Chunking and what to write right now
This post was first published at iainbroome.com on 28 June 2011.
Rather than fret and worry about the thousands and thousands of words we have left to write, maybe we should try and split things into more manageable, less daunting chunks. Let’s call it chunking.
I often talk about how it’s hard work that puts writers off or leads them to stop. I think people start writing with plenty of motivation and good intentions, but when they get bogged down, like we all do, they only see the long, hard road in front of them.
They focus on the delicious, mouth-watering three course meal that is their finished project, a mirage in the distance, many metaphorical hours away. They get so caught up in its false promise that they drive straight past the lovely sandwiches, which are readily available at service stations. Also metaphorical.
Make it easy on yourself
Anyway, essentially, chunking takes away the panic and terror of having tens of thousands of words to write.
Whether you’re suffering from some frightful blockage, don’t have enough time or you have some other writing-related brouhaha going on, large projects can be a difficult business.
It’s hard to imagine the end product and tough to even know where the finishing line is, let alone how to get there and cross it. That’s where chunking comes in. It can play a huge part in pushing your writing forward.
The key is not to worry about your big climax. Instead, split your project into chunks and eat them up, gradually, one by one as you go. Set smaller, shorter, easier to envision goals and meet them on a regular basis. Do the stuff you can do.
You’ll find yourself feeling under less pressure and more able to focus on what needs doing right now. If you’re stressing out about a huge piece of work, make a list of the next three things you can and want to achieve soon. In the next hour. Day. Week. Whatever.
Don’t give yourself a hard time. Start getting things done.
Once you’ve removed that big-project terror, you’ll realise that chunking is actually quite an enjoyable way to write.
Every chunk (every task completed) will feel like a reward. Quite literally, if you like. You may eat some chocolate or do a little dance.
I’ll say it again: writers give up because they get bogged down. When struggling to write, the prospect of doing so for many more weeks and months is quite unappealing. And some people can’t hack it. So they simply stop.
‘Did you ever finish that novel?’ friends ask them. ‘No,’ they reply, ‘but I did write a couple of chapters. Well, one and a half.’
The way to get through this malaise is to give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. But you must have something to celebrate. Chunking means completing tasks and achieving goals on a regular basis.
More chunks equals more celebration. And that’s an equation.
Show me a chunk
A chunk can be anything you want or need it to be.
If you’re written a novel or piece of long-form non-fiction, chapters provide obvious chunks. But sometimes so do paragraphs. Sentences even, if you’re working on a crucial part of your text.
Poets have poems, of course, but the same applies. You may consider three poems in a week a good chunk, but by the same stretch you might come up against a stanza, line, word or even syllable that takes the same amount of time.
The point is, chunking should be flexible. You need to do whatever works for you at any given moment.
Expectations matter too. I always say aim high, but you do need to be realistic. You might want to win the Nobel prize for literature, and that’s awesome, but if it’s your focus right now, you might be disappointed when, outrageously, you don’t get the nod.
However, other, smaller aims, like getting a story published or winning a regional competition, is totally doable. Again, focus on what’s in front of you. Do what you can do today.