Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tackling Big Tasks--Like Writing A Book

My husband and I decided to let our twins each have their own rooms. In order to accomplish this, we painted three rooms in five days. We moved furniture. We emptied closets and packed up bags for Goodwill. We shampooed carpet and cleaned windows. This was a HUGE job.

Monumental tasks, like painting and moving, have a lot in common with writing a book. How can we tackle these big jobs without going crazy? Here's what works for me:

  • Create a plan--Before starting, know where you want to end up. With the rooms, I noted which tasks should happen in which order for a smooth(ish) transition. Same thing with a novel. If we know the ending, we have a clear goal. We can then figure out how to get there. We don't have to plot (although I'm a plotter), but at least knowing our destination helps keep us focused.
  • Divide jobs into small pieces--Looking at the job as a whole can be daunting, and sometimes it's tempting to not even start. But I focused on one room at a time, and then moved on to the next stage. Same with writing a novel. If we take it step by step, chapter by chapter, draft by draft, the enormous project won't overwhelm us.
  • Work while the idea is hot--My poor husband. Once I had it in my head that we were going to move rooms around, I wanted to do it NOW. I knew that if I procrastinated, I'd never dive in. When writing our books, if we work work work while we're hot, we're taking advantage of momentum. That will help us through the tough times.
  • Push through when you feel like quitting--After the first room was finished, I never wanted to lift another paint brush again. After the second room was finished, I was close to tears with exhaustion. But I couldn't quit. As writers, there are times when we may feel like quitting a project, or writing altogether. But if we push through and finish that project, or push through those moments of doubt, we'll be happier on the other side.
  • Bring in the calvary--Our kids are 15, 12, and 12, and definitely old enough to work. They dusted, cleaned windows, carried furniture, and learned how to roll paint on the walls. They also learned how proud one feels with a job well done. In our writing lives, we can't do it alone. Our critique partners, beta readers, agents, and editors are the calvary, and will help save the day.
  • Be patient with imperfections--My home was in a state of chaos for about a week, and I couldn't wait until order was restored. The job was done nicely, but it's not perfect, and I'm ok with that. When we finish our first drafts, we're far from truly being finished. But if we're patient with the imperfections, we'll go much easier on ourselves while we work out the kinks.
Now that our home project is done, and our twins are happily in their own rooms, I'm so glad we put in the hard work. Just like when I've finished a book, and I'm gratified that I opened a vein and bled onto the page.

Have you tackled any major projects lately? In your home or writing life? What were some of your strategies for getting through it? Please share!

19 comments:

  1. Generally with tasks I don't want to do, I set a time limit. Three years ago we repainted the entire house. We started around 9am and had to work until noon. Then the afternoon was ours to do what we wanted.

    When I write I either go until I have captured an idea on "paper" or I finish the latte at the coffeehouse where I'm writing. Whatever comes second.

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  2. I remember back in the dorms in college, a couple roommates who didn't get along actually put tape down the center of the room, saying this is my side and that is your side.

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  3. First and foremost, any successful plan should start with determination… in my writing life—determination is the only reason I even have a writing “career”

    It seems the more I grow, and learn, the more I get discouraged… and even worse, the more good books I read; the more inadequate I feel. But, I guess that’s where determination comes in. I choose to never give up; despite the knowledge I have one-in-a-billion chance of “real” publication.

    But, I digress. Determination is key in achieving any goal.

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  4. Julie, I like number 3; strike while the idea is hot...there is so much truth in that because a great idea serves such motivation...love the list and glad the big job of painting and cleaning is all done :)

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  5. Good for you! I bet it's a huge relief to have it done! The kids will love having their own rooms too :)

    We've done several major renos over the years and it's exhausting and satisfying in about equal parts :)

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  6. You describe these steps so well. The only difference is I like to write. I hate house projects. :)

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  7. I'm terrible at planning but I have painted half the house recently. I still have a lot to do so i break off for a couple of days to de-paint. I bet your boys love their new rooms.

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  8. What an analogy! You know I'm working on our house too. :D

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  9. There is always a project going on at my house. Most recent, entire gut of kitchen. I really agree that with both home projects and writing, when you have momentum, don't let go! It takes me so long to get going in both respects that once I'm there, I like to power through. I never know how long I'll have with the go-go attitude. Must take full advantage!

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  10. Hi Julie, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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  11. I think you hit the nail on the head with "Divide jobs into small pieces". Building a house (or write a book) might be an insurmountable goal for many of us, however hammering one nail (or writing a paragraph) is doable.

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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  12. About one-third done with first draft of novel, with most of last 1/4 done as well. Monumental task barely describes how it feels (at times). But what an adventure!

    Definitely would rather write than paint!

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  13. Interrupted my wip by surgery Friday, slowly heading back that way.

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  14. Ahh, yes! Just finished a new MS. It's funny b/c as the MSs go by and no one's biting, my confidence is waning. Yet I keep doing it. Is that the definition of crazy? :D

    Hey, what a great accomplishment on getting the rooms done. I bet your twins are loving their own rooms! Have a great week~ <3

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  15. "Be patient with imperfections"... a HUGE life lesson that I need to continue learning.

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  16. Sorry I'm late to the commenting party. I MENTALLY commented. Here, here to the strike while the idea is hot. I spackled the wall of my bedroom two years ago. It has yet to see the paint.

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  17. Nice breakdown!

    Current circumstances mean I can rarely strike while the idea is hot. Instead, I've learned to get myself psyched up for my story whenever the chance to write appears. Wish it was otherwise but it works for now.

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