“Her Face Went From Scowl to Peace”: 7 Secrets of the Prolific Helps Lifelong Procrastinator and Her 12-Year-Old Daughter

From the mailbag: I just wanted to thank you for putting together this comprehensive book. I've suffered from writers block/perfectionism my whole life, and once in a while I break through, but then get bogged down again. Your book confirmed some of the core discoveries I made overcoming my blocks, but has done so much to help me see the bigger picture. I love the list of the attributes of perfectionism. I love the description of compassionate objectivity and recently conveyed it to my 12 year old daughter who was feeling discouraged that she wasn't amazing after a half hour of ice skating instruction. Her face went from a scowl to peace -- it made so much sense to her. I also love the section that talks about the stages of writing and how we have to retreat to stage one whenever we start to feel unsafe. Read sample chapters here. Buy it here. … [Read more...]

Ira Glass on Developing Your Creative Skill: Go for Quantity, Not Quality

The below 2 minute video of Ira Glass explaining how the secret to artistic quality is to do a lot of art is well worth your time. Bayles and Orland make the same point in their terrific book Art & Fear. They tell a (true, I believe) story of two pottery classes: One class was told to create one fabulous pot by the end of the semester. The other was told to create as many pots as possible. In the end, it was the students who created many pots who also tended to create the best ones. This is for at least three reasons: As Glass notes, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop a skill. The "quantity" students were being nonperfectionist - i.e., focusing on process, not product. (It is likely that some of the "quality" ones didn't finish even a single pot.) Quality is not something you can force, and when you try to force it you sabotage the creative process, which demands freedom and flexibility. Rather, quality is something you work towards and hope for. As Flaubert said, "Success … [Read more...]

My Dad’s Finest Hour

My Dad's finest hour may have been during the famous U.S. Postal Workers Strike of 1970. Per Wikipedia: "At the time, postal workers were not permitted by law to engage in collective bargaining. Striking postal workers felt wages were very low, benefits poor and working conditions unhealthy and unsafe. APWU president Moe Biller described Manhattan post offices as like "dungeons," dirty, stifling, too hot in summer, and too cold in winter....An immediate trigger for the strike was a Congressional decision to raise the wages of postal workers by only 4%, at the same time as Congress raised its own wages by 41%." And from the Website of the New York Letter Carriers Union Branch 36: "Every revolution has its triggering events, and for the 1970 postal strike it was the courageous actions of a small group of Bronx letter carriers....The actions of the Bronx carriers had instilled a sense of euphoria among many New York carriers...for it became clear that if thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of postal … [Read more...]

Amanda Palmer on Artistic Legitimacy

Musician Amanda Palmer recently gave a keynote at Grub Street Writer's Muse and the Marketplace Conference. She's whip smart and really "gets" this brave new world of social media, and so we should always listen to what she has to say. Her talk at Grub was about something much more important than social media: it was about legitimacy. That's a huge topic in artistic productivity, and a major focus of class discussions. Some writers think, for example, that until they've been published in the "right" way and by the "right" people, they aren't "real writers." So: Published by a commercial publisher? Real Writer! Go forth and conquer. Indie published? Fake Writer! Hang your head in shame. Published in established literary magazine. Real Writer. Published on a blog (yours or someone else's)? Fake. Similarly, some artists believe they're not "real" until they've been invited to participate in certain shows, represented by certain galleries, or reviewed by certain magazines. Feelings of illegitimacy … [Read more...]

How to Live Your Summer Life All Year Long

  Summer is a time for play, but what does your play tell you about the life you'd really like to be living? Many of us, during the summer: Relax Get more athletic Get more sensual (Shakespeare didn't write A Midwinter Night's Dream, after all!) Interact more with nature, and Dress more casually and comfortably, at work and elsewhere. We also use our vacations to: Travel Catch up on family and friend time, and Make progress on an important goal (book, thesis, art, volunteerism, etc.) Why wait for summer to do all this? Or, asked another way: wouldn't it be wonderful if we could live more actively and authentically the rest of the year? Of course there are barriers: notably, for many people, work (or school) and family responsibilities. But think about how big a role habit and convention may be playing in your situation: If you haven't taken a vacation in years (an American disease, it seems), find and learn from others who have. If you have been taking a … [Read more...]

Terre Roche: Happiness Comes From Focusing on the Song, Not the Success

  Terre Roche and her sisters were substantially more than a flash in the rock ‘n roll pan in the late 1970’s. Their debut album, The Roches, was number one on the New York Times list for the year 1979. But as she describes in this moving article, massive critical acclaim does not always translate into vast wealth. The band of sisters parted ways with their high-powered manager without ever delivering the commercial triumph he wanted. Now in her sixties, Terre has long since come to terms with that chapter of her life, and has grown in her art. Now the music is for the music, and she is excited about the quality of her new song, Maxwell. (You’ll find a link to the song in the article.) “Maxwell is complete. It’s not a hit song. It’s probably not going to make any money. I’d rather listen to it, as if it were a teacher. I have friends whose songs have made lots of money. I envy them. But personally, I’ve given up on the idea of writing a commercial song. And when I did that, I entered into a … [Read more...]

In Defense of Self-Help Books

I'm totally loving this Psychology Today post by Deborah Hill Cone on how it's snobbish to put down self-help literature: I will come clean. At my grimmest moments I would turn again and again to books which helped change my perspective and get “another way of thinking about life” although they might not be the ones I put on my bookshelves alongside high-brow economic texts or prize-winning novels. But hidden under my bed, as though too risqué, are the books I find most medicinal during the long dark tea time of the soul. They include The Grief Recovery Handbook by John. W. James and Russell Friedman, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Lately I have also found The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels very helpful. "The motivation book that everyone in Hollywood is obsessed with,” as Vanity Fair described it, niftily avoiding the S and the H words. I’m not the only one who has a secret self-help book stash. You don’t get anyone more intellectual than … [Read more...]

I Wish Hilary Mantel Were My Sister II: Manuscript Coherence and Polish Come Late in the Writing Process!

As if Hilary Mantel's wise words on memoir weren't enough, she also has something great to say about the writing process itself. In answer to the question, "What’s the best thing about writing a book?" she replies: The moment, at about the three-quarter point, where you see your way right through to the end: as if lights had flooded an unlit road. But the pleasure is double-edged, because from this point you’re going to work inhuman hours, not caring about your health or your human relationships; you’re just going to head down that road like a charging bull. This is REALLY important for all writers to understand, and here's why: Anne Lamott famously said, in Bird by Bird, that every piece of writing begins with a "shitty first draft." That's almost right. The reality is that most pieces of writing are built from many shitty drafts, until you reach a point where the whole thing starts to cohere and come into focus. That's Mantel's "floodlit" point, and it truly is magical. Mantel puts the transition at … [Read more...]

I Wish Hilary Mantel Were My Sister I: Memoir Isn’t Easy

Honestly, I wish Hilary Mantel were my sister. Despite egregiously spelling her name with only one "l", she is one cool writer. In a New York Times interview she demolishes the naive view that memoir writing is easy: Memoir’s not an easy form. It’s not for beginners, which is unfortunate, as it is where many people do begin. It’s hard for beginners to accept that unmediated truth often sounds unlikely and unconvincing. If other people are to care about your life, art must intervene. The writer has to negotiate with her memories, and with her reader, and find a way, without interrupting the flow, to caution that this cannot be a true record: this is a version, seen from a single viewpoint. But she has to make it as true as she can. Writing a memoir is a process of facing yourself, so you must do it when you are ready. GREAT to read this. In every writing class I teach there are memoirists who feel guilty because they've bought the line that, "You're just telling your own story. How hard can it be?" Hopefully … [Read more...]

What Joyful Productivity Looks Like: The “Woodland Trail” Metaphor

Picture your writing (or other work) session as a stroll down a beautiful, sun-dappled woodland path. The path is wide and flat, the air warm and inviting, and on either side of you are banks of friendly plants alive with twittering birds. You're having a marvelous time, and are moving at a relaxed, yet efficient pace - almost with a bit of a strut. All of a sudden someone pops up out of the underbrush and joins you on your path: it's your spouse, full of opinions on your current piece of writing. You walk on for a bit, your spouse yammering in your ear, not just about the writing, now, but about he/she wishes the house were better maintained and how you two never go out any more. It's an unpleasant distraction, but you're still mostly enjoying your walk. Then, someone else pops up – your parents, who are worried about how your writing will reflect on them. And then your siblings parachute down onto the path, asking when are you going to get a real job, and aren't you embarrassed to be driving … [Read more...]

George Clooney on Mental Backpacks

George Clooney! A few days ago I wrote this piece on how having a mental backpack can slow you down. How could I have forgotten this scene from the great movie Up in the Air? Thanks to Angela Beeching, author of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music for the reminder. Now I'm going to go off and pretend GC paid a personal visit to my blog. :-) … [Read more...]

The Importance of Perception to Productivity Work

People carrying a backpack or other weight typically estimate hills to be much longer and steeper than they really are, to a greater degree than unencumbered people. It also turns out, however, that if someone puts a backpack on your avatar you will experience virtual "hills" as being longer and steeper than they really are. This is crazy! Don't forget that, since both the avatar and hill are virtual, no actual energy is being expended other than for keyboarding! But we perceive an energy expense. However, the effect is true only if it's an avatar customized by you to look like yourself. I'm guessing that's because, in the process of interacting with your virtual doppelganger, you're also identifying yourself with that online persona and getting invested in the outcome. One can therefore reasonably speculate that perfectionists, who tend to overidentify with their work and get overinvested in their outcomes, are literally creating for themselves more of an uphill climb! And the clever … [Read more...]

Coming Out of Your Closet: Teyonah Parris, Adam Chandler, David Leavitt, and You

Yesterday's piece on Betty Ming Liu's quest for self-liberation got me thinking about authenticity. Today, I ran across stories about two people, each on their own quest for it: For Teyonah Parris (who plays Don Draper's secretary Dawn on Mad Men) the quest was to accept her beautiful natural hair: "I was walking down the street with one of my girlfriends and I saw this young lady who had the most amazing, bomb twist-out. I said to my friend, "Oh my gosh, her hair is so beautiful. I wish my hair could do that." My friend looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Uh, it would if you stop relaxing it." I stopped and thought to myself, wow, duh. I kind of felt dumb because of course I knew my hair was naturally curly, but it had been so long since I had been relaxing. I realized that I had no real relationship with my natural hair. "At that very moment, I decided to change that. I wanted to see what my own hair felt like because I really didn't know. I had no clue. In the back of my mind, I always figured I … [Read more...]

Betty Ming Liu Quits Her Job: Liberated Time Management in Action!

If your job is not central to your mission, but simply a way to earn money, then one of the profoundest acts of self-liberation you can make is to reduce your hours or (even better) quit. Blogger Betty Ming Liu just quit her job, and her list of goals for her next stage is awesome: – I want to self-publish a book. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this is an on-going yearning. Maybe not the most practical solution for making money, but crucial for personal fulfillment. The rough first draft is done and I’m ready to rock this dream! – Expanding my YouTube presence. There’s not much up right now but look for more. During recent One-to-One training lessons at the Apple Store, I’ve learned to use Final Cut Pro X. Now it’s my chance to put those skills to practice in editing my own how-to videos about all kinds of things. Stay tuned! – Spend time with my daughter. She is now a college-bound, young woman. If you’ve been through this stage with a kid, you know that part of me wants to scream. … [Read more...]

Dave Grohl on The Truth About How to Succeed in the Music Industry

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