Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.
Writing has always been the ‘elephant in the room’ of my life. The thing I most want to do, but have the least confidence to pursue. So for a long time I ignored it. Every now and then I’d have a nibble of its ear. Get inspired, write some prose or poetry or even start a story. But as spontaneity waned so did my efforts. I ended up staring at the same old elephant, barely bitten round the edges, a few teeth-marks in places, but very much intact and looming his unfinished business in the corner of my everyday life.
I had lots of beginnings but no ends. I suffered from ‘paralysis through analysis’ – that inertia caused by indecision. Too many ideas, too few actions. I felt overwhelmed, holding umpteen threads of string that didn’t lead anywhere.
So two good friends set me a challenge – to chew the elephant – one bite at a time for 30 days. To write something – anything – even if it was just 50 words. They were holding out the knife and fork required to eat your elephant – clear goals and accountability.
It’s been a difficult but rewarding journey (the two elements tend to go hand-in-hand). Elephant flesh is tough. It leaves irritating bits in your teeth that you spend all day trying to pick out. It’s hard work to chew – because it’s a meaningful meal. You’re trying to digest a challenging part of your life that requires your energy and determination to eat. You’re dining on your dreams and ambitions.
There are moments you can savour the flavour, and moments you want to spit it out.
I chewed on the toilet, in the car, at work, out walking, in bed, on paper, my phone, the laptop. I chewed excited. I chewed depressed. I chewed after vomiting all night.
I’ve written about Chihuahuas, emotional constipation, windsurfers, the attitude of gratitude, justice, mercy, Amazon Prime, basketball, the irritation of social-obligation, poetry, being a hoarder-in-denial, running, chilli-con-carne, weakness, tipping hairdressers, mental health, the challenges of being a married man, escalators, women drivers, and a legless fighter pilot from World War 2.
As the adage goes, it’s been 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration. But persistence has proven that creativity doesn’t always have to be spontaneous or inspired. It can be willed.
I’ve learned a life-lesson in consistency, and it’s taught me that consistency doesn’t demand perfection. It just demands that you turn up. And munch.
Only on three days did I fail to write anything. Why? Because I looked back over my shoulder at the fat elephant in the corner, rather than just focussing on the forkful in front of me.
Completing this 30 day-challenge has changed me, and the elephant. I no longer hide him under a blanket and pretend he doesn’t exist. Instead I grab him by the tusks each day and remind him that my knife and fork are ready and waiting. I feel like I’ve taken a sizeable slice out of his leg – 13,067 words of written evidence pointing to my consistent dining over the past 30 days. But he’s also got smaller. His imposition on my mind’s eye has reduced. I’m less afraid of hacking into him and chewing a chunk – however small. And I know that one day I’ll be finishing my last mouthful, wiping my chops, and sitting back to digest my accomplishments – however great or small they may be.
I encourage you to find your elephant, and tuck in.
PS. The 30-Day Challenge concept is really helpfully described in my friend’s eBook. Click the link below to download a copy (I know I’m biased but it really is worth a read!).