The definition of the word ‘overwhelm’ is “to bury or drown underneath a huge mass.”
Ever feel like a turtle on its back? Legs waving helplessly, unable to move in the face of the huge mass of words you are expected to write or revise? No matter how hard you try to bust through this overwhelm, which is a very specific form of resistance, you just can’t seem to roll over and get moving?
Even though I’ve learned through the years that indeed, it takes time to crank out a first draft, and that “most of writing is rewriting,” I still get overwhelmed by HOW MUCH work goes into getting a project to the finish line.
Just looking at an outline and seeing how many scenes I have to write, can make me freeze. And then once I have that draft… really? I have to rewrite this thing again? And again? And AGAIN?????
I’m always tempted, like the turtle, to just roll over and say, “Uncle!”
Anne Lamott has a terrific way to deal with overwhelm. If you haven’t read her book on writing, Bird By Bird, I highly recommend it.
Here’s an excerpt…
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. 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.’”
Bird by Bird. Scene by Scene. Chapter by Chapter.
Breaking down the huge task of writing a screenplay or book into tiny, bite size DOABLE chunks is sometimes the only way to move forward when you feel overwhelmed and incapable of facing the Herculean task ahead.
Instead of looking at the whole wall you have to build, focus on the series of smaller bricks you must create.
Instead of thinking about all the pages you have to write, just think about the two you’re going to write that day.
By the way, this is how walls get built. A little work, every single day.
Take Action! If you’re trapped in overwhelm, stop looking at the whole task. Instead, identify the smaller jobs that will build to completion of that task. Each day, could you write one scene? Could you tackle a revision of a sequence in a week? Could you isolate that pesky logic problem and solve it? Instead of looking at the giant task, break it down. Complete one tiny action a day. Tick it off your list.
Watch how quickly the overall writing is completed.
Thank you Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird.
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