Micro-Steps

I once had the online opportunity to ask Anne Lamott–the beloved author of Bird by Bird (the recognized authoritive text on the writing life)–if, all these years later, she would add anything to the book.

She said, “I still swear bythr same ideas: short assignments, shitty first drafts, and just do it. You get to ask people for help. And read a lot more poetry.”

Short assignments have been key for my “re-entry” into revisions this summer. But I had to think intuitively about what short assignments look like for me right now.

Once upon a time, I might have said, “One chapter at a time,” or even “one paragraph.” But that wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. It felt like saying that building a house begins with the foundation, which is both true and not.

Because there are lots of steps before that, aren’t there? Micro-steps. Before building the foundation, I need to collect the bricks.

Okay, time for this non-builder to exit that metaphor. Ha! But really, for me it meant even dividing baby steps into something smaller.

Step one was to have a list of scenes, whether they were written yet or not. Now put them in a likely order. Now just gather all the things that should be in chapter one into a document called chapter one.

The next step is to make sure the unwritten scenes get written. The rules: shitty first drafts and no worrying about transitions between scenes (yet).

Ten or so weeks of this will give me disjointed scenes but they are on the page and in the right order. Meanwhile I will begin creating a list of my concerns. I’m not even addressing them yet, just recording them.

Transitions will come next. Then time to brainstorm the concerns and pour energy into them. Later still, grafting all that in.

Does this seem obvious to you? If so, I’m glad! You’ve discovered a wise, bite-sized, micro-steps journey to the goal. If this seems foolish to you, I’m glad! You’re not in a writing space that has left you paralyzed with fear and doubt.

But if this seems helpful to you, I’m also glad. Making a syllabus of micro-step assignments has helped me write more in the last couple weeks than I have all year.

P.S. Would it be helpful for me to share my entire 21-week syllabus? Let me know in the comments. Hugs!

2 thoughts on “Micro-Steps

  1. I’m doing revisions right now and my to-do list just looks like “do three chapters this week.” It doesn’t really work. Micro-steps might be the ticket!

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