Friday, December 10, 2010

Making Sand Into Boulders and Boulders Into Sand

Day 6 - 1019 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 5415 Words.

5415 / 30000 words. 18% done!

Made the weekly goal, with one day to work on the novel tomorrow. Ha ha! In the meantime:

I'm sure you've heard the old Zen Koan about the teacher who fills a bucket with boulders and asks his students if it is full, and they say it is, because you can't fit more boulders into it. Then he pours pebbles in and shakes the bucket and the pebbles filter down between the boulders and fit in the bucket too. "Now is it full?" he says. The students agree that it is, and so he pours sand to filter down among the pebbles, and finally tells them, okay now it's full.

Then the old master dumps the bucket out and fills it with sand, and low and behold, it's full - but no boulders or pebbles can fit.

The point, supposedly, is to illustrate how you should fit the important things into your life first -- like boulders -- and then let the unimportant ones trickle in to the spaces in between.

Except this doesn't work. Here's why:

Sand is a force to be reckoned with. Agitate it and it will not only fill in the empty spaces, but it will actually float a large object out of itself given the right conditions. Ancient engineers used to to lift huge rocks sometimes.

Basically, if you can just get a heavy object to shift a little back and forth - say, with a lever - sand can filter in under it with every movement so it can't settle back down. With enough movement, sand will push the heavy object right out of a pit.

You know how it works: the same way email and messages and checking your stats and tweeting and such can suck up all your time and eject anything important out of your life altogether. And some of those things are important enough to keep in your life, but you can't let them take over like that. And if you're an indie publisher, you can add all those other tasks which are never done - promotion, and cover design and layouts and final editing and planning and all that.

I suppose other writers may be different, but when it comes to getting real writing work done, I don't have a problem getting motivated to write so I don't have to worry about it filtering into the empty spaces. If only the important thing could be the sand and not the boulder!

Today, I went through the list of projects I have to work on, and I was getting depressed as I tried to figure out how much time I would need to finish them, and how long it would take to get to the projects further down the list. And the thing that was giving me the most trouble was intangible - how much time I would need to noodle with the plot, or do layouts, or format or edit -- and I realized that I was making a mistake.

The layouts and covers and formatting tasks, even editing; those things are the boulders. I can't get rid of them, and I can't let them ramble around loose, or they fill every available space. So I need got make boulders out of them - define their shape. I should set aside time for them in my day-to-day activities - just like bathing and eating lunch. I realize I would be WAY ahead of the game if I just set aside a half hour every morning for those kinds of tasks. Do a second session later at times when the load is heavier.

But keep it to one half-hour at a time.

Then I can let the writing be the sand. I know from experience that I do better if I live the writing - let it trickle in all day. There's always room for sand, and sometimes it can eject the stones altogether.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to try to limit my morning session of internet, and insert at least one half hour of formatting and editing of finished works.

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