There are details worth honing in on because they take us deeper into an experience or improve a decision. Then there are details that twinkle and glow and transport us to some far reaching outer galaxy of YouTuberVille or Alice in Laundryland.
So how do you know the difference? Like most things, it takes practice. One way I’ve found recently to improve my ability to be discretionary is to set an intention for the day. Anything leading me away from that intention is something to pass on.
Taking Time to Find the Problem
But sometimes, there’s a problem that continues despite your best intentions. Working on my manuscript revision has been one of those problems. I needed to sit down, clear my head, and open myself to listen for an answer.
I went outside and leaned up against the trunk of my favorite oak tree. I do things like that since I retired… Pressed against the ridges and valleys of her bark, I thought, “Who needs one of those fancy muscle roller massage sticks when you have oak trees?”
What drew me to this particular tree is that it has space around the base for me to sit without crushing any plants. But more than that, her branches used to be visited by two Great Horned Owls that came to my house during mating season. After my neighbor cut down a bunch of his trees, they disappeared. I’m trying to forgive him for that…
So now I have to imagine the owls as they were and feel their wisdom still hanging in the branches and air surrounding the tree. I tilt my head up and study the oak’s gnarliness above me. The twists and turns of her branches remind me of the things in my life that only went so far before I had to change course. When I started writing my memoir, I was one person and what I intended to write came from who I was then. When I finished the entire draft, I was someone else. And now, as I try to revise, I find I am someone else again.
Lesson learned? Don’t take too long to complete a written work or you’ll be rewriting it forever from a new point of view!
When I was in a writing group and we were discussing our next step of revising our completed manuscripts, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, who was leading and teaching the group, advised us to pick one thing to focus on fixing in our next revision.
First of all, it was shocking to realize that there was going to be more than one revision to carry out. I thought you fixed everything at once and wa la, your book was ready to send out to an editor. There are some types of books for which that is perhaps true, but mine is definitely not one of those.
It wore me out just thinking about all those revisions. All forms of writing began to look beyond my capabilities. This has been holding me back for THREE YEARS!
I realized that I’m doing this overwhelm to myself by thinking about too many things at once.
Can’t See the Forest for the Trees
In Cathy Johnson’s book “Sketching in Nature,” she shows how you can simplify the outline of a tree by capturing its characteristic form rather than trying to draw every branch and leaf.
My mistake in revising was that I was trying to capture every branch and leaf.
The main critique that I received from my manuscript readers was that it didn’t have enough narrator input. I think that is an unusual problem for a memoir writer — to have the story have too much action without enough interpretation or input from the author.
My readers wanted reflective breaks in the story so they could catch their breaths. They wanted more input from the person that I am now — the person who is out of danger, wiser and happier.
The readers had other input as well. They thought my best writing was when I included stories about the horses of my imagination and my real life horses, plus stories of being out in nature. Somehow, in my revision, this turned into me trying to include chapters of the fantasy life I created and lived in my childhood in order to handle my real life. And that turned into trying to incorporate a fairy tale structure to the memoir. And that turned into OVERWHELM!
My Revision Intention
So, as of today, I’ve decided to go back to the main comment from my readers, add narrator input to the story. It’s now written on my office chalkboard as a reminder. Any other work should be considered getting lost in the trees.
If I can focus on that one thing, I may actually get through this first revision in three months. I’m not sure that’s actually a reasonable timeframe but it motivates me to get going NOW so it
can will happen.
Now that I have one intention for the revision as a whole, I can set an intention for each day’s work.
I hope this helps you see how you can move forward on one of your own projects where you’ve felt stuck. Set that one intention for the project or just for your day. Don’t make it too big. You want to have almost certain success, at least at first, so you know what success feels like and have the encouragement you need to keep going.
Let me know if I can cheer you on in any way. 🙂
Just a Couple Links…
Tsuneko Sasamoto – At 102 Her Eye for Detail Remains Solid: From my calculations, this article was written in 2016 so I don’t know what became of Tsuneko after that year. But 102 and still actively pursuing her photography. That’s inspirational! If you are interested in artists and designers, the Art and Design Inspiration site is well worth a visit.
Why Procrastinators Procrastinate: Blog post written by Tim Urban on procrastination. If you scroll to the bottom, there is a link to his TED talk on this topic as well. Depends on whether you like watching a brief synopsis of a topic or want a more intense reading dive as there is a part 2 blog post as well. Either one is both entertaining and helpful if your are stuck in procrastination land.