Friday, April 1, 2011

EATING AN ELEPHANT


If you’ve publicly declared yourself a writer, you might have experienced a conversation with someone where they’ve confessed to you they a) want to write a book but haven’t because it takes a lot of time, b) want you to take their “best-selling” idea and write it because they haven’t the time, or c) both. I claim c.

Every time someone brings this discussion up, I try to sound supportive and listen. They don’t understand (yet!) what a daunting task writing a book is. It takes time—they get it—but they don’t realize how much until they actually write it. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again. It takes soooo much time. And blood. Sweat. (You guessed, it: tears too.)

I love writing. Writing has a reward in and of itself; it’s therapeutic to many of us. But to write a book-length work takes a deep commitment. It would be like eating an elephant*. Every page is a bite of tough, old meat chewed one morsel at time. You would have to make most of the meat into jerky just to make it last until you can get around to swallowing it! You can’t tackle it all at once. In the last few months I’ve started a few huge, new tasks. Two of those being revising a hot mess of a draft and another would be writing a very research-intensive new book. When I start getting overwhelmed, I calm my breathing and ask myself, “How do I eat an elephant?” And then myself answers in a not-so-chipper voice, “One bite at a time.” I grumble that it’s taking so long. But often the admission that is does take one bite at a time helps. (And I’m telling you this in hopes that it helps you too. Because it is hard to stick with it and I know it!)

So to all of you starting, finishing, revising, or thinking about writing a book or two, here is my advice: start with one mouthful at a time and work your way in. It’s too easy to overwhelm yourself, but anything worth doing is worth your best effort. (Not your best writing, mind you, but your best focus of energy.)

YOU CAN DO IT!


Finishing up my author interview series, Kate Scott is the winner of Prisoners in the Palace. Congrats, Kate! Please email me (@ jackeeDOTalstonATgmailDOTcom) your snail mail address and I’ll get the book sent out to you. Thanks to all those who commented and participated!

* Even though I compare it to eating an elephant, in Shel Silverstein’s poem, Melinda Mae, the girl thought she could eat a whale, said she could and then “started right at the tail”. She ignored the nay-sayers and in eighty-nine years, she ate the whole whale because she said she would. You choose the animal you like best for the analogy, but I’ve no physical concept of how big a right or blue or humpback whale is, so I’ll stick with an elephant. :o)

24 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Jackee! You are so right about a, b, and c. The other thing I get asked is have I decided on who is going to publish my book. I love that question. Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy? Then when you tell them the process their eyes glaze over...like it must be because I'm not a very good writer. If I was a better writer I'd be able to choose a publisher rather than a publisher choosing me. LOL!

    I think that's why the blogging community is so good...we all know about the elephant we are trying to eat and we understand how long it takes to eat one. :)

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  2. Yay for me winning. Oh, and the rest of your post was good too. But mainly yay, I won.

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  3. Yikes! The mere idea of eating an elephant makes me want to run and hide. But you're so right, the process is like that and nobody really understands until they do it. (moving up on half way through my newest project--I think I can, I think I can) :)

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  4. You nailed it, Jackee! People tend to think writing a book is like buying a loaf of bread. Oh, if only it were! (But have you noticed that when you ask them how they're doing on X project they just blow it off?"

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  5. I'd have to go with "c." Don't they realize I already have more story ideas than I'll ever get to? I have to break all of my big projects into smaller bites, or I'd never get anything done. Great post!

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  6. So very, very true!! It's funny how people assume other people would want to write their ideas too. I have enough of my own thanks :)

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  7. I can't imagine the devotion it takes in writing a book ~ but when it comes with such passion as you write with Jackee, I am sure you will conquer the task!

    Happy April to you!
    xo Catherine

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  8. thanks for the reminder. my crit partner and i use the same phrase when we're trying to encourage each other to keep going. i'm in the middle of revisions and need to remember, one word at at time. just one word at a time.

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  9. It is for this exact reason that I have no interest in writing a book anytime in the next decade. I just don't have the time and effort to put into it at this point of my life. I do greatly admire those like you that do.

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  10. Or for vegetarians - one carrot at a time! :-)

    I remember making the mistake of admitting to a work colleague my ambition to one day pursue a research degree in creative writing only for her to say rather dismissively "oh don't you just have to write a 60,000 word novel to get that degree?"

    Like it was that easy! LOL!!

    Great advice Jackee!! Take care x

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  11. Very true...and some bites don't even taste that good:)

    Shelley

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  12. Thanks for the motivational and encouraging boost today!!!

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  13. Love this analogy :) This is what's great about blogging -- finding people who understand just how challenging this writing thing is.

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  14. Eating an elephant sounds like a daunting task. I like your comparison. Writing a book has been as daunting to me as the prospect of eating an elephant.

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  15. Congrats, Kate!

    I rarely tell strangers or coworkers that I write because I get some odd questions and requests. I try to explain to them that it takes time and hard work, but they don't understand or they don't want to embark on that long journey.

    But when I meet writers who get it...it's wonderful to share our struggles and wips.

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  16. Excellent advice, Jackee! Writing a book is so daunting - not for the uncommitted, that's for sure! My husband has this great idea for a book and he can't understand why I won't write it. I just tell him I can't possibly invest that much time, energy, and everything else in something I don't absolutely LOVE.

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  17. Here's another tip to anyone about to write a book: Be patient with yourself. Chew carefully and slowly to the words have time to digest. Otherwise you'll get indigestion.

    Jai

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  18. I love the elephant analogy! And just like writing a book, I'll bet it feels great when you get it finished!)

    I also loved Sharon's comments about non-writers not really understanding how tough it is. Thank goodness there are other writers and bloggers out there who can commiserate with us!

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  19. I love that analogy, Jackee - it's so true. I especially feel this way with edits!

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  20. I will do it! (Just don't make me eat a real elephant.)

    I had no idea what I was in for, the day I wrote my first sentences. No idea.

    Oh yes, I've been told by several people who always wanted to be writers but (insert lame excuse here). I've had two make appointments with me to learn tips, multiple times, only to cancel, multiple times.

    Total meetings = zero.

    And they're better off. Once we start the madness, only death will stop us.

    Happy writing, agonizing, revising, and so on!

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  21. Ah, yes, it does take so much time. My own hot mess is a little daunting right now, so I'm taking a day-long break from it. And then I get to read inspirational posts like this one!

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  22. hi miss jackee! yikes i didnt known bout eating a elephant til i got started writing. now i got some bites of chunks and some little tastes all over that elephant. for sure its just lots of work. but...i love love love writing so im gonna keep eating on that elephant.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  23. I get so overwhelmed that I just give up for a while. But then my creative juices boil up and won't be restrained anymore. I wish I could balance it all better.

    Great advice; one bite at a time.

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