Zen and the Art of Chocolate By Cate Morgan

Now that I have your attention, let’s do an experiment. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large jars of equal size, large as you like.
  • Enough bags of small candy to fill one of the jars not quite to the top. I recommend M&Ms, but that’s just my personal preference. J
  • A bunch of large candy bars
  • Labels (optional)
  • Marker

We’re going to talk about goals and prioritization. Actually, I’m going to blog, and hopefully I still have your attention with the mountain of chocolate.

We all have roles in life. We’re parents and children and siblings, employees, housekeepers and cooks, volunteers and, since we’re on the ROW80 site, writers. On each candy bar, write or label each of your roles. Line them up in the order of importance.

Okay, fill one of the jars with small candy. You might not fill it all the way to the top, but that’s okay. Get as close as you can. It goes without saying, but I’ll put it in writing anyway:  escapees are fair game. Now, one at a time, try to fit the big candy bars into the full jar. Go on, I’ll wait while you stand on a chair for leverage and use the meat mallet. Try to not break anything.


Doesn’t work very well, does it?

Now pull the chocolate bars out of the candy, apologize for trying drown them in the chocolate witch trials, and realign them in order of importance. “Writer” is probably somewhere toward the end, because roles like “parent” or “employee” most likely come first. The whole “starving writer” gig tends to lose its charm after the age of twenty so. But do not despair; it isn’t the end of the world.

Now put the chocolate bars in the empty jar, again in order of importance. Dump the full container into the one with the candy bars a la New York mob. Laugh diabolically if you like. Oh, go on. It’s fun.

See where I’m going with this?

The moral of the story is life is full of minutiae, and we’re often tricked into believing it’s important. Fact of the matter is, minutiae is exactly what it looks like. It piles up around us, burying us, masking what is truly important.

Prioritization works the other way around.

You make room for the big, important stuff, and if a few M&Ms fall to the way side in the process, well, you can laugh. (Have I mentioned how much I love this demonstration? *crunch crunch crunch*)

I will bet you a crisp, new twenty dollar bill you forgot a role.

Forgot yourself, didn’tcha?

I thought as much. *grins*

You, as in YOU, are an individual-type person, complete and whole. You deserve some prioritization too, so be sure you take at least a little time for yourself, even if it’s only a half hour here and there.

One of my favorite me-rituals takes place on Sunday morning. The husband is still snoring merrily away like a grizzly bear hibernating for the winter. The coffee is fresh and piping hot, the resident Ninja Katz cavorting about my ankles. I sit at the dining room table and plan my week: What do I need to accomplish? How will I meet my goals?

Goals on their own are lovely, all bright and shiny and full of promise. Especially writing goals. But they do you no good whatsoever if you don’t have a plan to reach them. A word count goal or a promise to yourself to write every single day the sun brings is a good start.

Know what works better? Specific steps, or mini-goals, to get you there. Whether you’re a pantser, planner, or somewhere in the middle, you need milestones to reach for. I’m seriously OCD (I prefer the term “Zen”), and I like balance in my life every bit as much as coffee and M&Ms. I also work on more than one project at a time, whether I’m in the discovery stage of one and the revision or rehabilitation stage of a second (as I am now), which requires optimal prioritization. I also know I have an edit letter coming at any almost moment for a recent sale.

It doesn’t have to be painful. I have a specific process, with very specific tasks. I assign myself tasks in groups of three for each project and if you’re a full, er, on pantser, you can brainstorm a scene before you write it. This way you get a real feel for what you’re working with before forming definite words around it. Yanno, minimizing the staring at the Blinking Cursor of Doom while maximizing the typeity-typeity. It isn’t planning so much as discovery, and one of my favorite parts of writing..

Do yourself a favor and consolidate either your writing or your you time with studying your craft. Spend some time reading and analyzing what you’ve read, or join a critique group just to read the work of others. You’ll gain beaucoup perspective. Every week I try to write a substantial first chapter review on the Online Writing Workshop for Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror writers. Every bit of insight helps.

Let’s review.

Block out time at the beginning of the week and assign yourself specific, reachable tasks in order to accomplish a larger goal.

Invest time to develop your craft, so your art will transcend craft.

Finally, treat your time as valuable. If you don’t, who will?

Ummmm . . . gonna eat those M&Ms?


Cate Morgan

11 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Chocolate By Cate Morgan

  1. What about those of us who are full _off_ pantsers? It’s very liberating, a great cure for writer’s block! 😉 Great post Cate! I’d follow this advice, except I, er, ate all my chocolate.

    Good luck this week, everyone!!

  2. Thanks Cate, and Kait! Just what I needed to hear. I lovelove love the candy bars and M&Ms analogy to our lives. Sometimes I need that tangeble (and edible)lesson.

  3. I appreciate your post so much. I wrote something (much shorter and without the demonstration – great by the way) about creating a ‘pampering’ space/time/rituals for our writing. You dealt with the whole person.
    But as a mom of five, with three boys still at home, it’s easy to let the multitude of little things that pop up push out the time for the truly important.
    I once heard this referred to as “The tyrrany of the urgent”…. and I thought you might like this analogy.
    ~ Nadja

  4. I really like this demonstration! *crunch crunch* Ah, what’s this about goals, you say? *crunch crunch* Is this about how important candy is in our lives? Because I can get behind that. *crunch crunch*

    No, seriously, LOVED the analogy and it’s so true. I don’t have nearly as many responsibilities as some of the ROWers on here, yet I still manage to confuse my actual responsibilities with M&Ms. *crunch crunch* I think you hit the nail on the head on why sometimes I feel so frustrated with myself, even when I know I’ve been busy – it’s because I HAVE been busy, but I also haven’t prioritized what is actually making me busy and what is a whole lot of noise.

    Very inspiring post!

  5. Thanks for the great comments, guys! I’m so glad my delicious demonstration came in handy. How’s that go–“Lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine”?

    Good luck and happy munching to everyone this week. Chocolate is good for the writer’s soul!

  6. I needed this inspiration! Since you incorporated my favorite sugar snack, I know I’ll remember it! Loving this challenge, so I’m glad I found it!

  7. Let’s see…I just finished a package of Pretzel M & Ms. And I, too, enjoy Sundays. I have a special Sunday To Do List. It includes things like “take a mini retreat” (aka walking to and reading and journaling at the park), “some form of creative expression” (last week I gathered my art supplies together; this week I might actually create something), and “pleasure reading.” Seems like we’ve got a few things in common, Cate. Hope you have a great week…and pass the M & Ms.

  8. Great post, Cate. I spent years trying to cram those chocolate bars into the M&M’s. It’s soooo much easier the other way round!

    Fantastic check-list at the end–that’s going on my bulletin board.

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