Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing Tool #45: Break long projects into parts.

 . . . Then assemble the pieces into something whole.

Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird gets its title from an anecdote about her brother.  At the age of ten, he struggled with a school report on birds.  Lamott describes him as "immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead," but then, "my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'

     We all need such coaching to remind us to break long projects into parts, long stories into chapters, long chapters into episodes.  Such advice is both encouraging and practical. . .Tiny drops of writing become puddles that become rivulets that become streams that become deep ponds.

Then Roy speaks from his own experience:

You are now reading Tool 45-- in what was once a yearlong online series -- headed for Tool 50.  If I had said to my editors, "You know, I'd like to write a book of writing tools, "I never would have done the work.  At the front end, book projects seem impossible to get your arms around, like hugging a polar bear.  Instead, I pitched the writing tools project as fifty short essays, delivered at the rate of one or two per week. . . 

Bird by bird, tool by tool, line by line.

Let's put this tool to work in Mr. Clark's WORKSHOP:

- Admit it. You want to write something bigger than you've ever written before, but you can't get your arms around the project.  The length or breadth of it intimidates you.  Cut up the monster.  In a day book or journal, break it up into its smallest parts: chapters, sections, episodes, vignettes.  Without referring to any note or research materials, write one of these small units.  See what happens.

I hope you found useful this chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

Next week?  "Take an interest in all crafts that support your work."  Join us!

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel