Today I am delighted to have fellow children’s writer Rebecca Colby as my guest blogger. Like me, Rebecca finds housekeeping to be a real chore, but also an inspiration. So grab your feather duster and favorite pen and enjoy Rebecca’s thoughts on writing and cleaning. Take it away, Rebecca!
For me, writing is a chore. Like cleaning the house, I don’t enjoy it. It’s hard work, and I can think up plenty of excuses not to do it.
“I don’t know where to begin.”
“I’ll only have to do it again tomorrow.”
And my all-time favourite, “I don’t have enough time to get started now.”
The problem is, I do love a clean house. Or in the case of writing, I love the satisfaction that comes with having written.
The solution came to me this year when I knew I had to tackle my house. The mess had been staring me in the face for months and I couldn’t postpone cleaning any longer. (Yes, you read that right. Months! But breaking my wrist seemed like a good excuse at the time.)
Little-by-little the mess had grown into a chore of immense proportions. I was overwhelmed. However, I had come to the end of the line with my excuses and I had to get started.
I realized it wouldn’t matter if it took months to clean up—as long as progress was made. I made the decision to spend thirty minutes a day cleaning the house. It didn’t sound like a lot but it was all I could spare. The trick was to do it every day!
I broke it down into smaller tasks. One day I would put away DVDs, another day I would file paperwork, another day I would mend clothes. Little-by-little, the mess shrunk. The living room floor reappeared. I moved on to the bedroom, the kitchen and eventually the attic.
That’s when it struck me. Why not do the same with my writing? The act of cleaning my house brought it home to me (literally), how I could tackle the hard work of writing, and how even the smallest amount of progress was just that–progress.
Instead of forcing myself to sit down for five hours to write on a weekend, I would write for thirty minutes every day. Anne Lamott had the right idea in “Bird by Bird.” Break your work down into small, manageable chunks. It all adds up over time.
Having said that, do I still find writing a chore?
Of course, I do! The difference is I don’t let myself spend too much time in any given day doing chores. I spread the workload out.
I know I’ll never stay on top of the chores–at least until I can afford a cleaner. But if like me, you find writing hard work, remember to break it down into smaller tasks. Not only will the writing become less daunting, it will also become less of a chore.
Rebecca is an American expat living in England who primarily writes picture books and poetry. She won the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant with her fractured fairy tale MONSTERELLA, and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE, will be published by Floris Books in 2014. A further picture book, IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015.
21 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: When Writing Feels Like a Chore with Rebecca Colby”
Terrific post, with very good advice! I generally try to do the things (whether writing or chores) that I don’t like the most first so that I get them out of the way. (The operative word in that last sentence being “try.”) 🙂
Thanks, Robin! After reading Brian Tracy’s “Eat that Frog!” I also tried doing the things I don’t like most first but struggled. This is my compromise. 🙂 Good intentions are everything!
Great post! You nailed the solution, Rebecca. I am an hour-a-day writer. Even when I’m on a roll, I stop when the timer rings. That makes it easier to sit down again the next day because I know exactly where I left off – sometimes in the middle of a word! Too bad I don’t clean the house for an hour a day!
One of my friends recommended a timer. I find it fairly easy now to stick to my 30 minutes (as it coincides with the length of my morning train journey) but I think that’s a great idea. As you say, it makes it easier to come back to the following day as well. Thanks for commenting, Genevieve! I recognize the name. Perhaps from 12 by 12 last year?
Great way to get things done! And I too do NOT like cleaning… =/
I know, right?! I don’t understand people who do enjoy cleaning. Messy writers unite! 🙂
Lauri, Thanks for having Rebecca as a guest today! What Rebecca’s doing must be working because she writes wonderfully. I am lucky to be in a PB and a poetry critique group with her. I love reading her poems and manuscripts.
This is great advice for me because I think I should spend all my free time on writing-related stuff and it makes me end up tired and frustrated. I am going to break my writing tasks into smaller bits and I imagine that will help.Good advice, Rebecca!
Penny always says the nicest things but I think she’s just prejudice because she knows me. Whatever you’re doing is working beautifully as also! Thanks for commenting and I hope my strategy works for you as well.
Great post, Rebecca! And although I find writing a joy, the reminder to keep at it is important no matter what. Laurie Halse Anderson has a “write-fifteen-minutes-a-day” challenge going on her blog this month (madwomanintheforest.com). And anyone who is housekeeping challenged even without the excuse of a broken wrist (like me) and doesn’t know where to start might want to check out Flylady.net for 15-minute cleaning challenges.
I plan to check out both of these challenges, Marianne! Thanks for sharing!
Great post, Rebecca! Oh, I know a thing or two about messy. 🙂 But I’m kind of the opposite in that I would LOVE to write all day long and I actually have to force myself to stop and do other things. Either way, breaking the task up into chunks is a great solution! I might have to start myself on a schedule.
Ha! I think you’ve got a good excuse for a mess now and again, Diana, especially if you’re writing all day. Nice to see you here and I hope the writing is going well!
Fabulous post! I remember reading Rebecca’s query letter on WriteOnCon last year, and I’m not surprised you’ve found a wonderful agent and have books coming out. Congratulations to you, and I look forward to reading your work soon!
Thank you, Pam! That’s so kind and what a good memory! Best of luck on your own journey to picture book publication!
House cleaning? What house? 😉
Actually, writing makes me happier than cleaning. But I get the analogy and the long line of why I-can’t-get-going reasons to jump in. Yes, much happier once started. So get going, everyone!
I agree, Mirka! It’s just a matter of getting started! That’s half the battle won right there.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on writing. Thank you to everyone that stopped by and many thanks to Laura for having me on her blog today!
And you are very welcome, Rebecca. It was wonderful having you in my neck of the woods today and your post has certainly generated some great discussion.
Thanks for the post, Rebecca. I’m also trying to get back into Fly Lady, which was the very best thing I could have done for my house and my writing for the first three months of this year. Working to a schedule (of housework and writing) made it all much easier and removed the anxiety of thinking ‘what do I do next/first?’ so I didn’t have to make decisions on the spot about what to do on the writing front when there are SO many things to do -only one of which is ACTUALLY writing (writing/brainstorming/upkeep of writing website/book promotion etc). I’m trying to do it now so that when I start on my next book project next week, I’ll have broken it down into much more manageable chunks.
Thanks again for the reminder -and for the record, your writing does NOT look like you don’t enjoy it!
I agree with Juliet 100%. Rebecca’s writing is CHARMING and I cannot wait to read her debut picturebooks!
Thanks, Clare! I’d not heard of Fly Lady until yesterday but I will be checking it out soon. Looking forward to hearing about your next book project.