One Thing At a Time



photo credit: Wojtek Witkowski at

Writer Louise DeSalvo has been a favorite of mine ever since I picked up her memoir, Vertigo. Because I love to read, write and teach memoir, I recommend her work and delve back into it for my classes. Writing as a Way of Healing and The Art of Slow Writing are two treasure troves of advice, quotes and tips from famous and successful authors as well as very personal anecdotes and helpful encouragement from DeSalvo herself. For the past ten years, her words have kept me going when I needed a friendly push to keep telling my own story.

Often, I find my mind spinning with ideas. I have a hard time deciding which one to focus on. Which writing project best deserves my attention? Which is a waste of time? I don’t know. I want to know. Ahead of time, before I even write it.

The next novel, a short story, a personal essay? I have files of unfinished pieces. I open one and get bored with it before I finish reading the entire draft. I reach for Slow Writing. I flip to a highlighted page. “In writing, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do; it only matters that you choose to do something.” Yes, but isn’t there a best thing to write today? Apparently not, or at least, there’s no way to know what that ‘best’ thing is. Like meditation, just sitting down and doing the practice is the answer.  I know from experience that the “best” way to meditate is to just do it. Let the crazy thoughts fly in and out and focus on your breath or mantra. In writing, DeSalvo says it works best if she focuses on one decision at a time. Write five hundred words. Develop the characters. Add details. Line edit word by word.And so on. One thing at a time. I can do this.

DeSalvo says it gets easier with practice and I believe her. Because most things do. Meditating. Exercising. Healthy eating. Cooking. Why not writing?

What about you? Do you have a book of writing advice you love? What do you do when you can’t decide what to write?



6 thoughts on “One Thing At a Time

  1. I keep a list of those partly-done projects. At the beginning of the week, a novel being reworked and six short stories were on it. I finished up one short story (deadline looming), then a second (polishing up for a reading this week), and have worked on the novel some every day. I need to finish one of the four remaining stories by mid-April, so it’s up next, and two others in the next two months. I guess you could say that my “method” follows the squeaking wheel principle. Also, I keep researching possible publication venues and their calendars for accepting submissions help drive the process. With no deadlines, I’d flounder!


  2. I have three projects going at a time: my formal Work In Progress, which I am doing with my critique partner; editing a book I’ve finished or almost finished; and researching future projects. That way I always have something to do, and there are no wasted writing days. This approach also keeps all my skills sharp. My crit partner is very linear and focused, but I can’t work that way. I also switch over to blogs and other nonfiction pieces if I’m blocked on fiction. It’s all writing. It’s all to the good.


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