New Class! How to Write a Lot (Online)

I hope everyone is doing okay during this difficult season. I'm doing well, and so are most of my loved ones. Like everyone else, here in the US, we're all under a lot of stress, both due to the pandemic and also our political situation. The next few months are guaranteed to be difficult, so I hope everyone is doing tons of self-care, and also socially distancing and masking. Anyhow some news: I'M TEACHING AGAIN!  I took a hiatus for several years while writing my new book (soon to be announced), but my teaching resumes on Saturday, August 29, with a brand-new, full-day (10 am - 5 pm) ONLINE version of my popular Grub Street Writers workshop, How to Write a Lot.           I will be sharing many new techniques from my forthcoming book, Productivity is Power. Whether you write creatively, for work, or for school, they will work for you! Course summary: 10 am     The Truth About Procrastination 11 am     Breaking Free of Perfectionism 12 pm     The … [Read more...]

We’re All Done With Pandemic Shaming!

Happy to report that there's been a swift and strong pushback on the whole "use your pandemic time productively" push. From the meme world...                 From the New York Times...   ...and from J.K. Rowling herself! No quote tweeting, but if you're a 'life coach' who's on here implying people are losers if they aren't learning a new skill/building a brand while on lockdown, maybe stop. People have challenges you know nothing about. Sometimes getting through something is more than enough. — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) April 3, 2020 Love to see the culture getting smarter and more compassionate! Stay well, and stay nonperfectionist! … [Read more...]

Focusmate: a Productivity App That Really Works!

So I don't recommend products or apps very often, and when I have, the results have been mixed. ( IS a good indie-bookstore-supporting substitute for Audible, but CBD oil as a sleep aid is probably an expensive placebo at best.) But I have NO hesitation in recommending Focusmate, an inexpensive app that gives you a work or study "buddy" on demand. One of the core problems and paradoxes of productivity work is that many kinds of work demand solitude (for thinking and concentrating), and yet few of us seem to tolerate it well. (We get lonely and restless and distracted.) The most effective solution for many is to work quietly alongside a buddy who is doing the same. A good buddy can be hard to find, however; and even if you're lucky enough to find one, it can still be hard to schedule a time together, and to not chat when you should be working. Focusmate is really as close to a perfect solution as you can get. It's basically a calendaring program combined with videoconferencing. Use the calendar … [Read more...]

How About We Not Be Perfectionist During a Pandemic?

Sorry I've been quiet: I've been finishing my latest book, Productivity is Power: 5 Liberating Practices for College Students. I'll have more to share on that shortly. I'm compelled to write now, however, because there's been a spate of posts by people who seem to think that shaming others for their supposed underproductivity during a pandemic is useful. It's not! To be clear, memes like this AREN'T HELPFUL:                 And tweets like this AREN'T HELPFUL: Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear. — rosanne cash (@rosannecash) March 14, 2020 Implicit in the above, as in most perfectionist statements, is a comparison. Perfectionists will compare themselves to anyone—famous, obscure, living, dead—and on any criterion (looks, wealth, popularity, productivity, etc.). They'll even compare themselves to themselves at a higher level of performance (e.g., their … [Read more...]

How to Cope With Clueless Questions, Crass Comments, and Crazy Conjectures

Note: I'm re-upping this one from 2013, as it seems a useful follow-up to the Robert Caro post. Also see this piece on Advice for Academic Couples (excerpted from my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.) - Best, Hillary Oh, the things people say to writers! “What do you do?” “What do you write?” “Is there any money in that?” “Where have you been published?” “How’s the book coming along?” (Alt: “When will you be done with that thing?”) “Why don’t you just sit down over a weekend and just finish it?” “You should write like Stephen King!” “You should put a vampire in it!” “Why don’t you just go on [popular TV show]?” And, the ever popular, “When are you going to get a real job?” These are the kinds of (often, but not always) well-meaning questions, comments, and conjectures that bedevil writers. A little planning can help a lot in terms of coping, however. Below are strategies for: (a) increasing your tolerance for difficult questions; (b) maintaining conversational … [Read more...]

Biographer Robert Caro on How It’s All About Perspective

Most books (and many theses and other projects) take years to produce, and that's a simple fact. And yet, the "When will you be done?" question can bedevil new writers in particular. (Even worse when it's phrased disrespectfully, as in: "What? Are you still working on that thing?") That's why this anecdote from Caro's autobiography Working is so satisfying: "I was bothered, too, by the length not only of the manuscript [The Power Broker, about New York City "master builder" Robert Moses], but also of the time I had been working on it."That was the thing that made me doubt the most. When I had started, I had firmly believed that I would be done in a year, a naive but perhaps not unnatural belief for someone whose longest previous deadline had been measured in weeks. As year followed year, and I was still not nearly done, I became convinced that I had gone terribly astray."This feeling was fed by the people Ina and I did know. I was still in the first year of research when friends and acquaintances … [Read more...]

A Big Part of Time Management is Learning How to Decline Unwanted Invitations…

...which writer Harold Pinter knew how to do LIKE A BOSS. … [Read more...]

Slow Down to Speed Up! Also, Bonus Moving Story.

Sorry for the hiatus - we wound up moving on somewhat short notice. Now we're (mostly) settled in a bee-you-ti-ful new apartment (still in Kalamazoo), so it's time for another newsletter. After the move, I was surrounded by mountains of boxes, mountain ranges of boxes. It would have been easy to get overwhelmed, but I made a deliberate decision to stay calm because panic never helps. (As the late, great problem solving guru Jerry Weinberg said, "The problem isn't the problem. The problem is your reaction to the problem.") Our reflex, when faced with an overwhelming and/or unpleasant task, is often to speed up, with the goal of getting it done as fast as possible. But that's actually the opposite of what you should do. When we rush, the task not only gets more unpleasant, we're also more likely to make mistakes. Instead, you want to slow way down and savor the details. Treat every box (or paragraph, or piece of paperwork, or other work unit) as if it's the only one, and really take your time. When you … [Read more...]

Nope, “Perfectionism in Moderation” Isn’t a Good Thing

Writer Lindsay Ellis recently tweeted about imposter syndrome (where you think you aren't up to the task, have everyone fooled, and are destined to be revealed as a horrible fraud). Unfortunately, she gets it wrong. She writes: "Because the thought patterns that lead to imposter syndrome need not always be a net negative - on some level, it is a form of perfectionism, but perfectionism can be harnessed as energy to create better, more thoughtful work. Perfectionism in moderation need not be destructive." You won't be surprised to hear that I emphatically disagree with that last sentence. My responses below. As someone who specializes in helping writers and others overcome #perfectionism and procrastination, I have to respectfully disagree. I believe perfectionism is always harmful because it disempowers you.... — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) March 1, 2019 Perfectionism's main tools are harshness and coercion - including imposter syndrome. They are inhumane and thus immoral … [Read more...]

Nonperfectionism in a Single Sentence

Nothing is as humbling, to a writer, anyway, as when you've used a lot of words to say something, and then someone comes along and nails it in a single sentence. But also nothing is more of a gift, so I guess it evens out. :-) It happened to me with my book The Lifelong Activist. Somewhere in the midst of writing a 400+ page tome on how to live a sustainable, balanced life that includes a serious political mission, I found this quote by the French writer Gustave Flaubert that pretty much summed everything up: "Live your life regular and orderly like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." (Of course, Flaubert doesn't tell you *how* to do that great thing, so I guess my book is still useful!) These days I spend a lot of time helping people overcome perfectionism. And for my work-in-progress, Joyful Productivity for Undergraduates (due out this year!), I'm happy to say I've come up with no fewer than nine great solutions, which I'll share in a future newsletter. But … [Read more...]

Now Do an Email Sprint With Me

Here’s another good technique: email sprints. Take a clicker* and use it to keep track while sending out ten QUICK emails in rapid succession. I love doing email sprints. You can fit them easily in between other tasks and they clear out your inbox like nothing else. Sprinting also gives you a wonderful little productivity “lift” and helps you practice the valuable skill of sending terse emails. Here are some good quickies to send: A thank you. A check in with a professional or personal contact. A reply to a scheduling email. A reply to a question. The key, as mentioned above, is “terse.” No more than three sentences in each mail, and bonus points if you can get one down to a few words, as in: “Yes-thanks!” or “Not a good fit--sorry!” or, “7 pm OK?” or, “Thought you’d like to see this!” Now, of course it’s possible to get too terse—but making that mistake occasionally is far better than overdoing all the dozens, or hundreds, of emails you’re receiving every week. Like most productivity … [Read more...]

The Best Productivity “Tool”

Just a little Tweet thread I came up with after seeing someone ask what the best productivity tool was. Hope you like it / find it useful! Follow me here, and also on my Facebook page.   So many people searching for the ultimate #productivity tool but no tool works as well as the abilities to: (1) turn down unwanted work (and other obligations) and (2) trim the scope of your projects. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   Delegation is crucial, too, but still takes time and energy. Saying no and trimming scope >>> delegating. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   And delegation, done right, takes more time than a lot of people think. It's not simply handing stuff over and "poof" it gets done. You have to train, support, manage, check the work, follow up. More like investing five hours to get ten or fifteen back from the "delegatee." — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) October 30, 2018   If time is the ultimate luxury, it is also … [Read more...]

Recommendation: CBD Oil for Insomnia

I've battled insomnia for decades, often losing the battle. For many years I took trazodone, which seemed to help. But then, as often happens with sleeping pills, one day it just stopped working. I've also tried other pills, over the years, with poor results. For the last few years I've taken Natrol time release melatonin pills. (Available at many online and offline stores.) Melatonin, like all supplements, varies a lot in quality from brand to brand, but Natrol seems to work well for many people. But for me it only worked around half the time. The other half, I was up all night, miserable and desperate to get to sleep. Oh yeah, and I tried all the "sleep hygiene" solutions, too - blackout shades, "blue blocker" lightbulbs and screen filters, cooler room, lots of exercise, limiting caffeine and electronics use, podcasts, etc. (Did I leave anything out?) Nothing worked. Until now. For the last couple of months I've been taking Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil and it has helped better than anything else I've … [Read more...]

Inspiration from Michael Jordan and Garry Kasparov to Start Your Work/School Year

I hope everyone had a fantastic summer! Let's get the work/school year going with a great quote from Michael Jordan:             I quoted chess champ / democracy activist Garry Kasparov saying something similar in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: "Years ago, I was fortunate to hear one of my heroes, former world chess champion and current Russian democracy activist Garry Kasparov, discuss important lessons he had learned from chess. Here’s how he began his talk: “I have won hundreds of chess games, and lost thousands. You have to have the courage to fail." The courage to fail. What an amazing phrase—and coming from a hypercompetitive chess champion it takes on a special meaning. Kasparov probably hates failure more than just about anyone—in fact, as his use of the word “courage” implies, he probably fears it—but he had to develop a tolerance for it to reach his goals. That he chose to begin his talk with this point only underscores its … [Read more...]

You’ve Got Time…

Our society tend to fetishize early success, but lest we forget... Toni Morrison: 40 Mark Twain: 41 Marcel Proust: 43 Henry Miller: 44 JRR Tolkien: 45 Raymond Chandler: 51 Richard Adams: 52 Annie Proulx: 57 Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65 Frank McCourt: 66 Harriett Doerr: 74 Harry Bernstein: 96 No, you’re not too old to publish your first book. — Allison K Williams (@GuerillaMemoir) August 19, 2018 Perfectionism is impatient, but it's never too late to start a project that's important to you. My number, by the way, is 48. (And thanks to D. for sending me the tweet!) … [Read more...]