How to Bingo Your Way to Fun Productivity!

In a recent newsletter I mentioned how I sometimes roll a die to decide which section of my project to work on. When you pick a section at random it’s hard to take the work too seriously or otherwise get perfectionist. Reader Nathan wrote in with another great randomizing technique from Viviane Schwarz: bingo cages (a.k.a., wheels). "One of my most important work tools is a bingo wheel which I throw wooden balls in labelled with the projects I need to work on—I've found it absolutely impossible to run a schedule based on priority, they all need work all the time and thinking about which one is the most pressing is just wasting time. I spin out a project, set a timer and work on it for half an hour or an hour to take it forward, then I spin again until it's time to stop working. It sounds quite ridiculous but it beats every other system I've ever tried for productivity; you just have to make sure the right balls are in the cage, throw in more if a deadline is approaching or take some out if something … [Read more...]

Tips for a Distracting Time

It's been a crazy and, in many ways, difficult week here in the U.S. If you're having trouble working (as I am and I know many others are), grab your timer and do short intervals. (Even a minute or two!) You will make progress and, perhaps even more importantly, keep the material fresh in your head so that you can re-enter it more easily when you have more focus. And who knows? Maybe a couple of minutes will lead to a couple more, then a couple more, etc. Did I tell you I sometimes use dice? I have a great purple set from Chessex (gamers' choice; a cheap indulgence). Sometimes I roll a die to decide which part of my manuscript to work on. (Which chapter or section; they're all numbered.) It adds a bit of color and fun to the process, and randomness is a great tool against perfectionism because you can't really take a piece of writing that seriously when you're only working on it because you rolled it. For those (understandably) upset about the U.S. election, a few tips: Don't perfectionistically … [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: Harry Potter and The Boggart Perfectionism Joyful Productivity and The Woodland Trail Metaphor … [Read more...]

Beware Post-Summer Situational Perfectionism!

A few people have told me they've been having trouble getting back to work after summer vacation. They're telling themselves (and others, unfortunately, are also telling them) stuff like: “Okay, summer's over. I've had my break. Now, I'd better get back to work. In fact, I need to work extra hard to make up for lost time.” That's an example of situational perfectionism, which is any condition that causes your perfectionism to spike. And, like all perfectionism, it's a dead end. Putting pressure on yourself only causes your creative, productive self to rebel and shut down. Also, let's not forget that many vacations are not actually that relaxing. One person I spoke with did a “service vacation” where she nobly but stressfully helped out a charitable cause. Another had to unexpectedly renovate an apartment that a tenant trashed. Still another spent part of her vacation in close quarters with difficult relatives. They all needed a vacation from their vacation! I myself had a terrific summer with … [Read more...]

“If You’ve Made Them Cry, You’ve Succeeded In Getting Your Point Across.”

A Success Academy charter school teacher was caught on film harshly criticizing and publicly humiliating a first grader. She literally tore the girl's classwork into pieces and flung them aside! The school is claiming that the incident was an exception, both for this teacher and the system in general. However, there's plenty of testimony that it isn't. The title of this newsletter is a quote from a former assistant principal who says it sums up the system's overall culture. She also notes that, "embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders." You don't have to be an expert on perfectionism to understand that this kind of degrading treatment is totally inappropriate to inflict on anyone, much less a child. What most people don't realize, however, is that even a single incident like this can catalyze a lifetime of underproductivity. I know this because I hear it all the time in workshops. I'll be discussing a … [Read more...]

If We Could Turn Back Time: Cher Models Nonperfectionism!

I've always loved Cher's tweets: they're so playful and sincere, even when she's making a sharp political point, which she does often. So naturally, I loved this New York Times piece about her Twitter style: She pays little to no attention to rules of grammar, like punctuation or sentence structure, and she capitalizes many words individually, causing her messages to read like bad novelty T-shirts or mock propaganda posters. She frequently — and comically — tacks on extra signoffs at the end of her tweets (“I was looking at tweets & saw that i really hurt someones feelings ! Im sorry. It was light blue background with white egg shape . Bye” ). She loves to load her tweets with emojis — her favorites include the birthday cake, sweat droplets, prayer hands and the American flag — even if they aren’t related to the subject matter of her message....The day after Christmas, she wrote, “Adults are SO PACMAN,” and a few weeks before that, she posted a message that simply said: “We Should B Vigilant, Aware Of … [Read more...]

How John Scalzi Meets His Deadlines

This week, bestselling author John Scalzi blogged about how he's going to meet his 2016 deadlines: "For me, the major problem is not writer’s block or plot issues or anything structural involving the novel; I generally don’t have problems with those once I start, and with this new novel, thankfully, I didn’t have any real issues starting. "No, the problem is that the Internet is an attractive nuisance. And not just in the sense of that it distracts me when I need to be writing. No, as I get older, I find that actually plugging into it before I do any novel writing scrambles my brain enough to make it hard to get any appreciable progress made for the day. I think this is a combination of me getting older and the Internet just plain doing a better job of angrying up the blood or otherwise distracting me. I also think it also has to do with a certain amount of habituation, i.e., if I’m checking email, by brain just goes “Oh, we’re on the Internet now,” and just fires up those parts of my brain that work on … [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 Problem With Daily Word Counts

This list of the daily word counts of famous authors has been making the rounds. The top producers, by far, are the late thriller writer Michael "Jurassic Park" Crichton and the late British historical novelist R. F. Delderfield, who both apparently wrote 10,000 words a day. Then we've got one 6,000-word-a-day chap (thriller writer John Creasy), a few 4,000 and 3,000 words-a-day producers (Anne Rice, Iain Banks, Frederick Forsyth), and a host of 1,000 to 2,000 word producers. On the low end, we've got Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene (one of my idols), and Civil War historian Shelby Foote, who all clock in at a meagre-seeming 500 words a day. There are huge problems with this list. First, it's a hodgepodge. It contains famous writers and obscure ones; literary novelists and formulaic pop-fiction ones (plus, as noted, at least one historian); those writing by hand and those using computers; privileged Victorian and mid-century-American white male writers and less-privileged contemporary female writers … [Read more...]

Lively Interview on Writing Productivity and Overcoming Perfectionism (30 mins)

Check out this fun 30-minute interview I did on boosting writing productivity and overcoming perfectionism. The interviewers were the lively and knowledgeable Dr. Bob Wright and Christine Wright of StressFreeNow: … [Read more...]

Well Paid New York Times Writers Have Interesting Theoretical Discussion on Whether Poverty is Good for (Other) Writers

"Do Money Woes Spur Creativity or Stifle It?" This was the dingbat question editors of the New York Times Bookends column considered worth debating this week. I'll share my full comment on the piece in a moment, but first: can you even imagine asking this about practitioners in any non-arts field? I can't! Gives you a sense of how artists are valued in society. Unfortunately, the two writers the Times chose to address the question waffled and waxed poetic and seem to have needed to show off their erudition. So the question didn't get shown up as the bonkers thing it really is. If I sound peeved it's because I think it's obnoxious and irresponsible for editors and writers who are presumably being paid well for their work to speculate airily on whether poverty is good, especially in a field where so many wonderful and talented people go underpaid. Here's my answer - it would be great if you could take a moment to "like" it on the NY Times website. "The answer to the question in the title is … [Read more...]

Why a Course on Weight Loss for Writers?

I will soon be starting my next SavvyAuthors' exclusive Weight Loss for Writers class. To my knowledge, you won't find another class like it anywhere. But why a class on weight loss just for writers? Well, for one thing, writing is a sedentary occupation, so it's easy for writers to gain weight. For another, overweight (yes, I use it as a noun for convenience's sake!) has a lot in common with that other unfortunately common malady for writers, writer's block. Both are forms of procrastination fed by perfectionism and ambivalence, and exacerbated by time constraints and resource deficiencies. Think about it: every time you eat something you don't want to, or don't exercise when you want to, you're procrastinating on your weight loss. And if you've ever, (a) compared your body to that of a genetically-gifted model or athlete who also exercises hours each day; (b) maligned yourself because of your body size or eating habits; or (c) tried an ultra-low-calorie or otherwise deprivational “crash” diet, … [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...]

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...]

Meet Compassionate Objectivity, The Antidote to Guilt

“I should succeed at this job despite the fact that we're severely under-resourced and my boss is chronically disorganized. If I don't, I’m a loser.” “If I don’t sacrifice everything to my kids, I'm a terrible parent.” "If I don’t get my hour of exercise in every single day, I'm just a lazy slob.” “If my book doesn't sell well, I must be a crappy writer.” You've probably experienced the above or similar thoughts at different times. No matter what the project, or how well we've done, it seems like we can always do a better job. And yet, guilt and shame won't help you be more productive—in fact, they are far more likely to rob you of confidence and motivation. People who continually berate themselves for not having done “more and better” need to consider whether that behavior is actually productive. The truth is that we all have limits on our time, money, energy, and other resources; also, that we all need to devote a big chunk of them to our own needs. Another truth is that life is pretty hard. … [Read more...]