The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing
Lessons From a Snow Covered Drive
Posted: 08 Jan 2011 02:19 PM PST
I look down the length of my snow covered drive and feel tired at the sight. I’m home alone this week, and the job is all mine, to do or ignore. The drive is 100 feet long, steeply sloping and wide. True, there are only three inches of fluffy snow. True, I could let it go, but it will only get worse if it snows more, which it probably will. True, I don’t have to do the whole thing. Even a little will be an improvement. I have no idea where to begin ... .
As you can see from the photo above (sorry, the pic didn't copy), I did finish, and in the process, I remembered several important lessons:
Let the project tell you how it wants to be done.
I paused at the bottom of the steps and listened. to my inner sense of things and to the driveway.“First things first,” I heard. “Shovel along the side so you can at least get down to the mailbox.” I did that. Then I heard “Do one scrape across the middle right there.” The next instruction was Now work your way down almost to the street. You can manage that.” Yes. I could manage that. I felt winded just shoveling the steps, but I knew that if I relaxed into it, I could do that much. I’m not that out of shape.
I steadily pushed the snow along, scraping it to the side. If only the paper delivery man had left it near the street instead of gallantly driving it up to the top. His tracks packed hard, sticking to the pavement. I moved to the top again and continued letting the driveway guide the process until I felt overheated and ravenous.
Take breaks when you need them.
I know better than to work to the point of total exhaustion. I came back in for lunch, rested, and returned to finish the job. The second half was easier. My muscles were loosened up, ready for work. I continued to proceed intuitively rather than trying to map out a plan.In a surprisingly short time, I was done.
Chunk it down
I didn't try to do the whole drive in one orderly process. The drive itself told me how to proceed, which parts to do for the biggest immediate impact, “in case I didn't finish.”
Know when to quit.
I started to work on those tracks. I started to clean along the street-side edge. That's nuts! I told myself. This is not a work of art. This is a functional driveway. The drive is not perfectly clear and bare, but I can drive up it with no problem. It works.
* * * * *
I think of my big writing projects, and how similar they are to shoveling the driveway. Any big project is. I never know exactly where to start, even if it's like a dozen others I've done. “Just start somewhere. Write something. And “let the project or story tell you how it wants to be written.” ”Strange as it sounds, that always works.
I chunk them into sections, break them down. I write a paragraph, write a page. I do what I can today, and take breaks when I tire. The vision of the end result always pulls me forward, no matter how huge the project. Most importantly, I know that no project is ever perfect. I have to know when I've given my best and it's time to move on.
The drive is cleared, scrape by scrape.
The book is written word by word.
The project will quickly be in shape
If that inner voice is gently heard.
This approach works for me, but it may not be perfect for you. The only right way to manage a creative project whether shoveling a drive, cleaning a closet or writing a book, is the one that works for you.
Write now: think of a big project you've undertaken. Write a few notes or an essay about the process. How did you go about it? Was it typical or different from other projects? What did you learn from it that will help you in the future? How can those lessons help you with your writing?
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