Edith here, trying not to get whiplash from the New England winter weather of the last couple of weeks.
I recently faced a conundrum and put it out, as one sometimes does, on Facebook to gather insights from others.
I wrote, “Saturday poll: When you’re kind of stuck on a project (like a book…) and you have three other smaller projects looming (like TAXES, writing a short story, and final read-through on another book), do you power through on the first one, or knock off the other ones so they’ll stop looming?”
This wasn’t only a case of muddling through the middle, which we’ve discussed before on this blog here, among other places. The “stuck” part did have something to do with where I was in my fifth Local Foods mystery, but this isn’t that post.
My conundrum was more a product of staring at my whiteboard, which is directly above my writing computer, and seeing:
- Ch breaks & recipes for GRITS
- New short for Bouchercon
Every time I sat to write, those items stared at me from directly below the “WRITE THE %&!$@# story!” graphic.
All four of those things needed to be done, in a certain order of urgency. GRITS was due March first. The story, March fifteenth. Taxes, well, you know, April fifteenth. And the book I’m writing, May first. Still, I wanted to get the first draft of the book done before I go on a trip on March tenth.
I know that often when I’m a bit stuck I just need to stay in my chair and start typing (thus the “Write the Blankety-Blank Book” bit). I type, stuff comes out, and I get unstuck. But this particular book has been going more sludgelike than most lately, and I wondered if it was because of those other tasks looming. If I prioritized my to-do list, would I be helping myself or just avoiding the inevitable?
What do you think the 52 replies to my highly unscientific Facebook poll said? You got it. The vast majority suggested knocking off the small things so I’d have the peace of mind to do the big thing. Here’s a sampling of suggestions on that theme:
Ramona DeFelice Long started the reply thread with, ” I have to do the small stuff, because they drive me nuts.” Another friend wrote, “Gotta remove distractions from my creative flow.” Author Anna Loan-Wilsey said, “I get at least one of the other small projects done so I feel like I’ve accomplished something and gotten a break from the project I’m stuck on.” Cori Arnold chimed in with, “I’m totally on board with everything Anna is saying [wink emoticon]. One small project and take a walk.”
My friend Elizabeth added, “Use each one as the relief task when you get sick of working on one of the others.” And Sisters In Crime President Leslie Budewitz offered one of the only views from the other side: “Oh, Lordy. An eternal debate. Today, I’m choosing the big project, but other days, other choices!”
So here’s what I did last Saturday. GRITS was nearly done. Besides being first on the “due” list, it was also the easiest and most straightforward to accomplish. I touched up the recipes, inserted chapter breaks, made a final copy, and hit Send. One item to cross off the list! And it only took two hours of my morning.
Then I went for a long fast walk, which always helps me when I’m stuck on anything. Not only did the exercise start to unstick the book, it also let me talk through the short story to myself. Yes, out loud. In public. I think by now people around town know me as that crazy author lady who talks to herself on her power walks.
I took the next two days to draft and revise the short story for the Blood on the Bayou anthology. The tale almost wrote itself, which in the past has led to some of my best stories (I hope it’s true this time!). Another item was well on its way to being crossed off. I let it mull for a few days, read it to my critique group, and gave it a final polish before sending it in on Tuesday for consideration in the anthology.
Now I’m back on the book, Mulch Ado About Murder. I needed a new suspect and he gave birth right there in my mind. I needed one character’s secret and, bingo, she told it to me on another walk. I’m at over the 56000-word mark and heading into the end. I’ve finally removed enough obstacles to let the story flow again.
Taxes, you say? Hey, I still have six weeks…
Wickeds and Readers – What works for you to remove obstacles? Do you power through, or wash the kitchen floor/do your taxes/knock off an easy task so you can keep going? Share your tips!