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GYWD #20: Optimizing Epiphanies: Three Steps to Launching Successful Writing Projects

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In this episode…

It’s a new year and for many of us that means it’s time to launch ambitious new writing projects. And that’s great, because the world needs more of what you’re doing. But it turns out that the launch phase is fraught with perils and risks. How many of us have had a blinding epiphany strike while in the shower, only to realize later that the idea wasn’t so brilliant after all? Or have you ever spent a week enthusiastically pursuing a new project only to hit a brick wall and realize that it wasn’t something you actually wanted to do? Or even could do?

Being enthusiastic about your new project is awesome, but writers need to not let that enthusiasm cloud their vision of reality. Writers of all kinds need to be sure that their new idea is worth pursuing before they invest blood, sweat, tears, and years on it. Nor can exuberance substitute for good planning.

So today we’re going to talk about some of the most common challenges that come at launch time and I’ll outline a three-step approach to making sure your next launch is a success.

Links

Hirschman, “The Principle of the Hiding Hand,”
Walsh, “Why Your Best Idea May Be Your Second Favorite,”
Leighfield, “How to Write a Film Treatment,”

Weekly Writing Routine Workshop (Jan 20, 2022)
30 Day Writing Habit Builder Challenge (Jan 24, 2022)

Trevor’s Coach-Led Weekly Writing Group
GetYourWritingDone.com
Follow me on Twitter

The 12 Week Year for Writers

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Transcript

Trevor Thrall  0:00  
Welcome to the Get your writing done Podcast. I’m Trevor Thrall, author of the 12 week year for writers. If you enjoy today’s podcast, please submit a review wherever you get those podcasts that really helps. And for weekly updates on the podcast and other writing resources, you can subscribe to my newsletter at get your writing done calm. It’s a new year. And for many of us, it’s time to launch ambitious new writing projects. And that’s amazing because the world needs more of what you’re doing. But it turns out that the launch phase is fraught with perils and risks. How many of us have had a blinding epiphany while in the shower, only to realize later that the idea wasn’t so brilliant after all? Or have you ever spent a week enthusiastically pursuing a new project, only to hit a brick wall and realized it wasn’t something you actually wanted to do? Or maybe even could do? I’m guilty. Being enthusiastic about your new project is awesome. But writers need to not let that enthusiasm cloud their vision of reality, writers of all kinds need to be sure that their new idea is worth pursuing before they invest blood, sweat, tears and years on it. Nor can exuberance substitute for good planning. So today, we’re going to talk about some of the most common challenges that come at launch time. And I’ll outline a three step approach to making sure your next launch is a success.

It’s a new year, and it’s time for an ambitious new project. I can’t tell you how many times I have come out of the winter break on fire about a new project. It’s resolution time, it’s a new year, it’s a brand new start. I know I’m not alone, I know I’m not alone, in having launched many, many a new and ambitious project in January, whether that is an exercise project, a diet project, or a writing project, many, many a writing project. And it’s an exciting time of year because you are fully invigorated by your new planner you just bought and you’re rested and relaxed and ready to go from vacation. And this is the year you’re finally going to write that book or you’re going to write that screenplay or you’re going to start the blog, whatever. Unfortunately, as I think most of us also know, you know, January is the graveyard of dreams. Because how many of you, you know, raise your hand, if you’ve ever had the following. You had some kind of breakthrough idea. And you had some epiphany, in the shower, walking the dog. And you came right home, and you just open a new binder or a new document on your computer, and you just start slamming a keyboard and you’re on fire. And you know about a week later, you realize the idea is not all that good, after all. And you realize, or maybe you know, as has been the case, as I’ve probably mentioned, more than once about, say various home improvement projects, I might have gotten a bee in my bonnet about I get partway through, I get back from Home Depot with the materials and realize I have no idea how to do it. It seemed a lot more clear in my head before but I really don’t know what I’m doing. So there might or might not be a few half finished projects lying around my house. Or you realize you spent three, four days just jamming along and then you know something else pops up in your calendar and you realize you don’t have any time to do that project after all, because you have other more important things to do. So sort of frustrated, epiphanies are everywhere. And January, unfortunately, you know, the flipside of January is that it’s it’s the time when a lot of new projects start. But it’s also the time when a lot of new ambitious projects end. So, you know, launching projects is awesome. It’s exciting. It is. It is one of the best parts about being a creative person because I don’t think there’s anything quite like the first few days on a new project. It’s like the first sip of a hot cup of coffee. There are few things better in this world. The problem is that the launch phase it while it is the most exciting. It is also a critical period during which the factors determining success and failure are up in the air. And the key here at this phase is to make sure that you get these factors aligned in the right direction. And if you can do that, you know it sort of determines the eventual arc of the project If you don’t get them, right, unfortunately, the doom of the project can be, can be set in stone before you’ve gotten very far. And so, as it, you know, happens, as with so many things launches, kind of incur a lot of pretty common challenges. And so the goal for today is to talk through a few of the most common and challenging challenges. And then I’m going to offer sort of a three step formula for fighting those challenges and, and launching successfully. So let’s start with some of those sort of dangers of launch. And the first one, I’m going to call the epiphany bias, or maybe the epiphany trap, would be the right word for it. And, you know, again, I think I will not be alone here, if I admit that I have fallen in love, with many, many ideas very hard. That later turned out to not be very good. You know, I think it’s kind of just a mathematical rule that you have a lot of ideas, but not all of them are great. You know, I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s not, it’s not necessarily super high.

Unfortunately, the problem with epiphanies, you know, is that or ambitious projects that get in, you’re stuck in your craw that you just get really excited about? The problem is that our emotional response to them sort of overwhelms our rational brains, right. That’s why I use the word epiphany, epiphany trap, right? You fall in love with sort of the blinding, genius have some new idea for a story, or the incredible cleverness of some new argument that you’re gonna make an essay, or the business value of a new newsletter, it could be any number of epiphanies, right? But the problem is that you have it. And for a moment, the skies part, the clouds part and you see it, and it’s full awesomeness. And it gives you a feeling, right. And that feeling, unfortunately, overwhelms our rational brain sometimes. And, and the problem with that is that, and again, I’m just speaking from personal experience here is that what often happens is you don’t stop, because you’re in the flush of this enthusiasm about your epiphany, you don’t stop, to really take stock of this idea very much. And you launch into work on the project, before you’ve actually done any sort of due diligence. And so I think one of the main dangers of the of the Epiphany bias, if you will, is, is starting to quick, before you’ve done a quality check, before you’ve actually figured out if it’s really the next thing you should be working on, doesn’t really fit, you know, where you’re going, and the bigger strategy or picture of what you’re trying to do in life, and so on. And so, you know, I think the first challenge of launching a big project is to make sure we’re just not in love with the idea, the idea of the idea, and to make sure that we’ve actually done a little bit of hard thinking about what we’re doing before we start. Alright. And so now I’m going to talk about several different sort of challenges here. And the really tricky part is that they all amplify each other. So the next one I want to talk about is the optimism bias. And in a nutshell, the optimism bias is, and this is, unlike the epiphany bias, which is my term, the optimism bias is one that psychologists have documented quite well. And that’s just the general tendency for people to underestimate how hard things will be. So, you know, this is absolutely rampant. It feels like to me with writers of all kinds. And it strikes new writers, it can strike experienced writers. And sometimes, in fact, people with some experience can fall harder for this, because they may have done something that they think is the same before. And so they imagine that it will be even easier the next time since they’ve already done it the first time. And I you know, I have read many, many woe is me stories about how that didn’t turn out to be true. But But anyway, for example, I’ll just give you one example from my past example of the optimism bias. When I was finally an ABD in grad school, and I had finished my exams and I was all but dissertation, I was starting to write my dissertation proposal or, in fact, when this occurred, it was when I was thinking about ideas that I would sort of, you know, eventually write a proposal About just starting out, I was I remember having a conversation at lunch with some guys, in my department who were in the same situation, we had all just passed exams, were all excited and ready to write dissertations. And we were talking about how long it might take. And I remember very clearly, the consensus was, it didn’t seem clear why this should take any longer than a year. You know, all you do is, you know, bing, bang, boom we’ve just been through writing are sort of, you know, second year, sort of Capstone papers, which were sort of meaty documents. And this seemed like another example of that just maybe a little bigger. But, you know, we already got the building blocks, and it should be pretty easy. And so I was, you know, I remember thinking a year, year and a half, and this thing is done, I’m out of here, you know, and, okay, it took me four. I had no idea what I was in for, man. Oh, man, what a joke. I had no idea what it took to write a dissertation. I didn’t. In retrospect, at that point, I couldn’t have told you the different parts that were going to get in my way, the different things I had, I had no idea. And so, you know, this is an interesting problem, because I think one of the things now, if you’re launching an ambitious new project that you’ve actually been planning for a long time, this probably doesn’t,

you know, apply to you. But, but so many of us, especially creative types, are our people who follow their passionate interests. And that’s what draws us to write certain things. That’s what draws us to research certain things. And so I’m what I’m speaking to is this tendency for epiphanies to drive the launch of ambitious new projects. Now. Here’s, here’s there’s a there’s a yin yang, with the optimism bias. And I’m going to research a sigh, I’m going to reference some piece of social science here by a, I think he’s now deceased. But an professor called Albert Hirschman. And he was a very well known political scientist, I think he’s a political scientist. I don’t think he was an economist, he was either an economist or a political scientist, either way, he wrote about something he called the hiding hand. And he was studying at one point, he was studying sort of these mega projects like the Hoover Dam and other monstrous projects that had been completed. And one of the things he pointed out was that all of them, you know, were over budget and took much longer than anyone had possibly realized. But then he actually is, and of course, most of the time, one looks at that and says, Well, that’s a, that’s bad. But what but Hirshman pointed out, was that if you flip that around, you can realize that, because we have no idea how hard things are gonna be, we are willing to tackle projects that are sometimes insanely difficult. For the very reason that we are overly optimistic, we imagine we can do it in a fairly straightforward way. Or we imagine that we know what all the obstacles are, even though it ends up we don’t. Hirshman made that really interesting point that, you know, if you if you could think of all the challenges ahead of time, you would be so daunted you wouldn’t do it. So, in fact, it’s this tendency of the hiding hand to obscure the probable difficulties, that actually allows us to take on awesome, super crazy things in the first place. So this is an interesting situation we have here, right? So on the one hand, I should tell you to stop, because, hey, you might just be using the hiding hand to, you know, obscure things in the near term, that you will eventually figure out how to bully your way through just, you know, for example, the way I did with my dissertation, you know, if I had known it was gonna take me for years, I might have coiled and quit right then. But I didn’t know that I launched in and only occurred to me halfway in that it was gonna take me four years, by which point I had figured out what I was doing. And, anyway, so. So on the one hand, you know, you might say, kudos to the optimism bias. But on the other hand, the optimism bias means that we under appreciate the difficulty level of new projects that we’re launching into and overestimate our ability to actually do them, right. And again, I just, it’s probably even easier to use home improvement projects, because I’m so bad at them. It has there are many funny examples of me failing at this, but you know, sometimes when you look at something like say, just for example, putting Pergo down on your floors. That looks very straightforward in the videos, right? Not Not really. Or just to take the most recent example, I had a plumber in to deal with a few problems. I asked him for a quote to fix To change the faucet on my sink, and he quoted me $316 And I almost had a heart attack, you mean to lift up the faucet and plop down a new one that you bought? I bought at Home Depot, you’re gonna charge me $300? And he’s like, yeah, no, it’s crazy. So okay, I watched the video, I bought the stuff at Home Depot, I did the video. And I had to call him in anyway, because something went wrong, that I had no idea could go wrong. Right? Well, there you go, optimism bias. So sometimes, you start a project. And it turns out awesome and great, though more difficult than you expected. Sometimes, on the other hand, the optimism bias leads you down a dark thorny path that ends and misery because in fact, you can’t do it. Or it’s not a very good idea, right, so. So when we’re gonna need to find a solution to the bad side of the optimism bias, then there is a third problem that many of us suffer from at the beginning of a big launch, especially about complex or lengthy project, like a book. And that is the planning fallacy. Or, as I sometimes prefer to call it magic thinking. The planning fallacy is a very, very heavily documented

problem that most people suffer from, which is that almost everyone underestimates how long things will take. So even when people are asked to think about how long something will take, right, they’re not just ignoring the idea of a plan, which is itself a problem. But even when asked to, you know, think about an estimate how long something will take, most people are getting overly optimistic, and are wildly short of how long something will take them to do. And again, that’s one of my problem, one of several problems were that I had, as a graduate student, I had no long, no idea how long my dissertation was going to take. So when you pair the planning fallacy with the first two problems, you can, you can, there’s a real amplification of these things, because, you know, you don’t know how difficult things would be are going to be you don’t know what challenges are going to happen. And so you’re already your, your tendency already to underestimate how long things are, is, is bad enough, when you actually know what’s going to happen. Right. But when you don’t, and you add that to the poem, I mean, it just, it just multiplies in, in problems, so. So falling in love with your own idea, irrationally, the epiphany bias, being under appreciative of the difficulties and challenges ahead, the optimism bias, and underestimate how long it’s all going to take you the planning fallacy or magic thinking, right? These are three really big problems that you could probably bucket under one simple umbrella of over enthusiasm. And these are all sort of diseases of enthusiasm. And and that’s, you know that that’s the weird thing about it is that, where would you be without this incredible enthusiasm, it’s the wind, right? That is behind you, pushing you towards achieving cool new things. And yet, it comes with some some risks, right? It comes with the risks of not checking yourself of not reading the road ahead carefully enough of not thinking carefully enough about your use of time. So those are three things that kind of all come from the exuberance, or over exuberance, of of new things. And I think, again, at the beginning of the year is a time when I see anyway, when I look around, there is an excess of enthusiasm about new beginnings. And and like I said, I think what I also see in January is that there’s an excess of, of dreams that end fairly quickly, in less than happy circumstances, because people haven’t checked all these things, before they launched into them, and didn’t do enough thinking about how to do them, which is comes to our next and fourth and final sort of danger at the launch point is just to give it a phrase here, the complexity conundrum. I like cute phrases. So that’s what we’re going to call this one. And this is not a bias or, you know, sort of, it’s just the simple fact that big projects are complex. And and when you are at the beginning of a complicated project. Again, you know, I think of I think of projects, like I think of I was once given this example. I don’t remember when I have source confusion over this to name another bias. But think of a birth of a star right. And, you know, one second after the explosion of a star, all the particles that are exploding outward are already on known trajectories. Right? It doesn’t matter how much longer you know you later you look at where those things are, you know exactly what trajectory everything’s on. It’s too late to affect any of those things. They’re all going where they’re going. And I think of Like startup businesses are like this. And creative projects are like this. And I mean, by creative, I include research projects as well, anything where you’re creating new words, new ideas, and, you know, sharing those with the rest of the world that there is a core to those projects, a core a design, if you will, a framework that they’re built on. And, and those determine how it’s going to go how well it’s gonna, you know, end up. And if you get that framework, right, you’re gonna have a good project, if you don’t get it right. And it doesn’t matter how well you execute the various steps, it’s, it’s doomed sort of from the start. And, and, you know, I draw on a couple of different sort of thoughts there to illustrate, one is, the one I have most experience with, of course, is watching people write dissertations. And I’ve been I just counted the other day, I’ve been on over 40 dissertation committees now, and, and in each of those cases, have watched students create a dissertation proposal. And that dissertation proposal is

designed to, to assess the, the project and kind of make sure it’s framed out correctly at the beginning. And, and I can’t tell you enough how important that phase is. Because what that does is it gives people a chance to sort of think through that complexity, and to try to figure out, you know, what, all the pieces and parts are, so, so that so that, in other words, so they can get things lined up in the right direction. So so the first danger of complexity is that there’s a danger, if you don’t think through it, clearly, you won’t, you won’t get the project framed correctly. And I’ll say more about this later. Then the second piece is that, because big, complex, projects are big, have many pieces are complex, it matters a lot more than with a small project, the order you do things in. And so you know, the design up front of a big project is more important than design up front for a little project. Because if it’s a short project, you can go back and rewrite the whole thing, right? If it’s a 500 word essay, and you screw up, you can write the whole thing over again, in an hour. If you don’t get the plot, right, and you get three quarters of the way into your novel, and you realize that it’s not working, you got to rewrite the whole thing. I mean, it’s hard to fix a plot, as I’m sure anyone who’s done so will agree, it can be really hard to go back and make things coherent, when you make major plot changes. I’ve been working with someone who’s going through and changing, not strictly the plot, but the point of view from two characters have been point of view in the thing to just one. And that is causing plot issues. So you know, even just that kind of change, if you have to go back, that’s a lot of changing. What if you had gotten that right at the beginning, right. And so that makes a huge amount of difference in how long it’s gonna take you, and how good things are gonna be some time. So. So there’s a lot of room to gain strategic efficiencies, and a big complex project early that you’re going to lose, if you don’t do it upfront. So the complexity conundrum is a big one. And I’ll say there’s one more piece that I think is a big deal is that many people with the enthusiasm that they get around an idea hits a brick wall, when they realize they sit down. And they have no idea what to do next. Because the idea, I’m gonna write a book about my great grandfather’s trip to America, and then you sit down, it’s just a brilliant idea. Like, you think about how much everyone’s gonna love that. And he was such a cool person, and he’d had so many adventures, and so on, so forth. And you sit down, you realize that you’ve never written a book, and you have no idea where to start. And then you start looking thinking in your head about all the different things you could do next, and you just, you’re paralyzed. And so that’s not a very comfortable situation. So this complexity conundrum, right? It’s hard to know what to do next. It’s hard to get things sort of Rubik’s cube so that you’re going to get off in the right direction. And it’s, it’s a situation where you can gain a lot of strategic efficiencies or lose a lot of time if you don’t get the design right, so So those are four pretty serious challenges to the launch of any new project, sort of the Epiphany trap or the bias where you start too quickly because you haven’t you don’t battle test your idea because you’re just in love with it. The optimism bias where you sort of under appreciate how difficult things are going to be an overestimate your ability to do it. The planning fallacy where you I think it’s going to be quick. And you underestimate wildly, how long it’s gonna take. And then the complexity conundrum, which is not a bias, but it’s just the simple fact that dealing with complex things is hard. So how do we deal with all these things? How do we make sure our project gets off to a solid start, and I’m just gonna offer three quick, quick, three, simple, straightforward. That’s the word, I’m looking for three straightforward steps to take to try to combat these, these biases and these troubles. And Step one is to confirm that your epiphany and your new project really aligns with your vision. And, you know, if you’re a 12 weaker with me, then you know, you know that the ultimate sort of energy source for your actions is your aspirational vision. And certainly, you know, this epiphany you have should be leading you in that direction. Then if we think about our near term goals and visions in the one to three year range, but you know, what are the things that we need to be doing in the near future? To make sure we’re heading effectively towards our aspirations?

Right? How does this new epiphany fit into there? Is it is it? Is it simply sort of a articulation of something that is is a goal for the near term? And you just hadn’t maybe filled in that blank yet? And this is the fill in the blank, that’s the epiphany? Or does your epiphany maybe go to the left or to the right of those? Right? I mean, one of the things I will say about my own epiphanies is I have had many epiphany, that is absolutely skew from where I’m going at the moment. I mean, my ideas don’t follow rules, or guidelines, they just come. And sometimes you get very excited about them, and you write them down, and maybe I’ll spend an afternoon on one of them. And at some point, you have to ask yourself, does this actually help me get somewhere that I’m trying to go? Or is this a neat idea that someone else should do? I’ve had a ton of those, I mean, a ton of those. Right. And what I also need is the discipline to know that. And so I’ve had to develop that over time, because I’ve had many an idea that I’ve wasted time on, when I probably should have realized it was someone else’s idea, not mine. So does it fit? Where, you know, does it help you build towards what you ultimately want to do? Does it help you get where you need to be getting in the near term? And then the more sort of specific question you want to ask yourself is, is it the thing you should be working on right now? And I’ve talked in previous podcasts about being vulnerable to epiphanies. So one of the things that we have to ask ourselves, when an epiphany comes knocking is, am I having this epiphany, because I’m such a genius. I’m such a creative genius that I just can’t turn it off, I just keep having great ideas. Or are you having an epiphany, because you’re in the middle of a grind, you’re bored of the project you’re working on, and you would desperately like to spend some time thinking about anything else. And if you’re in that situation, then even a mediocre idea can seem brilliant for 30 minutes, because it gets you out of doing whatever you’re not enjoying at the moment. So one of the things you also need to ask yourself is hey, you know, is this idea something I should be working on right now? Or am I just trying to find an excuse not to work on what I should be working on right now. Now, look, maybe you are maybe did have an epiphany, maybe had a really great idea. But you had it in the middle of a 12 week plan that’s already full of other things. And so you need to ask yourself, alright, does it align with my vision? Okay, yes. does it align with my near term stuff? Yes. But is it so important to work on this, that I need to stop what I’m doing right now? And work on it right this minute? Or, you know, should it be in the next 12 week plan? Or, you know, does it fit at some later point, after, you know, X y&z get done that, that’s something that you need, that you need to figure out. And, and one particular exercise that I’ll recommend, and if you’ve been in the Quickstart workshop, this will be a familiar one. And that is

write a one sentence vision statement for your epiphany, right? Before you go too far. Right? And and so what, what is the vision statement, oh, this book will help me do X, right, or this, you know, newsletter will build my business to do X. Right. And and that statement, you know, needs to be a pretty clear reflection of your near term goals and vision and your aspiration, right? It has to be pointing in that line. And if you can’t write that one sentence, it’s a really good diagnostic because if you can’t write it for this, then it probably doesn’t really align. And then you have to have that conversation with yourself, which is, you know, is this an epiphany for somebody else? Or did I is this epiphany so powerful and important that it reveals shortcomings in my vision, I need to rethink the vision because it’s just that good idea. Hey, people have had those kind of epiphanies too. So you got to figure out which one you haven’t. So I think to do that, it helps to write yourself a quick vision statement for this project. Alright, so let’s assume you’ve confirmed that it aligns with your vision, and you’re going to start this, you know, Project sometime soon. When, when the time is, right, what is step two? Alright. Step two, then is to confirm that the Epiphany, epiphany is real. So, you know, does your epiphany align with your vision? Sure. But, I mean, we still haven’t really battled tested this thing yet, we haven’t quality control this. And we haven’t really figured out if it’s feasible, if it’s doable yet. So we need to do that, we need to confirm that it’s a quality epiphany and not just sort of an epiphany illusion, or a femoral epiphany, maybe would be a good word for, and we need to make sure that even if it is a great idea, you know, we can’t all execute on all good ideas. We have limited capabilities, bandwidth, talents, etc. And so, you know, it has to also be something that we could do if we chose. So again, here, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll step back. And I’m alright, so. So how do you do that? Right? So my suggestion is to create, what in the startup world we would call an MVP, a minimum viable product.

And what does that mean? Well, in the business world, when you want to start a new product, or new service, maybe a new piece of software, new technology, website, whatever it might be, you know, as you can imagine, you know, building the full, full feature set and the, you know, fully fancy, you know, mumbo jumbo and all the marketing, that’s, that’s can be very expensive, right? And it would be stupid to spend all that money and commit to doing all that, if it turns out that nobody wants, what you’re selling. And so a minimum viable product is sort of what’s the minimum amount of product you can build, to test whether people are are willing to buy it, right, and whether people respond to it the way you would like, now, how exactly you’re going to build an MVP, as a writer will depend on what you write. So for example, in the Graduate Student world, when you’re going to write a dissertation, you first have to get a dissertation proposal approved. And that document can take many forms. But, you know, in general, it’s maybe a 20 page document that outlines what your research question is the arguments that people have been having about it in the, in the literature, the unknowns that we still have yet to uncover about this topic. And then the purported, or proposed methods and data that will be used to answer these questions and research questions and so on. And, and the, the most important thing about this MVP, right, that there’s sort of two, it’s it’s a hand in glove sort of thing, right? The first piece is that you are getting feedback about the quality, right? So the feedback you need is, yes, give me more of this. And that gives you the confidence to then go ahead, and, and build out the full version or write the whole thing, right, this the second piece is the feasibility piece, right? That comes into much clearer view, when you start writing a short, a minimum viable product version of this, work this product, because as you do even that, you start to uncover the challenges that your optimism bias was hiding, because you’re you’re trying to say it in a sort of a, in a way that other people understand what it is you’re doing, and so on, so forth. So you have to start, you know, an excavating the different parts of this project, and that’s inevitably going to help you bump into, hey, wait a minute, I didn’t think about this. Oh, yeah, that’s gonna have to have that, right. And those things which you can hide from yourself, when you think about it for 30 seconds, and you just feel the glow, those things start to become a lot more clear when you have to write it down. Right. So and then the most important piece though, right, as you’re sort of checking for the quality, you’re getting feedback, and you’re sort of improve, you’re testing the feasibility and so on. The really, really, really important benefit of this phase is that you get a chance to get feedback, and then iterate. So you know, if you’re different kinds of writers will have different kinds of minimum viable products. So graduate students are going to write dissertation proposals. novelists and screenplay writers are going to write what they call treatments. So if you’re trying to sell a movie in Hollywood, right move the The Hollywood studios don’t make a movie, before they find out if they have a decent script, right? They don’t they don’t give you money to do a movie and then not going to go testings without some sense that they’ve got something quality. So they make you write a treatment, right and the treatments, pretty straightforward, right, so the outline of the plot, right sort of synopsis, a title, sort of what the big, you know, stories are, and Act One, two, and three, and then some kind of sort of wrap up. Now you’re going to outline who all the cool characters are, if there’s any cool surprises in there, you know, you know, make sure they know those things and all that, right, you have to tell people that this is gonna be something worth watching or worth reading, right, you can do easily do a treatment for a book, you could do in for a movie, you know, a play, whatever it might be a newsletter, you can write a treatment for any kind of written product. And I really, really, really recommend that you do that, again, you know, who you’re going to show it to what the process of making the go, no go decision is going to be very different person to person genre, to genre, right? If you’re the person in the end responsible for deciding whether tonight whether or not to write a particular novel in a particular way, right, that’s, that’s eventually going to be up to you. Right, but there’s no way in which I think it will hurt you to get feedback, having given people a minimum viable plot, or a minimum viable product, a treatment of some sort that allows them to get excited with you about how cool this idea you’re having is and how cool the characters are, or how cool the world you’re building is, or whatever IP, and no, you’re not gonna have all the details in there, there’s still room to screwed up, or there’s still room to make it better than they think it’s gonna be. But if you can’t get people on board with the first step, right, then you have to actually question your epiphany a little bit. Right? And again, I’m not saying there are rules here. I am sure there are many novels. Like for example, if you’d come to me with the treatment for

what’s the one with Kafka and the cockroach one, right? I’m not sure I would have understood the treatment and appreciate the genius of that, you know, fine, not everyone’s gonna get everything. And so you have to take that into account, you have to be responsible for this process, too. But you know, share it with your writing group, share it with mentors, share it with teachers, instructors, beta readers, obviously, are a great way to test, you know, early character sketches, scenes, chapters, things like that. And if you’re a business writer, Oh, absolutely, you need to be doing this in, you know, down to sending tweets with polls in them that says, hey, I’m thinking about writing a book about X, you know, what do you think the most important topics are, or if you’re building an online course, same thing, don’t guess what should be in the course and then build it before you ask people what they might be interested in buying, right? That would be a bit of a waste of time. So you want to confirm the reality of your epiphany, by building an MVP, writing an MVP, sharing it getting feedback, and then iterating. Before you’ve got an entire novel that needs revising. And the phrase I always use with my own students, and I will share with you is fail early and fail often, it is way better to get feedback on a sentence, and then change the sentence than it is to get feedback on a paragraph and have to read the whole paragraph over than it is to change a whole page than it is to write a 300 page document. Have someone say, Nope, that sucks. Try again next year. Right? If you let people help you make it better early, you’re going to be in much better shape as you go along. So confirm your epiphany is real. That’s step number two. And then Step number three is not going to be a shocker for anybody who’s listening to this podcast, hey, chunk and plan, right. So it’s time to create a 12 week plan. And the first step with any especially big writing project is to break this project, chunk it down into as many 12 week sized goals as you need to, in order to build a bridge from where you are right now to being done. And, and by 12 weeks size goal, I mean, you know, you should chunk this into parts small enough that they are doable within a 12 week timeframe. So that you could put it into a 12 week plan either as, as the only goal of that 12 weeks, if it’s a big, if it’s a big chunk, or maybe it’s a two week long chunk, like you know, read something or take notes on something or interview these people. There might be several that you can handle in 112 week period. But the goal is to make sure that each one of these chunks is in fact doable, at least in a 12 week period. And if you can do that at all. And that really helps you combat this complexity conundrum because instead of worrying about what the heck is the right first step, once you have all the parts and pieces on the piece of paper, you can start to look at them and be strategic about how should they get arranged, what would be the smartest thing to do first, what are the contingencies? What do I have to get done in order for things to go smoothly? And so you know, they’re, you know, if you’re reading and following different sort of gurus about how to write Setup novels. You know, this is, I think one of those plotter pancer kind of questions, you know, I think we all have little or both in us, but for my money, any amount of design you can do up front is going to save you time down the road. So even if you’re a pantser, whatever planning, you can do upfront to help, you know, identify the process and the way in which you’re going to finish the rest of the novel, that the better, right. And clearly, for those of us who are plotters, and who are doing research and other sorts of things that really require, you know, Step A to be done before Step B, it really, really pays, of course, to create a plan upfront, so you’re going to chunk things out, and then you’re going to figure out what the first things should be, how many of them will fit into your first of all, we plan and you’re going to create your first 12 week plan, you know, maybe it’s one, two or three of those of those first goals and, and that’s going to not only help you cure the sort of analysis, paralysis sort of thing, it’s going to help you be strategic and efficient, it’s also going to help you defeat the planning fallacy, because not that you’re gonna be able to perfectly predict when you’re going to finish, you’ll still be wrong, I guarantee you. But But having placed the first few goals in a 12 week plan, and then looking at the rest of the goals that you’ve got, you’re going to at least be able to roughly have an estimate of say the best case scenario, right. And it’s probably going to take longer than that, because again, even as much work as you’re doing, it’s just human nature, you can’t see the future, you don’t know all the things that come up between now and then that actually end up making it take longer. So that’s probably still a best case scenario.

But at least you have that now. And before you didn’t, before, you were probably lying to yourself about how long it was gonna take. And that number was gonna be way too short. So, so you’ve helped to cure at least the worst of the sort of planning fallacy, imagine thinking that tends to accompany big projects. So So those are the three steps and those three are going to go a long, long way to to really blunting the potential risks of project launch, and making sure that you get off to a great start. And let me just end with sort of three quick keys, sort of general principles for, for launching, and being successful. And, and these come directly out of just watching people for the first few days of January, already. Have you ever noticed how when people do a New Year’s resolution for exercise, and I was just at the park yesterday, where there a lot of joggers and runners and bikers and stuff. So I actually got to see it in full form yesterday. But have you ever noticed how early January, you’ll just see people killing themselves on the track or at the park, and you know, they’re, maybe they’re wearing kind of funky old running clothes, and it’s pretty clear, they haven’t run in a while and they’re just their faces are beet red, and there seem to be running really, really fast. And all I can think to myself is if I round the corner, I’m gonna see that person on the ground holding their blown knee because they came out at a sprint, and I get it, you got this exuberance, you’ve got this enthusiasm, you’re finally going to do it. And so you take off too quick, and you blow it. And either you hurt yourself if you’re doing the exercise thing. Or it becomes like a gulag where you’re making yourself get up and do something so hard, because you’re not used to it, that you quit, because it’s just way too much to ask from yourself. Well, I think launching big writing products can sometimes be the same thing. If you’re launching a product that you’ve like writing a book for the first time or something like that, and you’re like, Gosh, darn it, I’ve been putting this off, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna wake up in the morning for three hours every morning. You know, don’t do that. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So don’t blow a gasket. Take it easy. It’s way more important to be consistent than it is to move quickly. And you’ll find the right pace if you allow yourself to ease into whatever a comfortable and sustainable pace is. And I feel very confident in saying that you will be much happier and be more likely to finish your project. If you find a sustainable pace than if you come out like the like the hare and the tortoise and the hare. So be the tortoise Don’t be the hare. The second key is to beware and prepare for the letdown. When you start a new project, especially in January, you are pumped you have all kinds of wind at your back. And that’s gonna last you know, however long things like that last for you. Your mileage will probably vary. But eventually you’re going to hit the part where it’s all work where the epiphany has cooled, and it’s now grind again. And that’s the point where most new year’s resolutions die and yours isn’t going to die because what you’re going to do is you’re going to stay Feel yourself in advance for that. And you’re going to have a plan for continuing to make Steady, sustainable process that doesn’t ask progress that doesn’t ask you to kill yourself. And you’re going to prepare in whatever ways work for you to combat that emotional sort of challenge and let down that we have at that, at that part in the show. So whether it’s using a writing group to keep you motivated, whether it’s talking with your spouse, your partner about the difficulties, whether it’s, I don’t, I don’t know what it might be for you, I think there are different strategies for everyone. But But knowing in advance that that’s going to come and thinking ahead about how you’re going to deal with it, right, being committed to see that part through is going to be crucial for you to break through and get to the other side. And then I think sort of related to that, I’ll just share a last tip. And that is, you know, getting through that stage, finishing a big project that you’ve launched does take commitment, no way around it, you’re gonna have to commit to doing the work, because it’s going to be work. And so I would say that, you know, there are a lot of different strategies for helping you boost your own commitment to this, you know, burn the boats behind you, and you have no choice type of thing. But for me, I think one of the most helpful is to share it, you know, a lot of people make secret new year’s resolutions, that’s fine. If that’s better for you, that’s great. But I think when it comes to ambitious writing projects,

sharing them with the rest of the world is awesome, for so many reasons, it can help you boost your sense of commitment, because you know, it’s public. And I think a lot of us don’t want to let the team down, right. But also, you know, sharing it with your writing group or your partner, whatever it can give you energy, it can give you support, it can give you a sense of fellow traveling, which, you know, for many of us, I think really helps us get through the hard parts. And so I think, you know, for me, I would never want to embark on a big new project without a lot of the important people in my life knowing because they’re a big source of my energy and support. And, and I know if I’m going to do a hard thing I’m going to need, you know, it takes a village, but I’m gonna need my village. So, so find your village. Get them all in on it with you get them excited about it. And I think you’ll you’ll go a lot farther. All right. Well, if you’re launching a new project this month, best of luck to you. I wish you all good things with it. I hope this conversation, maybe gave you a few ideas to help you launch that project successfully. Look forward to hearing from you about how it’s going. And until next week.

Happy writing


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