Well, it has been more than a year since the last time I posted. Why? Because I haven’t done any writing in that time. OK. That’s a bit of a lie. I’ve done SOME writing, but I’ve largely been avoiding it like the plague. You know, by socially distancing myself from it months before the actual plague hit the US shores.
I’ve had trouble starting and staying started. I have a ton of ideas … until I sit down to write them. The shear joy of writing becomes a chore I begin subconsciously avoiding well before I ever sit down at my computer. I’ve even asked myself, “If I’m struggling this hard to write, do I even really want to?” The resulting stomach ache that immediately followed told me that giving up was not an option.
So, how do I continue? How do I restart with the immense weight of failure constantly pushing against me like Sisyphus’s boulder keeping me from a summit I’ll never see.
Then at work, I took a Fundamentals of Agile Programming training. There I and my other trainees learned about Agile Software Development (often just referred to as ‘Agile’). Without getting too bogged down in the formation and history of Agile, the principles of Agile were outlined in The Agile Manifesto.
While the Agile Manifesto concerns issues seen in the world of programming, one of my superpowers if to see parallels that exist in dissimilar items. I believe I can indeed compare apples to oranges in a way as to make the comparison valid to the discussion at hand … assuming that at least one of the two is relevant to the context at hand. Using my big brain, I saw how I could use certain practices and principles of Agile to improve my attitude and general writing process.
What follows are the most helpful Agile principles to my writing process.
One of the principles of Agile is to work in short “Sprints” with a limited, known amount of work. As I often get overwhelmed by the shear scope of the task in front of me when I consider working on any of my novels, I immediately saw this as a possible process that can help.
A sprint lasts two weeks, from Wednesday to Wednesday because Mondays and Fridays suck for starting and stopping things. The things I would like to get accomplished in those two weeks are outlined, given points that follow a weighting system, and posted to a Kanban board.
When I work on a goal (such as this blog post), the Post-It-Note that represents the item is moved on the Kanban board from ‘Backlog’ to ‘In Process’. Then once it is completed, the item again moves to ‘In Review’ then ‘Completed’. A completed item scores me the points it was weighted as on the board. At the end of each sprint, we evaluate the number of points of items I was able to complete.
So far … I’ve not done well. BUT I am doing better, and this metric is largely due to this process.
Stand Up, Sit Down
Another principle of Agile is to have a daily stand-up meeting with the team to discuss the success, failures, and complications of the sprint. This has been very powerful for me. Just talking about what I did or did not accomplish the day before has kept writing on my mind. If writing is on my mind then I am usually more likely to think of all the things I want to accomplish than to think of Sisyphus’s boulder.
My ADHD pushes me toward avoiding even thinking about things that are overwhelming or boring. Now if you’re a writer too, you probably already know this, but writing is both overwhelming and boring at the same time. It’s also lonely, difficult, and provides the least instantaneous of gratifications I’ve ever experienced. That said, when it’s good, time flies as the real world evaporates around you as your senses live in another reality that for now only you know.
It is an amazing experience.
Then the next day you read what you wrote the day before, and it is complete shit. But you know what? It’s done. Done means I get my points. Sometimes that’s enough.
Scary Mrs. Mary
The biggest change to my writing process is having an accountability partner. In this case my partner is my wife. She takes most of the Agile roles we are using, and she’s the person that leads the daily stand-up meetings. She keeps daily notes, and honestly that terrifies me. She’s even started keeping a record of the total number words that I’ve written for the week.
When I fail to get up and write one day, my wife is there the next day to talk about it. She doesn’t judge me, mostly. The daily stand-ups are not meant for judgement. They are meant for communication and a kind of communion of the spirit to finish the project.
I like to write in the evenings because I work during the day. Oh sure I could wake up at 5AM and write for two hours before starting my day, but the evenings are when I’m best. So when 8PM rolls around and I’m doing literally anything but writing, my lovely wife can, on occasion, cast judgement like the best of them.
She has helped keep me on track toward better practices more than anything else. So find yourself an accountability partner. Self-flagellation really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
© 2020, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.