Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Note to self: eat that frog

Yes. I admit I sometimes struggle on the time-management front.  What writer doesn’t, given the time demands of our craft in our already-full lives?

Some people deal with this by getting up, monastically, at 4am and forcibly shoving an extra couple of hours into their lives that way, but that ain’t gonna happen.  I am not a morning person.  Neither is Neil Gaiman, as famously homaged by Diana Wynne Jones in Deep Secret, so I’ll just take that as a  literary sanction for sleeping in.

So, without adopting the schedule of a cloistered nun, there are a number of other tools we can use to improve our time use.  Some of them address big-picture issues, like goal setting, getting your house/desk/psyche organised, or prioritising by using some kind of box/list/diagram/mnemonic with daily, religious fervour.

But there’s another simpler one:

Eat that frog.

No, not the chocolate variety, although they are good too.  (Especially the sublime, velvety goodness of a Haigh’s chocolate frog).  There must be some special compound in good quality chocolate that stimulates creative thought, right?  However, to date this strategy is evidenced more by my splendid physique than by my impressive publishing record.

No, the idea of Eat that frog is to do the one thing you’re most dreading first.  Get it done at the start of the day when your energy is high. Once it’s done, you will have freed up all the time and energy you might have spent avoiding it – and the whole day will be more productive.

This is not a new concept.  Maggie Stiefvater, a YA author that I admire enormously, has talked about time management and the work ethic that allows her to combine writing, painting, and all the other things involved in being an all-round  creative genius and a mother.  At the top of her list is Work first, then play.  Which, if you think about it, is a variant on the frog eating. 

This is a really good writing tool – especially when you’re circling around a hard bit, something that you’re avoiding, something that is starting to look like writer’s block.  Jump on in, eat that frog.  The worst thing that can happen is that you will write a terrible first draft - and aren’t all first drafts awful?  Now that the frog is no longer glowering at you, you can go back and revisit and refine what you need to.  The best thing that can happen – and it may surprise you – is that you release a whole new wave of ideas and energy. 

Note to self:  this post is not about frogs, or time, or even about writing. It’s about resistance. It’s about the inexplicable obstacles we place in our own paths. Especially when we’re about to push through to a whole new level of understanding or achievement. Why do we do this? Who knows?**  All I know is that the times when the resistance is strongest, and the pressure is greatest, are the times when we are closest to breaking through to the place that we most want to be in.

That’s worth eating a frog for.

And here's a nice cautionary tale about what happens when you don't:

I kissed it but it just got bigger
by Cpt<HUN> @ Flickr
**Actually, Stephen Pressfield might know. He has written a whole book about this, The War of Art. I haven’t read it but it comes highly recommended by a fellow writer whose entire being lit up when he was describing its value to his writing practice.  


  1. What an excellent, instructive piece of writing. I'm not a writer but I am a student and 'eating the frog' is exactly what I have to do when I have an assignment or tutorial task to prepare for. I am a morning person however so I will be frog munching before 6am- sigh.

    1. I envy your morning-ness! And yes, a very valuable concept for all of us students.


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