By Christine Carron
Thirty pages. Thirty pages to go to get through the rough-cut of this revision I have been working on since October. It’s got me thinking about us writers and how, since writing is such a long game, we are in what can feel like a constant state of longing to complete: Get this book done. Get this revision done. Get this chapter done. Get this scene done. Get my x number of words in/writing hours per day in. Etc. Etc. Etc. It’s like we are in a never-ending, fractal maze of completions.
Luckily, fractals—the repeating beauty of patterns found in anything from snowflakes, to stalks of broccoli, to today’s post image—have always fascinated me. And I love the frank simplicity of its application to writing: to be a successful writer we have to be a repeating completer. To fractal our finishing again and again and again. We have to become a completion artist.
To this end, here are a few tips and strategies to expand your completion prowess:
1.) Identify as a Completer
What is your internal self-chat about your completion ability? If it leans negative (e.g., I’ll never get this done., kind of language) a key first step will be to address that. Replace your current less hopeful thoughts with statements like, I get things done. If such a statement makes your Inner Critic rear up in cackles, take a deep breath (you are more than your Inner Critic), draw upon your power, and start with statements more like, I am building my completion muscles.
Just like a public speaker can attend to dropping filler words (likes and uhms), we can attend to our inner thoughts and change them into something more supportive of what we want to achieve. This alone will not be enough, but it will get rid of significant static, which is a huge start.
2.) Completion Fractal Here, There, and Everywhere
You want to get completion energy in your bones so that you are not just telling yourself you are a completer, but you are embodying completion. A very easy way to do this is to build in completion fractal wins throughout your day.
I apologize in advance to all who detest housework, but housework fractals are totally easy completion wins. Make your bed in the morning. Fold and actually put away the laundry. Dishes, same thing. Don’t leave them on the countertop or in the dishwasher drying. Into the cabinet they go.
You can also focus on health and well-being completion fractals. Go for a walk. Bounce on a pogo stick. Swing on a trapeze.
How about connection fractals? Have a conversation with your child where you are fully present. Write a letter or email to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Give your cat or dog or canary a belly rub.
However, you decide to cross-train your completion prowess, be sure to pause when you are done and savor the satisfaction of completion. Savoring is a form of integrating and embodying.
Want extra credit? Stop in front of a mirror after each completion success, wink at your fine self, and tell your reflection, “You are such an awesome completer!”
3. ) Underestimate for the Win
This bit is all about basic project management. Most people overestimate the time they have to spend on a task and underestimate the amount of time it takes to get that task done. I call this double whammy wishful thinking estimation.
A client once railed at me that if he was paying for eight hours of a developer’s time then he expected the developer to have eight hours of coding progress at the end of the day. (Insert tired project manager eye-roll.)
When I estimate software development work, I assume eight billable hours of a developer’s time will get me six hours forward progress on the development work. Why the difference?
Because, like writing, software development is highly creative work done by human beings, who must think and ponder; who make errors and correct errors; who participate in planning and design meetings, etc. Those things are part of the work and therefore must be compensated just like usable lines of code. Developers are not robots.
You are not a robot either. And now that you know more about this tendency to overestimate what we can get done, set up writing goals that feel reasonable, even easy, to achieve.
Also, pay attention to life realities when you are estimating. Right now, due to some exigent personal circumstances, those last thirty pages feel somewhat daunting. So what was I happy-dancing about the other day? Landing one sentence. One. It was a huge win for me that day.
I called this tip Underestimate for the Win, but really it is: Estimate for the Win by Attending to Reality in General and Having Compassion for the Reality of Your Current Life Circumstances. But as you can see, that is a little less catchy.
4. ) Streamline Your Completion Agenda
This is a complement to all three of the previous tips and is more basic project management know-how. A key part of what a project manager has to do is called Managing Scope, which basically means keeping the workload in check and prioritized. Let’s get you started managing the scope of your own work.
First, look at your current to-do list. Not just your writing stuff, your everything stuff since we know that we have to account for reality when estimating our writing goals.
Now rigorously question everything on your list. Do you want to do it? Do you have to do it? Is the reason you have to do it worthy enough to keep it on your list taunting you with its unfinishedness?
If not, why is it there? Take a pen and slash through it with abandon. It's outta here!
Guess what? With that pen stroke you just completed that task with the resolution of “Won’t Do.” Which is a legitimate completion endpoint in project management land. Which means . . . Go you! You just cultivated more completion prowess simply by decluttering your to-do list!
Next, we are going to fractal your decluttered to-do list even more.
Are there any tasks on your remaining list that are not absolutely necessary to get done this week? Move all those to a secondary to-do list. Congratulations! You just created what is called a Backlog, i.e., tasks you want to track to get done but are not the current focus.
The beauty of a Backlog is that the tasks on it are never lost, but they are temporarily off your plate. Without a separate Backlog, you are forced into daily engagement with a bunch of smirking unfinished to-do’s that aren't relevant to your current focus. Those tasks chip away at your completion confidence because they remind you incessantly of ALL THAT IS LEFT TO DO! (Panicked all caps intended.) Take them away, and it is easier to calmly attend to what you can do right now.
So make your Backlog and forget about those tasks on a day-to-day basis. Every so often (not more than once a week though), check your Backlog to see if you want to move anything from it to your active to-do list.
Done consistently and with a smidge of fierce rigor (I know you have it in you!), managing scope can enrich and destress your life by (a) pruning the work that isn’t important to you in the first place and (b) allowing you to focus only on your current work.
And there you have it. Four tips to fractal your way to even more completion artistry in your writing (and your life). Have at it!
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week