Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together.
—Vincent van Gogh
I had no idea how powerfully this quote would affect my writing. Since I posted it on the bulletin board in my office several years ago, it has become an intentional approach when thinking about a writing project.
Seeing subtopics as individual pieces of writing helped me to focus without being overwhelmed with the whole subject of a manuscript. At some point along the way, I created a visual for myself that fits with my learning style: I am a whole to parts, concrete, sequential, and visual learner. I have the whole book in mind, and then the parts surface over time. I journal when ideas begin to build and morph and take shape, sometimes in unexpected ways. I then order them preliminarily (my “unfolding” concept). Actually seeing the project on paper frees me to brainstorm and rearrange and prepare for the first draft. Once I have the main topic and most of the subtopics, I begin to break them down even more. My thinking moves along from small to big, much like a watercolorist’s approach is from light to dark—one layer building upon the next. I go from “tweet” to “book” in my mind. This visual guides my approach and lessens my stress along the way.
If I tweeted, which I don’t, it would be the topic sentence or “hook” for the subtopic of a blog post. Morning Pages is what I call my blog. I am working on a full-length book by writing Morning Pages first. I then collect the posts, inserting transitions between them and conclusions where needed, and creating the opuscule (defined as a small literary or minor work). I loved the word when it came across my screen from Dictionary.com, so I have claimed it as my own. The opuscule is an article, an essay, or a chapter in a book. I saw the demonstration of this when reading Joan Didion’s (1968) Slouching Towards Bethlehem and knew that I wanted to use her approach for my work. She has two main sections with eight essays in the first one and twelve essays in the second one. I estimated the average word count to be between 3,000 and 5,000 words or between twelve and twenty pages per essay. Each essay is related to the overarching subject of the book, but many were initially published individually in newspapers and magazines as articles of interest by an award-winning author.
I believe that “What I do must reach further than the things just done,” so I am sharing my intentional approach with the hope that it might help you with your writing like it helped me with mine.