An Insanely Simple Tip That Will Make Your Writing Sessions Fly

Ditch your clock! I mean at your workspace. I got this idea this summer, when I was doing a lot of tabling (at the farmers market, PRIDE festival, etc.) for our group Vegan Kalamazoo. Each gig was between three and six hours. On days when I wore my watch or kept my cell phone on, it was hard not to check the time every few minutes—and so, just as it does for bored schoolchildren or office-workers who watch the clock all day, the day draggggged. (Note: tabling isn't boring! I love meeting new people and talking about veganism. But there's no doubt it's work.) But on days when I left my watch home and shut off my phone, I entered a kind of time-free zone, and the day was much pleasanter and seemed to go much faster. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I got rid of the clock on my computer screen my writing sessions would seem faster, too. And I did, and they did! This isn’t a new idea, by the way. It’s why, for example, you’ll only rarely see a clock in a supermarket, store, casino, … [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...]

Update! And Why Self-Censorship Doesn’t Work

I hope everyone had a great summer! I continue to thrive in Kalamazoo. You haven't heard much from me, lately, for a few reasons: I've been busy working on my next book, a version of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific just for undergraduate students. (More on this in future newsletters.) The local vegan group I cofounded two years ago, Vegan Kalamazoo, has really taken off. We’ve now got hundreds of members and do several activities each month. Running it is now at least a quarter-time job. I’ve also been doing more blogging on effective vegan activism. For those who are interested, here are some of my articles: Compromise Isn’t Complicity, The Myth of the Overnight Vegan Conversion, and (an oldie, just fyi) The Rise of Nonperfectionist Veganism. I was given the opportunity to blog on Balloon Juice, one of my favorite blogs. It gets between 15-50K visitors a day (more during times of political excitement—like now!), and is also read by influential bloggers, members of the press, and others. So it’s a … [Read more...]

Exclusive: Sharon Shinn’s Time Management Tips!

I was recently thrilled to have the opportunity to interview bestselling fantasy / science fiction / romance / young adult novelist Sharon Shinn. Why all the genres? She's incredibly prolific. Moreover, she's prolific while holding down a full-time job. A writing job! It's just incredible. I just had to find out how she does it--especially because she also happens to be one of my favorite authors. I especially love her popular Samaria series (the first volume of which, Archangel, is shown below), but all of her books are filled with great characters, suspenseful plots, fabulous world-building, and the kind of well-crafted prose that's a joy to read.   I hope you find Sharon's time management insights as useful and inspiring as I do--and thanks to Sharon for the interview! (Also see previous interviews with best-selling science fiction writer John Scalzi and acclaimed free software activist and MacArthur "Genius" Richard Stallman.) - Hillary 1. You are someone who works full time who has managed to write … [Read more...]

Cleveland Events: Saturday 4/23 and Sunday 4/24

Saturday, April 23, 10:00 a.m. to Noon in Cleveland, Ohio at Literary Cleveland at Lake Erie Ink, Hillary is presenting Joyful Writing Productivity. Inspiration exists and is available to everyone at any time. Under-productivity, procrastination, and blocks are solvable problems. The secret to achieving a state of near-perpetual inspiration (a.k.a., “flow”) is to switch from a scarcity to an abundance mindset, and also from a shame/blame mindset to one focused on problem-solving. In this workshop by Hillary Rettig, author of the best-selling THE 7 SECRETS OF THE  PROLIFIC and THE LIFELONG ACTIVIST, we’ll delve deep into the heart of under-productivity so you can see, once and for all, what forces are holding you back. Then we’ll discuss solutions—lots of them—that you can start using immediately to boost productivity and reduce stress. This workshop is for all writers—including creative, academic, student, and those who write on the job—plus all artists, activists, and anyone seeking to get more … [Read more...]

Harper Lee, “Second Novel Syndrome,” and Situational Perfectionism

Harper Lee, author of the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week at 89. She never published another book except for Go Set a Watchman, which was published in 2015 in what many consider to be dubious circumstances. Lee may have suffered from second-novel syndrome, a form of procrastination in which an author becomes self-conscious due to the public attention she receives for her first book, and is consequently inhibited from publishing her second. I don't know whether she wanted to keep publishing or not, but she did tell one interviewer: “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death [of Mockingbird] at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement....I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.” If she did suffer from second-novel syndrome, she wasn't alone. Ralph Ellison … [Read more...]

Why We’re Such Poor Appreciators of Our Own Work

Here is a delightful two-minute film from Derek Sivers which discusses why we often fail to fully appreciate our own work. It also explains why it's a bad idea to compare your work with that of a famous person.  Comparisons are perfectionist, but comparing yourself to someone famous is especially problematic because of what you're not seeing: Their process, which is often longer and more laborious than we assume. (See this piece on a New Yorker cartoon that took six years to complete!) The years, and sometimes decades, of training and experience it took them to get to the point where they could create the work we admire. Their “failures,” which are probably more serious and numerous than we imagine. (Isaac Bashevis Singer called the wastebasket “the writer's best friend.”) You're also not seeing the financial, familial, or other lucky breaks that may have aided their success. Sivers's video also hints at the futility of striving for “originality” or wishing you had “talent.” Perfectionists … [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...]

Why “Positive Procrastination” is (Mostly) a Scam

Every week, it seems, someone publishes an article about how procrastination can be good for you. This week it's The New York Times. I am all about using whatever productivity techniques work for you. But in my experience pro-procrastination techniques work for very few people, and are actually more likely to undermine your productivity than boost it. The below piece—an excerpt from my forthcoming book on productivity for undergraduates—explains why. I hope you find it useful, and if you do, please share it! Why “Positive Procrastination” is (Mostly) a Scam People procrastinate in two basic ways: “unproductively” and “quasiproductively.” Unproductive Procrastination (UP) is when, instead of your scheduled work, you do a low-value activity like video games, Web surfing, or television. (Yes, in some cases these can be high value. But usually they aren't, especially if they're being used as a means of procrastination.) Quasiproductive Procrastination (QP) is when you procrastinate via an activity … [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...]

Productivity Tips from Alex the Parrot

I just finished reading Irene Pepperberg's wonderful book Alex & Me, about her work and relationship with Alex, the African Grey parrot who became internationally renowned for his cognitive and communications skills, including being able to hold simple conversations, spell simple words, and do simple math. Turns out he could procrastinate, too. One problem Pepperberg had with Alex and the other parrots she worked with was that they got bored during the repetitive testing needed to gather data. When Alex didn't want to participate, she notes, he often would, “indulge in some suddenly urgent preening.” That's procrastination mimicking productive work, in case you didn't recognize it! It's no different than someone who decides to do “some suddenly urgent” laundry or lawn-mowing instead of his or her writing or other work. Alex apparently also mastered at least two key time management techniques. The first was saying no to unwanted work. Here is an example from the book: K (one of Alex's testers): … [Read more...]

Exclusive! John Scalzi’s Time Management and Career Tips

Last week, the publishing world was abuzz with the news that bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi signed a movie-star-like $3.4 million publishing deal for 10 books. Scalzi is someone I admire enormously, not just for his writing and career success, but because he's a genuinely nice guy, both offline (I've seen him at science fiction conventions) and online. Along with his time management and career strategies, Scalzi is a social media powerhouse, so I also interviewed him on his social media strategies. And he's an out, proud, and smart feminist, antiracist, and LGBT ally who regularly speaks out in support of social justice; and who, in consequence, has been a target of some of the Internet's obnoxious regressive elements. (Whom he handles with impressive good humor.) So another thing I asked him was about how he balanced his politics with his public professional persona. Along with novels such as Redshirts, Old Man's War, and the new Lock In, two must-read Scalzi pieces are his poignant … [Read more...]