Last week I presented you with a long list of ways you can decide what to write next and then I promised to expand on some of them.
One suggestion was to decide to write something you can finish and ship fast.
Projects Big and Small
Big goals and big projects hold potential for big payoffs. If you finish that book, for example, it may propel you closer to your highest, most important life or career goals. I encourage you to see it through, because your big ol’ work in progress is going to require focused effort for the next several months or years, and you’ll feel so amazing when it’s done.
But if you’re in the middle of that long-term project, you may realize you’re not going to get any real feedback on it for a long stretch of time. You’re not going to enjoy a sense of completion until it’s done. As you keep plugging away at it, day after day, you must be persistent and patient and take the long-range view to maintain motivation.
Do that work. Don’t stop. However…consider giving your spirits and brain a little boost by assigning yourself a shorter project now and then. What can you write that you can finish and ship fast? Could you…
- finish the short story you started and send it to a literary magazine
- push out thoughtful commentary via social media
- write and submit a poem to a journal
- express one complete idea or story via blog post
- send a letter to the editor about a concern that disturbs you
- compose a thoughtful book review to share via Goodreads and Amazon
- pitch guest post ideas to a website you enjoy
- write a fan letter or email to an author you admire
Assuming you’re able to complete a short project like this without derailing your primary work in progress, the quick turnaround will offer a satisfying sense of completion. You’ll feel happy—even proud—and you can return to your big project with increased enthusiasm.
You mustn’t abandon the big commitment, of course, if you’ve got that in the works. It’s just that deciding to pursue something you can finish and ship fairly quickly changes us. Completion satisfies.
Achieving Small Goals Motivates Us to Pursue the Big Goals
Professors Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats wrote in a Harvard Business Review article:
[F]inishing immediate, mundane tasks actually improves your ability to tackle tougher, important things. Your brain releases dopamine when you achieve goals. And since dopamine improves attention, memory, and motivation, even achieving a small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated to work harder going forward.
A little dopamine hit from shipping those projects sounds like a great benefit. What writer doesn’t crave a positive feedback loop? Heaven knows we could all use some motivation to work harder and move forward.
Don’t Undermine Your Primary Objective
Completion and feedback loops satisfy something deep within as we feel we’ve made progress, so I encourage you to consider shorter projects you can ship faster as a legitimate element of your writing life.
But I also offer a warning. If you feel jazzed by a hundred likes and dozens of retweets on social media, you might be tempted to devote excessive time to the mundane and too little to important projects.
Be careful not to let the delight of shipping shorter projects undermine the work that matters most. If you have a big goal to complete a big project, make it your priority and be sure to allocate time for it.
Of course, if short-form work represents your primary focus as a writer and you don’t even attempt long-form writing, you’re set. Go for it. Dive into your next short project with joy and confidence, knowing this is who you are as a writer. If you’re an essayist, blogger, microblogger, or poet, finishing faster than a novelist is built into your calling.
Small Projects Lead to Big Goals
Building a body of work (or a life) is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.
He calls us to do “something small, every day.”
Deciding to write something you can finish and ship fast can work regardless of the project. You can tackle something small that’s self-contained and complete on its own—like a blog post or Amazon book review.
But you could also break down your big projects into smaller segments. Like Kleon says, we can do something small, every day, and see it build over time.
Could you benefit from that satisfying, motivating sense of completion day after day by breaking down the long-form project into short segments that you finish faster? If those add up to become your big work in progress, you could write and ship each day something that contributes to a master plan.
Write Small to Go Big
It’s how you can write small in order to go big.
When deciding what to write next, think about the very next thing you can do that takes you where you want to go—what could that look like? Could it be small? Could you finish it fast?
And when that small, short project is finished and shipped, you can return to chipping away at that big ol’ work in progress.
Or…you can break that big ol’ work in progress into manageable pieces you can write and finish fast. They’ll become milestones to celebrate along the way—small steps that lead all the way to your top goal.
- Your Desire to Get Things Done Can Undermine Your Effectiveness (Harvard Business Review)
- Something Small, Every Day (Austin Kleon)
- Ep 28: In This Season of Big Dreams, Take Time to Write Small
- Ep 121: Out of Ideas? Be an Idea Machine
- All posts in What Do I Write Next? series
- All podcast episodes
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52 Creative Writing Prompts: A Year of Weekly Prompts and Exercises to Boost Your Creativity
Sure, you can poke around the Internet collecting prompts and creative writing exercises.
Or you could buy an ebook that collects 52 in one place.