Are You Trying to Finish Before You Start?
beginnings dowork execution start simple
I don't know what writers do to be great. All I know is that they write.
So I write.
And that's all I do, for now.
I'm sure every situation is different. I'm sure each person has a different path. I can't just copy the lifestyle or habits of one writer or another.
I have to make my own path.
The only thing they share is that they write.
Each of them creates. Each of them finishes. Each of them tells their story.
And so, all I can do, all I know how to do, all I am sure I must do
Sometimes we get caught up in the finishing touches before we've even laid the foundation.
- I don't want to start a novel until I learn how to get it published.
- I don't want to start eating better until I know what to do on holidays.
- I don't want to start exercising until I can plan out the next four years of my workouts.
- I don't want to paint until I know I can sell my work.
- I don't want to visit a new country until I know how to get around.
Basically, I don't want to start because I can't see the finish.
Saying you're not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you're too dirty for a bath. - Unknown Yogic Guru
It is a well-known but oft-ignored truth that finishing requires starting. You can't publish something you haven't written. You can't even learn HOW to publish something you haven't written. You don't learn how to get around Kyoto until you get there; no amount of reading Lonely Planet will make up for feet-on-the-ground and stilted Japanese-on-the-tongue (which you burned because you ate your tako-yaki too fast...lesson learned: Japanese street food stays hot on the inside).
It takes humility to admit that you don't really know what you're doing, that all you can do is the most basic of beginnings: put a word down, take the first step, eat a salad instead of a bagel. That's a very modest thing to say, because it admits ignorance and inexperience. But it also reflects the way things really are. Maybe that's why we find it hard to do.
Unless you're running a really short race, you can never see the finish from the start. You might have a general idea of how to get there, but until you've actually earned some experience and can legitimately plan things out, anything more detailed than "run in that direction" is just delusion.
But the short stuff isn't for you, not for long! You are a Warrior Spirit, an epic hero of a human being! Run the marathons, run the ultras, make up your own races, run races so long they become the stuff of legend!
When I was coaching middle school cross country, I would try to give the kids all sorts of strategies and tips to conserve energy and win the race. As soon as the race started, however, it all went out the window. These kids were running their first races EVER. They had no idea what a race felt like, how terrain and temperature affected them, or the effects of competition. Those were all things they had to learn by doing, by simply going out and running. No amount of coaching could compensate for actual experience.
Without having experience, how could they plan ahead?
So, I'll say it again: unless your project is very small, or you have extensive experience, the only thing you really can do is to start in whatever mode you know. Forget a graceful landing, forget planning ahead, forget saving time. You'll make mistakes, you'll learn from them, you'll waste time. But you'll waste more time if you don't start.
The difference between the 1-year-novel and the 18-year novel is often who started first. Don't write the latter. Instead, write 18 1-year novels. It'll take just as long.
And then, if you decide to do it again, things will go more smoothly.
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Photo credit: Karen_O'D on Flickr