Monday, April 19, 2010

One Bite at a Time

I've been hit by the bug - the spring cleaning bug, that is. However, a warning. Not every window is so clean it sparkles. You don't have the aroma of furniture polish wafting toward you as you come through the front door. You can't see yourself in the gleam of my kitchen floor.

Not yet.

I spring clean in bursts - one day is for washing all the drapes, one day is for cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, one day is for defrosting the big freezer, etc. Breaking it up into manageable, easily completed tasks works best for me.

It's the same with my writing.

I'll give myself realistic goals - get to the end of this chapter, or edit the first 25 pages, or go through and check consistency in one character's POV (I have several). The feeling of accomplishment is enough to make me want to do more tomorrow and I don't feel as if I'm climbing Mt. Everest.

Every writer has to discover what works best for them. Dashiell Hammett used to make himself sit at his typewriter for eight hours a day, regardless of whether he wrote or not. He could spend the entire eight hours staring at a blank piece of paper - but eight hours every day. No exceptions.

Little wonder he had issues with alcohol. (in my opinion, of course)

Self-discipline is crucial and deadlines are real. With deadlines I plan backwards from a week before the date allowing myself a realistic schedule that I know I can stick to - or even get ahead of.

It's like the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.


  1. Great post. Some things I can parcel out one or two a day. Some, I jump in head first and swim until it's all done. I don't know why.

  2. Karen; Good for you!

    Carol; You madcap woman.

  3. The only thing keeping me at my desk writing is knowing that if I take a break, I've got to begin cleaning.

  4. Alan; The only thing that keeps me doing spring cleaning is knowing if I stop I have to sit down and write!

  5. Elspeth - I like the attitude of doing things one bite at a time. I think that's the best way to get through a WIP and just about any other project. What's nice about one bite at a time, too, is that you get to feel smug and self-righteous even when you've only gotten a small thing accomplished ; ).

  6. Margot; I KNOW!! Isn't it fantastic??

  7. Great tips. I remember some advice I gace a friend who was a freelance writer only accustomed to writing articles. When she got her first contract for a book, she was overwhelmed with the thought of writing something that long. I told her to think of the book as a series of articles and just do them one by one. It worked for her, and it is something that I sometimes remind myself of so I am not overwhelmed.

    As for the cleaning... I never knew we should have a plan. LOL

  8. I've been cleaning too, but it comes in spurts. It really depends on what else I have to procrastinate against.

    The same goes with my writing- I write drafts in spurts, but tend to edit in one long slog.

  9. Maryann; That was marvelous advice and I'm sure she appreciated it.

    Stephanie; I operate in a very similar way - but then again, I find editing a fairly easy task.

  10. Yep. One foot in front of the other, hmm? What's that old saying? The writing of 100,000 words begins with the first sentence. Something like that ...

    Marvin D Wilson

  11. Cleaning! I'm with you on the bug. I can't seem to stop myself...

    8 hours a day?!? I'd go completely crazy. :) Not that I'm not there already...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  12. Washing curtains? Eeek! There are some things that have NEVER been done at my house! I totally agree though, that breaking it into manageable bites is essential. When I am STARTING a project, it is more a time designation (an hour a day) because some work is writing, some is organizing. But when I really get going, I shoot instead for 1000+ words. (though I sometimes still take a day here and there to use the time thing, as --though I make plans, I don't tend to follow them very closely, so about 4 or 5 times DURING the book, I have to make a NEW plan... I know, sounds like chaos, but any less planning and I flounder, and more rigidity and I rebel.

  13. Long before there was a tag for ADHD a wise teacher realized that I didn't learn like most of my classmates. She taught me her 10 minute rule. Do it for ten minutes; stop; walk away for a few minutes; come back and review one sentence or fact and repeat. That rule has served me well for a lot longer than I'm letting on. I go longer than the 10 minutes if it's a good day but rarely longer than 30.
    It's just easier for me hit a goal this way.
    Giggles and Guns

  14. Thanks for this, Beth -- I needed to hear it. I've been struggling both with writer's block and cleaner's block.

  15. Great point! We're all different - what works for one person isn't necesarily going to work for the rest. It's a process to see how you work best and it takes time. I'm still learning!


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