Once upon a time there was an ambitious young executive—we’ll call him Lance. He was doing all he could to climb the corporate ladder: he’d work late and volunteer for special projects. The one thing he was missing was face time with the CEO. Lance well understood that the political game was just as important as what he actually contributed to the company.
One evening he had his opportunity. He was working late one night and saw the CEO standing in front of the shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.
“Listen,” said the CEO, “this is a very sensitive and important document here, and my secretary has already gone for the night. Do you know how to make this thing work?”
Lance was thrilled at his opportunity to be perceived as helpful, knowledgeable, and competent. He put the paper into the shredder and hit the start button.
“Wonderful!” said the CEO as his document disappeared into the shredder. “I only need one copy.”
I’ve seen this story floating around the internet in various forms for years. But it resonates with me, and I’m sure many others, because we’ve all been there.
We try so very hard to achieve something, and disaster strikes. Or maybe we just get stuck. No matter what we do, we can’t make the progress we want to.
I’ve been in that same place with my writing. So instead of letting myself stay in the rut, I thought about ways to get out of it.
The first is to understand the task. What I am trying to accomplish? Our friend Lance assumed he know what his task was. And while I can’t fault him for assuming that the CEO knew the difference between a shredder and a copy machine, Lance could have avoided the catastrophe by simply articulating his understanding of the task.
“I’ll be happy to shred that for you,” would have made all the difference.
As I edit, I get bogged down because I’m trying to do too many things at once. I’d make far better progress by focusing on just one aspect, like character arcs, and making sure they work before moving on.
Second, going back to basics helps. Many pro athletes who end up in a slump will spend some time just on basic drills, the same ones they spent time on when they were just starting out. This is often all they need to get their performance back where it should be.
I know I’ve found that by just reviewing a good article on whatever I’m working on, whether it’s dialogue or setting can help me focus my thinking. I then can make my edits easier and end up with a better result.
That’s just two ways to get unstuck. Next week we’ll look at three more.