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About Theresa Nichols Schuster

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Theresa Nichols Schuster is author of "Brittle Silver" and "We Are the Warriors" a 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award Finalist. She currently lives in southwest Montana where she appreciates the wonders of nature, family, friends, a bit of pottery.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting Started...

This last fall I took on the task of refinishing an old desk. First I stripped the old finish, then sanded again and again, finally I carefully laid the new coats of finish on one at a time. I focused on each small section of the desk; the scroll around the desktop, the drawers, the back, each leg, bit by bit, piece by piece. When I eventually finished the desk, it was beautiful, but it took me four times longer than I had guessed.

As I was working, I'd go out to the garage, saying, "I'll sand one layer and be back in two hours." Three hours later I would come in, only half way done with one layer of sanding. I was continually underestimating the time and effort for each section of the refinishing project.

Whether it is writing or some other creative task or project, sometimes the endeavor seems way too huge and even beginning it is a challenge.

At least two things vex us as we set out on a new activity; one, our desire to do something well and two, a fledgling appreciation of what a daunting task our project may be.

I enjoy the author of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's explanation of a method to start an undertaking, in this case a writing project. She uses the term "one-inch picture frame." This is all you need to write about, what you can see through a one-inch picture frame. It may be just one paragraph describing a setting or a short physical description of a character. Don't think about the entire novel, a competed short story or your entire autobiography—only one small, short piece of it. Just focus on that little bit. This simple, small type of attention can energize many different endeavors.

The plus of this technique is that you can see movement, progress. You can wrap your mind around a reasonable goal. The joy of accomplishing a portion of your plan gives you more energy to continue it.

The minus is that you really don't know the magnitude of the entire project until you are done. You get sucked into a gradually expanding vortex, always meeting small goals, moving forward, deeper and deeper into the enterprise, not realizing the entire cost.

I provide one caveat when you embark on a creative venture or writing project, one-inch frame at a time, or as the cross country kids use to chant, "An elephant—one bite at a time!" WARNING:  This undertaking will probably take more hours, cost more money, require more sweat and more determination than you had ever guessed. This direction will take more out of you physically and mentally than you ever imagined. You will not be the same person you were because of this path you chose. Hopefully you will be a richer, deeper, more grounded person.

Who will judge the "worth" of your project or your effort when you have "completed" it? Hopefully your heart and soul will be the judge, maybe not without questions and doubts along the way, but the sole assessment is largely with you. That is the GLORY and the BITTER-SWEETNESS of it all, YOU get to determine the value of your efforts, not anyone else.