Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.



When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Allow Room for Some Praise

Perhaps this post is just for me. It happens sometimes where you have several ideas rolling about in your head, but that one you keep ignoring keeps fighting until you submit. What’s been nagging at me is the fact that I can’t receive positive feedback. Calm down, I can hear your eye rolls but hear me out.

Recently I had my evaluation at work. Nothing special just a job I’ve been at for the past nineteen years. There’s never been an issue performance wise, in honesty I wanted to speed through so I could get back to work and go home. This year we have a new president at our job and a new manager. We went through the whole rigmarole before the part came to manager notes and president notes. Usually it’s nothing other than keep working hard. On this occasion I got rave reviews on my work ethic from my manager and the president who I only met three times. I was, for the first time in my life, finally able to accurately emote being gobsmacked.


But in spite of that I sat there and said “Oh, okay…can I go back to work?” I kicked myself later for not letting a bit more gratitude show. Afterwards though I looked back at my life and realize I usually default to not accepting the darn compliment or believing something good is going to come.

So what the heck does this have to do with writing? When you put yourself out there you leave yourself open to rejection, to hurt, to negativity. I think any writer or creative person you have to build up a thick skin, to portray that everything is fine when in actuality you want to scream or cry. I spent several years trying to get my book Beyond Here traditionally published. There were a lot of times where I questioned the purpose of writing. Through all the rejection it was hard to hear that it was worth putting it out into the world. All I heard was the negative and my thick skin wouldn’t allow any praise to come through.

What I’m trying to say is: keep going. Roadblocks and tribulations will come, but along the way there are paths of stability to give you respite. Breathe in these times. Take it all in. Don’t allow your tough skin to push you out of the life you want, from creating what you were meant to create. Taking in that positive feedback here and then can be that spark to light your way when things seem dark. Just keep going and trust in you.

Until next time have a writeous day!


Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or building the inkslayer army you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. You can read his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem, along with a few projects with his other daughter. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

On Dreams

When I was a little girl, a local news reporter asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up as part of our school’s career day. I told her I wanted to be a nurse so I could help people. I honestly don’t remember ever wanting to be a nurse, but it warms my heart to think even at such a young age, I had a dream, and I wasn’t afraid to admit it.

In high school, despite my poor science grades, I fell in love with physics and astronomy and all things space, so I decided I wanted to become an astronaut. I worked my tail off in school to make that dream a possibility. Then in college while majoring in physics, my dream changed, and I decided I wanted to become a physics teacher instead, so I could teach and inspire kids about science the same way I was once inspired.

After I was married, and after a short stint teaching high school, I started to have a new dream…to homeschool my children. So I studied and learned all I could about homeschooling, and I stayed home with my kids for the next decade fulfilling my dream of being their teacher. Then one day, after reading a book about sparkly vampires and a small nondescript town in the northwest, I had a new dream—one that had snuck up on me without even realizing it. I wanted to be a writer.

It didn’t matter that I had never written anything before in my life. I wanted to give it a shot anyhow. So after googling “How to write a novel,” I did just that. Then I wrote another book. And another. I started attending conferences, found a critique group, studied books on writing craft, learned from feedback, and kept on writing.

I’ve written ten books to date (almost done with #11!), living the dream that took me by surprise so many years ago. Sometimes I feel out of place or guilty surrounded by friends who’ve always wanted to be writers when writing wasn’t even on my radar for most of my life. But it’s taught me a lot about my dreams:

  1. Dreams can change, and that’s okay.
  2. It’s never too late to start pursuing your dream.
  3. You can have more than one dream.
  4. Don’t be afraid to dream big.

And the best thing about living my dream as a writer? I can be a teacher, I can inspire kids, and I can help people, all through the words I write. I can even travel to space anytime I want, exploring the unknown and creating entire worlds. I get to live ALL my dreams with what I do, and that’s something I’m grateful for every day.

I’m excited to see how my dreams will change in the years to come and where those dreams will take me. What is your dream?

Ilima Todd was born and raised on the north shore of Oahu and currently resides in the Rocky Mountains. She never wanted to be a writer even though she loves books and reading. She earned a degree in physics instead. But the characters in her head refused to be ignored, and now she spends her time writing science fiction for teens. Ilima is the author of the REMAKE series (Simon Pulse/Shadow Mountain) and is represented by Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency. When she is not writing, Ilima loves to spend time with her husband and four children.

Be The Exception

Last week, the gym was slow again. Though my fitness center attendance has been sporadic at best over the last few months, I have had a membership long enough to know that the three day weekend in the middle of January is often when the New Year’s Resolutioners all but fizzle out. Then, the people who are there at 5:00 am M-F can go back to their routine.

A mere 22 days into the 365 that everyone promised was going to be their best year ever, how are your writing goals coming? Did you decide that trying was too hard, that you got caught up in the January enthusiasm and made a commitment that you really didn’t mean to? Maybe snow days, sick kids (or self), cold weather or winter blues have led you to believe that one more week of doing things as you’ve always done won’t really make that much difference, that you were pretty productive last year, and it turned out alright.

I’m convinced that the greatest plague of our society is apathy. Apathy for what we can be, for what we can achieve, for the places we can go. We celebrate the accomplishments of graduates and start-ups and people who finish something hard, but in the back of our minds, we admit that they will probably not do what they wanted. It’s hard, after all, and hard is hard. It’s easy to binge-watch Netflix. It’s easy to get caught in the habit of busyness at the cost of productivity. It’s easy to put things off because we don’t know how to make it perfect, and if it isn’t perfect, well, then people will know that we aren’t perfect and man, that would be EMBARRASSING.

So instead of just writing the book, we go back and go back. Instead of sending our work off for critique, we revise and revise and revise, not knowing whether we are making it better or worse, but that’s okay because at least we aren’t embarrassed about what we don’t know. We keep studying plot points and character development and ways to convey setting and the just right emotional cues and and and

We tell ourselves it’s too hard, that we don’t have a right to be exceptional, that the kinds of things that happen to other people could never happen to us. After all, we were born in (insert stereotypical location here) and people from (location) don’t ever (insert goal, dream, ambition).


There was that one who…
Everyone remembers when…
Of course, we can’t forget…

Our books, our creative work, our passion sits in us, fermenting because of prolonged preservation. And now something DOES start to stink and now we really are embarrassed so we toss it, never knowing if it was good or bad or anything and we are left with nothing but nodding and smiling and saying we are still “working on it.”

And when December 31st rolls around again, we make a resolution that next year will be our year, that we will really write that book, that we will really get our agent, that we will really hit publish.

Yes, there are people at the gym who are ridiculously healthy. Yes, there are people who have muscle definition that I didn’t even know was possible. Yes, it can be frustrating to be the person trudging along on a treadmill at something that is a hybrid between walking and jogging when the numbers next to you indicate six or seven or eight miles per hour.

Yes, there are people who have had incredible publishing luck. Yes, there are people who release best seller after best seller after best seller, who seem to make meager words on a page emerge like actual gold. Yes, there are people who release two, three, four books a year and it takes you months and months and months just to write one.

But here’s what I know. I’ve never met an “EXCEPT” who didn’t work. Hard. I’ve never met a success that simply manifested itself before me. I’ve never had a victory that wasn’t super balanced with defeat, discouragement and disappointment.

And when that victory was finally achieved, there was never a time when I said I wished it had come some other way.

Find the writing goals you made for this year. Read them OUT LOUD to yourself. Imagine what it will look like, feel like, when you achieve that. Then get to work.

Every day.


Because there is no reason you can’t be the most exceptional person in your own life.


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member.

Have an Impossible Dream

With my debut novel less than three months away from publication, I’ve been reminiscing a lot about my writing journey. Doing so, I came across this old blog post, which I wrote just as I began to draft the manuscript that became BURNING GLASS. BURNING GLASS was the fourth story I’d written in my hopes to become published, and I’d experienced lots of highs and lows leading up to that point. For this new manuscript, I decided to dig deep and to be unafraid, not only of the story I wanted to write, but of the goals I set for myself. These words were my battle mantra then, and they’re my battle mantra now. I hope they inspire you, too.


I’ve recently decided to DREAM. Not a safe dream with boundaries I can control. Not the kind of dream with hazy edges and broad limits because I don’t want to tell the Universe what I specifically want…because what if I don’t get it? I have lower to fall if my hopes get too high, right?

I’ve heard lots of successful people tell other wannabe successful people, “Don’t have expectations.” Meaning work hard, do all you can, and expect nothing. Then you’re not disappointed, and if it happens, it happens, right?

Well, I’m declaring right here, right now, I have expectations. I’m going to believe I’m the writer, the mom, the person I want to be because that belief creates it. That belief infuses a sprinkling of fairy dust over everything I touch, every relationship I have, every good thing I do.

I won’t live lost in the future, in that miserable in-between of me staring in despair over what I don’t have, of only believing I’ll be happy when I get what I want. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about living in the present, knowing who I am–past, present, and future–and being who I am, reaching the full capacity of who I am, and glowing with it. I will BE. I will live. I will hope for the “impossible” without fear or the limits others might seek to place on me.

Perhaps it’s a bit of madness–Don Quixote’s “impossible dream.” I accept that. Because I know what miracles have happened in my life when I finally dared to take a bold step into the darkness, not just a tentative tiptoe.

I will give myself to all that I do. I will be true to myself. And I will encourage everyone who crosses my path that they can do the same.

To truly BE is to let go. Of fear. Of the idea of failure. It’s being grateful for what you have but knowing it’s okay to want more. It’s okay to want to embrace your life with every ounce of light within you and see how bright you can shine with what was given to you. If you think about it, it’s insulting to want any less.

So who’s going to dream with me?

Kathryn Purdie’s love of storytelling began as a young girl when her dad told her about Boo Radley while they listened to the film score of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her own attempts at storytelling usually involved home video productions featuring her younger sister as a nerd or writing plays to perform with the neighborhood kids. In high school and college, she focused on acting, composing sappy poetry, singing folk ballads on her guitar, and completing at least ten pages in her journal every night. When she was in recovery from donating a kidney to her brother, inspiration fo

So You Want to Chase a Dream

I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot lately. Not the things I see while sleeping, but the things I want for my life. For over a year, I have been trying to be content with where I am in my life, and I’m not there. It’s not the sort of thing that is making me dissatisfied with my life – I like where I’m heading but not happy where I am.

For a long time this bothered me. I would read all those lists of “Things People Do Who Are Happy” and they talk about living in the now, being happy in the present. And I had a hard time reconciling how someone can be happy RIGHT NOW and still want something different.

But the more I think about it, the more I think I understand. Though my job right now isn’t perfect (okay, it’s frustrating often), I don’t hate being at work. I interact with some great kids, get to teach literature (what’s not to love about that) and see students grow in many ways. My current schedule lets me still be involved with my kids in the afternoons and evenings, and allows for a chance to write, blog and pursue things outside my job. My three kids are at a great stage in their lives, my husband is working a job he enjoys and we live in a neighborhood where everyone in our family has opportunities to connect and be happy.


I want more.

And I think that’s okay.


See, in wanting something else, in longing for what could lie ahead, in setting my sights on a future that I have seen others attain, I am presented with the opportunity to reflect and reevaluate often. In doing this, I have eliminated things that make me feel like I’m using my time, but really I was just spending it. By reaching for something better, I am maximizing my life, continually learning – both about how to make a story better (characters, setting, plot, point of view and so forth), and how to make myself better.

One of my favorite and least favorite tendencies of American culture is the “Cinderella” story. Obviously, they feel good. We get to see someone rise from a life they didn’t love, get snippets of the setbacks they experienced and celebrate in their ultimate triumph.

The problem is all of this passes in a short news blurb during the pre-show of a sporting event, as a montage before presenting them with an award, or if we have gone really deep, a full length (two hour) movie. We shrink someone’s accomplishments over years and decade to fit the screening time a focus group has determined to be appropriate.

But chasing dreams takes time. And hard work and grit and tears and failures and fresh starts and yells and hard work again. It takes coming back when things went horribly wrong, tweaking and re-tweaking until we get that one part right, only to realize that there are other parts that need the same attention.  For many people, that is the time to say it isn’t worth it, it’s too hard, no one will ever appreciate what they have to offer. For many people, that is the time to quit.

For dream chasers, that is the time to take a look back at where we started, to see where we have come. That is the opportunity for us to experience happiness in the moment – yes, that moment when we want to quit is exactly when we need to be happy because we have grown. That is the time to take stock of how we spend out time, how we feel our sense of accomplishment, and to recognize that the pursuit of a dream has placed us in a position to see the world differently.

And in the middle of all this, regardless of whether or not the end goal is how we envisioned, we will see that because we are chasing a dream, we are already living it.


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.