On Writing (and Chipping)
And a cute inception moment.
This is the buddy post to Truth #9: We’ve Forgotten How to Chip Away.
I sat cross-legged on the itchy lawn of our cottage in PEI and thought, “what now?”.
It was month three of the global pandemic and we were under a strict 14-day quarantine. Forced to stay within the confines of our property, I was determined to use this lockdown as a tech and wine detox.
I set a healthy to-do checklist and the day’s items included: walking laps around the house, learning ukulele (let this be a testament to one’s mental health), and meditation.
Facing the Northumberland Strait, I decided to tackle the spiritual portion of the regimen. I searched “meditation for beginners” and selected the shortest recording.
Hitting “play”, I closed my eyes and dutifully performed the body scan. I tried to clear my mind and focus on my breath. Dramatically, I pulled air in and out.
Has there always been a whistle in my nostril?
Dolphins. What’s a porpoise? What is my life’s porpoise?
Is Dog the Bounty Hunter still alive? Is it true that he wore 6 inch-heeled cowboy boots? I can’t believe Beth died.
What if I die before fulfilling my life’s porpoise?
I should probably start writing again. But it needs to be more than just an essay. A book? I guess.
Hmm, I don’t hate that idea.
*Insert scale of a xylophone*.
We’ve got what we came here for.
And just like that, within 5 minutes of a first and only meditation, the idea to Back to Shameless was conceived.
For the remaining two weeks in isolation, I did something that I’d never done before: wake-up early with purpoise (I’ll stop).
Based on my 30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30 essay, I decided to build a collection of life lessons and supporting anecdotes. Instead of writing another one-off piece, I thought about this project as a marathon, not a sprint.
If I were going to write a real book, I had to pace myself and not blow it prematurely.
Each morning, I set an alarm for 7am and sat in a stiff wingback chair. Then, with a bad cup of Foldgers coffee, I forced myself to write.
I aimed to draft 1,000 words a week. Then, upped it to 2,000—both of which are very manageable, even pitiful word count goals.
After a few weeks of dedicated practice, I could see things starting to accumulate. The word doc was becoming scrollable. I dared to google “how many words are in a book?”.
Note: For anyone wondering, a novel—that is passable but questionably thin—is 60,000 words.
I made the minimum length my target and wrote with whispers of “just hit 60k” on repeat.
Over the summer, I continued to spend an hour or two each day writing. I wrote stories that made me laugh and occasionally cry (there’s nothing quite like admiring your own work, amirite?).
In order to not intimidate myself into paralysis, I just focused on chipping away. I kept a weekly paper calendar and documented my themes, essays, and word count, obvs. Most importantly, I didn’t tell anyone what I was up to.
The whole thing still felt precarious. It felt like at any moment sunbathing, 7% IPAs, or [insert literally ANY distraction] could take precedence and halt all momentum. I knew that putting too much pressure on myself and letting outside voices in would crumble my shaky foundation.
I kept it close and manageable in order to prevent the biggest project of my life from becoming ditch-worthy.
The single thing that I focused on above all else was just hitting that sweet > Tools > Word Count goal. One might think, “can’t you just lose yourself in the writing?” or “isn’t good writing more important than word count?”.
The answer to both is: rarely and fuck off.
Back to Shameless, this whole collection and would-be book, is the love child of “chipping” and “away”. It took less than a year to hit “book length” and another several months of editing, half-hearted pitching, and eventually landing on this format.
The point being: this whole project is the result of steady, doable bursts. By doing a little bit each day (or five days a week), we can get somewhere new.
And while birthing a 60k+ mega doc originally felt inconceivable, it didn’t take long for the creation to become routine.
All things that get our attention grow.
A book is a concrete example, but any project or idea works in the same way. Once you have a vision or version of yourself that feels right, it’s about chippin’ away when you’d rather be doing something else.
If you’re a professional bailer (which aren’t we all), break-down your end-goal into teeny tiny stretches that you’d need to be on your deathbed to not hit. Prove to yourself that you can be consistent, and then aim higher (this is a critical lesson for the “all or nothing-ers”).
Build in wins and rewards to juice up the middle part when no one (including you) has much enthusiasm. Some pieces will be easy and others will be tough, but everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Effort compounds and when the time is right, you’ll get to see how far you’ve come.
Plus, the foundation you can construct by doing something small every day, instead of mindlessly scrolling (which best believe, we get to do after), can never be taken away. It’s what holds up your next big thing.
So, if you’ve made it this far, this is your invitation to commit to something larger than you are and to begin chipping. Annoyed by this call-to-action? I am too…and I wrote it. Making shit happen IS annoying. Let this be your first test.