Monday, May 2, 2011

How To Eat An Elephant And Not Feel Overwhelmed

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when starting a writing project? Have you stared at the blank computer screen and said, “What am I going to write about?” If you have, you're not alone.

Let me tell you a story. One day, my husband and I walked outside to survey our home for repairs. He saw so much more that needed to be done than I did. He understood and knew how to accomplish each task. I didn't. One by one he began rattling off a list of things we had to do. By the time he finished explaining all the necessary work, I began to cry.

Why? Because I was overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge. The saying, “knowledge is power,” is true. How many of us are stifled when it comes to accomplishing a task because we don't know how to do it? Or rather, how to start. How many times have we given up and moved on to something else without ever trying to take on the task?

In addition to not understanding all we needed to do, I didn't have a clue as to how we would get it done. Do you know how my husband solved the problem? He took my hand and said, “We are going to eat this elephant one bite at a time.” Immediately, I began to calm down. I've learned that by doing things one step at a time, any task can be accomplished.

The same goes with writing. Let's apply the elephant theory to our next project. We have a book to write. We need approximately 100,000 words, we haven't started yet, and we haven't a clue as to what to write about. The task can be overwhelming. That is the moment that causes many to quit.

However, if we tackle the project one step at a time, we can eat the entire elephant and not suffer heartburn. So, where do we start?

So as not to 'overwhelm' anyone, I've listed only the first three steps I take to start.

1) Know What You Want To Write About. Choose your genre and know your subject matter. You can't write a successful novel about vampires just because the genre is popular. Especially if you're not interested in them and have no background information about the genre. Genre popularity does not guarantee publication. On the other hand, if you always read mysteries and know the rules of writing a mystery, then you have chosen your genre and subject matter. You will be writing about something you know and in which you are confident.

2) Brain Storm Ideas. Let your mind flow with thoughts and ideas and jot them down. Don't try to edit or make sense of them, just let them come. Out of that, you'll discover ideas and plots. Soon you'll be writing your outline. I like to start my brain storming with a 'who killed who and why' question. That is a great kick off for me. That, or something else, might work for you. You decide.

3) Be Flexible With Yourself. Once you have your outline, you are free to change that outline while writing. Tell yourself that changes are alright. In fact, they're good. Changes mean you've expanded your mind as a writer. You saw the plot going one way but thought another way would make the story more interesting. Way to go! Remember, nothing is set in stone until it's published.

How do you begin your writing projects? Do you follow a number of steps or just roll with it? I look forward to reading your responses.


  1. Hi Mary! Sometimes I feel a tad overwhelmed, but like you said, one bite at a time. I try to be flexible, and not outline too tightly.

    Have a great week!!!

  2. Hey Carol,
    Glad I'm not the only one. I find the less I know about a task, the more overwhelmed I become. I hope things are going well with you and your new agent. Again, congrats! That is such a major step.