projects is fun, we all know that. Something catches your eye, or you get an idea that won’t be denied. You start the new project. But how far do you go? I do a lot of classifying of projects in my life. Everything from settling my grandmother’s estate to cleaning out a junk drawer in my 15 spare minutes on a random day. It’s part of my own personalization of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Each project is broken down into manageable and identifiable next steps. I know how much time I have and what I want to accomplish. Then I work the project to completion. Bigger projects, more steps but I work to complete one step or stage before moving on to the next. That way I can say it’s done.
I have recently tried applying this to my writing life as well. Whether it is planning, characterization, plotting, writing or editing, I pick a “chunk” and get to work. When I get to the end, I work on the next part. Prior to doing this I left a lot of projects undone. Are you a list maker? Do you cross things off your list? Well, I was the complete opposite and added things to the list. The list got longer and longer and I never felt like I was making any progress. I changed what I was doing and started working in projects and making sure it was complete before moving on to the next. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t have any number of projects going on at one time. I’m not that serialized. But I have one short story, one blog, one novel, one edit, one chore, one errand, one whatever going at a time. If I don’t feel like writing on the short story or edits during my writing time, then I work on the novel. I also keep track of how much I am accomplishing to see if I need to change anything, but that is another post.
Do you finish what you begin? Is there something you could go and finish now? Write on.
I am a writer. I write. My take on the “I think therefore I am” business. I did not participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I have never been able to commit to it because of choices I’ve made. I am ok with that. But for those of you who may have started and given up, stalled, or gotten sidetracked, here is a second chance for you. There are 2 weeks left. If you start now and write all 13 days assuming the base word count that NaNoWriMo touts at 1,700 words per day, you can have over 22,000 words done on the novel/novella/epic that you don’t have now. If you want to be picky, 22,100 words assuming you stick to the base word count. Now if you manage to get your internal editor turned off and go stream of conscious writing, I’d be shocked if you stuck to the base word count. Think about that. 22,000 words is nothing to sneeze at. Get writing!
My choice is to try and make writing a life change. I want to write every month, not just put an artificial deadline out there and see if I can hit it. It isn’t my way of doing things. And that is ok. People need to make commitments to themselves to work on the projects that are important because they are important to them. In my case, that means that I’ve set up a writing schedule and I’ve been sticking to it by choice. Have I hit my goal every day? Hell no. Do I let it get me down? Give up? Put pressure on myself to make up the difference? Again, hell no. I choose to write. I choose to take this difficult career path because it speaks to me. I choose to keep working on it because every day that I sit down and put words in whatever medium, it makes me happy. I am a writer. How about you?
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.
The same can be said for your work. If your book, work, art, passion or whatever is still inside you, it is too dark to see it. Get out there and get it done. You’ll feel better.
Creation of any kind is work. What separates artists from the herd are the ones who work. If you’re not working it is a choice. You can call it being blocked or uninspired or whatever. It is a choice all the same. Sometimes there are real things that do have to get done in life to keep everything going. If this is not one of those times, and you know what they are: disease, death, survival, or any number of things around those themes, you choose how to spend your time. Today, I’m writing. Write on.
You know those things that tempt you away from what you’ve set out to do. Or it could be anything that is preventing you from doing what you want or need to do. They crop up when you least expect them.
There is always something out there that is pulling you away from your goals. I don’t know what it is about setting a goal for yourself that brings these things to the forefront when you’ve committed to yourself (and maybe others) that you’re going to change or do something different, but they do appear. Family obligations that have to be done just then. Sudden minor emergencies. People who insist on calling, texting, e-mailing, tweeting or whatever while you’re trying to work. Whatever it is, if it isn’t life threatening, it can wait.
Guard your creative time. These interruptions are just distractions. People don’t really mean to invade your work time, but they do it. I hate to say it’s human nature, but it is. People are competitive. When you start to do something different, unexpected, or change in any way, challenges come from those who can be closest to you. These people are used to the way things were. If the phone is the problem, turn off the ringer. Don’t check your email. Turn off the distraction, whatever it may be. If you don’t respect your work time, no one else will. And I guarantee you, if you don’t respect it you won’t get anything done.
Distractions are just that: distractions. Don’t get pulled off course from your goals. Write on.
Just do something, even if it is wrong. The point about having goals is to actually have something to shoot for. If you don’t start you can’t get there. I’m having this issue myself today.
Some days it is really hard just to find the motivation. You don’t feel in top condition. You don’t have the right tools. Your laptop blew up or you can’t find the power cord. Your favorite notebook got dropped in the dishwater. Your dog ate your pen. It doesn’t matter what it is, there is something that is holding you back from achieving your goals.
But there is a cure for all of that: start. Big projects are not completed in a day. Climbing mountains takes planning and training. Building bridges takes a plan and lots of engineering and assembly. Olympic sprinters and swimmers train most of their lives for a less than 1 minute performance at the right time. You (or most of us anyway) cannot possibly write a novel in a weekend. Even my author friend, the hare, can’t. Yes, she wrote the book in a weekend, after months of planning. It didn’t happen all at once except the final tie up of the project. She knew where she was going. She made the plan and worked it. At that point all the hard decisions were made and she just had to write it up. Where did she succeed? In the starting up every time she had writing time. Did she add to the plan every time she sat down? That I cannot tell you, but given human nature she might have had an off day or two, where whatever she seemed to write may have seemed ok or not, but it wasn’t her best. She kept doing it. She worked and didn’t let the end goal of the story down. She started.
That is what we need to do to succeed. Start. Life’s journey is a bunch of starts. You choose where to spend your time. I just spent more than an hour of my precious writing time not writing. Did I let it derail me? No, I’m going to take the time I have left and write. The next time I have more writing time I’m going to start again.
Will Smith says there is a difference in talent and skill. (1:42 – 2:02, actually the first 5 minutes.) Talent is something you have naturally. Skill is something you develop by spending hours and hours and hours beating on your craft. I may not like his work or a specific project of his, but the man has a vision of what he is and where he is going. He works and he works hard. I can learn from that. Go beat on your craft.
Start. Restart. Write on.
An author acquaintance of mine likes to think she’s a tortoise. She plans. She works up a schedule being meticulous about deadlines and word counts per day. Then she writes the book in a weekend. She’s a hare. I love watching it happen, but I cannot do it myself. Do I envy the hare in her? Sometimes, I must admit. She makes it look sooo easy. And let me tell you: it’s not. She works her tail off. But it works for her.
What did I learn from her? I needed a plan. My writing was erratic. I would write in a spurt here or a spurt there. I waited for inspiration to strike. Little did I realize was that with my personality, if I sit down to work the inspiration comes. I need to just give it time to get out. By setting up a plan and keeping to it, I’ll get there. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t set up finish lines. You bet I do. Once I set that milestone I paste it up everywhere to remind me (and my subconscious) that the next stage is coming. Right now I’m planning. Next is writing. I’ll have a word count and goal for that too. Editing and submission are in there as well, but they don’t take as long for me as the others. Then we start over again with planning.
So regardless of how you write and what type of writer you are, tortoise or hare, (outliner or pantser if you go for that terminology,) the whole idea is to actually do the work. It doesn’t really matter how it gets done as long as it works for you. Write on, friends.
Do you flounder through your day? Do you have a to-do list? Is it so long that you wonder how you can possibly get it all done? Do you carry things over day-to-day and never seem to make any progress? We all face this whether it’s daily or only at certain points in our lives. I won’t even go into how long my list is at the moment. I know I cannot possibly get it all done, not in a timely manner that is because some of these things are not just big, but HUGE projects. So what am I to do?
I came across a chapter in Jon Acuff’s book Start that deals specifically with a 5 step process for getting it all done that has really worked for me:
- Admit that you can’t possibly get it all done.
- Give yourself the grace to accept that as a reality, not failure.
- Do the things you can do with your full attention.
- Celebrate what happens in step 3 instead of obsessing over the things you didn’t get to.
- Repeat as necessary.
There are a myriad of systems for trying to get through the things that you need to do, but sometimes you just have to get to what you can get to and let the rest wait until you have more time. Where this is helpful is being sure that you are spending time on what truly is important rather than everything that comes along. What are your priorities? Is that where you’ve been spending your time?
Recently I’ve had to re-evaluate what my priorities are. I wasn’t spending time where I needed to be. I’m working on resolving that. Stop floundering and prioritize. Write on.