Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Eating the Elephant

I read a story once called The Man Who Ate the 747 by Ben Sherwood. It was the story of a man who was systematically eating a Boeing 747 to prove his love for a woman.

747

For those of you who do not know, an empty 747 weighs between 358,000 and 472,900 pounds (or 162,400 to 214503 kg). That is a lot of metal and fabric and who knows what to consume and remain alive. Needless to say, in the story, this feat was not accomplished all at once but slowly over many years.

I think it probably goes without saying that this is a work of pure fiction and such a task should not be tried at home. Physics and biology would definitely be working against you.

But this feat could easily represent other great feats that arise in our real lives. Feats that seem huge and insurmountable. Tasks that are so big and complex and scary that the mere thought of them overwhelms us and brings us to a standstill before we even begin.

We all have these 747s in our lives that we hope to get through.

I am learning that self-publishing is my 747. 🙂

I took some time off from my day job last week for the sole purpose of working on my manuscript – rewriting here, editing there – to try to make it as good as it possibly can be before it goes off to a free-lance editor that I will be working with this summer. I cleared my calendar and made sure I was well stocked with coffee and snacks and then I proceeded to do

nothing.

Yep, that is not a typo. I did zero work on my manuscript. I did manage to nap quite a bit, read a couple of books for fun, bake, run errands, do some chores around the house, meet my friend for breakfast, and watch a lot of mindless TV, but what I didn’t do was work on my book.

How could I have done this? Wasted my free days like that?

I could blame burn out at work and in writing. I could point to the fact that since December any time off I had from my day job was spent taking board exams, having surgery and attending a conference. None of which would be considered relaxing ways to spend time off. I definitely needed some time to do nothing and not feel guilty about it.

But, I also know the truth.

The true reason why I got all fired up to work on my book and the moment I had uninterrupted time to do that I shut down — I was overwhelmed by the entire 747.

I started to look at the work ahead and it seemed so huge and insurmountable that I just could not bring myself to start. I completely forgot how I managed to write the book in the first place. When I was writing my book, I had a lot of moments where it threatened to overwhelm me and bring me to a grinding halt. But I would just tell myself to focus on this one scene, this one paragraph, this one sentence. And little by little, it got written.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott refers to this as the one-inch picture frame. She tells us to write just what we can see in that one small space. That is all you have to focus on at this moment.

I had forgotten about that and tried to look at the entire project. I know that the way to get the work done without losing my mind or having an anxiety attack is to focus on one scene at a time. Small, manageable bites.

This is the same tactic that my writing buddy, Bee, has me using when approaching the publishing aspect of this. I made a list and broke my big goal down into tiny bites. The trick is to make each task very very small. That way at the end of each week you can see all your check marks to show what you accomplished and it spurs you along. In doing this, I have made more progress in three weeks than in all of last year.

We have to remember to apply this to our lives, especially when we are approaching a project that seems huge and scary. One bite at a time, one one-inch by one-inch square at a time. Eventually we will get through that project, finish that 747.

There is a saying, “How do you eat an elephant?”

One bite at a time.

elephant

Just take a deep breath and pass the salt! 🙂

5 Comments

  1. WIsdom, honesty and humour all wrapped up in one in a delightful post, thank you so much! Really enjoyed this:-) And I want to read both books – the one you open the post with, and yours! When it’s done:-) Harula xxx

    • Thanks Harula!! So glad you enjoyed the post and have some new books to look forward to! Some day I hope to know mine is on your bookshelf! 🙂

  2. This is sage advice for us writers! It often does seem overwhelming! Thanks for your insight!

    • I find the one inch by one inch picture frame idea from Bird by Bird to be the most helpful piece of advice that I have learned about how to tackle a book. Luckily it is applying to other aspects of the whole process now. I just need to remind myself often. 🙂

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