Hey there, Pollywog!
Earlier we talked about project minimalism and how a project doesn’t have to be big to be exciting, amazing, and worthy of your time. In fact, for people who have multiple interests, a smaller project is often ideal.
But sometimes a project comes along, and it can’t help but be big. Maybe even… massive.
And still, you fall in love with it. And you have to take it on.
I like big blogs… and I cannot lie?
This is exactly what happened to me with this blog. What started out as some for-fun brainstorming led to staying up all night with one idea after another. At 6:00 in the morning I was nowhere near finished, and I didn’t want to put the notebook away.
I did put it away… but that didn’t do any good. Weeks went by, then months, and I still couldn’t get the project out of my head. Everything I saw, thought, and heard made me think… this would be perfect for Persistent Polymath!
I have to give myself credit for stubbornness. I fought hard against such a big project. After all, it would involve things like planning and structure — things that terrify my Rebel Brain and things that, frankly… I tend to suck at.
In the end, though, stubbornness was no match for excitement… or for the feeling that every experience in my life, good or bad, had been pushing me in this direction. I eventually admitted that I needed to do this thing.
No matter how hard it would be.
No matter how much I failed.
No matter what else was happening in my life.
No matter how big the project was.
But how was I going to tackle something this size? I decided to start by looking at it a little bit differently.
Re-thinking the T-Rex
I’m a big picture thinker, like a lot of polymaths. It’s a strength in plenty of cases, but in this one, it was becoming a weakness.
The Persistent Polymath towered over me like a T-Rex, and I was terrified of approaching it. I thought it would bite my head off and claw at me with its tiny little arms.
Then I realized, I had to stop seeing it as a T-Rex and start seeing it as a pile of building blocks in a vague T-Rex shape. Blocks are much easier to deal with than a large carnivorous dinosaur.*
Breaking a project down into manageable pieces wasn’t a new idea to the creative world, or to me. In the post on getting started, I mentioned SARK’s Creative Companion and her idea of reducing a complicated task to micro-movements.
I decided to take it in a slightly different direction, though — one that worked with my love of smaller projects.
Block and roll
Instead of breaking Persistent Polymath into a series of tiny steps, I would break it down into a series of projects. Each one relatively self-contained, but also… stackable. Something I could combine with other blocks to create a bigger structure.
I’ll let you in on a secret, Pollywog. This blog is just the tip of the dinosaur’s tail; I have a lot of other fun, crazy, exciting things in the works. I can’t talk about them just yet, but I can talk about the blocks I’ve stacked so far, to give you an idea of what I mean.
- My first block was setting up the blog, itself. Registering the domain name, installing WordPress, picking a theme, setting up the static pages. Making a banner. Creating the tags and categories. I told myself that even if I never published a single post, at least I had a basic site.
- The next block is one I’m in the middle of — creating my first ten posts. Most of these will go in the Polymath Fundamentals section, which will be the first place I’ll send new readers.
- Another block will be creating a few more Regular Feature posts. Posts like my monthly Look Lists, and also Obsessions of the Moment, where we’ll share our passing fancies and enjoy the fact that they’re just that — passing.
And from there, who knows? As someone whose Rebel Brain is afraid of things like planning and scheduling, and who is prone to overwhelm, I try not to plan too far ahead.
All I know is, I will continue to make and stack my building blocks. So far, this has worked.
I’ve explained how the building block approach works with a project like a blog, but I’ll give you a few more examples.
- If you’re writing a nonfiction book, treat each chapter like a building block. You could even see each chapter as its own book, if you wanted to take the idea a step further.
My very good friend Cyndi Lavin writes and sells chapters of her beading books separately. By doing this she can earn money from a book before it’s technically finished. By breaking a big book into smaller ones, she also gives readers more to look forward to and creates more suspense.
- If you’re writing a nonfiction book, again, treat each chapter like a building block. In fact, you might want to try serial fiction. If a novel is like a feature film, then serial fiction is like a series of episodes in a TV show. Each one stands on its own, but is also part of a larger story.
I can’t think of a better example than Johnny, Sean and Dave at Sterling and Stone. They are insanely prolific writers who publish in a variety of genres, including horror, science fiction… and westerns. With unicorns.***
- Speaking of my good friend Cyndi, she creates some amazing, intricate beaded jewelry using a variety of techniques. In her book Some Assembly Required, she focused on making a larger piece out of a series of smaller beaded components. I can tell you from experience that it’s easy to turn each component into a stand-alone piece, like a pendant or earring, if you decide to.
- I use the same approach when I make chocolate sandwich cookies. On the first day I make the dough (yes, cookie dough is a stand-alone project). On the second day I roll it, cut out the cookies, and bake them. And on the third day, if there are any cookies left, I melt the chocolate chips and start putting the sandwiches together.
Incidentally, cookies are the perfect reward for all that hard work. Which brings me to…
Rewards and bribes
When I wrote about overcoming Resistance, I admitted that I’m a shameless self-briber. When I was ready to make the transition from brainstorming to taking action with my blog, I decided to reward myself after every block I finished.
- When I completed the first block, I started to tell people about this blog. A few of my closest and dearest friends.
- I could have done this when I finished the first ten posts, or even the first five posts, but because I love my rewards, I decided to tell a few more Very Special People with every post I published. Rewards can be flexible and plentiful.
- Whenever I think of it, I add to my list.** This keeps me excited about posting, even when writing is hard.
- When I reach ten posts, I’ll tell the whole list. This makes me both nervous and excited.
After that, not only will I decide on the next block; I’ll also pick out a new reward.
Not because I’ll have run out of Very Special People — I’m not sure that’s even possible — but because my Rebel Brain tends to become immune to a reward if I use it too often.
The next reward? Might be food-related. It’s been ages since I made chocolate sandwich cookies, and my Rebel Brain has a close relationship with my stomach.****
(Whenever I finish a block, I also add it to my Look List. It’s a nice, simple way to celebrate all my little victories.)
And that’s how I made it to my fifth post. Now I’d love to hear from you: do you have trouble starting big projects? If so, how have you gotten past your fear?
*I dare you to mention one living thing that has been eaten by a building block.
** It turns out, I know a lot of amazing people.
*** I pretend that this is weird, but my favorite book series, originally published as a collection of entries in Livejournal, is a parody of Twilight involving aliens who crap rainbows.
**** Also known as the Cookie Repository.