Do the least to finish

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Small assignments add up and build a habit of everyday work

Achieving many small finishes adds up. It’s easier to get to the finish of your project if you’re writing daily, somehow. Kevin Partner, a writer of apocalyptic thrillers in the UK with 34 self-published books, said he breaks his writing down into Impossible to Fail finishes. Just open your book’s file and write for 10 minutes, he suggests.

“I could think of no excuse for not writing for at least ten minutes per day, every day. I mean, I want to be an author, don’t I? Then how could I ever have an excuse for not investing ten minutes in that career?”

Another author, this one with a Big 5 career, does the same. Pip Williams, who wrote The Dictionary of Lost Words, starts with the least effort.

“After failing miserably and therefore being miserable (I tried a daily word goal of 1000 words; sitting at the desk for two hours morning and afternoon; writing a page of gibberish before writing ‘the novel’), I decided that my only obligation was to type one word per day. Just one. The beauty of this goal is two-fold. First, the requirement is so insignificant that it is not worthy of the procrastination monkey. Secondly, it is hard to fall short.”

For me, I’m going to try one new sentence a day. It’s just like Williams says. Once you’re in the work, making that sentence, you’re likely to do more. We teach each other about this kind of persistence in the Workshop’s Finishing School — which a lot of the time is Working School. No work = no finishing.

How could anyone measure the daily work that we do in revising? During my last pass of revision, I counted up the words that I’d move through each day or each week. One pass per draft. But rearranging and adding to the work becomes more complex. I think a time minimum, at 15 minutes daily, might succeed for that kind of task. Or maybe five minutes.

One of our finishers, Pat Gibson, says, “I reread what I managed to get done yesterday and realized I had wanted to add a scene. That scene led to an a-ha moment and a note for book three. It also led to about 600 more words in Chapter 24. Revision led to addition, and I am off again.”

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