All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Journey of A Thousand Shovel Scoops

The picture below might look like a pile of mulch, but I see a book. That huge organic mound has a lot more in common with my next book than you might think. (Granted, both are where trees end up, but that's not the point.) Before you make any comments about my next novel being a huge heap of biomass, let me explain in a way that might assist you as a writer. (Then proceed with the jokes.)

Sadly, there was an old elm tree in my yard that finally died this spring and had to be taken down. It was one of the tallest trees on the block, but death converted it from this huge, shady landmark into a hazard threatening the houses around it. The tree crew came in with chainsaws and cranes, and tore it down, taking the larger parts and leaving the four-foot high pile of ground-up elm tree you see here. This is where the comparison starts.

Now, the original plan was for me to take that mulch and, shovel-scoop by shovel-scoop, fill in the neglected bedding around the front and sides of my house. It's the perfect use of mulch, it's great upper-body exercise, what could be so wrong with this plan?

Did I mention the pile was four feet high? And twelve feet across?

This is where the metaphor kicks in. I have an outline for my next novel. It will be big. Real big. And when I think about it, I see four-hundred sheets of blank paper just waiting to be filled. I see this immense pile of writing that needs to be done, not to mention the editing, the rewrites, and the fact that I will be reading this manuscript several times and burning through a large number of red pens trying to get this completed. As a writer, this is my huge pile of mulch.

There are plenty of ways to stall and figure out different ways to avoid jumping headfirst into the mulch pile. I can assess the best way to transfer the mulch to the different bedding areas. I can get all the tools out (a shovel. That's really it.) I can calculate the total square footage I will be moving (just over 249 square feet for those who are interested.) And none of this gets me closer to finishing the job.

However, as I learned from writing, the easiest way to approach a huge task is to do it by minor steps. Write the opening sentence. Figure out how to grab the reader. Don't write the whole book at once - just create the one part you can focus on. Set a goal for the day - write an interesting event in a chapter, or commit to finishing a conversation. Develop those little tasks, and chip away at the pile of mulch.

So I filled the bedding by the main window. Scoop by scoop, I moved the mulch. The pile looked the same size after that - perhaps even somehow grew larger - but it was no longer my focus. I cleared space, piled in the remains of the old elm tree, and moved closer to the side of the house. I made slow, steady progress, and didn't even care about the size of the mulch pile. 

Writing has that same simplistic beauty - never about the task, always about the act of creation. We make little pieces, they form into parts, which create sections, and before we know it - we have a work we can be proud of. We are not buried in the breadth of the task because we are constantly making something we will be proud of. It works every time.

And by the way - if anyone needs some mulch, let me know. Seriously - there's still a lot of it left.

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