One Sip at a Time: Notion Potion #1 by Jordan Castillo Price

Welcome, old friends and new, to Notion Potion, which Wave has so generously offered to host! What’s it all about? Everyone who visits this blog is interested in a creative endeavor: writing, blogging, reviewing, and crafting—even reading, in which we “create” stories in our mind’s eyes based on some squiggles we’re decoding from a page.

Many of us yearn to embrace the natural creativity that we could experience in our day-to-day lives…if we weren’t ground down by lack of time, money and energy, of the criticisms of others, and the big, free-floating miasma of discouragement hovering over our heads. It’s my hope that by indulging me as I talk about my ideas on creativity, you’ll find yourself left with a little extra juice to embark on that project of your own you’ve been itching to enjoy.

It All Adds Up
It makes sense to buy something in bulk if you know you’re going to use it eventually before it goes bad. It’s unlikely, for instance, that you’re going to wake up one day and swear off toilet paper. (Yes, I know some environmentally-conscious people use something called a family cloth for their #1, but I’m just not that green.) I remember discovering a gigantic cube of my usual brand of toilet paper—I have no idea how many rolls, but something big, like 32. For a household of one, this is a LOT of toilet paper. But it was also about half the price per roll that I usually paid, so I figured I might as well grab it.

I also remember the moment a few months later I opened up my closet door to retrieve a new roll, and I saw there was only one left.

What had happened to the Borg-like cube?

Had I really run through all that TP myself?

What’s funny is, the same thing happened to the ginormous half-gallon of mouthwash that I decant into a tiny bottle because I’m worried the big one will get gross if I pour from it regularly. And the bottle of 300 aspirin I bought because it was only a dollar, and heck, you can always use aspirin. They seemed impossibly huge. But somehow, eventually, I worked my way through them.

One swig, swallow or swipe at a time.

Creative projects are like that. Anything from a novel you want to write, a website you’d like to plan, a painting you want to create, or a business you’re yearning to build—all of these things can be broken down into smaller steps, and I mean incredibly small.

Mere sips.

Something: Significantly Better than Nothing
The importance of taking that initial sip from the massive, brimming, sloshing jug that represents your creative goal can’t be understated. This first small action is key, because it bridges the gap between daydreaming and doing, between consuming and participating. According to Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, the crucial moment in taking charge of your creative life comes not from doing something big, or doing something well, but in doing something at all. Shirky says that when a person decides to make their first lolcat by placing some text on a cat photo a significant but unnoticed shift occurs.

Much of the objection to lolcats focuses on how stupid they are; even a funny lolcat doesn’t amount to much. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something, and someone making lolcats has bridged that gap.

If it’s as simple as making an lolcat, then why is this first sip so damn hard to swallow?

Fear Rears its Head
We could probably name a dozen reasons why it’s safer to not sing, write, act, draw, blog, craft, or engage in any other creative pursuit, because when we share our creative acts with others, we open ourselves up to criticism, sabotage, and downright ridicule.

Face it, some miserable so-and-so is gonna be pissed off that you decided to bridge the gap between not-doing and doing, and they’re going to try to make you pay.

If you enjoy the process, you need to do it anyway. You are probably not the best in the world, but you’re probably not the worst, either. By doing it, you may even get better. And at least you’re doing something—something that you enjoy.

But I Don’t Have Time
If you’ve “always wanted” to do something but never made the time, it’s probably fear of criticism that’s feeding your inertia by making you feel like you don’t have any time to work on your project. Here’s a way to circumvent it. Consider this: you want to write, but you don’t have large blocks of time. However, you commit to writing 300 words per day, which is approximately a page or a few paragraphs, and can often be achieved in about 15-20 minutes.

“A few paragraphs a day?” your inner party-pooper will say. “Why bother?”

Why, indeed?

  • If you write only 300 words per day, in a week you will have a short story draft.
  • In a month you will have a 9000 word novelette.
  • In three months you will have a 27000 word novella.
  • In nine months you will have an 80000 word novel. That’s less than a year!

You can achieve the same thing by working on any other project 15-20 minutes each day. How big of a dent would two hours per week put into beautifying your home or practicing an instrument or exercising or learning a new hobby? Not only would you move forward on your goal and foster a sense of accomplishment, but you’d learn to ignore the annoying little voice inside that keeps saying you don’t have enough time or money or talent to do the things that would make you happy.

Have a Sip
What about you? Is there a project you’ve been longing to do that feels so overwhelmingly huge it would be like chugging a gallon of water in one sitting?

Can you think of some way to break up into manageable sips?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my ruminations on the creative process. Please let me know if there are other creativity topics you’d like me to touch on in future columns! Looking for more inspiration? I have three years of writing podcasts archived at Packing Heat.

Find out more about Jordan at JordanCastilloPrice.com or check out her latest releases at jcpbooks.com

Author

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. She writes paranormal, horror and thriller novels from her isolated and occasionally creepy home in rural Wisconsin.

48 comments

  • I managed to miss this last month and it is so true. I just need to apply it!

    I have trouble finding the starting point on projects and getting past it. I can break things down into manageable steps in theory, but then freak out about one of those ireversible steps. Sewing is one of those things – making that first cut into the fabric is a panic attack inducing moment. I don’t do sewing any more.

    Writing isn’t so much about starting as finishing for me – or at the moment continuing. Someone posted a link for on-line jigsaw puzzles… and will be getting evil looks about that in September!

    Reply
    • Oh, I hate the irreversible step. I think that’s why I’m a lot bolder doing computer graphics than I am with pen and ink. There’s no undo key with pen and ink.

      And what you meant to say was I’d get hugs and kisses for the jigsaw puzzle link, right? 😀

      Reply
  • This was a fantastic post and SO TRUE. Each step, no matter how small, gets you that much closer to your goal. Thanks for this! Always good to be reminded of that 😀

    Reply
  • Hi Jordan!

    Just dropping by to say great article. It’s so true. I mean, there’s really only one common denominator between all published novels (good and bad) in the world–they are finished. Which means I suppose means that at some point they must have been started, right? 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks, Nicole! That paralysis of starting big projects is really tough to outsmart. What’s weird is that so many of us are great at tackling huge things in some areas of our lives, but not others.

      Reply
  • My God, it’s an epiphany 🙂 Not just about writing, but all the other “life projects” Hubby and I keep adding to the To Do list, then getting paralysed at the enormity of the task. So the list gets longer, and we get more depressed and disappointed in ourselves. I’m going through this with him tonight, with a new, positive approach 🙂

    In writing, this also explains why I have a batch of promising WIPs, all of them apparently stuck in the mud. I’m trying to discipline myself to this incremental approach, a little every day, to see the progress as an achievement rather than “only that much?” I love the way you describe turning our reaction on its head – see the constructive, see the achievement, see the fun. It’s a glass half-full attitude, and needs nurturing!

    Thanks for the call to arms – you’re very skilled at defining and refining the topic and then presenting it in a really fun and motivational way 🙂

    Reply
    • It’s also a challenge because as writers, we need to keep the whole in mind but be satisfied with the small incremental progress, because unless you write mainly flash fic and short stories, you really can’t bang it out all in one day.

      Although, really, so few things are instantaneous. Sewing, as Jo mentioned, takes a lot of time. (You might make a simple garment in an evening but probably only after you’ve reached a certain level of expertise.)

      Oh, I just had an a-ha moment. Some things aren’t about a finished product and are only about the showing up, like an exercise regimen or a spiritual practice.

      Reply
      • Process, not end result – I think that’s key in any endeavour. You have to enjoy getting there or it just isn’t worth it. Most of our lives will be spent working for goals, after all. The moments of actually fulfilling those goals are few and far between, so if all we’re after is those, we’re going to be miserable.

        This is why I wash up slowly. It’s the only way I can enjoy doing the dishes. My husband thinks I should do it faster and not worry about rinsing things first, but I hate washing up in dirty water so I do it my way and spend twice as long. It’s good thinking time, though. I get some of my best insights and story ideas while washing up.

        Reply
        • Jo
          😆 I can’t believe you don’t have a dishwasher. Washing dishes is never a pleasure. Think of all the time you will save for different projects if you only had a dishwasher. 🙂

          Reply
          • Getting a dishwasher is one of my goals for this year. I get NOTHING out of hand-washing my dishes. But I need to have a carpenter knock out a cabinet to make space, and I have to figure out where to store all the stuff from that cabinet…so the overwhelm strikes again. The project feels too big.

            Reply
            • We’ve got one!!! Hubby and I say it’s one of the best decisions we ever made, because neither of us like washing up and it was causing untold arguments and tension. Bizarre, eh? It was worth losing a cupboard which we’d filled with a load of crap crockery that we never used anyway.

              We really feel proud of addressing something that genuinely Changed Our Life :). Same for having the drive outside the front of the house bricked over for parking, so we no longer spend a miserable half hour every night trying to find a parking space after an “argh” day at work!

              Choose your battles, concentrate on things that add value. So easily said… LOL

              Reply
              • THAT inspires me to get moving on the dishwasher! I have a guy rebuilding my front steps later this month, I’m going to show the cupboard to him and see what it will entail.

                My special thing that I tweaked to save myself grief was to have a big water filter installed under my sink, so I don’t need to mess around with a filtration pitcher. All the water that comes out of the cold tap is as yummy as bottled water, and the filter is so big you only change it every six months, so it’s cheaper than a fridge pitcher, too.

                Reply
          • Honestly Wave, I quite enjoy it – much more than I enjoyed loading/unloading a dishwasher when I did have one!

            What I need is a cleaner. That would save me time!

            Reply
  • Jordan, I hate you! How am I supposed to procrastinate now? LOL.

    Excellent post. Thanks for the line:
    “I think it’s because I don’t value it.”

    I always thought there was something wrong with me because housework isn’t a priority.

    Reply
    • I’ve been trying to be upfront with myself and say, “That’s not a priority,” rather than, “I don’t have the time/money to do that.” I’m not sure why I feel like it’s different. Maybe more empowering. If I say I can’t afford to do something (time or moneywise) then I feel like a victim. If I say I don’t do something because I’d rather be doing something else, it feels more empowering.

      Reply

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