Small Steps

I am proud of myself.  I have a new project on my drawing board and it’s pretty big.  It has been brewing at the back of my mind since October, when it came about as the result of thinking through some worst case scenarios.  Since that time, I’ve mulled it over in my head and some general ideas and approaches have crystallised, but I really didn’t achieve much traction with it, since that time.  However, the more I thought about this conglomeration of experience and opinions, the more excited I became about putting it all down in writing.  Just holding the idea and concept in my head for a while let me come to appreciate that it really was something new, different and useful.  That remains to be seen in reality, of course, and will be subject to the judgement of others, but what little research I have done on the matter so far, since October, tells me that there is precious little available on this subject matter.

Over the years, I have learned a great deal about this particular subject and because of this experience, I find I have information and experiences to share that I have not seen in the mainstream opinion-forming blogs, on this subject.  In fact, the ideas I have I don’t think I have seen expressed anywhere.  I think I have something original to contribute.  I’ve done my ten thousand hours.

To make progress with this project, I set down a list of headings and aspects, to expound on what I know and it came to something like fifty pieces that needed to be written.  You can think of these as book chapters, or blog posts, but they are discrete nuggets of information that I wish to impart somehow. 

Knowing that the average length of a blog post of this sort turns out to be of the order of three thousand words and that even the best professional writers would call a finished three thousand word article a good, solid day’s worth of writing, I am faced with the dilemma of finding another fifty days of free time to get it all down.  You can think of that as four hundred spare time hours, when I probably should be doing house maintenance, working in the yard, taking a walk, or doing things with my kids, my wife or my friends.  Seems daunting.

Clearly, I am not going to find that time in one chunk, so I am going to have to do this project in small pieces.  To that end, rather than write each and every article, in one sitting, I have done something different.  I have written one piece completely, to set the style and tone and I have taken another twenty percent of the titles and written three hundred word outlines, in bullet point form, for each of those ten titles.  Now I have a framework for a full fifth of the project and writing the articles already outlined, in fully-finished prose, feels more like I need to apply a relatively comfortable craft skill, than creating from an intimidating blank sheet.  I can just bang that stuff out, like blog posts, whenever I have a spare moment in front of the television.  Much of the hard work of thinking the subject out and creating a structure for each article has already been done.

What this means is that I only have to find four more full days to outline the rest of the titles in this project and I’ll have all I need to finish them off as a collection of thoughts.  It seems to me that I will be able to get these articles all finished, by increments and hence be able to release all fifty as a big bang result.  That’s a nice end goal, for me.  A collection of articles on this subject has real possibilities, I think, either as a piece of thought leadership (meaning I have a surprising and uncommon viewpoint to share) or as a spring board for all sorts of wild and crazy possibilities.  All in all, it feels like a good way to start the year.

I approach song writing in the same way.  What I can’t complete there and then, I plan and outline.  It also gives me time to build on the outlines, thinking through the melodies, lyrics and chord structures, as well as instrumental arrangement, in my subconscious.  That seems to happen in idle moments, when in the bath, when driving, when sleeping, at all sorts of strange times.  Once your sub conscious has a rudimentary plan, it can get on with the work of supplying the inspirational details for you.  You’ll be amazed at how taking a few minutes to outline something kick starts your autonomic creative processes and I think you’ll be surprised at the results that will just mysteriously emerge from your mind, without you having to sweat too hard over it.  Also, small steps are much easier to take and far easier to justify to others, when you know you *should* be doing something else.

Outlines are far simpler and more manageable to edit, too, at a structural level.  There is something to be said for refining the high level form of a work and envisioning it as a whole, before getting tied down to the small details.  Changing the structure, at that point, becomes a monumental task, whereas leaving the work as an outline for a while, coming back to it and refining the structure, can pay big dividends in cohesion, lucidity and in story flow.  Victoria Wood reportedly writes an entire comedy series by first arranging and re-arranging cards for each scene on her living room floor, long before the lines of dialogue are written.  Seeing the whole is important.  Structure matters.

If you have a large project that you are contemplating, I definitely recommend that you take small steps to achieve it.  You can’t eat a whale in one go, but you can definitely eat it one bite at a time.  The great thing about the small steps approach is that you have small increments of finished stuff to show for it.  I have one of my fifty articles finished.  I have ten that have a framework and structure.  I’ve made headway that I can point to and show to people.  That gives me a feeling of great satisfaction.

Almost every big project yields to the small steps approach.  Try it.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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2 Responses to Small Steps

  1. pauseobservereturn says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m trying to make progress on a large software idea/project, and I get lost if I try to think of the whole project each time I approach it. In my case, I need to explore ideas, because the later stages may change depending upon the practical outcome of earlier stages. The finished software product / business may be very different from what I originally envisaged. I’m going one bite at a time.

  2. I’m intrigued, Ian. I hope I can learn more about your project before too long. Sounds fascinating and I know the quality of your software designs. Very exciting.

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