Mar 14, 2011

The Whole Picture

by Kristin Baker Przybyla

I'm a new member of a critique group for finished manuscripts. Last week at my first meeting, we discussed a biography of sorts. The author, Celeste, had written an inspiring story of her father's life. A few agents had shown interest in her premise but ultimately rejected it. Our general consensus was that it's still not quite ready for querying; Celeste has a firm grasp on writing technique, but her story lacked any kind of conflict whatsoever.

I was uncomfortable as a total stranger giving out such discouraging criticism; however, I understand the need for it and hope I get the same (they all have my manuscript this month). Several times I found myself wishing I was critiquing a jerk, but Celeste is so nice! She kept staring forlornly at the binders containing the copies of her book and saying, "This is going to take five years to rewrite--again!"

I understood the look on Celeste's face: She was looking at the whole picture and feeling overwhelmed by it. That same expression crosses my face when I walk into the kitchen and see the mess the kids made (and are so reluctant to clean up), or look at the laundry baskets after I've unwisely decided to give the laundry a break for a few days. I'm sure I also look like that when I open my master document for my work in progress and see all the notes I've made for things to change in the MS, and my chapter outline with all those chapters yet to be written. The prospect of yet another rewrite will definitely invoke feelings of despair if you allow yourself to think of the whole picture, to imagine tackling the entire manuscript instead of fixing it in small bites.

You're not going to get all the dishes done at once if your dishwasher is broken like mine, unless you're Supermom (in that case, come over to my house and I'll bake you cookies in exchange for cleaning my kitchen!). Similarly, it's not possible to rewrite a manuscript in a week. So don't look at it that way! Tackle it a chapter or a set number of pages at a time, and give yourself a reasonable time limit to complete each small assignment. Take the same approach when you're writing your first draft: Set your writing goals in little bites, such as a daily word count or one scene at a time. Then reward yourself for making those goals!

There's no reason it should take Celeste five years to rewrite her book. We gave her lots of suggestions on where to add conflict to her story without turning it into a work of fiction, and it's really a lot less work than it seemed to her. She already has a solid framework. Even if she's a slow writer or very busy like me, she can probably have those revisions completed in a few months if she gives herself small, realistic goals. I hope she's not still looking at the entire picture by our next meeting. That's a surefire way to derail yourself, and has probably been the reason for many aspiring authors to give up on writing entirely.

In life, it's too easy to get discouraged by looking at the whole picture rather than taking on challenges a little at a time--especially during times of trial. We can get caught up in looking too far ahead and seeing all the obstacles laid out before us, when trying to see our personal, career, or spiritual goals. This can be overwhelming when trying to "endure to the end." What are some of the ways you deal with your challenges in small bites at a time, rather than trying to see the whole picture at once?


  1. Reminds me of that old saying still true after all these years, you really can eat an elephant a bite at a time.

  2. Small bites. That's exactly what I needed to hear today, Kristin. Not just in my book, but in my life. Thank you!



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