Beginning a new writing project can be simultaneously exciting and disheartening. There is plenty to look forward to – sinking your teeth into a new body of literature, making new discoveries, and entering a different intellectual conversation. There are also so many things you must plan, so much research to conduct, so many outlines and drafts to write before you even have something you can share with your peers. You can feel pressure from the practical concerns (I have so many things to do.) as well as the emotional ones (I feel like I’ll never be finished!).
One reason writers experience overwhelm in writing is because they focus on the enormity of the end result – a complete article, or the many weeks/months/years they’ll spend on a project. It doesn’t always pay to focus on the big picture. If you’re thinking about the size of the project or the amount of time that must be spent, you’ll feel like you’re embarking on a journey with no end in sight. It’s natural to ask yourself, “how can I complete such an immense project?”
Thinking about your project in those terms will make your work more difficult than it needs to be. Instead, break down your project into the absolute smallest segments possible. The good news is that you are likely already doing this. If you’ve ever set a timer for 30 minutes of writing or made a to-do list of writing-related tasks, then you know how to establish small projects that move you closer to completing a large project.
Small Yet Consistent Results
Giving yourself small manageable tasks isn’t merely about filling your to-do list with projects. Rather, creating small tasks is about changing your mindset towards writing. You’ll stop thinking of writing as completing your magnum opus. Instead, you’ll look at your writing as a series of small, daily actions that you complete consistently as part of a routine. With routine comes predictability, and with predictability comes certainty. Instead of asking yourself, “how can I complete such an immense project?” you’ll be able to tell yourself, “I know I can write three paragraphs or complete a memo today.” That sense of certainty gives you the confidence to keep moving forward in your writing. After all, we generally are overwhelmed because we believe we are incapable. It’s rare to feel overwhelmed by things you believe you are capable of doing.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed in writing, remind yourself that these feelings are natural. Large projects have a lot of moving parts, and it is difficult to keep track of all of them, let alone make sense of the massive amounts of literature and data you are collecting. Yet, as I discussed above, there are ways to bring order to what may feel like a chaotic process. You should use the aforementioned strategies, but while doing so don’t beat yourself up over feeling discouraged.