Monday, 25 July 2011

Eating the Elephant

I don't know what it is about me, but if a project isn't big and challenging, I'm not interested. (This is why I married Leon nearly nine years ago. :) )

 For example: When we first moved back to Nova Scotia from Toronto and were looking for a place to park the proceeds from the sale of Leon's moving industry business, we elected to throw them at a 260-year old Cape Cod. The house was charming but rundown. It had a shared driveway but it was in a lovely rural farming community. Over the ensuing eight years, we painstakingly razed and rebuilt almost every part of the house, with the exception of the giant timbers that form the skeleton of the place. To walk inside you feel like you're in the belly of a whale, and trust me, it's a comforting place to be. But lord, the work. Eight years, thousands of dollars, many foregone trips abroad, we are two-thirds finished with this project. And we're exhausted.

Which brings me to the elephant bit. A couple of years ago I was doing a marketing project for a client and they (proudly) told me what their "tagline" was: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I was naturally mortified that anyone would think this is a sensible "tagline" (did they even know what a tagline is?), but after getting over the initial shock, I realized that this was in fact a useful mantra for accomplishing anything big.

I started writing my first novel, The Kill Shot, when Leon was working in Alberta (a four hour flight away). I was still building my communications business and my now five year old son was still in diapers. I had to wake up early and write before the needs of the day - magazine editors lookin for a late story, clients, my son - started to exert their demands. Sometimes I would look at what I accomplished in those early morning hours - as little as 100 words some days - and fear that I would never. finish. this. book. But I did. And then I started another.

Now I set a daily quota for myself - two pages or bust. Sometimes I savour the writing and take my time. Some days I'm forced to fly through it. Remarkably, when I look back over what I've written, I can't always tell if I was savouring or rushing. That is the happy magic of doing something every day. Just by showing up you get better.

My point is this: productivity is all about dailiness. Just a little bit at a time, I tell myself when I'm staring at the mountain of work that is before me. Something is better than nothing.  If I can write two pages a day I'll have a solid first draft by Christmas. If I can just get myself to Central Building Supplies to get a sample paint chip, I can put in my order for those new kitchen cabinets. If I can just take one, small step toward that beautiful dream of what my life could be, I'm that much closer to actually living it.

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