How to eat an elephant

Posted on Posted in The Writing Life

In my former existence [ in a totally non-Buddhist sense] I spent a lot of my time Project Planning, and one of the most important steps was breaking down the massive project into meaningful chunks, then signing off on the timelines and action steps. Think spreadsheets. And flow charts. Who is going to do what by when, and then the layers of action, which will complete the work.  Milestone dates on the journey.

All destined to pretend that we have some control over this monster where people and resources had to come together to create the outcome we needed.

 Otherwise we could all just stand there looking at this towering adult bull elephant thinking – ‘there is no way I can eat that, let’s try a chicken first’ – and that way the elephant totally overwhelms us, the project never gets started and the business opportunity is lost.

 Your potential to show the kind of writing you are capable of, is lost.

 And I know that for some people, the elephant is the size of a 5000 word short story, it doesn’t matter – it is still an elephant. Or walrus. Or giant pumpkin. Ten acre garden you have just taken on. Your choice. You don’t have to “think big” to create an elephant.

Fear? Doubt? Uncertainty that you are even capable of finishing the job so you never start it in the first place? Or vague comments on the lines that you are ‘thinking about how to approach it’.

 In truth, Strategic planning means only one of three things.

In life and in writing –

1. You start eating at the trunk and keep going day by day until you get to the tail , and that includes the nasty bits

 2. You start at the tail , and work backwards so you have the plot and character arc but not the how, or

 3. You take your sharpest knife, carefully honed by x years of reading and writing, and you chop the grey ugly hunk of meat into chunks you can manage every day – but you have an outline drawing of the elephant taped to your screen to remind you where the bits came from.

 And in the words of the master –

 When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.” – John Steinbeck


pic credit; fotosearch

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