No. 102 | By Christine Carron
I don’t remember a time in my childhood where baking was not involved. My nana baked. Cinnamon rolls. Blackberry cobblers. Bundt cakes. My mom baked. Angel food cakes. Lemon meringue pies. Breads, muffins, rolls galore.
We had the goods. I was taught how to make the goods. Part of which was knowing how to tell the goods were done. Some you tested with a toothpick to make sure they were done all the way through. Some you tapped to hear if they sounded hollow. Some you just eyeballed for a golden color.
Of course, done in the oven was often just done for one phase of the process. A cake had to cool before you flipped it to release it from the pan. If it was a layer cake, the layers had to cool even further before you could frost it. Yet each step in the process had a clear end point:
Each of those moments of doneness delivered a little burst of satisfaction. Did it! Success!
Only years later, managing teams, did I learn that this process of clearly knowing when something is done (both step-by-step and overall) is a powerful tool to create progress, confidence, and momentum no matter what you’re making: a cake, a software tool, or a novel.
There is a key difference though. Whipping out a pie or or a cake is a short-term process. Baking is making. But efforts like software development, writing a novel, or building a writing career? Those are long making.
In long making, the clarity about doneness each step of the way becomes even more critical, as it will help you stay focused and confidently moving forward. The surge of satisfaction it provides—which I call a Done Boost—will keep you moving forward.
Because a Done Boost has both intellectual and emotional components. A Done Boost is intellectual as you have clear proof that you are making progress—you can see it, know it. It is emotional as it feels great to make progress, plus it staves off Inner Critic attacks. Double win!
Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.
- T. S. Eliot
If you want to create easier progress in your writing work, you want to be creating Done Boosts for yourself left, right, and center. To do that you have to know when tasks are actually done. This is a place where you can steal process know-how from the software development world. Software teams are all about the Done.
They make it official. They call it a Definition of Done, or a DoD. Officially, Definition of Done is a condition or list of conditions “that must be met to successfully mark a product increment as complete.” (source)
Integrating DoD is a key step to creating more Done Boosts, so let’s look at a few writing work examples of DoD.
Warning: It’s possible when you read through the following examples, you'll think, “These are obvious and tediously fussy. Why would I waste my time making these?” If such thoughts arise, I invite you to hang with me. I will tackle those concerns, but first let’s get to a shared understanding of what writing-work definitions of done look like.
>> Writing Work: Brainstorm plot ideas.
>> Writing Work: Meet my daily Nanowrimo wordcount goal.
>> Writing Work: Complete a writing speed drill.
>> Writing Work: Identify 5 videos to help me learn Scrivener.
(Once you have your list, depending on how long the videos are, you might end up with 1 “Watch Scrivener Videos” task with a DoD of “5 videos watched,” or you might have 5 tasks each with the DoD of “video watched.”)
>> Writing Work: Prepare feedback for critique partner’s submitted pages.
So, yes, I know these DoD look ridiculously obvious. I know the idea of thinking through these seems fussy, and a waste of precious time. Those feelings and perceptions are exactly why getting Done Boosts—which require clear Definitions of Done—can be tricky to get consistently. Which is one of the reasons our momentum and confidence can flag.
Definitions of Done are so simple, so obvious our smart brains want to dismiss them. Duh, I have to read the pages to give feedback on them. Duh, I have to watch the video to mark a task called “watch video" done.
But here are some truths:
Truth #1: Definitions of Done are supposed to be obvious
Definitions of Done are only obvious when we do the thinking to break the work down into parts small enough that we can confidently get them done. I broke down these tasks already.
For example, I’ve heard many writers say, “I’ve got to learn Scrivener.” What is the Definition of Done of “Learn Scrivener”? I don’t know. That’s not obvious to me. But if I decide that I’m going to find 5 Scrivener videos to watch, then, yes, it gets obvious.
That's the goal.
We don't want to be plotting a mystery when we're planning our writing work. Obvious Definitions of Done mean that you have created clarity around your writing work and will be able to get the work done with greater ease and confidence. That builds motivation. That builds momentum.
Truth #2: Definitions of Done are only fussy if you make them fussy
Definitions of Done are a means to an end: to get you out of frustration, spinning, and feeling like you’re not making progress and into clarity, confidence, and momentum. Where DoD get fussy is when folks start thinking a pretty list of DoD is the end goal instead of the progress the DoD creates.
Truth #3: Wasting time versus taking time
If a writer is confidently and consistently making the progress they want to make without Definitions of Done, then I agree: Definitions of Done are a waste of time. As a process improvement consultant, at all times, I want folks to do only the smallest amount of process required to make the progress they want to make.
The process is never the goal; the progress is.
Unfortunately, I don't often hear writers saying things like, "I consistently make the progress I want to make toward my writing goals and dreams. I'm regularly in flow, and feeling confident and motivated. It's awesome!"
If a writer is struggling, feeling down on themselves, and not making the progress they want to make, then why not take the time to use a process that will build momentum, confidence, and motivation? That doesn’t seem wasteful to me. It seems like a smart plan.
The invitation this week is to add more ease into your writing progress by playing with Definitions of Done. Ask yourself at the beginning of each block of time you have to focus on your writing work:
Then enjoy all the momentum, motivation, and confidence that comes from baking in Definitions of Done. You’ve got this!