Thank you Fast Company!

I'm kvelling! A few weeks ago a wonderful Fast Company writer, Stephanie Vozza, approached me for input into an article on how to be as productive as possible during the summer. I told her that I actually thought the opposite: that summer should be for relaxing, and, moreover, that in summer people often relax into their authentic selves. So the goal should really be to carry one's summer productivity habits and attitudes into the rest of the year, so one can live more joyfully and authentically all year long. It was a pretty contrarian view and, to be honest, I didn't expect Stephanie to rework her entire article around it. But that's exactly what she did! Huge props to her and also to her editor for approving the switch! The result is this article and I couldn't be prouder or more honored. I hope it inspires many people (including all of you, my FB friends) to live their summer life all year long. Many thanks to Stephanie and Fast Company! Also, here's a blog post in which I also explored this idea. … [Read more...]

What to Do When Your Gingerbread House Collapses

I have no idea what went through the mind of whoever built this gingerbread house when it collapsed. But I'm guessing she (or he) didn't get all self-critical and perfectionist about it. Perfectionism is an obstacle to creative problem solving, admirably on display here. Happy holidays, and remember that the secret ingredient is always compassionate objectivity (nonperfectionism). … [Read more...]

Do You Have a “Room of ReQUIETment?”

Continuing on last week’s Harry Potter theme, I want to ask you: Do you have a “Room of ReQUIETment?” Of course that’s a play on Room of Requirement, the fantastic room at Hogwarts that could be anything, supply anything, a student needed. Back in 1929, Virginia Woolf published A Room of One’s Own, which discussed, among other things, a creative woman’s need for space and privacy. (Of course, men need these things, too—it’s just that fewer women had them in Woolf’s day.) But physical space isn’t enough. You also need a quiet, capacious mental space that’s free of judgment, worry, and external concern; and in which you can invent and play and create freely. I call that your Room of ReQUIETment. Create it using the nonperfectionism techniques I’ve written about in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific and elsewhere. See also: Joyful Productivity and The Woodland Trail Metaphor Harry Potter and The Boggart Perfectionism … [Read more...]

Fan Mail From Novosibirsk

I was thrilled to get some fan mail from Novosibirsk today: Hello, miss Rettig! My name is Alexander, I’m writer from Russia. Couple weeks ago I found your book - and it was like a revelation for me. I always want to be a writer. I was started to write seriously three or four times - and always crashed myself down with fears and doubts. In January I started it again, now more seriously than ever, I really worked hard, but in June I started to feel the ghost of defeat again… And then I find your book. All my fears, all my doubts, all unspoken words about my writing was there! I couldn’t believe it! I was searching for things that you wrote FOR YEARS (it’s true!). Now I have it all in one book on my shelf! Amazing! Procrastination is not defeated, but now I have a deadly weapon for it. So I just want to say my biggest thanks to you for this book. Here it is: THANK YOU VERY VERY VERY MUCH!!!:) And one more little thanks for preface for the Russian edition;) Writing is so solitary and it can be easy to … [Read more...]

Why We’re Such Poor Appreciators of Our Own Work

Here is a delightful two-minute film from Derek Sivers which discusses why we often fail to fully appreciate our own work. It also explains why it's a bad idea to compare your work with that of a famous person.  Comparisons are perfectionist, but comparing yourself to someone famous is especially problematic because of what you're not seeing: Their process, which is often longer and more laborious than we assume. (See this piece on a New Yorker cartoon that took six years to complete!) The years, and sometimes decades, of training and experience it took them to get to the point where they could create the work we admire. Their “failures,” which are probably more serious and numerous than we imagine. (Isaac Bashevis Singer called the wastebasket “the writer's best friend.”) You're also not seeing the financial, familial, or other lucky breaks that may have aided their success. Sivers's video also hints at the futility of striving for “originality” or wishing you had “talent.” Perfectionists … [Read more...]

How to Get Out of a Slump

I got a lovely note from a reader that included this passage (reprinted with kind permission): "For the last one and a half week I have been in kind of in a slump, disappointed after a school assignment I had trouble finishing. I thought I finally had my writing problem under control, but ended up using the whole exam reading and taking notes, never getting to the point of actually writing the paper. Since then, affected by the disappointment, I have struggled to follow through on my weekly schedule,  feeling uncommited and inadequate and procrastinating by frenetically thinking and reading about self improvement. But yesterday I picked up your books again, and read page 50 in 7 Secrets about back sliding. I decided to test scaling back for while - at least for some hours. So, with a compassionately objective statement of "You know what; lets just go for a walk, shall we, and bring some nice baked goods and just think stuff through?" - I did just that. And felt such a surprising, huge sense of relief! … [Read more...]

The Joys of Being a Late Bloomer

This piece originally appeared on the blog of The Woman and the Owl Foundation, a fantastic group that, "explores and encourages the development of women spiritual leaders of all faiths and backgrounds through education, community, and support." I also did a video interview with them which you'll find here. Many thanks to Jessamine Dana for the opportunity, and to you for reading. - Hillary I struggled professionally throughout my twenties and thirties. True—I had jobs, and some of them were neat. I was a computer journalist for a while, and also a serial entrepreneur who founded a computer consulting business, a freelance writing business, and a dot-com (remember those?). In none was I entirely comfortable, which probably also explains why in none did I score a solid success. And so, I hit my early forties somewhat in the wilderness. It wasn't just about having a career—I desperately wanted to make my mark on the world, and also desperately wanted to do whatever I could to help alleviate the world's … [Read more...]

Some Awesome Links and See You in Colorado and Missouri!

Busy preparing for my Colorado and Missouri trip. As my Facebook friends know—and, by the way, you're invited to become one—I've morphed into a mushroom fanatic since moving to the midwest, and will be attending the Telluride Mushroom Festival. Oh yeah, and I'll also be giving a bunch of writing-productivity and joyful-activism workshops, and would love to see you at one if you're in the area. Please check my calendar for dates for these and my upcoming Michigan workshops! I've got some great articles queued up for September, to get us all revved for the new work year. In the meantime, below are some really awesome links. I hope you enjoy them, and please, please, please enjoy the rest of your summer! If you haven't yet been to the beach or the woods or the mountains, that's your homework. :-) The Links: Success at any Age YES! Perfectionists often feel bad about what they perceive to be a lack of life progress—a tendency hugely exacerbated by many societies' youth fixation. This article offers a … [Read more...]

Marriage Equality and How to Cope with Success-Related Losses

Last week was amazing, here in the U.S. We started with despair (at the murder of the nine black parishioners by a Confederate-flag-wearing white supremacist in Charleston), followed by hope (a newfound widespread rejection of said flag), relief (the Supreme Court ruling preserving the Obamacare subsidies), and, finally, jubilation (the ruling establishing marriage equality as a fundamental right). Whew! The marriage equality ruling was amazing not just because it represented a vast amount of liberation, but because it happened decades ahead of schedule. "I didn't expect to see it in my lifetime," is a common refrain among middle-aged and older activists. Although some gay and lesbian couples have been attempting to marry for more than forty years—in some heartbreaking cases, legally-recognized gay marriages were invalidated by courts—up until a scant eleven years ago, there hadn't been a legally-protected gay marriage in the U.S. That there's some lightspeed progress. Young activists, in … [Read more...]

Productivity Tips from Alex the Parrot

I just finished reading Irene Pepperberg's wonderful book Alex & Me, about her work and relationship with Alex, the African Grey parrot who became internationally renowned for his cognitive and communications skills, including being able to hold simple conversations, spell simple words, and do simple math. Turns out he could procrastinate, too. One problem Pepperberg had with Alex and the other parrots she worked with was that they got bored during the repetitive testing needed to gather data. When Alex didn't want to participate, she notes, he often would, “indulge in some suddenly urgent preening.” That's procrastination mimicking productive work, in case you didn't recognize it! It's no different than someone who decides to do “some suddenly urgent” laundry or lawn-mowing instead of his or her writing or other work. Alex apparently also mastered at least two key time management techniques. The first was saying no to unwanted work. Here is an example from the book: K (one of Alex's testers): … [Read more...]

Exclusive! John Scalzi’s Time Management and Career Tips

Last week, the publishing world was abuzz with the news that bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi signed a movie-star-like $3.4 million publishing deal for 10 books. Scalzi is someone I admire enormously, not just for his writing and career success, but because he's a genuinely nice guy, both offline (I've seen him at science fiction conventions) and online. Along with his time management and career strategies, Scalzi is a social media powerhouse, so I also interviewed him on his social media strategies. And he's an out, proud, and smart feminist, antiracist, and LGBT ally who regularly speaks out in support of social justice; and who, in consequence, has been a target of some of the Internet's obnoxious regressive elements. (Whom he handles with impressive good humor.) So another thing I asked him was about how he balanced his politics with his public professional persona. Along with novels such as Redshirts, Old Man's War, and the new Lock In, two must-read Scalzi pieces are his poignant … [Read more...]

You Can Literally Do the World’s Toughest Rock Climb and People Will Still Find Something to Criticize

So after seven years of planning and preparation, and nearly three weeks of grueling effort and inspiring teamwork, two guys succeed at literally the toughest rock climb in history and some people can still find something to criticize. When I first spotted the critical comments alongside the New York Times articles on Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell’s Yosemite Dawn Wall free climb I couldn't believe it! They seemed not just petty and banal, but completely insensible to the awesomeness and beauty of what these guys were doing. Turns out I wasn't the only one who noticed them. Adventure-Journal.com's Brendan Leonard compiled some in his article NY Times Commenters Explain Why The Dawn Wall Climb Is Dumb. Here's a sample: “They have supplies delivered to them!? That’s like climbing with a porter. Not legit.” “Impressive, but nowhere near as impressive as actually free solo climbing without any ropes, where one slip would mean certain death....The only serious risk here is failure, which is no big … [Read more...]

How to Have a Beautiful Soul

Some books that profoundly influenced me in 2014, and that I urge you to check out, are: Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature. A massive but highly readable book whose encouraging thesis is that humans are getting less violent over time. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. About Lincoln and his cabinet. Spellbinding history and vivid psychological portraits. (The Spielberg movie Lincoln was based on it.) The audiobook was fantastic. Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running. Since moving to the midwest, I've become obsessed with mushrooms—growing and hunting them, that is; I've always been obsessed with eating them—and mycologist Stamets is the visionary genius of mushrooms. Watch his entertaining seminar to learn why “the future is fungi,” and how mushrooms can transform medicine, agriculture, ecology, and pretty much everything else. Then check out his fun book. Ken Ilgunas, Walden on Wheels. Autobiography of a young man who was so determined to avoid the college-loan debt-trap that he lived in a van … [Read more...]

How to Deal With Your Family Over the Holidays

For many people, holidays are incredibly stressful. Even leaving aside issues related to family history and dynamics, when people who happen to be related but don't have much in common get together there can be multiple points of contention, including food, politics, and religion. Here are some tips for coping. 1) Educate Yourself (or Refresh Your Education) in Effective Communication. My favorite communications primer is actually a classic parenting book, “How to Talk so Kids Listen and Listen so Kids Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s a quick read with fun cartoons, and I recommend it to everyone regardless of whether they have kids. You can use its tips and techniques for getting along with, and resolving conflicts with, everyone, including adult family members, friends, and coworkers. This New York Times article on resolving family conflict is also excellent. It turns out that there’s a whole host of simple things you can do to defuse conflict, like sitting down or stepping … [Read more...]

The 14 Rules of Prolific Writing

The proper goal for all writing projects should be to “Get it done.” (Not fabulousness, comprehensiveness, to create a best seller, “revolutionize my field,” impress my advisor/family, make a fortune, etc. See Rule #13 on Quality, below.) Use a speedy, free-writing, free-revising technique. Aim for a large number of quick drafts where you make a few easy changes, versus a small number of “megadrafts” where you try to change every single thing that needs changing. (The latter technique wastes time and catalyzes perfectionism.) The proper number of drafts is “as many as it takes.” Use Anne Lamott's “one inch picture frame” technique, from her book Bird by Bird, to avoid overwhelm:  “All I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph.” When you run into a problem, don't stop and ponder; solve it via writing about it. Don't research during your … [Read more...]