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