Summer 2014 Online Classes

I'm teaching three great online classes this summer, two on writing productivity, and one on weight loss. Online classes are fun, convenient, inexpensive, and you do get loads of individualized attention from me. Check out my Events page for more information, and hope to see you in class. … [Read more...]

What Being “Willing to Fail” Really Means

These days, many people know it's okay to fail.* They understand that failure is an essential part of any ambitious path, and also a fantastic learning opportunity. They also know that if you’re not failing at least some of the time, you’re probably not taking enough risks. This failure-is-okay viewpoint is reinforced by many inspiring quotes by brilliant people, including: "He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. - Herman Melville “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” - Samuel Beckett "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." - Winston Churchill (There are zillions more.) So, to repeat: these days, many people realize it's okay to fail. Or do they? It turns out that many who think they're prepared to fail, really aren't. Underneath, they still crave success. It's a good bet that they've defined success perfectionistically--meaning, that any outcome short of "fabulous" is unacceptable. And that they're … [Read more...]

Why People Quit Big Projects (And How Not To!)

The below fantastic article from ThesisWhisperer.com is aimed at graduate students, but really pertains to anyone who is struggling, or has struggled, with a big project. (Just substitute “boss” for “supervisor” if needed!) Thanks to the the Thesis Whisperer herself, Dr. Inger Mewburn, Director of Research Training at the Australian National University, for kind permission to reprint. I've edited it for brevity, added some formatting, and also annotated it with some of my own thoughts and solutions. And your own thoughts and feedback are always welcome. - Hillary Why do people quit the PhD? by Dr. Inger Mewburn As it turns out, we already know quite a lot about why people quit their PhD. In her 2006 paper, “The Changing Environment for Doctoral Education in Australia”, Margot Pearson summarises prior research, mainly conducted in the United States, and names a complex set of interlocking factors: research mode (full time / part time or movement between the two) structure of the … [Read more...]

Historians are Getting Less Blame-y and You Should, Too!

So privileged, last night, to hear a lecture at Kalamazoo College by Christopher Clark, one of the world's leading historians. His recent book on the causes of World War I is called The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914; and please note the interesting "How" in the subtitle. Clark says he used "how" because "why" discussions tend to get abstract: he wanted to keep things focused and concrete. Also, he said (paraphrasing) that "why" discussions almost inevitably devolve into questions of blame and finger-pointing, which are in the end both reductive and of limited use to historians or anyone. Many people know that blame, harsh judgements, etc., are unhelpful in the personal realm; I find it fascinating that they are similarly unhelpful even in the "big" realm of history. Clark also drew some interesting parallels between the pre-World War I world and our own post-Cold War one; although he warned against taking such comparisons too far. I will definitely be reading his book, and if you're a … [Read more...]

Do You Suffer From Marketer’s Block?

Recently, I've noticed an interesting evolution in the writing productivity classes I teach. Up until a few years ago, writers almost always took one of my classes because they were procrastinating or blocked on a book or other work. These days, however, many who take my classes have finished their book: it's their marketing they're stuck on. And many of those who are stuck are indie publishers. What gives? To understand what's going on, you first need to understand that procrastination isn't caused by laziness, lack of discipline, lack of commitment, or any other lack, but disempowerment. Disempowerment means you're not missing anything; just separated from, or constrained from using, that which you have. Locate and remedy the disempowering forces in your work and life, and your energy, discipline, commitment, etc., will "automagically" reappear. Here's more info on how to do that.  So what would disempower an indie publisher? The major disempowering forces are: perfectionism, ambivalence, resource … [Read more...]

Ann Patchett on Surviving Creativity’s Core Disappointment

Ann Patchett has many useful things to say about writing in her new essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and in particular about the core creative challenge of surviving the fatal moment when, having finally summoned the courage to bring your vision to life, it immediately disappoints: "Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words. This is why we type a line or two and then hit the delete button or crumple up the page. Certainly that was not what I meant to say! That does not represent what I see. Maybe I should try again another time. Maybe the muse has stepped out for a smoke. Maybe I have writer's block. Maybe I'm an idiot and was never meant to write at all...."Somewhere in all my years of practice, I don't know where exactly, I arrived at the art. I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I … [Read more...]

John Scalzi on Why You Should Never Let Your Reviewers Get You Down

The Inimitable One offers a list of one-star reviews of books that later went on to win science fiction's celebrated Hugo award. My favorite is this review of Scalzi's own novel Red Shirts, which actually uses the word "onanistic": This is an onanistic shallow and very disappointing book. Little or no character development. What should have been an interesting short story based on a somewhat interesting conceit has been puffed out to novel length and suffers hugely from the increased exposure. Don’t waste your time or money… The only interesting element was the coda about writer’s block which, I fear, seems to be very close to home for him as reflected in recent work. Also, this review of Neil Gaiman's classic The Graveyard Book reminds us that some.reviewers.just.don't.get.it: I am amazed that this book has won awards — I wonder about the judges who voted for this completely unsuitable book. The book revolves around graveyards, murder, ghosts and a child called Nobody. Being called nobody … [Read more...]

New Yorker Cartoonist Shows What to do When You’re Stuck on a Piece

  Please check out this wonderful piece by New Yorker cartoonist Drew Dernavich, in which he discusses his creative process for a cartoon. He submitted it in 2007, but it was rejected. At that point, he did NOT do what many perfectionists would do, which is to either: (a) despair, and maybe give up cartooning, or (b) grind down and start reworking the cartoon to death, probably bringing all his other work (not to mention, his life) to a standstill. Instead, he simply set the cartoon aside and moved on to other projects. He did that for six years! Dernavich writes: "As I retrace my steps in those six years, I can definitely see the formula for success. My approach was to say “whatever,” move on to the next thing, forget completely that I had ever done this cartoon in the first place, go to sleep, get up the next day and drink coffee, eat and drink as I usually do, work at some stuff, work at some other stuff, get up earlier some days and later some days, do social things every once … [Read more...]

Recognizing and Valuing Your Successes. Part II: Character and Moral Successes

In my last newsletter, I discussed the importance of not undervaluing your work successes. Perfectionists tend to ignore or devalue all accomplishments other than “the big score,” which is a very demoralizing and demotivating mindset.) But it's also important to recognize your “character successes,” and I list some types of those below. I decided to write this newsletter because I know so many people who work hard at meaningful endeavors, including art, activism, small business, or simply trying to live an ethical life; and who are extremely hard on themselves when they falter. Some of this extreme self-blame is probably due to perfectionism. But some happen when people don't fully recognize the nature of the barriers they're up against, or the magnitude of their accomplishments in the face of those barriers. Some barriers are personal or familial, and we shouldn't underrate those; but society itself can be a huge barrier when it pays lip service to virtues like caring, compassion, courage, honesty, … [Read more...]

Terrible Article in Salon Romanticizes “The Suffering Artist”

It actually promotes self-loathing as a productivity strategy! My comment: Sorry, this is the kind of grandiose macho posturing bunk that holds many writers back. Writing, absent perfectionism, is not that hard. And true self-loathing (as opposed to facile expressions of it) is far more likely to lead to a block than anything. There are plenty of examples of successful writers who write from places of ease and joy--and perhaps most successful writers do. For examples, see Stephen King from On Writing, Trollope from his Autobiography, Jane Yolen's Take Joy, and my own The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. What this article promotes is actually a romanticization of suffering, and that's a very immature viewpoint. I actually find quotes about how awful writing and the writing life are to be not just perfectionist, but self-indulgent. No one's forcing anyone to write, and writing happens to be a great way to spend one's time, not to mention earn one's living. Beyond all that, all worthwhile endeavors require … [Read more...]

Wise Words From John Scalzi About Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Legacy

Related to my prior post on why you should take an expansive view of success, here are some wise words from science fiction author John Scalzi, one of my favorite bloggers. Inspired by the recent death of British SF writer Colin Wilson, he writes on why you should just do your work and not worry about your legacy: Gaze, if you will, on the New York Times obituary for Philip K. Dick, on March 3, 1982. It is four graphs long (the final two graphs being two and one sentences long, respectively) — which for a science fiction writer is pretty damn good, when it comes to obits in America’s Paper of Record, but which, shall we say, does not really suggest that Dick’s notability would long survive him. Now, look at the voluminous record of writing about Dick in the NYT post-obit — an index of five pages of thumbsuckers. Pre-death, I find one note about Dick in the index, and it’s one of those Arts & Leisure preview bits. So, yes. The obit was not the final word, because the work continues — or at least, can. … [Read more...]

How to Measure Your 2013 Successes so as to have a Happier, More Productive 2014 (Part I)

As you evaluate your progress over the past year--or as your family attempts to evaluates it for you--one thing to keep in mind is that perfectionism often confuses success with failure. It basically recognizes just one kind of success, where you: (a) finish a monumental project, (b) do a spectacular job at it, and (c) win abundant praise and material rewards for it. Everything else is either (at best) not worth noting, or (at worst) a heinous failure. However, there are many more types of success, including: When you start a new project When you restart a lapsed project When you make progress on a project Most of our successes are, in fact, these kinds of "process successes." They can seem small or even trivial, especially when compared with the monumental successes we all hope for: that's okay, because when you look at your work through a process lens it becomes clear that there really is no such thing as a big success: only strings of tiny ones. Tolstoy didn't write War and Peace: he … [Read more...]

“Weight Loss for Writers” Class Premiers Online Jan 6

I've been waiting to teach this for years, and am so excited! We're going to get healthier and write more. Description follows. Space limited, so register now. Lots of writers struggle with their weight, but has it ever occurred to you that weight gain has a lot in common with that other common writer's malady, writer's block? It does! They're both examples of chronic procrastination, and as such can be resolved using the same techniques and tools. Longtime SavvyAuthors favorite Hillary Rettig, a master at helping people get more productive in their writing and life, invites you to join her for a unique class that will not just help you lose weight, but might even help you get more writing done! You'll learn what weight-related procrastination truly is (hint: NOT laziness or lack of discipline willpower), what causes it, and how to overcome it. Each week Hillary will post two lessons related to procrastination, perfectionism, time management, ambivalence, traumatic rejections, or another relevant … [Read more...]

Situational Perfectionism in Sex

The Times's Joyce Wadler recounts how the high cost of Viagra and other "performance enhancing" drugs is putting her under pressure to be better at sex. "I’m a sexually confident woman, but the cost of these pills was giving me performance anxiety. I knew it was supposed to be about love and connection, but when sex pills came on the scene I started to wonder if “Was it good for you?” was going to be replaced by, “Was it worth the 35 bucks?” Situational perfectionism is when something causes your perfectionism to spike. Read more about it here. … [Read more...]

Why, in Writing, Process Trumps Product, And Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The Quality of Your Work

Everyone's obsessed with quality, but the way to achieve it is not to focus on it. That's because: 1) Quality is an Emergent Property An emergent property is one that's intrinsic to a system, and that arises organically as that system operates. Think of relationships: if you try to force them, they wither and die. The best relationships are not forced, but arise naturally as the yield of many interactions. Quality in writing and other work similarly occurs organically via an effective process, through your numerous interactions with your subject matter. It's the result of your years or decades of preparation--your reading, writing, training, life lessons, etc. In other words, your ability to write well is "part of your DNA." You don't have to force it. And, in fact, you shouldn't force it because... 2) Striving for Quality is Inimical to the Creative Process If you focus on achieving a quality outcome, you'll likely either: (a) Succumb to perfectionist terror and get stuck midway through; or (b) … [Read more...]