Writing away on my work in progress, I didn’t think I was all that far into it.
It feels like I’ve had a pretty slow September for some reason. I’ve been averaging around a scene a day, maybe a scene and a half, which is pretty low to me. Figured I’d have to up my game in October, especially if I want to achieve my ridiculous targets for the next twelve months.
Funny thing happened: I checked my wordcount and I’m at the 40,000 mark. So just over half way, by the looks of things.
I’m not sure why I thought I was at a much lower count, so I stopped and had a think about it. How could I be at 40,000 and over half way through a novel, especially only getting a scene or two done per day?
And then it hit me: I’m doing a lot of a little.
And a lot of a little adds up to a lot.
The Great Writing Lie
The problem with most big projects–not just talking writing here–is that we go out to tackle them head on. We see a mountain, and we ask ourselves how the hell we’ll ever reach the top. We see an elephant on a plate of food in front of us, we ask ourselves how we’ll eat it.
Ignoring the fact that only a cruel weirdo would eat a full elephant on a plate, the answer is the same: we take things one step at a time. One bite at a time.
A lot of a little adds up to a lot.
It sounds like common sense. And that’s probably because it is. Just we’ve had it drilled into our brains so much that writing a novel is such a singular, mountainous task, that many people just stop walking and turn away rather than getting their hiking boots on and climbing the thing.
Every day of every year, people set out to do the Land’s End to John o’ Groats cycle in the UK. That’s a journey from the bottom to the top of the UK, for anyone wondering. This cycle spans nearly a thousand miles, and lasts ten to fourteen days.
Now, do you think those cyclists set out with the intention of getting to John o’ Groats right away? Do you think they sit on their bikes and think, “Right, John o’ Groats, here I come. T-minus one thousand miles/fourteen days”?
Of course they don’t.
They sit down and plan for the next lunch break. Plan for the next ten miles. Plan to reach a place to sleep for the night.
They might only cycle fifty miles in one day. Fifty miles is nothing compared to a thousand miles.
But if they do those fifty miles every day, they’ll reach their destination in twenty days.
A lot of a little adds up to a lot.
The task of writing a novel is daunting. In itself, it’s a huge commitment. It’s a journey up a mountain. It’s a bike ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.
But break that mammoth task down into smaller goals, smaller increments, and the whole journey surprises you with how much it speeds by.
You’ll probably enjoy it more, too. If you’re constantly worrying about reaching the end point, you’ll likely get caught up in that future without actually enjoying the present, and your fiction might suffer as a consequence. So instead of thinking about the end (other than in terms of reaching a climax), focus on the present scene. Focus on maximising that scene to its full emotional, character, plot intensity.
Be present, and you’ll reach the end of the journey with some fantastic fiction, much like those cyclists living in the moment finish their journeys with loads of positive memories, with strong tests, unpredictable twists and turns in the experience.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats? One mile at a time.
How do you write an engaging novel? One word, one scene, one chapter at a time.
Enjoy yourself. It’ll show.
Cycling image from Özgür Mülazımoğlu via Flickr. Creative Commons. No changes were made to the original image.