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Working in Small Steps But Seeing the Big Picture

What I Learned About Life & Writing From . . . Legos.

The favorite toy of both my sons is Legos. Over the years, we’ve set a new world record for the number of Legos that can fit into one house. Just last week as we celebrated my younger son’s seventh birthday, we acquired even more—yep, you guessed it—Legos! (Now we’re considering adding a separate room on to our house--one just for displaying Lego projects.)

All kidding aside, as I was looking at the Legos spread over the carpet, and as I watched my son struggle to piece together 500+ tiny blocks into some semblance of order, I realized writing is a lot like building with Legos.

In fact life is like building with Legos. Sometimes events and problems spill around us. All of the different shapes and sizes overwhelm us. It looks like chaos and we wonder how we’ll ever be able to make anything good out of the mess.

My son had to use the instruction manual, had to have order, and sometimes needed to call for help. There were times when he fell back on the floor in frustration. There were even times when he needed to give himself a break and do something else for a while.

The same is true of us when we’re facing the chaos that life dumps upon us. And yes, I think that we can even apply the principles to our writing. Here’s what I’ve learned from Legos:

Work Small: Take it One Step at a Time

Anytime something looks overwhelming, it’s easy to toss up our hands and say, “This is too hard. I can’t do it.” When we’re trying to get started into a book or are in the middle of editing, the 80,000 words look daunting and messy. When we’re trying to find writing time in the middle of a busy and chaotic life, we’re often overwhelmed and it’s easy to get discouraged.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and break down the problem into smaller chunks that are manageable. When my son started putting together his new Lego kit, he took it one page at a time. Because he focused on a specific section, he could make slow but steady progress forward.

Likewise, I’ve found that when I break my novel down by scenes, I’m able to work better by focusing on one small section at a time. Whether in the first draft or in the editing phase, I’m less likely to feel overwhelmed. And when I’m discouraged about finding writing time, I can break that into smaller chunks too. I don’t have to wait until I have one full hour before I write. I can take 15 minutes. Those little pieces will all eventually add up.

On the long journey to publication, we can learn to take things one step at a time and not rush ahead of ourselves. If we try to skip steps, we may find ourselves with a shaky, crumbling story or a set of unnecessary rejections.

See Big: Keep the Larger Picture in View

While we need to work small, we also need to see big. We need to know what we’re aiming for, where we’re headed, what the final goal looks like. It’s easy while we’re in the midst of the daily grind to lose focus of the larger picture.

When my son was in the middle of piecing together 500 tiny blocks, he kept the big box right in front of him. Seeing the desired finished product gave him extra motivation during the hard times, especially when he was tempted to give up.

We’re wise to keep the end in sight too. That requires that we know what we’re aiming for. A friend recently asked me this question: “Why do you write?” It's a great question for each of us to answer. The surface answer for many writers might be, “Because I want to get published.” But then I'd ask, “But why do you want to get published?”

Publication is a worthy goal, but we need to dig deeper than that. If publication is still years and years in the distance, what keeps us writing? What will motivate us to write once we finally are published? In other words, what is the big picture reason we write?

Because stories burn inside us and we can’t hold them in? Because we want to offer hope to the hurting? Because we want to bring to life the heroes and stories of the past to a generation who needs to remember?

Those are just a few of my reasons for writing. What are yours? And are you working small but seeing big?

35 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful, encouraging post! I love the Legos theme!

    I write because I have to. It's an addiction for which there is no cure!

    I try to remind myself that even though I can see the final goal, that what's most important is to be right where I am at the moment and doing my best (and learning) before I move on to the next step.

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  2. Beautiful post! Adorable pictures of your son. So, so, so true. This is a great philosophy: take it one step at at time, but stay focused on the big picture. Love that Jody.

    P.S. I SO want my son to be a lego builder! Not only fun, but what a great way to learn and have fun at the same time! The teacher in me is rooting for the legos. It seems like every boy student I've had that is a lego-builder is an outside-of-the-box thinker too. Interesting correlation.

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  3. Or, Jody, you could build an extra room for Legos...out of Legos. Just a thought.

    I love writing and want to be published again because I love writing and because I also love when others like reading my "stuff" and like it. (Sorry that's a lot of love and likes.)

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  4. Great post, Jody. I love writing because of the challenge of creating something new, and figuring out how to get those words to fit together (like Legos). BTW, my 14-year-old daughter loves Lego and continues to be a Lego builder! I always said if my kids could only have one toy in their lives, it would be Lego, because it's so creative.

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  5. Theresa (Journaling Woman),

    That's an awesome idea!! An extra room for Legos, out of Legos. I'll have to mention that to my sons and have them get started on it right away! :-)


    Andrea,

    I agree! Legos are one of the best toys to foster creativity! My boys like the kits, but all of my kids love coming up with their own inventions with legos too.

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  6. My son is also a lego lover. He would be so jealous of that awesomeness. We tell him he will probably be a mechanical engineer with all that building love. :O)

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  7. Hmmm. A box of legos could be mighty helpful about now. I write because I love to pull together combinations of words in unique ways that make readers "see" the story I'm trying to tell. Publication? Yea, well, I suppose that would be nice too.

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  8. I write because I love stories, and I aspire to tell a great one.

    Legos bring out such patience and persistence in my sons. I only hope writing does the same for me.

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  9. That's great advice, Jodi. Whenever I'm overwhelmed with day job and frustrated with every day life, my therapist always tells me "You're a writer. You must find time to write. It's a tool you have that most people don't, so use it, or you'll go crazy. Writers who stop writing can get really messed up."
    So, yeah, I guess that's the reason why I write: I need it. I love it.
    And now, whenever I get overwhelmed by my intended 80,000 words, I'll look at the pieces. Thanks for that, Jodi! Great analogy!

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  10. I love reading a good story, so the next step was writing a good story. Of course, it's not easy. But I don't think that will go away if/when I get published. And I need the creative outlet. It's amazing how restless I am during the night if I haven't written or revised as much during the day.

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  11. Baby steps. Baby steps. Love that movie. Know which one?

    Anyway, why do I write? Been thinking a lot about this lately and I always come back to the same thought.

    It wakes me up. Writing gets me excited about living.

    It's the way I most enjoy communicating and understanding the world.

    ~ Wendy

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  12. Jody..I love writing because I have so many stories to tell. These stories are literally tugging my hand to start scribbling and scribbling some more.
    Like my mom says, small steps lead to bigger steps.

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  13. I love Legos!!! My sister, two brothers, and I got Legos for every Christmas and birthday. We'd always get different sets from each other so we could make entire worlds together. So awesome! Even when we were teenagers, my parents would buy the small inexpensive sets as stocking-stuffers just for fun, haha! I'm glad your kids are enjoying Legos, too. :)

    Great analogy! I suppose I write because I have so many stories swimming around my head and I have to let them out so we both can breathe! It'd be a bummer if I never become published, but I'd still write anyway. I started writing stories when I was very little, before I even understood what publication was or that writing could be a career. Writing is a life-long love, no matter the outcome!

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  14. I definitely see the big picture while breaking the process into small pieces. After getting recent edits back from a freelance editor, I realized that I had to focus on the small pieces, each individual scene, or I might have given up. The 85,000 words I needed to tighten and tweak was just just too big for me to process at once. Baby steps is how I managed to keep going.

    Love legos!!! I'm thinking I'm definitely going to encourage the legos this weekend.

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  15. Jody, I needed to read this post today. I feel completely overwhelmed and daunted by the idea of writing a novel when I only have the germ of an idea and a character who came to me asking me to tell her story. But she didn't say what the story was. To answer your question, I write because there are things inside me that need to come out and I seem to need others to read those words.
    Karen

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  16. My son loves Legos, too, and I'm amazed at how disciplined he is about building them--one step at a time. Great way to look at our writing!

    Why do I write? My answer isn't lofty. It's the only thing I want to do. I just love it. Period.

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  17. Thank you for such an inspiring post! You truly are one of my favorite blogs to come back to.

    I write because it's a gift from God. To not is to waste what I've been given.

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  18. great analogy, jody!
    Writing fiction was something that grew on me. It's kind of addictive in a good way. And so stimulating. I love it.

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  19. The great thing about traveling this road with you, Jody, is that we're often facing similar challenges. Your post today is encouraging because on Wednesday I hit the "I can't read this anymore" wall. I needed to take a break so I could absorb the changes I had made. The good news: the end of the tunnel is in sight. Only about a week to go on the edits.

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  20. Love the Lego analogy. I usually give myself, breathing room from the story when I hit a bump. The thing is, I'm also my own worst taskmaster and can't stop obsessing, until I've managed to get the story out of my head.

    My biggest lesson this year, don't force it. In the end whatever you're working on looks, sounds, and appears forced and you lost all enjoyment. (Hugs)Indigo

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  21. Jody, lovely and wise post as always. And as we live in a house of Legos as well, I can relate completely!

    Why do I write? I suppose it's both because I feel compelled to put words on the screen and because I think I have something to say. But even more than that, it's because every time I get frustrated enough to let a tiny part of my brain think of stopping, I can feel some part of me begin to dry up and wither. It took me a long time to figure this out, but writing is part of who I am--thank goodness.

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  22. Legos are great because you can follow the instructions and duplicate the picture on the box---My son usually does that the first time. Then he lets his imagination take over and builds whatever he wants out of all those little pieces! I'm sure your son does that, too.

    My reasons for writing: If I don't write, I can't function properly in everyday life. It is something I HAVE to do. I do it for pure enjoyment and I do it because it makes God happy. I do it because I want to be published b/c I want that affirmation from others that my efforts have been worthwhile and b/c I want to just share what God lays on my heart and plants in my mind.

    Am I working small? I am working so small you would have to place me under a microscope to detect any activity! But, yes, I'm still seeing big.

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  23. No. No, I'm not working small but seeing big. But I'm going to now!!

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  24. What a great comparison. For me, I can work small. It's seeing the big picture that I struggle with. It's why I have to write an entire first draft (badly) and then write the book over again once I know where it's going.

    It's very tedious.

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  25. Oh boy, can I relate to your Lego pics, Jody. We still have 10 million Legos in our house, too. And now I have the joy of watching our grandkids play with them. Fun!

    I agree with you about baby steps. It keeps me from feeling overwhelmed! I write because I have to share hope and encourage the weary. One teeny step at a time...

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  26. Building on a great and sturdy base helps too. (Loved those little tiled panels they invented to build Lego kingdoms and contraptions on.) So, in Legoese, a strong WiP is much easier to revise and polish than a shaky one. :)

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  27. you are invited to follow my blog

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  28. Hi Jody -

    I think writing a book is one of the biggest projects I've ever attempted. Now that I've written two and started a third, it no longer seems an impossibility.

    The process is long, but rewarding.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  29. Great post! My kids never really liked LEGOS, and I was grateful, because of all the little pieces.

    But they played with a dollhouse and all its itty bitty dishes and furniture.

    Putting everything UP was what I remember taking time!

    Fun memories here in Normal again.
    Patti

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  30. I write for my own pleasure. Should I become published, that would be the gold LEGOS brick in my world.

    I love how your son follows the intructions. So patient. Good post, thanks.

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  31. Wonderful advice and encouragement, thanks! I needed to be reminded of this. I've been trying not to hyperventilate over current projects and other things on the to-do list. One thing at a time, one day at a time. Have a wonderful weekend!
    Blessings and hugs,
    Karen

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  32. Oh, Jody, I can't thank you enough for this post!! It was exactly what I needed to hear tonight. In fact, I'm smiling because I feel like it was a memo to me from God, a specific answer to the questions I was praying about this afternoon. Thanks again for the encouragement!

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  33. I remember the "Lego period" from from my now grown and married, children's childhoods. We did have a lot of Legos scattered about the house, but I never saw the wonderful analogy about them that you see here! It's so true. Small steps are what get the book written. For a second memoir that I'm thinking about starting (while I'm waiting for my editor's response on my first book's revisions) I woke up this morning thinking how I would get out the photographs from my disabled daughter's past (since she is one of the "main characters" in this future memoir), spread them out on a card table, and both of us talk in "scenes" that I'll type into the computer. This is a thought that may work. Your post here resurrected my morning musings. Thank you. You are an excellent writer!
    Ann

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  34. I love this analogy, and the adorable picture of your son and his creation. I write to bring light to the world, to bring healing, because I can't not write. As I get ready to start my next book I'm clearer and clearer that my dream has changed little, but that the path shifts in little bits all the time.

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  35. I have to approach novel writing one step at a time and then celebrate the end of each stage. I'm currently celebrating having finished my first draft. I'm so excited. It's the times of celebration that keeps me going. They remind me how much I love writing.

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