A Fork, Knife and Elephant Means What?

They’re all elements in an old parable where a man feels overwhelmed at the daunting task of eating an elephant. I never heard this story until last July, at the RWA national conference. I think it was either Roxanne St. Clair or Harlen Coben and Lisa Jackson who brought the story up during their discussion.

Writing a book can be much like eating an elephant at one sitting, if we let it be.
First, know writing a quality novel takes thought, sweat and time. A great deal of all three. The project is something you’re not just going to dash off in a weekend. Not even a long weekend. So know your work will take you several months, or a year, or years to accomplish, depending on your time constrictions and ability to type.
It’s less intimidating if you think of a huge job as parts. So size up your project. Is it going to be a novella, a category romance, single title or a series of single titles? Once you know the word count you’re targeting, you can break the project into parts. If you want to write a single title at approximately 90,000 words over ten months, you’ll want to write at least 9000 words in a month or nearly 2400 words a week. Break that down to six days a week (I gave you a day off) and you’ll need to write 400 hundred words a day.

That big elephant isn’t looking too huge now, right?

Now, imagine writing ‘the end’. You did it! Dance. Yell out to the world, yippy. Have some bubbly and chocolate. That’s it. Hold that feeling close. The warm fuzzy memory will urge you on when you think you can’t possibly do this.

Having all the tools you need, will make the task easier. Think about it. Did you ever make a cake batter with all the ingredients at hand? It’s much easier than if you had to grab the flour from this cupboard, egg from the refrigerator and, dang, I’m out of milk and need to run to the store. So gather the tools you’ll need. Computer, document storage (you don’t want to lose your work), any research notes, storyboard, storyline, notecards, whiteboard, and other writer friends. Yes, I said friends. Friends will encourage you and listen to you when you vent, and they’ll also offer up ideas when you need them.

Not every writer writes a book in the same way, or a in a linear fashion. If you hate writing the end, write it first. If the middle seems like a swayback mare to you and you hate facing it, fast draft a few scenes.

Last bit of advice, start eating that elephant. The end is non-existent without the beginning.


  1. Mary Ricksen // February 18, 2012 at 3:48 PM  

    It's the middle for me! I'm stuck right now!

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel // February 18, 2012 at 5:19 PM  

    I used this method to help me get through college while working full time! It works, must try applying it to my writing.

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel // February 18, 2012 at 5:19 PM  

    I used this method to help me get through college while working full time! It works, must try applying it to my writing.

  4. Pamela Varnado // February 18, 2012 at 5:26 PM  

    Writing a novel is soooooooo hard. Not only does it require skill, it takes dedication and an unbending belief in the words you type on the computer. To get through my first drafts, I turn off my internal editor, who's very critical. I usually set a number of pages or word count for each day because my days are packed with so many other tasks. That way I won't be stressing about all the other things I have to do.

    Mary, I agree. Getting through the middle of a novel is a challenging task. I read somewhere that when you get stuck focus on the villain. Let him/her throw all kinds of trouble at the main characters. I tried this approach and worked.

  5. Autumn Jordon // February 18, 2012 at 6:33 PM  

    Oh, Mary, I totally understand. Interview your characters. Everyone of them. Secondary characters can really bring issues for your heroine and hero face.

    This method works for me everytime.

    Or change POV for the scene you're writing. Everyone sees the world in a differnt way.

    Happy to help if you need me.

  6. Autumn Jordon // February 18, 2012 at 6:35 PM  

    Exactly, Scarlet. You can accomplish anything in little bites. Depending on your work load, it might take you longer but the end result will be the same.

  7. Autumn Jordon // February 18, 2012 at 6:37 PM  

    LOL, Pam, we offered the same advice to Mary in different ways. Thanks for chiming in.

    And kudos to you for writing everyday. So very important.

  8. Mary Marvella // February 20, 2012 at 2:23 AM  

    Autumn, I am sooo very sorry. I read this late Saturday night and was distracted and forgot to comment. I do so much better if I take things one small step at a time.

  9. Judy // February 20, 2012 at 9:43 AM  

    Love this, Autumn. It makes all the sense in the world. And, yes, it is a long, tedious process! Step by step does it and then you have to start the editing process!! LOL

  10. Mona Risk // February 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM  

    Hi Autumn, I love the concept of the big elephant to eat in several parts. Lol

  11. Josie // February 22, 2012 at 10:26 PM  

    That's probably why starting a new book is so daunting---it's such a large project. Better to tackle it in bits and pieces.