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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Starting Blocks

Some projects - like writing a book - seem so big that it's like standing at the foot of Everest in your tennis shoes, carrying a daypack..

"I'm really not ready for this."

So it's tempting to down tools and think, well, I'll start tomorrow. Those tomorrows have a way of multiplying, though, and pretty soon you'll be looking back across a calendar-sea, marked with days where you did anything else.

Starting is hard. Be it writing a book, making a garden in that bit of rocky waste-ground behind the garage, or cleaning the kitchen, the job looks daunting enough that it drowns any incentive to even look for a place to start.

The cliche is that any big job is like eating an elephant. You do it one mouthful at a time. But who wants to eat and elephant? Aside from being cute, it's probably illegal, because they're endangered. Scratch one incentive-builder.

But there are some ways to at least begin. They don't guarantee completion, and they may not work for everyone, but for what it's worth...

  • Define what you want to get done in the first work period, and make it realistic. If it's the novel you wanted to write, write the first paragraph. Don't worry about it being awful...the deciding factor is that you do it. If it's the kitchen, mark off one section of countertop, and clean that. Then quit. Give a small success a chance to see sunlight...don't bury it in an additional task that you won't finish, and that'll kill your morale.
  • Set a specific time to work. A time to start, a time to stop. If you finish early, stop early. If you don't finish, stop anyway, and pick it up again tomorrow.
  • Keep a log. Write what you want to do today, then when you're done, wrote what you did. Then write what you want to accomplish tomorrow.
  • Define your eventual goal, and write it down. Don't use cheesy motivators, like pasting a picture of the Hawaiian beach house you'll buy when your book makes the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Make the timetable for your goal realistic. It's not realistic to write a book in two weeks. It's not realistic to set up a formal English garden in a week, working alone.
  • Give yourself a small gift for each day's accomplishment. Have a cup of coffee on the deck, go for a walk...do something you like, and don't let other factors ("Mom, can you help me find my gym shoes?") make you put it aside. The reward is  part of the job.
  • Don't talk to a lot of people about your plans. Don;'t force yourself to live up to someone else's timetable.
  • Try to make your work environment pleasant. Burn incense, play music, sing...whatever it takes.
There's a saying that well begun is half done. It's speaking to attitude. That's the one thing you alone control.

Now, time to get to work on the new book...

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