Tackling the Big Project

Whether it’s writing a book, finishing a commission, getting a series ready for a show, or just getting in there and making something–anything–it can sometimes seem just totally overwhelming. I told you I’d talk a little about how I work when I’m working on a book–or any other huge honkin’ project–and how I fool myself into doing more than I intended on any given day.

~~Print out some calendar pages, either by the week or the month, depending on the duration of the project. For books, I print out all the months between the time I sign the contract and the time the book is due to my editor.

~~Mark every deadline. I always cheat a little, so if the deadline is on, say, the 7th, I set it for the 1st and then forget it. That gives me a little cushion. I always meet the deadline on the 1st without that panicky, up-against-the-wire feeling.

~~Break everything you’ve got to do into smaller tasks. I would never think of Writing a Book. I think, instead, of Writing a Chapter, or Writing a Page. Think of prepping the canvas. Tomorrow you’ll mix the paints. And then–

~~Trick yourself into working. If I have to write Chapter 7 this week, I won’t get up Monday morning saying, “Today you’ve got to write a rough draft of Chapter 7.” Lord, no. I’ll tell myself that it’s Monday, after all, and Mondays are notoriously bad for writing chapters, especially odd-numbered chapters. So, I’ll say, let’s just write a paragraph. That’s all–just one little, tiny paragraph. I tell myself that as soon as I get that first sentence typed in, I can go have another cup of coffee. Just one sentence before I get to take a break. Maybe have half a muffin. Invariably, with the pressure off, that first sentence turns into the whole paragraph, and then I follow that into a couple pages, and before I know it, it’s hours later, I’ve missed breakfast, and I’ve got half the chapter in draft. It was painless, though, because I didn’t *have* to do it; all I *had* to do was write that one little sentence. This is why you want to set your schedule way ahead of time and get started right away, so you can trick yourself this way. It’s not quite as easy to pretend all you have to write is one sentence when the entire book is due in a week and you haven’t even started the outline yet.

~~Lots of rewards. Cookie breaks, quick walks around the neighborhood, a glass of gin–whatever you need to make you finish the day’s work. I personally favor the walking option–you feel virtuous (not always the case with the choices involving gin or cookies), and walking always sparks other ideas–so you’re rewarding yourself for working on Chapter 7 and generating ideas for Chapter 8 at the same time.

~~Make lots of notes and lists and things you can cross off as you accomplish tasks. I treat myself at the beginning of a project with a trip to the office supply store, picking out some blindingly-bright sticky notes in a bunch of sizes and some neon-colored index cards. I make lists, charts, whatever I need. Gold sticky stars are good. Hot pink high-lighter pens, felt-tip markers. The more lists and charts and graphs you make of the stuff you have to do, the more there is to cross off, and the more progress you feel you’re making. I was always a grade-grubber in school–all the way through graduate school, sadly enough–and being able to give myself a little star for work accomplished, even if it’s just drawn in crayon, is a big thrill.

Summed up? Get organized, meet your deadlines, reward yourself. Take a deep breath, and have fun! Because it’s not something you *have* to do; it’s something you’re lucky enough to *get* to do.


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