one step at a time

Working down the list of questions from Chris:

What do you mean by “One step at a time”, that you have to remind yourself about?

When I sit down to write, I try to stay focused on the task immediately in front of me. Just now, for example, I’m looking at a house through Jennet’s eyes. She’s seeing it for the first time. She’s very anxious, and with good cause.

All I have to do just now is to get her from this boat onto the dock and up the path to the house while she’s observing. If I can stay focused on that, I have a chance of making some progress. If I let my mind jump ahead: who are these people on the porch, and what is that older woman thinking, the one with the really sour look, and is that who I think it is? And if it is her, putting her pushy self on that porch when I had no intention of dealing with her for another twenty pages or so, what does that mean? Have I underestimated her and has she already outthought Jennet and everybody else, including me? And how in the heck do you get the best of somebody like that, with every advantage in this strange place where they are more than strangers, they are suspect strangers in a city on the brink of warfare.

See? It’s best if I take one step at a time. If I can do that, and get Jennet up onto that porch, then next I’ll cope with what Jennet says to that old woman and what the old woman is thinking, if she lets me inside her head, which, I fear, she won’t. Whatever it is they say to each other, that will tell me where we’re going next, and then I handle that one step at a time.

Other writers have addressed the importance of focusing on small bits rather than freaking out about the larger, incomprehensible whole. Lamott calls it ‘the one inch frame’ but I think of it as more of an actual movement, a dynamic process.