Eating the Elephant

I've lost count of the number of times non-writers entertaining the fantasy of becoming (wildly successful, famous, Oprah-lauded) authors have asked how I can possibly write a book. Although the notion of having written is attractive, the non-writers can't wrap their heads around the enormity of the task.

It's a problem I share, many books later, especially when faced with a looming deadline. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the totality. And it's not only the writing of a draft that can cause the onset of this panic. It can be anything from a task as "small" as working one's way through a set of edits (something I found myself choking on this past week) to the larger challenge of managing a career in publishing.

So how does one eat an elephant? The old joke says one spoonful at a time. There's wisdom in that, but to it I'll add this: with a willing, willful blindness.

When the task is huge and the timeline short, that's when you break it down, down, down, all the way to tiny, sub-atomic particles. If I can't deal with the edits on the manuscript, I can deal with this one page. As I do, without looking ahead or visualizing the totality. Because one page leads to another, then a few more. One page is manageable, bite-sized.

The same goes with the writing itself. Maybe it's a bad day. The baby's fussing, the dishwasher's overflowing, the day job's calling, and your spouse is demanding your attention. So, you can't write the ten pages you had planned on. But you can write one sentence. You can write one hundred words.

It's not the work that stops the dreamers from realizing their goals, and it's very often not the lack of will or talent. It's the getting started. If you can find some way, any way to breach that barrier, to breach it stubbornly and repeatedly, you will be astonished at what you can achieve.

So today, let's pick up that spoon, writers. Let's purposefully close our eyes to big picture and enjoy the flavor of each word.


Brandie N. said…
Great post Colleen! And so true :)

Donna Maloy said…
Ugh. This hits home on a day I've struggled to get two pages done! I'm still waiting to "hit my stride" on this new project.
Thanks, Brandie!

And I feel your pain, Donna! You'll get there. I know you. :)
Excellent post, Colleen! I wish I'd read it this morning instead of tonight.

Today I got frustrated (I am SO behind), I tried to disown the writer in me by walking away and painting the kitchen.

I accidentally got inspired.

Heroine will now deliver her important message while standing atop a ladder, waving a loaded paint brush...

Seems I can't not write.

I'm back at the computer tonight, waving the white rag (I mean, flag)and taking a big bite of that spoonful of keep-at-it...
Good for you, Nancy! And having a freshly painted kitchen *plus* inspiration is (dare I say it?) WINNING!

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