Friday, September 26, 2008

The Next Small Step

12 Step circles have a million helpful phrases, but the one I've been using for the past week is "Just do the next right thing." This is a simple concept, but for me, who often makes things harder for myself than they have to be, I find it hard to believe that something so simple could work.

But this week, faced with an overwhelming amount of work to do on the book, and not knowing where to start, I gave it a try. After calming down, working through my consuming panic about NEVER finishing through long walks and reassuring words from Carl, writer friends and others, I came back once again to just doing the next right thing.

I chose one of the many problems I identified while reading the manuscript, just one, and then tried to think of the smallest possible thing I could do to address it. The smallest step forward. The problem was the role of a particular character in the book--if he is necessary, and if so, why, and how my protagonist feels about him. It's a big issue that needs to be decided for the book to move forward. My smallest step was to look at one scene where he appears and see if it rang true, if it made sense. Once I decided it did, my next small step was to brainstorm how that scene would affect his relationship with the protagonist. And that small step led me to realize what their relationship was like in the first half of the book and how I could portray that. And that small step helped solve a problem that I thought was completely unrelated.

All of which gave me a lot of hope that by just progressing one small step at at time, any remaining issues with the book will be resolved. And isn't that the only way to proceed anyway?

I have also rediscovered/remembered that it greatly helps if I come up with a few possible small steps for my next work session, and write them down before I stop working for the day. That somehow eases my mind, and allows me to jump in more easily the next day.

I have applied this idea in other areas of my life, from my job search, to structuring my day, to selling my car, and it really seems to work. So if you're like me, and occasionally feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, try taking the next small step, or doing the next right thing. Let me know how it works out.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find that ,when I can consistently do it, taking the next right steps transforms my whole outlook on life

sulu-design said...

Fabulous advice, which I need to take right now. I'm usually all about taking the big bites and choking it down, but a little nibble to start would be nice. Hope all is well, Julie. I'm awaiting surf videos!

Historical Geek said...

How do you know which is the next RIGHT step? I like to jack-knife my progress on things, like writing for grad school, planning lessons for teaching, and following up ideas for school, by fooling myself into thinking that I can't make a decision because it might not be the right one. Usually I resolve this problem by waiting until the last moment. Without the luxury of time, I take a leap in the dark. Thank goodness, I usually land on my feet. But, I like your ideas. I'll try to just focus on completing one small important thing at a time.

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