5 min read

💪 Small shovelfuls

This week I learned to make the work more manageable.
After I sent this image of me on the roof, my sister thought I had fallen off and had hurt myself.
After I sent this image of me on the roof, my sister thought I had fallen off and had hurt myself.

Hello!

I’m David Gane. This is my newsletter/letter where I discuss my creative practice and journey. Thanks for reading.

(Also, let’s face the facts: I’m never getting this to you on Sunday. And there’s another fortnightly newsletter that comes out the same day that you should focus on. So let’s just all agree to return this to my old Wednesday time-slot and continue about our business.)


A story about big piles of snow

There’s a lot of snow around my cabin. Excessively much. And a lot of it is on the roof of that cabin.

Now, this isn’t something that I’m used to dealing with. My house is further south, so we just don’t get the same amounts of snow, and it’s a 2 1/2-story house with a steep roof, so it’s not something I worry about.

So, I left the cabin roof for far too long and went up last weekend to clear it off.

As soon as I began, I knew it was going to be a long day of work. Not only was it deep, but I had to throw it far enough to clear it, or else I’d have to shovel the snow a second time. On top of this, I also had to figure out how to do it without falling onto the ground.

(To be fair, there are snow rakes, which are long poles that help you can scrape the snow off from the ground, but I was cheap and thought I could go up and do it with a shovel.

Needless to say, I’m getting one this week.)

But once I had cleared the cabin off, I had a new problem.

The snow from the roof was now on my deck and piled so high I couldn’t see out the front window. In fact, it was pushing against a small wall at the end of the deck and the side of the cabin. And if I had been worried about the weight of the snow collapsing my roof, there was currently twice the amount sitting on my deck.

I needed to clear it away.

But I was exhausted. After shovelling the roof all day, I didn’t have any energy left, and I wanted to avoid doing the work.

So, I made a deal with myself: Go out, work for ten minutes, move a bit of snow and then take a break. Do this enough times, and eventually, I’d get through the pile.

This was enough to convince me to go back out, work for a while, then come back in. Eventually, bit by bit, I cleared enough of it away.

So, why am I telling you this snowy story?

Because I had a similar problem with my newsletter this week.

After sharing my 10/1000 strategy—and delivering it late—I started work on this one earlier, hoping I’d get it out on time. (Since this one is even later, you can see how that all worked out. 🙄)

I initially tried to write about the joy of writing, but I struggled with the idea. To find my way through it, I used my 1000-word strategy and wrote multiple versions trying to figure it out.

But as I worked, I realized I was digging myself into a rut and getting stuck. Soon, I was spinning my creative wheels.

I wondered about shifting my topic to writer’s block, something I believe is a misnomer that addresses a symptom and not the cause (like fear and uncertainty)

But as I tried to unpack this idea, it felt either too big or already covered a great deal by others.

I tried to force my way through, but ultimately, my writing completely fell apart. I was lost and without an idea.

So, what saved me?

To begin with, I had really loved my 1000 word strategy, but it had failed me over these past two weeks.

Either the ideas became too unwieldy, or too big to fit into the form. It felt like I was trying to get an octopus into a box, and just as I’d get all of it in, another tentacle would pop out.

I had to accept defeat and change tactics.

Re-enter the enormous pile of snow on my deck. (See! I brought that story back around!)

I attacked it in small shovelfuls.

Up to this point, I had used my 10-minute exercise for journalling and reflection and never applied it to the newsletter.

But by using the 10-minute strategy, it forced me to have a very limited amount of time to figure out what I wanted to say. And every second I paused to think about it, I had even less time.

I no longer had the time or space to take on a large topic with many pieces. Now I had to focus on a single topic or idea and write whatever I knew about it as quickly as I could.

When I applied it to this newsletter, it instantly made things manageable.

After two passes, I knew I had two pieces that I wanted to work with, and suddenly all the ideas and drafts I had struggled with were cleared away and was left with a single focused idea.

Again, none of this is new

A common theme I’ve noticed with my creative practice these past few weeks is that I continually rediscover strategies and tools that I’ve encountered before.

In the case of my 10-minute exercise, there is, of course, the eponymous story of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

In her book, Lamott shares that when she and her brother were younger, he was struggling to write a school report about birds but was overwhelmed by the vast material. Her father’s advice was to break the task into parts, and write it bird by bird.

However, it’s the practice she mentions earlier in the chapter that sticks with me more:

…all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see though a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.

Dickie Bush suggests a similar approach with Atomic Essays. Instead of worrying about writing a 1000-word blog post or newsletter, his advice is to focus on a smaller 250-word essay that encompasses a single idea.

While this allows you to publish quickly, it also helps you “think clearly” and “eliminate the friction of sharing ideas online.”

Lastly, my writing partner and I frequently practice this, writing 500 words regularly to work through our 80,000+ word novels.

Scene by scene, page by page, bird by bird, we get it done.

Next steps

The biggest challenge from now on is determining which strategy to use and when to switch when it’s not working.

1000 words is a good way to get all the ideas down or give me the space to figure out what my idea is.

But occasionally that can be too much, and using the 10-minute strategy will help focus me on a single idea or moment that I’m trying to understand and share.

I struggled this past week to recognize when I needed to switch, but with time and practice, I hope it becomes easier


How about you?

Have you ever struggled with your writing or work because it’s just too darn big? Do you ever use a strategy similar to my 10-minute one to tackle it?

I’d love to hear from you.


Other things I discovered


Thank you for reading

As always, I appreciate you signing up for the newsletter.

See you in two weeks!

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