I just finished writing the biggest paper I’ve ever written. It’s an end of the year final paper for the program I’m doing.
It was 37 pages long, had over 60 citations and quotations from some 27 books and references, with an appendix of 29 pages. Suffice it so say, I feel like I’ve been reborn since finishing this thing. There’s also several lessons that I learned from writing such a large paper that I wanted to pass along:
1. Starting is always the hardest part. Have you noticed that? My professors had me so intimidated by this paper that I was really scared to even start it. Just thinking about starting it brought a sense of tightness to my chest. I just had no idea how I was going to write at least 30 pages, which was the minimum, so I avoided starting it for as long as I could. Finally, after waiting until one month before the paper was due, I started looking over the requirements again and began writing. Guess what I noticed? Once I started writing, things slowly began to flow.
In retrospect, I should have started writing a lot sooner. So my advice when you have a big project….just start. Don’t worry about having everything be perfect. If you have a rough outline, just write as much as you can, as early as you can. As you continue you can give it more shape and fix things later.
2. Remember that everything in life is proportional. Most projects that come across our path are proportionally, not exponentially more difficult. In elementary school 5 paragraphs seemed like a lot. In high school 2-3 pages seemed overwhelming. In seminary, 7-9 pages seemed like more then I could do. And about a little over a month ago, 30-40 pages seemed almost impossible. A lot of things in life seem impossible until you accomplish them. Then, looking back, you realize that it’s all proportional. You learn to crawl, walk, and then run. So don’t be afraid of the project just because it seems so large. If you look back in your own history, you can usually find proportional increases in your aptitude, learning, and challenges.
3. Times of great stress give you an opportunity to grow. If you never experience stress you’ll never grow. It’s as simple as that. Do you know why muscles grow? Because they’re brought to moments of extreme stress. And it’s in the resting phase that the muscle rebuilds itself and comes back stronger. So if all your life you’re avoiding possible moments of stress, because you’re afraid of failing, you’re robbing yourself of an amazing opportunity to grow. No one likes to have stress for the sake of stress, but if the project is worth it, don’t run from it.
I’m sure there’s a ton more lessons out there related to lessons from finishing a big project.
[image by nenyaki]