A friend who is raising small children and also attempting to write a novel emailed me and asked for help.
Well not help, really, but inspiration. She is feeling overwhelmed and can't get to her writing. Besides telling her that this, too, shall pass, because it will, faster than anybody can ever imagine, I have a pithy piece of advice for her:
One small thing.
As in, just do one small thing a day. Or even every other day. Or once a week.
The older wiser I get, the more I see that things don't happen overnight. When I was younger, I didn't quite understand this. If I started on a project–say, cleaning out the closet–and didn't finish it that very day, I thought I would never get back to it. And so then of course I didn't. And so then I learned just to not start things. Because they weren't going to get done so why bother.
But lately I see how profoundly the old wisdom is true. For instance:
Steady as she goes.
One day at a time.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Or, my favorite, from my late, beloved mother:
Step by step we travel far.
Last year, I embarked on a project to reorganize my office. I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me–like, months. I was determined to go through everything–all the old files and notes and journals–and it took forever. Also, there were huge swaths of time when I was too busy to get to it, and the papers and books piled up on the floor of my office. But then some time on the weekend would clear and I would get back to it. Even when I finally got the office furniture, it took awhile to have it put together. But finally, it was done. And I was happy.
I think when I was younger I had the weird idea that if it didn't get done all at once, it didn't count. That somehow dragging a project out over time invalidated it, the way we think, say, getting a parking ticket at the end of a blissful evening somehow negates the perfection of what came before.
But now I get that things take time. And we may not always have the time we need to attend to them at the moment, but eventually we will. And it is way, way better to relax and go with the flow than resist it, because resistance is what causes unhappiness. If I had figured this out when I was younger, I would have been a whole lot happier.
And now I know that doing one small thing, even once in awhile, can keep the thread of a project alive and the inspiration going. So let's all quit being so hard on ourselves about things and just do one small thing.
Photo by woodleywonderworks, courtesy of Flickr.