There are few things more terrifying than a blank word document. Especially when you’re meant to be working on a 100,000 word thesis or, in my case, a 70,000 word book manuscript. Faced with the blank page, where do you even start?
For the past several weeks, I’ve been stuck in a rut. Overwhelmed by the scope of the task ahead, I’ve done everything short of actually writing my chapters. I have, for instance, meticulously organized the various notes and incomplete ideas that have accumulated on scraps of paper over the past five or so years. I have also read until – gasp! – there’s nothing left on my to-read-for-the-book pile. I’ve even made attempts at writing, though these half-hearted false starts have either been deleted (if typed) or crumpled up into a ball (if hand written) in abject frustration.
And then yesterday I remembered a piece of advice offered by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: set yourself short assignments. For many of us, the simultaneous need to write and seeming inability to do so can induce a host of panic induced psychoses. But focusing on the enormity of the task is, Anne advises, “like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up.” Instead, she suggests focusing only on what you could see through a 1-inch picture frame, honing in on a 1-inch piece of the story (or argument, as the case may be).
So instead of stressing about my book manuscript, I’ve set myself a new challenge of 1-inch proportions:
- Write 1000 words a day (for 30 days).
- Those 1000 words can be about anything topical to the book.
- I’m not bound to write sections in any particular order.
- I am allowed to use my now meticulously organized notes.
- Write exclusively in OmmWriter.*
We’ll see how it goes… The best case scenario is that after 30 days I will have approximately half of a draft manuscript. At which point, filling in the gaps isn’t such a scary proposition. Trying to stay positive one day in, I’m choosing to ignore the worst case scenario. For today, I just have to finish one short assignment.