“I want to write a book.”
Well, that’s a wonderful ambition to have set for yourself – I’m guilty of it, obviously, which means I’m 100 percent biased in saying it’s acceptable (and I bear no shame in this, either). Yes, a wonderful ambition to have – and yet, extremely vague. And that’s one thing you do not want to be as a writer: vague. Not all the way through your pieces, anyway.
Whether you want to publish a novel, start your own magazine or become the next Barbara Walters (guilty of being inevitably inspired, sorry, not sorry), writing those kinds of broad goals out on a piece of paper and taping it to the wall above your bed isn’t going to get you very far. Yes, you want to keep the big picture in sight, always: my choir director in high school always told us to look at our list of goals every 36 hours or we would never achieve them.
No matter your dream – no matter how big – you have to start smaller. I’m thinking baby steps, here, not settling for anything less than what you’re willing to work toward conquering. Before starting small, though, you have to start with the big picture first. Okay, I’m confusing you, aren’t I?
Let’s, as they say, break it down. And of course, because of my nutrition background and almost-addiction to coffee, I’m going to use a food motif. Think Starbucks. Think giant over-the-counter menu with so many choices you can’t see straight. That’s where we’ll begin.
Start with creating a generic menu.
My personal Bucket List is not a perfect example of the best way to live out your dreams – honestly, I haven’t updated it in awhile, and no, I haven’t been looking at it every 36 hours (now that I do feel a bit ashamed of, sorry Mr. R). If you’re going to create or update your own Bucket List, you can’t possibly list out every step it’s going to take to achieve every single thing you want to accomplish before you die – not in the master list you paperclip to the inside of your planner, or tape to your journal, or whatever your 36-hour strategy.
When you sit down in Starbucks with your best friend or significant other (or your laptop) at a table in the furthest corner away from the door, you’ve either already ordered or you wanted to claim your spot before all the sassy Java Chip-drinking preteens get there. You probably have a usual or like to stick to the same kind of drink (always a skinny latte or usually a Frappuccino with espresso infused into every drop). Have you ever really studied their menu, or have you recently? In case you haven’t, it’s HUGE. But you don’t see bullet points underneath your die-without-it White Chocolate Mocha listing out each individual ingredient. That would be too much to take in at once. Right?
You can’t ever hope to accomplish anything if you try to do too much at once, or too much right away. I tried starting up my “secret project” (more info to come soon!) back in January and had to put it on hold because I couldn’t accomplish everything relating to it that I hoped to so quickly with school and other responsibilities taking up my time. Now I’ve mapped out my “plan of attack” in smaller steps, but I still have an entire menu stored in my head of what I want to offer my “customers.” Start with where you want to end up – your final product. I.e., your first novel. Break it down from there.
Figure out the specific ingredients you need for each item.
The most basic of skinny flavored lattes includes skim milk, vanilla-flavored syrup and espresso. Someone in Starbucks Management Land has to make sure all these ingredients are purchased, in stock and ready to use as soon as that cute barista home from college on summer break takes your order. In the case of your own Bucket List, that manager just so happens to be you.
Let’s use my personal Bucket List goal of falling in love (sticking with the cute barista theme here, and YES, this is ACTUALLY on my Bucket List) as an example. I can’t just walk into Starbucks and fall in love with Taylor the Latte Boy. No, I actually have to get to know him before I can tell him I love him, or write a poem about him or whatever. To get to know him, I have to talk to him. To talk to him, I have to walk up to the counter and say more than, “Can I have a venti skinny vanilla latte?” Now if he asks me why I’m paying for 20 ounces worth of adrenaline, we can have a nice conversation about how I’m not actually hooked on caffeine, this is not a normal thing, I’m just trying to pass organic chemistry, etc. I might have to say, “I’ll have your favorite kind of latte – which is?…” Which I would never actually do, but this is just an example.
Ingredients for my venti vanilla latte: espresso. Vanilla-flavored syrup. Steamed nonfat milk.
Ingredients for falling in love: a cute barista, the ability to flirt without sounding like a stalker, $3.55 in quarters.
Ingredients for your first novel: a main character with a problem, a beginning, a basic plot line, a laptop, a word processor.
Now you don’t just have to get from nothing to a 100-word book. You have something to start with, the ingredients that will help you create said 100,000-word novel. Now it’s a lot less scary. Maybe?
Put together a purchasing list.
In foodservice, this is how management figures out how much it’s going to cost to buy the ingredients their establishment needs. Someone in Starbucks Management Land needs to know how much money he can and will spend on skim milk, flavored syrup, etc. Similarly, you can’t decide to set out to achieve the biggest goal on your Bucket List without assessing what it’s going to cost you. Falling in love will eventually cost me multiple hours of alone time each week, which I need as an introvert (who also happens to be a writer, and if you’re either or both of these things, you understand). Writing a novel will cost you time, deprive you of sleep and probably rob you of your sanity as well (if you had any to begin with, which most non-novelists will claim is the case). You have to be willing to pay for what you want, literally or figuratively. Sending out query letters takes time (I’ll learn that as soon as I finish the book I’m working on now). Buying a new laptop or Microsoft Office takes a big hunk out of your paycheck (especially if you work at Starbucks). But if it means crossing off something on your master list, it’s literally worth every second, or penny.
The more you cross off your Bucket List, the more you’ll want to add (if you’re like me). With every destination there’s some form of road to get there. Every menu printed starts with a single recipe. That recipe takes money, ingredients and time. Your final product, whatever it may be, makes up the menu of your life. Keep adding pages. Never stop dreaming (even if it’s just a fantasy about your mystery barista, who may or may not be named Taylor).
And as always, keep drinking copious amounts of coffee.