It’s the little things …

In general, I choose “done > not done”. Or “today > future date”.

Many of us who follow this philosophy can credit their career success to it. The people who raise their hand, who speak up, who ship things tend to get more opportunities. My mind runs to all those in operational roles, where the job is to ultimately fix things, ship things, and make the engine hum so people get paid, and progress takes place. I have about 25 years of professional experience building that muscle to act, and now.

But, there are now times when the “done > not done” principle doesn’t help.

Where clearer > clear.
Where considered > figure it out later.
Where patience > action.

It’s unfamiliar territory. But lately I’ve been trying to develop new muscles.

Most of you know…I’m working on my book synopsis to build out the ideas of onlyness. Writing a book is not an activity well suited to those who need immediate gratification — or perhaps even gratification at all, as Dani Shapiro recently wrote. This will be my third book and the first one where it’s my primary focus, my one “big rock” in terms of priorities. It is the first time that I am not trying to fit writing in amongst other things. Now, I am trying to fit other things around writing. When it was my secondary project, I would fit it in when I felt like it. But when writing is your first priority, you work every day, you apply yourself every day, even when you don’t “feel like it”. It requires a different type of stamina, and certainly patience. Something most people (including myself) wouldn’t associate with me.

<I think I hear God laughing.>

Doing the synopsis means mapping out the path the book follows; the full journey the reader will be on. It needs to address not only what is “in”, but to be explicit in my own mind of what doesn’t matter. Little nuances keep you up at night. Distinctions end up being key. Not because I plan to spell them out but because I want to know what to look for in stories I capture, and share. I need to very cleverly point to what needs to be explored more deeply so the editors involved know what I have in mind. It’s not easy. Doing a book proposal at this level means I have to actually have written or at least explored the book fully to write the synopsis. Writing the synopsis is harder than writing the book. You know why? Cause there’s little at the end to point to. Only a handful of people will see it. It’s never public. And even then, it’s only a ticket to start the other, fuller work. The patience payoff is minimal.

<Yes, I definitely hear the laughter now.>

And then there’s what you learn when you are going slow and observing what is working, or not. Having produced about 70,000 words in the last 4 months, (hence my relative absence here on the blog), I can see a pattern in my own work. Sometimes I write as if wandering a forest looking for a rock. And then other times, I’m really clear where the rock is, what the rock is, and I can describe it so fully that others could pick up that exact rock, and make it their own.

The second is useful, the first is not. That’s hard to see. Hard to change. But necessary for what comes next.

As much as I want to be “done” with the proposal phase, what I want more is to do service to the idea of “onlyness” fully. I want to give myself over to it, and bring it to life in such a way the idea is yours to act on. In the small act of getting this synopsis as clear as possible, I’m aiming to do the same when it comes to the bigger idea. I can’t settle. I can’t compromise. When my editors push me, I need to listen. When I see a gap, I need to not mask it but to dive in. I can’t say “for the sake of getting the proposal done, I’ll skip this meaty section because no one will notice it’s missing”. I’m going to honor this work, and do in the micro action what I hope to do in the larger act.

Sometimes the long road is the one that needs to be traveled.  It’s when the aim isn’t done-ness, but excellence. And that requires patience.

3 Replies

  1. Hi Nilofer, this is so so so true of my creative process and it was a delight to see someone else express it. Thanks. Feeling less insane, less alone, and to be honest, I’m all for your ONLYNESS. Keep at it. For the rest of us. xo

  2. Nilofer,
    I feel this pain of wandering as I’ve experienced it a lot lately. From my experience, the harder I search, the less I seem to find. Alternately, when I back off, the pieces seem to fall naturally into place (Although, they do occasionally take their sweet time.). Also, the longer I take with something, the more external ideas tend to come into play which were not available in time for my self-imposed targets. Serendipity, it seems, has no love of deadlines. So, if you find yourself lost in the forest, I’d try stopping to smell the flowers. You might be surprised what turns up.

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