Mountains Made from Pebbles – Low-Pressure Workflow

Oftentimes creative endeavors can seem like insurmountable challenges. When setting out to write a novel, the blank page can be intimidating, especially in the beginning stages. With other large-scale projects such as making a movie or producing a podcast, it can be difficult to know where to start, particularly if it is your first project of this magnitude. Large goals are intimidating and can feel like needing to move mountains in order to succeed.

It can be useful to think in terms of small, attainable goals, that remove the intimidation and pressure of daunting workloads. Mountains can be made from pebbles, and a shift towards this attitude can help you navigate through the daily process of achieving your large-scale goals. Thinking about your project in terms of daily output versus the big picture can help you manage your workflow in ways that can help you avoid stress, imposter syndrome, and the crushing feelings of inadequacy. The important thing is to get something done on a regular basis, however small. If you add a pebble to the pile regularly before you know it, you have a mountain.

Let’s say that your goal is to write a 40k word novel. The task can seem overwhelming, especially if you have never done this before. You’ve heard stories of authors writing books in three weeks, and you wonder how this is even possible. But how long something takes to accomplish has no bearing on the potential quality of the work. There is still rewriting and editing that will come after, but your focus should first be on getting that rough draft down because you can’t start your editing stages until you finish a draft. In all endeavors, writing a book or otherwise, it is important to keep the drafting and editing stages separate. Trying to blend these stages will inevitably slow you down.

So let’s talk about achieving the rough draft; on any given day you probably write many texts and emails which amount to a substantial word count. But we never think of these outputs as word count. Yet you write all day. Try applying this method to working on your novel. Even if you make your daily word count goal as small as 100 words a day (around a paragraph) in little over a year you will have accomplished your larger goal of 40k words. Even operating with this low-pressure goal, it will only take around 400 days to complete the first draft of your novel.

But sometimes even the small goal of writing 100 words a day can feel overwhelming. That’s ok. Taking breaks should be a part of your work routine. If the work process feels like it’s going nowhere, or you just can’t find the energy to chip away at your task, it’s ok to walk away for a while. Sometimes it can even require walking away for long enough to regain objectivity, sometimes months. When working on an audio production ear fatigue can set in (or eye fatigue if working on a film), and it is imperative that when this happens that you give your ears (or eyes) a break. The mind works in the same way that these senses do, so to regain clarity about your project it can be necessary to stop and come back to it once you have had the time to cleanse your palette and approach the project with a fresh mindset.

Taking time away from your projects can leave one with a guilty feeling, but returning with objectivity will aid you in creating a superior product, hopefully uninhibited by the stress of achieving your goals. It’s ok to work in baby steps. After taking a break and returning to the work, we often look at the work through a new lens, and sometimes we’re horrified by the mistakes which now standout to us where we could not see them before. This is natural and part of the process. It’s ok to fail along the way, after all you have chosen to create a large-scale project. Failure is part of the learning process, and we learn as we go. Take solace in the fact that you can only improve, that your work will not get worse, and that if you persevere towards your goals they will be achieved. Throw a small stone in the pile today, before you know it you will have moved a mountain.

Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.