Charlotte Rains Dixon  

One Small Thing

A friend who is raising small children and also attempting to write a novel emailed me and asked for help. 
Daunting-ponder-question-520424-l 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.

0 thoughts on “One Small Thing

  1. J.D. Frost

    How many times have you heard this story? “I don’t have time.” Right. Funny though that some people find time to write books. She has to be a mother to her kids; everything else is negotiable. I piddled away my youth. I had a million excuses for not writing or playing music. She does have time. In fact, she has years of it. If she gives that away waiting for the perfect time to write . . . . Trust me, that approach doesn’t make it any easier.

  2. J.D. Frost

    Adding to my comment. If anyone wants to write, write. If not, then garden, run marathons, sing karaoke, or–my fave–watch TV! But don’t whine. It’s not like Michael Connelly didn’t have a life. I don’t know what he gave up. Maybe he didn’t have a gf or he never went out to dinner or maybe he didn’t watch the news. Whatever, he found the time to write books. If he did it, she can do it. Charlotte, you give the best advice. Take a step a day. It’s the perfect advice for her. Well . . . for me too.

  3. Charlotte Dixon

    Oh J.D. thanks, I’m so glad you think I give good advice. And I echo what you say–if you want to do it, do it. There’s the famous quote that says most people don’t want to write, they want to have written. I find that often to be true. People say they want to write, but when it comes down to it, they never do it. And I agree, I wish I knew then what I know now. I would not have wasted so much time, either.

  4. Theresa111


    What an insightful post. I totally understand the feeling that if it cannot be finished, then why start the project at all? Glad you took those steps to get to the place you are in today. Now … doesn’t your office feel organized and welcoming?



  5. Christi Corbett

    I’ve got two five year olds that run my writing life, but kindergarden is just around the corner 🙂
    Let the writing time begin!

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Oh, Christi, I so well remember those days. You will be amazed at how much time you have once they start kindergarten. Yay!

  7. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, Theresa. The idea that it is no use to start a project if it can’t be finished is a mind trap for sure!

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