Posted by on Apr 28, 2011 in On Writing: Craft and Commiseration | 0 comments

You’ve got this idea for a story that you are going to write someday. You’ve got that draft laying in a drawers somewhere that you swear, once you’ve got the time, you’re going to clean up and edit. You’d love to have your family history written down and you will do it, Mom, you swear, soon.

And when you look at how long ago you first started promising yourself you’d do some of those things, sometimes it turns out to be years ago. It certainly didn’t feel that long as it was happening! How did time go by so fast?

Then you find yourself getting somewhere between a little bummed out and totally depressed. Those projects glare at you from your mental to do list and start to feel like they’ve been there FOREVER.

I have been there. I know how easy it is to get into a total funk and become disappointed in yourself over a few projects that sit on your To Do list like irremovable warts. But I have also, in the last few years, found that forcing myself to face those lingering projects, no matter how busy the rest of my life is, is a wonderful feeling that can give you more confidence in everything else you have to do.

Look at that list with a cold hard eye. What is still on there only because you feel like it should be? What don’t you have the fire to do anymore? Take that stuff off the list. That stuff’s been left undone for so long because its not what you want. Set yourself free from it.

But what about the stuff you are still passionate about? The stuff that you still, strongly, want to get done before you die or have another kid or before the end of the summer or whatever mental goal you’ve pointed yourself towards? Let’s be honest, they’ve been hanging over your head for so long you’ve actually begun to dread starting.

You need to force yourself to start them and make them a priority to finally get done.

This comes down to three things:

  • Break big tasks into smaller mini-goals. Meeting each of these mini-goals will be easier then trying to conquer the whole task at once and be easier to work around your already busy life.  Each part, however small, that you get done will take a tremendous weight off and give you the momentum to keep going. (Being able to cross “Write 1,000 Words” off your list is much more satisfying then having to wait all the way until you’ve finished the entire novel to cross off “Write Book”)
  • Give yourself a realistic deadline. Realistic is the key word here. Everything takes longer then you think it will. Setting a reasonable deadline for each one of the mini-goals will make the project feel that much smaller and more manageable and also increase your faith in yourself and confidence as you successfully meet (or maybe even exceed) each of them. One of the hardest things about projects like this is making them feel important (obviously, if they already felt important, we would have finished them by now). Giving yourself a deadline (especially if you can come up with some kind of punishment or reward for meeting it) adds that real world urgency that gets stuff done.
  • Stick with it. Quitting is really easy, especially when you’re dealing with an “old” project that’s languished on your To Do list for years. But one of the greatest things about getting even pieces of something done that’s been on your To Do list forever is that it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be. Each piece of it you get done is another pleasant surprise in yourself and your capabilities to fuels you to the next mini-goal.

What’s the longest you’ve ever let a project go untouched? Did you find yourself dreading it after a while? If you managed to conquer that feeling and get it down, were you relieved to finally have it off your plate?

I’ve done two other posts on variations on this topic for my e-commerce blog if you’d like to check them out: