I’m a chronic list-maker, filing system conceptor, three-ring binder organizer, and chalk board / white board scribbler. I have outlined the steps for How to Do Everything from completing the in-progress great American novel to preparing fresh green beans five tasty ways. Yet, everything is not done. Doneness is elusive.
Obligatory work that breeds on a regular schedule (grading papers, scrubbing the toilet, getting the old Chevy an oil change, buying groceries) aside, what’s the best way to complete a large project? For a creative project, I know the process is intimate and different for each individual, but there have to be some guiding principles.
I believe the first principle is deciding to have the discipline to try and figure out what your principles need to be. You have to be honest about your weaknesses and also figure out how to structure your time to take advantages of your strengths.
I have rarely come through a big project convinced I took the most efficient route. That said, the efficient route may be impossible when creating original works, as the working and doing of each component opens new doors and lends new knowledge to the creator. I am trying not to sound hippy-dippy about this, but I do think it is a bit of a mystical feeling for artists, especially writers, to look back at something and think to themselves, okay, that thing there is amazing and full and bright…now…how did I do that? How can I do that again end up with an equally brilliant product? Or for those of us that haven’t sent brilliant work out to the masses yet, how do I finish my big stuff in the first place?
This is where anxiety comes in–there are expectations! Personal expectations for a level of artistry and quality are bad enough, but what about expectations from others (editors, agents, colleagues)?
Despite the evidence of this writing sample, the key here is organization. Organization is simply an arm of hard work. We’re going for efficiency here, remember?
What I have found out about myself by trying to be organized, efficient, and diligent at this novel writing is that my brain does not respond well to various organizational schemes/goals: daily word-count or page-count requirements, namely. The horror! I thought it seemed like a simple idea, an ambitous idea. Oh, the pages I would have if I could have just followed through! I would be golden right now. I abandoned my goals. God forbid, I abandonded my goals.
But, not really. The real goal, the big goal, is the same. I’ve changed how I’m judging, assessing, and organizing my process. Instead of telling myself “Write for four hours today,” or “Finish writing scenes X, Y, and Z today,” or “Gain 10,000 words by next Friday,” I say things such as “Research Milli-Vanilli,” or “Browse images of Regency style furniture,” or “Research differing opinions on preparing Bolognese sauce.” On some days (insecure days) a to-do list like that feels like cheating. But in reality, it is these types of to-dos that lead to scenes getting completed and characters getting developed.
I’ll (eventually, heh) write a follow-up to this: more ideas on how to organize (thereby complete in an efficient manner) a large creative project. I have some specifically writing-related strategies and tools I’ve discovered. If you have any strategies/tools/organizational tactis you’d like to share, please do comment.