Why the Middles of Projects are Tough (Part 2): Plus, How to Have Fun Revising!

Middles are Tough. Last time I wrote about how the middles of writing and other projects can be difficult, citing Dante's Inferno, which begins “midway upon the journey of our life," and John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress, in which the protagonist, Christian, literally bogs down midway, in the infamous “Slough of Despond.” Middles are where your enthusiasm ebbs often at the exact moment when the project itself seems most chaotic, disorganized, and daunting. They're a double whammy, in other words. But that's not all... Middles are massive. Anne Lamott famously said, in Bird by Bird, that every piece of writing begins with a “shitty first draft,” but it's probably more like ten, twenty, or thirty shitty drafts. Make sure you understand what a “draft” is, though: *It's a single, quick run-through of your piece (or chapter or other section), during which you correct its obvious and easy problems, and partially correct its hard ones. *You move quickly and lightly through the piece, making … [Read more...]

Who Makes the Best Mentor? And Coming to Terms with My $14,500 Mentor Failure

Who makes the best mentor? According to research, it's not the star performers: In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, for example, Jerker Denrell of the University of Oxford and Chengwei Liu of the University of Warwick counsel us to model ourselves on solid, second-tier performers, not the flashy types who come in first. The researchers reported on the results of a game played in many rounds. Over time, the most skilled players came to inhabit a second tier of reliable competence. Those who succeeded spectacularly—who took their places in the first tier—were often not the most skilled, but rather were those who got some lucky breaks early on or took big risks that happened to pay off. Emulating these top performers would probably lead to disappointment, since imitators would be unlikely to replicate their good fortune. Because luck and risk play a dominant role in extraordinary outcomes, Denrell and Liu write, “extreme success or failure are, at best, only weak … [Read more...]

Designer Milton Glaser’s Universe of Abundance

An important element of perfectionism is a sense of scarcity and deprivation, so this quotation from iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser offers an important antiperfectionist message: "If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity then it will be...I always thought that there was enough to go around - that there are enough ideas in the universe, and enough nourishment." Want to live and work in a universe of abundance? Then work to overcome your perfectionism. ht Brainpickings' Explore project … [Read more...]

Margaret Atwood, Anne Enright, and Garry Kasparov, on Failure

Meditations on failure, from some leading writers. I like this quote from Margaret Atwood: Failure is just another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish ends in failure, at least in our own eyes. Who set the bar so high that most of our attempts to sail gracefully over it on the viewless wings of Poesy end in an undignified scramble or a nasty fall into the mud? Who told us we had to succeed at any cost? And Anne Enright nails it: You must recognise that failure is 90% emotion, 10% self-fulfilling reality, and the fact that we are haunted by it is neither here nor there.The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion, that these illusions will keep you from the desk, they will spoil your talent; they will eat away at your life and your sleep and the way you speak to the people you love.The problem with this spiritual argument is that success and failure are also real. You can finish a real book and it can be published or not, sell or not, be reviewed or … [Read more...]

Hartford, Connecticut: Registration Now Open for 7 Secrets of the Prolific Class, Tuesday, July 2, at Mark Twain House

[please scroll down to see participant feedback from my last session at Mark Twain House] "One of the most popular writers from our 2nd Annual Writers' weekend returns to jump-start your writing this summer." Would you like to boost your writing productivity, finish your projects, and find more joy in your work? You can do it! Learn the truth about how to overcome procrastination, perfectionism, ambivalence, time constraints, and other barriers to writing productivity in this fun, interactive workshop with Hillary Rettig, author of the best-selling The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. Also learn simple techniques that you can start using NOW to grow your audience and sell your work. This workshop is suitable for ALL creative, academic, business, and other writers; please note that while there will be some in-class exercises, most of the course will be devoted to lecture and discussion. Please see below for syllabus. Classes will run on Tuesday evenings from July 2nd - August 6th (no class on July 16th) from … [Read more...]

Why You Shouldn’t Mock Beauty Pageant Contestants

[Note: I'm pretty sure none of my readers would mock a contestant, so please don't think I'm speaking to you personally, so much as the entire Internet. - Hillary] It seems to be evolving into a seasonal pastime to mock beauty pageant contestants who garble their speeches, but here's why you shouldn't do it: 1) It's not nice. (Didn't your parents teach you any better?) 2) It's not sporting. They can't answer back, after all. And leaving genetic advantages and presumed plastic surgeries aside, they've probably worked hard and strategically to succeed. Also, the whole, "Give me a quick, meaningful answer to a profound question, only be sure not to alienate any of our millions of viewers" situation is a trap. (How well would you do, especially on national television and while wearing a girdle and high heels?) Besides, many contestants come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. (This study--admittedly from 1998; couldn't find anything more recent--found that 21.5% come from families with … [Read more...]

My Inner Critic is a Wise Latina

I had a really bad night's sleep last night, even for me. At one point, I actually dreamt that I was being judged by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor! Could be worse--could have been Scalia or Alito or Thomas. So the yield of twelve+ years work helping others overcome their perfectionism is that my Inner Critic is "a wise Latina woman." Could be WAY worse. (And she wasn't even that bad in the dream!) Actually, I know why I dreamed of Sotomayor: a friend recently recommended her biography to me with extreme enthusiasm. So I will have to check it out, and I recommend you do, too. Meanwhile, this week New York Times health reporter Jane Brody ran a column on insomnia, and most of the comments are from desperate insomniacs seeking solutions. The "most liked" comment makes these excellent points: Going to bed early feels like childhood punishment, and deprivation of all the fun things like TV shows, films, late restaurant eating, snacks, Facebooking and so on -- yet if you must rise at 5:30AM … [Read more...]

Wikipedia the Wise

[Read more...]

New Articles on Procrastination and Perfectionism, and How to Help Your Kid Kick the Video Game Habit

Just posted new, updated sections on how to recognize and overcome Procrastination and Perfectionism. Please check them out! Also posted a new article called How to Help Your Kids Kick the Video Game Habit. It's adapted from one I published a while back on the Psychology Today blog, andit will be useful to anyone (not just kids) trying to play fewer video games, watch less television, or do less web surfing: "Try treating his desire to overindulge in electronics as a kind of procrastination. That’s what we call it, after all, when adults put off doing their important activities; and a kid who’s obsessively playing video games (or watching television, etc.) can likewise be said to be putting off more meaningful and enriching activities such as sports, art, music, reading, volunteering, a job, or in-person socializing." Hope you find them useful, and as always I welcome your feedback. … [Read more...]

Good Apps for Distraction-Free Writing

Here are ten apps that let you write on a "clean" screen without distracting menus or other junk.   … [Read more...]

My Dad’s Finest Hour

My dad was an intelligent, creative, and incredibly thwarted man who was unhappy much of his life. I suggested a couple of times that he get therapy, and his answer was, "What do you think I am--nuts?" And so he never got happier. So I'm really happy to read that more elderly people are using therapy: “For people in their 80s and 90s now, depression was considered almost a moral weakness,” said Dr. Gallagher-Thompson. “Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key....So they learned to look good and cover their problems as best they could. "But those attitudes have shifted over time, along with the medical community’s understanding of mental illness among seniors." My Dad would have been 87 this year. He was capable of much more than he achieved, personally and professionally; however, factors including the Great Depression, the traumatic loss of his teenaged brother to cancer, and a chronic obesity problem blocked him. He's been gone … [Read more...]

Seth Godin and Jennifer Crusie on Artistic Legitimacy

Following onto the post about Amanda Palmer's exhortation to legitimize yourself as an artist, instead of waiting for gatekeepers to do so, here are marketing guru Seth Godin and best-selling romance author Jennifer Crusie on the same topic. First, Godin: No knight, no shining armor "Sure, Seth can do that, because he has a popular blog." Some people responded to my decision to forgo traditional publishers (not traditional books, btw) by pointing out that I can do that because I have a way of reaching readers electronically. What they missed is that this asset is a choice, not an accident. Does your project depend on a miracle, a bolt of lightning, on being chosen by some arbiter of who will succeed? I think your work is too important for you to depend on a lottery ticket. In some ways, this is the work of the Resistance, an insurance policy that gives you deniability if the project doesn't succeed. "Oh, it didn't work because we didn't get featured on that blog, didn't get distribution in … [Read more...]

Cat is Literal Writer’s Block

Children's author Deborah Underwood catches her cat Bella in the act of literally being a writer's block. (Sitting on one of Deb's notebooks.) Read an interview with Bella here. Like all cats, she's got opinions! … [Read more...]

Amanda Palmer on Why Artists Should Self-Promote (Bonus: How To Do It Without Selling Out!)

Last week I wrote about Amanda Palmer's excellent keynote speech for the Grub Street Writers' Muse and the Marketplace conference, where she made an impassioned plea for artists to validate themselves instead of waiting for a publisher, gallery owner, studio, or other gatekeeper's endorsement. She also had a lot of useful things to say about self-promotion: Another image struck me, and it was this: the garrett. the one in the attic. i’ve thought about it before when asked about the music business. the garrett belongs to that set of romantic notions we all had or have, painters, writers, musicians, and how they work. “up there.” with a pen, a paintbrush, a piano. by candlelight. alone. the space is isolated and fraught with artistic tension. drunk. chainsmoking. agonizing. creating. up here. in the garrett. separate. then…. down to the ground floor, out the front door: you have the marketplace. loud. the stalls of exchange. the sound of bargaining and bartering and changing cash registers. … [Read more...]

Inger Mewburn on Racism in Academia

A very good and honest piece from Inger Mewburn, a.k.a., The Thesis Whisperer, about waking up to racism in academia, and her own white privilege: At the time Joe and I were both looking for more permanent work in academia. It has to be said that neither of us were having much luck. I barely waited to put in my lunch order before debriefing him on my latest unsuccessful job interview. Once again, I had been passed over for a man who, I felt, was less qualified to do the teaching than I was. It was my 5th knock back and I was beginning to seriously question my sanity. At the time I didn’t understand that people don’t get jobs in academia just because they are good at stuff like teaching. Connections, histories, reputations – they all matter. Now it’s perfectly obvious why a professor, who had run out of soft money, would make sure his best research assistant got hired, but at the time I blamed it all on the gender thing (I still don’t think I was entirely wrong to do so). So I got my rant on to Joe, who ate … [Read more...]