Serdar’s latest book (which I assure is a doozy) is a challenging one for him to write. It’s the kind of challenge where writing it requires trusting yourself, as he notes in this blog post. As he explores this need for self-trust – a factor he and I have both written on – he said something tangential that is very important in facing challenges:
“That said, every single time I’ve started to work on a project on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as opposed to all the plotting and planning I’ve made ahead of time, the sentence-by-sentence work is what brought everything together.”
These words reminded me of a rule I’ve heard again and again – when facing a challenge, break down your work enough that you find something you can do in five minutes then do it. That lets you get going, take a step towards your goal – and possibly figure what to do for the next five minutes. String together enough five minutes and you’re done.
At the start of a project things look insurmountable. You doubt you can do it, but five minutes is all you need to realize maybe you can.
You can do this as writing as well when you’re not sure you can do a particular work. You don’t have to write for five minutes on a project you’re not sure of – try five words. Then five sentences, even if you have to do it five words at a time. Then maybe five paragraphs. Then, well, see how far you can go.
You don’t have to use what you’ve written. You’ll almost certainly change it, edit it, or even throw it the hell out. But at least you’ve got something to explore what you want to make and figure out how to do it.
But you have to start with those five words.
Most success is due to momentum. You don’t really know what you have to do to complete a book or any other writing project. You just have a start, a finish, and maybe a vague roadmap if that. Even if you have a detailed plan it is going to change as you write and make discoveries about your work.
So you might as well start with something small, like five words.