When Less Equals More, Guest Post by Rochelle Melander

Today, I welcome Write Now! Coach, Rochelle Melander to the blog.

Rochelle and I met a short while ago over coffee, and, while I nibbled away on a giant blueberry muffin, I groaned about my inability to move beyond the first draft of my novel. I can’t possibly tackle such a large work of writing, I complained. Rochelle then offered me a bit of perspective on long, complicated projects like novels. I loved her advice so well that I asked her to write a guest post about it.

And, lucky for you, she’s not only giving us three tips for surmounting the insurmountable, but she’s also giving away a 30-minute complimentary coaching session. If I were you (and I wish I were!), I’d drop my name in the comments, stat! Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, April 30th.

When Less Equals More:
Using Small Steps to Tackle Big Projects

by Rochelle Melander

Highly visionary companies often use bold missions–what we prefer to call BHAGs (pronounced bee-hags, short for “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”)–as a particularly powerful mechanism to stimulate progress. —Jim Collins

Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts. —Tao Te Ching

I start the day with buckets of energy and a packed to-write list. Not only do I have several blog posts due, but there are queries to write, speeches to prepare, and stacks of books to read. Add to that my day job: I’m a writing coach and productivity consultant. I can’t imagine life without at least one “big hairy audacious goal” – and right now I have a few racing around my brain, competing for slots in my schedule. Before I get to my mid-morning snack, I panic and my energy level sinks. How can I accomplish all this?

One small step at a time. That’s how.

According to psychologist Robert Maurer, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, the fear center of our brains panic at the thought of a big hairy audacious goal. When we think about writing a book, our fight-or-flight response kicks in, and the thinking part of our brain freezes. We experience “writer’s block.” When we break that big goal into small steps, taking teeny tiny steps toward writing a book, we tiptoe past the fear part of our brain and are able to move forward without panic.

I’ve been using the small step method to write books for years. And that’s how I plan to get through this week and accomplish my next big hairy audacious goal. Here are three ways to use the small-step method to tackle your writing goals.

Write a small chunk.

It doesn’t matter what you are writing, an epic novel or the definitive guide to soup—every single project can be broken down into small chunks. In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she equates the big old writing project to “trying to scale a glacier.” No kidding. Her solution: “I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.” (p. 17). The one-inch picture frame puts a wonderful visual boundary around your writing. Other small chunks include: a scene, a character action, a paragraph, a single idea, a sidebar, or a descriptive detail.

Small step: Break down your big project into a list of several small chunks.

Write for a short period of time.

Many of the clients I work with bemoan their lack of time to write. They long for a whole day or weekend spread out before them so that they can play with big ideas and dig into their writing. I’ve had the same desires, until I actually get those big chunks of time without the spouse, kids, and dogs. Then I panic: “Oh my, oh my, oh no—how can I possibly fill all this time?” I long to be back home, where I can fold towels, chop vegetables, and walk dogs between writing sessions. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I actually accomplish more in a series of short chunks of time than I do with a whole day of “free time.”

IMG_0230Small step: Schedule a short period of time (5-15 minutes) to write every day this week. “Every day?” you ask. Yup. That way it will become a habit. Up your chances of success by tying your writing to something you already do: a morning cup of coffee or your lunch break.

Take on small projects.

Have you heard this quote from Cicero, “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.” Cicero was a Roman philosopher who lived in the mid-first century BCE (106-43 BCE). As a writing coach, I can assure you that nothing has changed. Children still disobey their parents and nearly everyone I meet wants to write a book. Few seem to have a smidgen of interest in tiny projects. And yet here’s the deal: short writing assignments placed in big venues can garner a lot more attention than a book. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.” Compare that to the million or so readers who might encounter your short piece in a periodical or online.

Small step: Choose a small writing project to work on—a blog post, a filler piece for a print magazine, or a flash fiction story.

Your turn: How has the small step method helped you tackle big hairy audacious goals?

rochelle smallRochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She has used the small step method to write ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month Guide Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) (Writers Digest, 2011). Rochelle teaches professionals how to create a writing life, write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Also, subscribe to her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

PS. Don’t forget to drop your name in a comment; you could win a 30-minute complimentary coaching session.

* Snail climbing wall Photo credit: lisasolonynko from morguefile.com


About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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14 Responses to When Less Equals More, Guest Post by Rochelle Melander

  1. Lisa says:

    What an excellent, accessible list of reminders and advice! I need to stamp this post on my forehead (or at least print it and read it often). I especially can attest to idea of writing every day but for a short period of time. It’s so much more effective than waiting for those blocks of uninterrupted hours that never seem to materialize.
    Lisa recently posted..Next year’s a big one, Mr. Shakespeare!My Profile

  2. After bathroom renovations threw me in a muddle of “to-write” and “to-do” lists, I’m using this wonderful and encouraging post to not only take back my writing, but my chore list. 🙂 Baby steps, right?
    Tonia Marie Harris recently posted..Haiku for a muse in mutinyMy Profile

  3. Thanks, Lisa–I have found that a dedicated hour is way more productive than a whole day! And Tonia, good reminder–baby steps work with chore lists, too!
    Rochelle Melander recently posted..The Write Now! CoachMy Profile

  4. Jan O'Hara says:

    Lots of great advice here. I love the Mauer book! I reread it often, and as a matter of fact, I tried to reach him to have him write a column for Writer Unboxed, a writing blog with which I’m associated.

    The current book I’m reading and enjoying, offering similar practical advice, is The As If Principle.

    Presently, I’ve committed to a half-hour of writing per day. At times, even that feels too long, so I set the timer and do two fifteen-minute chunks. I’ve enrolled in HabitForge and receive a “push” from other contributors if I don’t log in during a 24-hour period.
    Jan O’Hara recently posted..Not Dead Yet. Not Even Mostly Dead (+Writer Unboxed Redirect)My Profile

  5. Lori P says:

    Thank you for the reminder to break down the large project into bite-size pieces. I’m working on a novel and this advice made my day QUITE a bit better. =)
    Lori P recently posted..On Finishing a Good Book…My Profile

  6. UglyOldWitch says:

    It’s been five months since I’ve written anything. Even my emails/notes have been short, sweet, and incoherent. I was considering a career change, like maybe being a dog walker or an airplane pilot. (something that didn’t involve words) The middle of last week, I just started writing again. 11pm. one night.

    While I wished for some normalcy, (11pm., really?) I was still pretty excited to be back at it. I love your idea of breaking things down into small chunks – especially since I’ve apparently forgotten how to ride that bicycle. I’ll just take a little spin around the block and not try a marathon just yet… thanks for the reminder!

  7. Dede Nesbitt says:

    What a fantastic concept. I use the small steps method in other areas of my life – preparing our home for upcoming vacations, spring cleaning, bulk cooking, Christmas shopping, etc. Never had I considered using this method for writing. Small goals – I think I can do that. The single time I employed this method I was able to knock out 1000 words in a single sitting. Thank you for the article.

  8. Carol Neumann says:

    Thanks for the great blog post, Rochelle. I like the idea of really small chunks (5-15 minutes). I think I knew this technique when I was a working mom with a small child, but now that I’m retired with lots of time, I get less done. I need to go back to breaking my writing into small chunks. When I sit at my desk with several hours of free time, I fritter away most of the time anyway– and feel guilty.

  9. Nina says:

    I love this advice because it makes me feel better about what I’m doing–SMALL PROJECTS! 🙂
    Nina recently posted..First Rehearsal: Listen to Your MotherMy Profile

  10. Jan, I am going to check out The As If Principle. Right now I am reading The One Thing, which is a similar idea. And thanks for recommending HabitForge. Sounds good.
    Lori P. –GREAT to hear that!
    Ugly Old Witch–so thankful that the muse visited you again. I look forward to hearing how the small chunks go for you. (And, I have to tell you, I’ve been thinking about doing the dog walking gig, too.)
    Dede–yeah for you! And now, I need to try the small step method for my house! 🙂
    Carol–You are welcome to rent my children, if that would help.
    Nina–Yes! Small projects rock!
    Rochelle Melander recently posted..The Write Now! CoachMy Profile

  11. Christi Christi says:

    Thanks to Rochelle for providing such a wonderful post with great tips.

    And (after running the numbers through Random.org), congrats to Nina, the winner of the complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Rochelle! You should receive an email from me soon.

    For those of you who didn’t win, here’s another opportunity on Rochelle’s website to score a 30-minute coaching session: http://www.writenowcoach.com/blog/?p=1784.

  12. Lisa Romeo says:

    Love this. I got the message about using short bursts of time to write once I had kids. Many a rough draft was scribbled in the car at school pick up time, in the stands at ball games, during naps. Now that the kids are older I still use this idea because paid work has to come first (college tuition!), so the writing often is shoehorned in. Small chunks add up!
    Lisa Romeo recently posted..Banish the Inner Writing Critic? Maybe not so fast.My Profile

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