The movie What About Bob?, starring Bill Murray as a needy, panphobic patient named Bob and Richard Dreyfuss as his frazzled therapist, Dr. Leo Marvin, came out in 1991. In it, Dr. Marvin tries to help Bob overcome some of his many phobias by encouraging him to take baby steps. Bob takes him literally, and takes his very small baby steps in a variety of places. By taking baby steps, Bob eventually manages to not only get out of his own home (a major accomplishment), but to stalk Dr. Marvin and his family to their vacation destination, where Bob annoys the good doctor to the point of murder, but endears himself to Dr. Marvin's family.
I'm not suggesting that any of you should use your baby steps to stalk others, just that the movie makes an excellent metaphor for writers, who can, with small steps, accomplish big achievements, and can free themselves to try things they might not otherwise have considered.
From the script of What About Bob (Dr. Marvin is holding a copy of his book up so Bob can see the title):
It means setting small, reasonable
goals for yourself. One day at a
time, one tiny step at a time -- do-
able, accomplishable goals.
When you leave this office, don't
think about everything you have to
do to get out of the building, just
deal with getting out of the room.
When you reach the hall, just deal
with the hall. And so forth. Baby
"Baby steps out the door"
Excellent quotes can be found in unlikely places. Here's one from the stop-motion animated Christmas special, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. The chorus lyrics are:
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' 'cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' out the door.
I believe Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney) is on to something here: if you don't start, you can't make progress or finish; if you don't finish the first draft, you can't make it to revisions; if you do start that research, you might find the perfect bit of inspiration; if you do start that draft, it might become the bestselling picture book of 2012; if you do keep slogging through the boggy middle of your draft, you will find the upward path to the end of the book, and later on, you'll be able to do the exercises necessarily to tone that project's abs.
As Jane Austen said in Emma,
"Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?"
Baby steps, board the bus.
In the February 2008 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, Bill O'Hanlon has an article entitled "Baby Steps," which formed the inspiration for this post. O'Hanlon has written a book on writing called Write is a Verb: Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses. I've not read the book, but the title itself makes good advice.
Baby steps to four o'clock.
I may not have read his book, but I highly commend O'Hanlon's article, "Baby Steps: Stop obsessing about writing a book. Instead, spend 15 minutes writing one page, five times a week for a year." Again, the title and subtitle say it all, although in fairness, the subtitle reads a bit like you're supposed to be writing the same page over and over again, and I think that's not the goal. And I'm not sure that his stated plan, whereby you're to write a detailed outline of your project before you start writing your page a day, would work for a lot of writers I know. But I digress.
The section of the article I liked best was entitled "Small Increments," and the following paragraph is quoteskimmed from it:
The most common strategy to get yourself to write when you're not writing is to commit to small amounts of time. Choose five or 15 minutes. You can write more if you want. But you must write at least that amount of time per writing session. Writing begets writing, and not writing begets not writing. If you can trick yourself into writing a little, that trickle often creates a bigger flow.
"Try your baby steps."
Or, in the words of writer Stephen King:
"Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
And finally, a little something from Jack London about getting started:
"You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."