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...]

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...]