Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Eating the Elephant

My entries lately have been of the go-go-go-cheer-yay-write variety. I hope I'm not becoming repetitive. I don't plan many blogs; even the A to Z challenge is mostly off the cuff. So my entries naturally gravitate towards what I need/want to hear as a writer. And right now I need all the encouragement I can get. I feel like that person who's been hiking for 87 miles on a hundred-mile trail. Sore. Tired. Starting to wonder why I'm doing this in the first place. Good things too... grateful. Inspired. Proud of the work I've done so far. But it's close to being done, and I guess we all go through this in one form or another at different points in our individual writing processes.

Which brings me to the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I have to keep reminding myself of this metaphor lately. I want it to be DONE. I'm ready to get it into its proverbial bottom drawer and let it breathe. I love the universe and characters I've created, but my brain is yelling for a rest, and then something new. I'm committed to getting this finished, and I don't want to set it aside now - the story's hot, and I'm afraid if I stop now and come back in a few weeks I won't be able to finish. But working on the book plus all the rest of the stress in my life is really starting to wear me down.

It's times like this I remind myself of Lester Burnham's words in American Beauty:
"Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."

Right?

I've gotten here one chapter at a time. One page at a time. One paragraph at a time. One sentence, one word, one letter at a time. It's not going to materialize on the page by itself. I need to make it happen. But it's going to happen in its own time. This elephant has been vanishing bite by bite. Now I've got a little bit left... it's daunting, but I'm determined to finish the whole damn thing.

What do you do to remind yourself of how far you've come? How do you sustain your enthusiasm for a long-term project? What kinds of things do you do for yourself to encourage completion of a long WIP?

28 comments:

Piedmont Writer said...

Oh Baby do I hear you. That is the hardest part of writing the book. You KNOW how it ends, you just wish the words would magically appear on the page and presto! Fini.

I can't say to just press on, but you've just got to press on. Write what needs to be written just to get it down. Then let it sit and breathe. When you go to do your first revisions, start at the end and work your way backwards. That's what I did and felt a whole lot better for it. It got the end out of the way first and then when I started back at the beginning for the second revision/edit I felt I accomplished something.

Rae said...

Pat yourself on the back, pour yourself a drink- and dance!
What an accomplishment by getting this far!
My book is still in my head- under grocery lists and electric bills and dreams of Chapter One.
Don't stop now. You've practically won the race.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Remember, it's the journey, not the destination!
I guess I just don't think too far into the future and I don't think about the past - so I just keep going.

WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF POETRY: said...

As I write poetry I guess it's easier for me then being a writer of novels. I started this challenge , at the beginning I was confident I could do it, then I thought what am I doing? but along the way I have made many new friends, read a high standard of blogs and although wwe have quite a way to go the positive side of me is saying I CAN DO IT.

Good luck,
Yvonne.

Creative Chronicler said...

I know just how you feel. I surround myself with other writers, especially budding ones locally and we push each other and keep each other on track with deadlines for one another. Even if we don't always make the deadlines the support keeps us motivated. Sometimes you can't help but want to put things off and step away so it helps when you have someone around to say, "okay, you've had your little break, now get back to writing."

KarenG said...

Take a break and do something completely unrelated to writing, then come back and finish it even if all you write is crap. Then stick it in the drawer and come back to it in 6 weeks. Works for me. good luck :)

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I've been there...probably will be there in another day or two! I was just reading an article in Writer's Digest (Jan 2010) called "Take Your Novel to the Finish Line." The opening lines had me nodding my head, and I know they'll resonate with you today:

"Novelists are the distance runners, the long-haul truckers, the transoceanic captains of the literary world. There is no sprinting through a novel, at least not for the novelist..."

To answer your questions, when my writing isn't fun anymore, it's time to tweak the schedule or allow myself a break. Not anything drastic. Even a twenty-minute walk outside can do the trick. Sometimes not. But you're right...one sentence at a time.

Good luck with it!

Sugar said...

reminds me of Dory..Just keep swimming, just keep swimming! My fav line of all time :)

steelxmagnolia said...

Take a deep breath. In. Out. Reward yourself for having gotten the project close to completion. What I do is stroll along the beach, into the woods, off the beaten path. It helps. My mind scrolls through the gunk and generally I come back refreshed. If not, I play Bach in the candlelight and write for 20 minutes about anything ... the words dripping from my pen/fingers. That seems to alleviate the cramp. And I journey on. Cheers!

Jen said...

I'm probably the only one but I've never heard of this saying so it kind of creeped me out. I was honestly thinking "Who'd want to eat an elephant?" but besides that once I read the post and became aware of what the actual lesson was it all started to make sense!

I guess one day at a time or one page at a time can sometimes sound repetitive and lame, no one wants to hear the obvious but sometimes that's what it takes... so grab a twizzler turn on the tube watch a few trashy chick flicks and then get back to writing... isn't that how everyone does it?

Jen said...

By the way... Your E is so much better than mine... I didn't really have it pertain to writing... *ashamed*

Raquel Byrnes said...

My sentiments exactly. It seems like there is so much to do even after you finish...then there is revisions, layering, etc. I like to look back over my notes to see how far I've come...keep at it.

tropixgirl said...

Maybe small, relaxing breaks are what you need. In my own experience, I had the greatest motivation to finish when I had a readership waiting eagerly for another installment. Two of my friends, non-writers but avid readers, read the book in chunks as I wrote it. I took my small breaks during their reading time. Somehow, knowing they were loving the story so far and were hanging on for the next tidbit drove me to get it done (first draft in less than a month). Encouragement from those near and dear to you is so very priceless.

Watery Tart said...

Oh, you'll get there! I know you will. I find Dori helpful. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Then again, I frequently redraw my calendar with exactly when i will finish each piece. It NEVER works out that way (shockingly, I sometimes beat my plans) but it is cathartic to write out the schedule anyway. That's jut the kind of geek I am.

Talli Roland said...

I've never heard that adage, but I love it! It reminds me of the story behind Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird.'

Sometimes it is very hard to sustain enthusiasm. I love to flick back through the pages I've written to remind myself how far I've come! And if that fails... wine or chocolate usually do the trick.

Helen Ginger said...

Keep reminding yourself that you're coming to the best part. Pretty soon it'll move faster and faster as you come to the climax, then the wrap-up. What fun that will be! You know the character so well, they'll practically write it themselves.

Helen
Straight From Hel

arlee bird said...

Like Alex said, it's the journey that counts most. I like to focus on the destination and stubbornly continue until I get there--I don't like to quit if I've started something. But at the same time I think it's a good idea to enjoy the scenery a bit on the way to the end point.
So it's a matter of savoring each bite as much as possible and not stressing out about finishing right away. I just hope we're talking about a big chocolate elephant, otherwise it sounds pretty gross.

Caledonia Lass said...

I hate to say keep going as well, but keep going! I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. :D Good luck and when you're done, take a much needed break.

Niki said...

I've never heard of the elephant saying.

Good luck with your novel.

Eat a Frog instead :o)

Jemi Fraser said...

I try to do the same kind of thing - one step at a time and don't look too far ahead. If I think of all the rounds of revisions and edits, the querying... it can get overwhelming. So I mostly just forget about it & do the next thing :)

Theresa Milstein said...

We all feel this way at least part of the time. When I'm writing a new piece, I just plow through it. It's later, as I edit, all of the doubts creep in. And then if I think it's polished, but I still receive rejections, it's easy to be overwhelmed. All we can do is one thing at a time and remind ourselves of it.

I like the quote that you included.

Kierah Jane Reilly said...

I love your elephant saying. It's nice to know I'm not the only one going through this. I tend to procrastinate a lot (like I'm doing now!) unless I have a real deadline to work towards. But nothing will happen if I just stare at the elephant on my plate. Even spending a lot of time meticulously cutting it up into bite sized pieces won't help. I actually have to take a bite and slowly chew through it. But I've found ketchup helps, (i.e., words of encouragement, good visits from the muse, etc.)

Palindrome said...

Why on earth would you want to eat an elephant? They're beautiful!

The Man is my greatest inspiration. He keeps me focused and is always reminding me to write. My readers also encourage me to keep going, any one who's read my work and says that was good, now I want more. And that story just nags me until I finish it. ;)

Lynn said...

I like the quote you used from American Beauty. Gratitude is important to stay motivated. I made a habit of writing three things I am grateful for everyday. And sometimes this is very hard! Sometimes it may be just things like coffee and my car. But I'll grab a cup of coffee, take a drive, and then feel inspired by life again-- by the little things that can bring me joy. Also, it is important to remember your successes. Look how much you have already done! Congratulations!

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

Definitely a challenge to stay motivated in the middle of a big project. I always find it difficult to keep going. Which is probably why, right now, I have like 5 novels I'm in the middle of. Hmm... Feeling much more motivated with all of you lovely bloggers to inspire me :)

Tamika: said...

I agree, it reminds me of Bird by Bird. And my brain is yelling too!

tooleftfeeet said...

thank you for sharing this...most of life is like eating an elephant. we want so much to see the end.

Only in fantasy/books etc. can we skip to the end...but we can miss the journey that must be travelled.

Think of the little delights you can find in the journey, on the road...the lessons, the detours. They are all a part of it.

Lisa K. said...

I feel what you're saying. It's a long path we're on as writers, for the long haul and for each individual project.

For me, I always end up working on several things at once so that when I hit the stage in one project where my enthusiasm is waning, I can take a day or two and work on something else and not feel too guilty. I think sometimes a day away from a project isn't a bad thing, just to recharge.