blog, creativity, garden, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How A Small Win Paves The Way To Big Success


zoosnow via pixabay

There comes a point in every long project where you’re too far from the beginning to stop and too far from the end to go on.

You have a plan. You work to execute your plan and somehow you’re still no closer to that distant goal you set. You’re tired and more than that, you’re discouraged. Is it all going to be worth it in the end? You’re not sure any more.

Finishing a novel, hitting a target weight, or remodelling a home are examples of long term endeavours that are definitely worthwhile. Yet many of us run out of steam, part-way to victory.

I found myself in this position with my writing goals. Ideas ran dry, motivation deserted me, and facing the blank page morphed from exciting possibility to anxious dread.

I needed something different.


Think Different

By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi,
The Book of Five Rings

It might seem at first sight that the simplest tasks are very different from complex ones. But even making a sandwich involves weighing alternatives, assessing and acquiring materials, and execution of linked processes. The difference is that success is practically assured and most importantly, within easy reach.

Large and small share the same DNA.

So turn away from your big project and do something small, trivial even. It must be easy to complete and yield a tangible result. By completing a task with a finished product, you reinforce feelings of competence. A small win becomes the building block for a bigger effort and a bigger win.

This isn’t procrastination. Procrastination is unfocused avoidance. This is deliberate. This is trimming the rudder, a small action that points you more directly at the goal. The process of achieving a minor win makes the large win more likely by boosting your confidence.

The Future Looks Bright

How does this work in practice? Here are two examples from gardening and writing.

When we moved to our current home we acquired a large grassed space at the back. I wanted a garden. But even planning the garden, let alone executing all the changes needed, was overwhelming. And we had no money and limited time.

So instead I planted flower bulbs, five or ten at a time. This small job fitted between childcare and working and cost little. It was a microcosm of the larger space in planning, preparation, feeding, and planting.

Long form works often grind to a halt, perhaps more so if you’re a pantser like me. I’ve written about ways to get moving again if you’re truly exhausted, but sometimes you just need a little boost.

At this point with my novel, I’d write something else. Song lyrics and poetry, haiku if I wanted a really quick win. A short story for my writing group which ended up in our anthology. Some of these pieces have never been shared, but that isn’t the point. The point is to recalibrate, compress the task of writing into a smaller space and to reach the end.

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So go and write your haiku. Plant some bulbs. Sweep the yard.
Find your win.

When you taste a drop of victory, you’ll believe the whole bottle is within your grasp.

Have a comment or question? Drop it below, start a conversation.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

Planning to be spontaneous

JuergenPM via pixabay

Luck favors the prepared.
Edna Mode, The Incredibles (2004)

I have a few days off work next week. A cough that won’t budge, a sleeping pattern that won’t settle, mild indigestion, are probably symptoms of fatigue and a need for respite. I’m really looking forward to it.

How is it that a week off flies by, when the working days drag on endlessly? Before you know it, Thursday rolls around and thoughts of the work that’s waiting for you seep into the end of the break. By Sunday it’s all but impossible to settle as Monday casts its long shadow forwards.

The more trappings of adulthood we acquire, the less we hold on to the spontaneity of youth. Trappings is quite an appropriate word for how pinned down and limited adult life can become. On holiday I want to discard all that ‘left brain’ hidebound nonsense and just have fun.

And yet. This time is limited. I cannot spend every day gazing at clouds, or I’ll be back at work nursing resentment and disappointment, again. I want to write. My decision to pass on NaNo was right for me, but I still need to create. I want to walk. I want to go for a lazy lunch with my daughter.

I might resist, but the answer is clear. I will have to make a list.

Although my creative child mind rebels at the notion, lists can be useful.  Creating a loose structure should give room to indulge the soft-edged, ‘right brain’ dreaming that I crave.

Plans are of little importance, but planning is everything.
Winton Churchill

This means submitting to the tyranny of the to-do list, with one crucial difference. This list consists mainly of things I actually want to do.

Thinking in advance allows me to get the more out of the limited resource which is time. While it might be true that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, having one is far better than facing your foe with no idea how to proceed.

Enemies are everywhere. Those tiny but enormous words yes and no often trip up the creative or vacationing person who appears to be doing nothing.

Calendar in hand, I can truthfully say no thank you, I’m painting then, already committed to lunch there, and unavailable to fulfil your needs at the expense of my own. Conversely I can take off to the seaside when a lovely day appears unexpectedly. The plan flexes without failing completely because I didn’t have a grasp of what I wanted.

I’d write more, but I have to go plan my days off. Leaving, of course, plenty of free time in which to get up late, gaze at clouds and dream.