I write history and fiction. Sometimes, my skills as a writer cross over from one to the other. Other times, not so much. With fiction, I rarely have a problem getting my words done. With history, because of the vast amount of research and other professional responsibility involved (I am mucking about with the dead, so best to do my due diligence or risk getting haunted), sometimes it’s harder to “dive in” than it would be if it were just stuff from my imagination.
But I’ve got a good trick, stolen from fiction, for getting the cold engine running. I first saw it in Bruce Holland Roger’s WORD WORK, one of the best books on craft and career in fiction I’ve read. He talked about how novels can seem impossible things when you begin. The concept is so huge and the project is so long, the imaginary “weight” of the “novel” kills your ability to start.
He suggested “atomizing” the experience. Tell yourself you’re not writing a novel, you’re writing a chapter, or a paragraph, or a sentence. That’s the goal. That’s the piece you’re focused on. All of a sudden, the project doesn’t seem as intimidating. And, after you get the hang of atomizing and setting goals to meet the smaller chunks of the project, you find you’re actually accomplishing more than you thought.
I sometimes do this with historical work. Instead of a two year project of 400 words that stands like a mountain on my shoulders, I say, “let’s just read the last chapter,” or “let’s just tidy up that chunk on the battle of whatevermore,”. The weight lifts, the mind focuses, and pretty soon you find you’re back in command of the material.
So, there you go. Advice is cheap. But if you found this useful, go buy CON JOB for 2.99 and keep the Ridler wealthy in wrestling masks and pancakes!