10 Steps To Help Deal With A Massive Project

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eric-at-oe-2014I issued myself a writing challenge about two months ago: write 5000 words a day for 10 days, or at least until I finish my novel. The actual time spent doing just that was eight days. 40,000 words.

I didn’t know what to expect going into it; I only had the idea that I would meet the challenge and beat it, putting as much of my resources into the process as necessary.

What I didn’t expect was how drained I would be from the effort. I’ve done many things in life that require great physical effort. I’ve been to the point of fatigue where my body is drenched in sweat, tingling all over, and my mind is in a state of semi-euphoric pause. But maintaining a constructed environment solely in my mind for 6 to 10 hours straight each day pushed me to a new awareness of exhaustion.

I learned a lot.


I am now more aware of my upper limits with regards to writing a novel with a demanding quota. I think I could’ve pushed 6,000 words a day, but I would only have been able to do that for 5 or 6 days.

I realized just how consistent I can be with life/stresses still interrupting the process. It was a weird place to be in my head and have the story so available to me. Life problems took a back seat because, quite simply, I wasn’t in my right mind 🙂

But maybe, that’s a good place to be every once in a while.

I realized the need for exercise to keep my mind awake near the end of the project when my mind just wasn’t gonna have it anymore, when thoughts of the bed, soft pillows, and blankets were present and riding happily under every other thought I was trying to conceive.

I understood my process more in depth. Being with myself and in my head hours and hours on end allowed me a different clarity than I previously had about how I do what I do. There was a smooth flow and immersion and greater ability to flow, basically, wherever I wanted to go without worrying that I was going off course from my original kernel of the story.

This was interesting, and it’s a little hard to explain. In essence, I was running four parallel story lines simultaneously in my head. That’s right. In my head. The only things I would have to double-check were names to make sure I was being consistent with one or two I hadn’t written about in a while.

I had an email from my engineer friend and from another friend who took photos and videos of a location I hadn’t visited in a while, but those were only absorbed once, and then the information was immediately adapted into the mercurial flow of the writing process.

I realized the extent of my laptop’s battery. Macbook Air 11-inch: 7 hours average. This was with constant music, some internet time for when I had to emergency-fix a website, and brightness at fifty-percent.

I found my comfortable sitting positions for long period writing. Two of them are shown on photos of my blog describing the 5,000 words a day experience. Another is: pillows at my back and the laptop setting atop some bunched up blankets between my legs so that I have a downward typing position.

I realized the physical depletion. I honestly had very little voice for hours after each day’s writing. I can’t explain it, since I hadn’t been using my voice at all during.

 

People could barely hear me talk; it was as if I simply didn’t have the physical energy to produce the words.


I was a very quiet person. My brain had gone into a kind of floating, gentle pause where there were few thoughts needing to express themselves.

I do have a few things for you, for anyone, wishing to take on large, mentally demanding tasks where you have to be consistent, persistent and meet a quota.

  • 1. Set your goal. Whatever you wish to accomplish, set a definitive goal with specific numbers or time or days…whatever you need as a marker for progress. Set it. Use software or clocks to help notify you when you’ve finished your quota for the day. This is one less thing about which to think.
    I use Scrivener for my writing projects. Scrivener has a built-in manuscript and session target notifier that pops up according to the values you set for number of words. Love that little thing.
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  • 2. Bit-building. Practice in little bits ahead of time. This is also called progression-training.
    Prior to my challenge I was writing a minimum of 1,000 words each day. Leading up to the challenge I would write 1,000 one day, then skip the next. Then I would write 2,000 words the next day and skip the next. Then 3,000 words and so on.
    The break between was valuable. It allowed me to reflect on where I thought I was and what I actually thought I’d be able to do.
    This little bit-building was strictly with regards to my novel writing. I was still producing 1,000 or more words a day on unrelated projects. In retrospect, the other projects weren’t as demanding as writing the novel, or as rewarding.
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  • 3. Narrow your immediate scope. Take the project day to day, hour to hour. Do not look at the immensity of the project when you sit to write. Focus on those few minutes before you, and start typing.
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  • 4. Set boundaries with spouses, family, friends, the mailman, and your pet snail. The only way they know not to bug you during your intense process is if you tell them.
    And tell them, don’t ask them. You can be ever-so-sweet about this, but you have to let them know this is something you are going to do. If they respect you, love you, root for you, they will help you by adhering to your needs for the work and not be offended.
    Your pet snail will understand and will occupy herself for the duration, gently tilting her antennae to the beat of your key tapping.
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  • 5. Get exercise. Please don’t omit this one. It will keep you sane, and it will help move the blood that just isn’t moving well when you’re sitting in one position for hours.
    The immersion of novel-writing makes one forget to eat, much less exercise. Plan for this ahead of time. Include it in your writing schedule.
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  • 6. Use your resources and plan for them ahead of time. I have the fortune of being able to call on engineers, doctors, nurses, combat vets, police officers, teachers, entrepreneurs, truck drivers, fighters, construction workers, IT heads, dentists, professors in different fields, writers, editors, designers, and so on.
    I made these connections in life because of my teaching, because of my curiosity, because of shared interests and because of a love for uniquely-expressing individuals. I never look at someone with the idea that I can use them one day. These are friends I share myself with and am thankful to have them in my life.
    I have an awesome support group of family, friends who are willing to help me when I have need. I don’t often ask for much, and I suppose that’s why they are right there when I finally do ask for help.
    Be good to your people. They are a wealth unto themselves.
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  • 7. Rest. Get quality rest between your sessions. Take a nap if you have to refresh yourself. It’s important.
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  • 8. Stay the course. It’s easy to get distracted by the demands of your pet snail, or the gently swaying tree outside your window, or that blank point in space your eyes focus on and by which your mind is hypnotized.
    Pinch yourself, get up and get another cup of tea, jump up and down to get the blood moving, anything that will get you back to moving those fingers over the keys.
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  • 9. Sleep tomorrow. If you know that taking a nap at 11p.m. is only going to end up in you sleeping until 3am, don’t lie down. Set your marker for the day, if at all possible, at midnight. This depends on you and your available time for a project, but set a daily end time and stick with it. Don’t give in to the pillows…
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  • 10. Celebrate. This if for when it is all done, when you’ve pushed yourself past limits you didn’t know you could reach. Get yourself a frozen yogurt or go to a movie you wanted to see (I have simple needs).
    Overall, pat yourself on the back. Smile. You’ve grown.

 

 

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