Friday, May 7, 2010

Small Steps for Continual Improvement--Work on Your Book-in-Progress

In my attempt to understand the balances and imbalances of the creative life, I've signed up for some e-newsletters. One of my favorites is The Introvert Energizer, written by coach Nancy Okerlund.
I met Nancy at one of my writing classes. She makes a study of the way introverts move through challenges, how they can live with more joy.

Since many of us writers have a rich inner life, maybe even think of ourselves as deeper-than-the-average bear, perhaps even consider we are more introvert than extrovert, Nancy's words often bring illumination to the journey of writing a book.
Small Steps--Kaizen
The Introvert Energizer's latest issue discusses the Japanese theory of "kaizen." Nancy calls it "small steps for continual improvement." I love this idea, because I'm a really a turtle disguised as a speedy rabbit. I wanted to mull over the concept of "kaizen" as it relates to my current book-in-struggle.

Act 2 of this next novel, Breathing Room (the sequel to Qualities of Light which was released in October) is complex. I dreamed of taking a step up with this book, having learned so much on the first novel. Through innocence or stupidity, I am tackling a three-part narrative in Breathing Room. Three points of view--Mel (father), Kate (mother), and Molly (daughter)--all have their own parallel stories.

Trying to weave together three separate voices is often enough to send me straight to bed!

Add to this another project, also on the front burner: the final round of edits for Your Book Starts Here, planned for September. I love this book, how it's evolving, and it occupies my creative brain much of the day. It's based on this blog, and my classes--a nonfiction book that collects wisdom on how books are dreamed up, structured well, written, and published, and hopefully helps writers do just that.

Toggling between these two is exciting and challenging.

Like for most of us, writing is only part of the day. Normal life, if you can call it that, goes on: the beloved teenager, the beloved spouse, the always-needy house and garden, the elderly but good cars, the demands of the "real" job that pays for all of it, the parents, the friends and community, the health needs--all want equal time and attention. You know this. I don't have to belabor the point.

You also know: Some days the writing is the last in line.

But miracle of miracles, I've been managing to keep moving, despite all these obstacles (and my desire to just sleep and forget it all).

How Do Small Steps Work?
It's very simple: I put in small amounts of time, even 10 minutes, on a regular basis. "Kaizen," I believe, in practice.

It's also got a twist, for writers of books: I always try to leave something unfinished.

Leaving something unfinished creates a vacuum. The creative self loves a vacuum, but the mind hates it. If I leave a scene half-edited, a page half-completed, a chapter hanging without an ending; if I shut off the computer, go away for a while, tend to my life, I can always get pulled back.
Because while I'm away from the writing, I'm still there. I'm living in that vacuum where anything could happen. How will this sentence end? How can I make this turn just so? I'm ITCHING to get back to it.

So I always do.

But only if I'm able to take small steps. Then the writing functions in the rest of my life. It's almost invisible to the rest of my life, which gives it much freedom.

Is this what "kaizen" is, for writers?

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1. Try the idea of leaving something unfinished in your writing this week.

2. Practice one small step, don't try to be a marathoner. Create a vacuum to come back to and fill.

3. Read the article in The Introvert Energizer about "kaizen," the art of small steps for continual improvement. See how it might apply to your own creative efforts. Here's the link:


  1. What a wonderful article reference. This describes me to a T: "At one time I probably unconsciously considered it part of what was wrong with me - automatically tending to linger on things, ask a lot of questions, want to know more, think about my experiences intently. Usually it seemed there wasn't enough time and my pace wasn't fast enough."

    I always feel there isn't enough time, and my pace is never fast enough. Thanks for your link to the article, your thoughts about it, and your advice. I'll try it.

  2. Another wonderful post. I read them each week and recommend them to my writing friends.This is the best writing blog ever!

  3. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoy the blog and recommend it.

  4. Good to read this to remind myself. I do apply this technique to all kinds of things - especially my garden as it is huge. To look at it all, I want to throw my hands up and forget it. But if I tackle one little section, then it's okay. I am applying that to my book. One little piece at a time. I like the timer idea in the article. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Gardens are certainly like books, so thanks for the great analogy, Lynn!

  6. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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