Thursday, April 19, 2012

5 Steps to Beginning New Chapters

A life is a personal book of experience. Just as a larch cone waits to drop to earth to begin a new life cycle by birthing a new tree, new life chapters begin all the time. You’re born, cut your first tooth, leave home for nursery school, attend first grade, start middle school, move on to high school, then college or a job. You see what I mean? All of these mentioned qualify as new chapters in your life.

The birthing process in any activity is both a beginning and an end. Recently this has been one of the most critical things for me to recognize and take into account. I’m always beginning things, while putting others on the back burner until later. Engaging in this behavior leads me into frustration, near-panic states, and little efficiency in time spent working.

Since taking on the challenges presented to me during the past few months, I’ve developed my own method for dealing with my writer’s life chapter beginnings. The steps I use are done every day. They take little time to complete, but save much time later. That’s one thing above all that I’ve learned from taking Robert Lee Brewer’s Author Platform Challenge this month.

Here’s how you prepare for each day’s slim chapter in your writing life.

1.    Take inventory of those daily goals that went unfinished from yesterday and get them out of the way. Otherwise, they’d hang around your neck, dragging you down. If a previous daily goal cannot be finished due to the length of time necessary, devote one hour of active work on it to reduce its size for the next day. This step needn’t take more than an hour and a half.

2.    Determine this day’s goals now that yesterday’s have been attended to. Begin with those items which are routine each day—i.e. email, social media updates, check out at least three blogs/websites and comment as needed, and any writing challenges underway. Devote no more than three hours to this activity. This is also the time to do your own new blog posts for the day.

Also, do a quick scan of your week’s goals, month’s goals, and year’s goals.           Can you cross off anything on those?

3.    Pull up one larger project—book, short story, essay, etc.—that has been sitting on the hard drive for at least six months and give it one hour of your time. Do a rewrite, complete edit, additional research; whatever is needed to get the piece closer to submission quality. If possible, have a market picked out and write a query/cover letter and submit it that day.

4.    Take at least one hour to work on the latest project in your arsenal. If the rough draft hasn’t been completed, then finish it if possible. The first revision can wait until tomorrow's goals. (For book-length projects, an hour could get you up to ten pages of material, if you’re working NaNoWriMo style.)

5.    Take a break to get up and walk around once every two hours. Get something to drink. Talk to a neighbor, family member, make a phone call; whatever you need to do that has nothing to do with writing. This short break of fifteen to thirty minutes will help refresh your thinking and help your body get the circulation flowing again.

Here are some no-brainers as well. Eat, get some exercise. Nobody says you have to sit in that desk chair for hours on end, grinding away at the keyboard. I’ve learned the hard way that that isn’t healthy. You can just as easily run through mental brainstorming while doing the dishes as you can at the computer, if you must keep thinking about words.

Do a fifteen minute workout during a break; a few standing push-ups, stretches, leg lifts, standing crunches, anything you want. Crank up the stereo and break out into dance moves. Salsa is excellent for circulation.

Do an errand. Getting away from the computer will help stimulate flagging senses. New sights and sounds help generate new ideas. Enjoy yourself.

Try out these steps. See if they help you through the day. The main thing I’ve discovered, though, is that I must allow myself time to relax, more than anything else.

The world won’t come to an end if I can’t finish something today and must attend to it tomorrow. That doesn’t apply to deadlines. Those are rigid, but everything else is on a temporary sliding scale. When you begin a new chapter, see it as a personal adventure in professionalism. Realize that you learned one new aspect of writing yesterday, and you can build on it today.

© Claudette J. Young 2012
Photo Courtesy of BJ Jones Photography


  1. Hi Claudette,
    I love this post. You sure have things nicely organised. I don’t have nearly enough discipline to work out/stick to a schedule like that, but certainly I admire people who can.

  2. Veronica, thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. And my advice; don't start clapping yet. I need up to six months to see if it becomes an habitual routine for me. So far, though, it's working.

    Everyone can adjust these steps to fit their own situation. For instance, I had to do laundry this morning. I sat with pencil and paper and finished off one challenge--poetry--and two related blog posts. Just needing to tighten my focus in the laundry area, forced me to get those things done quickly and without distress.

    That was the highlight of my day, actually. Hope yours has been as productive.