Post-production note: this piece was written in a flurry of hope and chaos last weekend, but I made what felt for most of the weekend like the impossible.
Argh, I can’t do it. The deadline is looming, no-one is chasing it anyway, and you know, the sun is shining. I’ve got 16 chapters to go to finish my short story in time for this competition. It’s hopeless; I should give up.
If you’re a writer or any creator, or even just deciding whether to try something new, you’ll know the feeling.
Here I was today trying to decide whether to give up this short story competition idea or carry on when an annoying voice appeared.
“Okay Sarah, you’re right, it’s too hard without a commission. Better to give up.”
Silence. Which voice is it? Mentor or critic, either way, I feel a trick coming on.
“I’m sure Bruno Schulz never felt like this when he was writing his short stories. Some people have just got it, and others don’t.”
Lessons and Magic In The World of Bruno Schulz
A look at three short stories from Bruno Schulz’s Street Of Crocodiles
“And why don’t you just give up writing while you’re at it?”
Damn, she sounds irate.
“And why don’t you just go back to your day job and back to paper shuffling too”
Argh, it’s the mentor, and she’s right. Get on with it or accept failure.
This conversation occurred late last night when I was trying to sleep, and I knew when I woke up that I had to try.
It was going to be hard to make this deadline, but the higher risk was not making it, or at least not fighting to the death to do it, in writers’ speak.
Because giving up is a fatal habit.
And I learned to enjoy that word impossible a long time ago.
People have a variety of reasons for telling you not to do something, and the only way to find out is to give it a go if you want it, of course.
So I decided to push on and create an impossible workbook to get me through it.
It’s a great title ‘eh, it makes me sound like a superhuman, well, in my little world anyway — the triumph of achieving something that doesn’t feel possible.
I’m just talking about writing to a deadline, but you could make an impossible workbook to do anything. Lose 10 kilos, paint your house, learn algebra etc.
But make sure it’s something that feels impossible; I’m not talking average. It’s the thing you never thought you could do. Maybe you can? Give it a go.
I’ll talk you through mine. It all starts with writing down the title somewhere: Impossible Workbook — and with that, the challenge commences.
You’re not going to focus on the negatives; who has time for that? You’re going to find your way through the task by focusing on the end goal.
As you sit down to write down you’re mission you are already on the road to something you previously thought of as impossible and if something goes wrong you can always start over.
The plan should only take 20 minutes so if you’re in a hurry don’t despair; it won’t eat into your doing time.
In the words of Nelson Mandela,
“it always seems impossible until it ends.”
Step 1: Core Mission
Write down the essentials of this core mission; What, why, big why, when and how.
What — what is the impossible task that you are undertaking?
I want to finish the first draft of my short story.
Why — why do you want to do this impossible task?
So I can enter it into the Bridport competition the day after.
What’s your bigger why — what will achieving this task bring to your life?
It will bring me closer to my ambition (not a dream!) of having my fictional work published.
How — How are you going to do it? If it’s writing it’s relatively easy, if it’s language, maybe you’ll use a daily app and dedicate 1 hour every day.
Mine is a simple process. I’m going to sit and write and tun all internet off and not switch tasks until I finish with this one. I’m going to finish the story one chapter at a time.
When — A week, a day, a month?
I need to write this draft in a day.
Step 2 — Details
What tiny details can you divide your master task up into to make it achievable and enable you to track progress along the way?
The beginning of my process is always the slowest; but when I keep at it, I build up rhythm, and by the end, my pen is practically smoking.
I find the same with an exercise class. The first ten minutes is torture, but anything after the halfway mark moves at a quicker pace.
How small can you divide up the tasks? Mine fall into chapters; it’s the divisible and measurable unit of a short story for me.
When I sat down at the beginning, I had 16 chapters to write.
Step 3 — Conditions
What conditions do you need to set around you to enable an impossible task? Bright light, no light, coffee, beer.
Remember you’re doing something fierce and unusual; whatever you need times it by five and implement. Maybe internet distraction is your thing, that’s mine, or at least I’ve said it so many times that now I believe it.
Maybe you need a quiet space to work, maybe you need to tell your family that you need a certain portion of every day to yourself.
Today I can forget a measly 25-minute productivity session as part of a Pomodoro Productivity App. I need something more extreme.
I put a three hour Rescue Time App on my laptop, and I used the measly 25-minute clock on my phone for tea and coffee breaks. I usually go in for an hour, an hour and a half at the maximum but I need extra force today, so I hit 180 minutes.
Step 4 — Go
Get yourself a pen and paper or a whiteboard and track time and progress. I started my mission on my whiteboard — 16 chapters, and at each tea break, I updated my progress. The closer you get to the middle, the better.
Get it done. Each divided piece of the pie that you conquer write it down or cross something off. Watch your progress in live time. As you cross off your tasks you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction that will hasten the bump.
Note — Bumps on the Road
If you didn’t get the urge to give up, then you’re not be doing something that feels impossible so ignore those voices as you go along.
I finished! Seven hours and many voices after starting, I finished my short story. Yay. Am I going to win the competition? Hell no but it doesn’t matter.
The most important person to keep your deal with is you. Out there in the world who knows who to believe. Certainly, no-one in government in certain countries, no one in businesses linked to the government.
It’s essential to keep that line of truth going with yourself, honesty and accountability and if yo take the impossible workbook approach nothing is off the table.
Also, remember we’re lazy these days. The shops sell pieces of apple cut into pieces and put into a bag; it seems potato already mashed and pre-made burgers. We’ve accepted convenience at the price of being capable — we can do more than we assume we can.
We’re also conditioned to think of ourselves as distracted and non-achieving, and our whole convenience culture has turned us into lazy people; lazy people consume more; active people produce more. Where would Mcdonalds and Netflix be if we all became super productive?
Now, if I were ambitious, I’d set myself the impossible task of going from straight from Draft 2 to competition winning standard.
Argh. Tomorrow is another day.
If you enjoyed this story, sign up to my weekly newsletter to read more like it. Subscribe here.