Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Progress: Inch-by-Inch

"All I know is that if I sit there long enough, something will happen." --Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Starting a new project often stirs up trepidation in a writer. Doubts arise, negatives nag, the blank page looks so...well, empty. Where's the joy, the anticipation--the discovery?

The answer lies in taking it an inch at a time. And literally using a one-inch picture frame as a reminder. This is another gem of an idea from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird.

"What I do at this point," she writes, "as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I'm going to have to get a job only I'm completely unemployable, is to stop. First I try to breathe...and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

"It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being....after I've completely exhausted myself, I remember to pick up the one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange...finish this one short assignment."

I'm taking this advice to heart and now have my own one-inch frame close by to remind me. Go away, nags and doubts. I have a plan. All I have to do is think small assignment and concentrate in the moment on it.

What's your plan to stick to your project until its completion? Any tricks up your sleeve, or inch-by-inch secrets?


  1. Love this. I have a project that's pesky to start, so my inch by inch is right now is...begin. Because the rest won't come if I don't begin.

  2. That's great advice! There's some quote I love (but can't recall verbatim right now) that talks about how a writer composing a novel should be like a child happily stringing beads onto a string one-by-one, not worrying about the finished necklace.

  3. I always imagine a map. I started in Ohio and I want to go to (some place far away, like California or Alaska). So maybe I've got as far as Illinois. I know my destination. I just make myself figure out how I'll get to the next state over. I don't know why it works, but most of the time, it does - for me.

  4. This is similar to a pep talk I give myself, especially lately. This reminds me also of that quote about how you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Good stuff, Kenda, thanks for sharing. Cheering you on in your journey!

  5. When I read "one inch at a time," I thought about the "inchie" stamps I use when making greeting cards, or artist trading cards. They are sooooo small. It would boggle my mind to think in terms of one inch at a time. I work better thinking globally. I need to have an idea worked out in whole before I can start to write. It doesn't mean that things won't change during the writing, but I feel more secure knowing I have created something that has a solid beginning, middle and end before plunging forward and possibly wasting months or years following a dead-end trail.

  6. Thanks, Rachna, and glad you stopped in. Always good to hear from you.

    Barbara--Thanks to you, too--and I'm with you on this. To begin is sometimes the loooongest inch!

    Jess--I love your image. Stringing words like stringing beads, one by one. We need more of a childlike approach and less angst. Writing is supposed to be fun, right?

    Peggy--I like your word picture, too. Quite creative. The story unfolds step by step--or in this case mile by mile. Good one...

    Karen--another good one, how to eat the elephant! We've got some good analogies going here :-)

    Cathy--I'd love to know your secret to having the whole idea worked out before you start :-) I know there are the two camps--outlining the whole story first vs. discovering as you go. For me, I can see the ending and am heading toward it, but I've not mapped out the in-between yet (I need to follow Peggy's idea I think). Freewriting sessions are helping, but the progress is slow indeed. Thanks for your input.

  7. Jess--in case you drop back in, I think I found your quote :-) "I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another." --Brenda Ueland