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?

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