My Most-Read Posts from 2013

My most-read posts from 2013, in case you've missed any of them. Why, in Writing, Process Trumps Product, And Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The Quality of Your Work This is Called Situational Perfectionism Why You Shouldn't Wait for Ideal Conditions to Start Your Project What to Do If You are Stuck in the Middle of a Project Amanda Palmer on Why Artists Should Self-Promote (Bonus: How To Do It Without Selling Out!) Want to Get More Work Done? Then Show it Early and Often Six Things You Should Never Say to a Photographer Live from Kalamazoo: A New Shot at Love How to Measure Your 2013 Successes so as to have a Happier, More Productive 2014 (Part I) (Part II's coming!) Giant Page of Tips for Finishing NaNoWriMo or AcWriWriMo (useful for any writing project!) … [Read more...]

Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler vs. the Authors Guild and Old School Publishing

If you want a super introduction to the benefits of indie publishing, especially over traditional publishing, read Joe Konrath's Newbie's Guide to Publishing blog (and the book derived therefrom) and Konrath and Barry Eisler's Be the Monkey (both available via Amazon). They were early visionaries and vocal proponents of indie publishing who helped liberate countless writers, including me. Now Konrath and Eisler are taking on the Author's Guild, which continues to advocate for old-school publishing (which IMHO benefits no one but the publishers and a few already-rich-and-famous writers). Read their take here. When I was a kid there were all these ominous ads on TV warning against the evils of "pay TV." I didn't know wtf they were talking about but decades later I realized that those ads were from the networks and they were warning about ... cable. (And well they might.) I'm also thinking of how for decades the traditional publishing industry devoted so much energy to despising "vanity publishing." Why, … [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...]

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...]

Are You Waiting for Ideal Conditions to Start Your Project?

Recently, someone mentioned she was waiting to clear “a big chunk of time” before starting a project. Other things people wait for are: The kids to be in school (or out of the house entirely). A better work space (either at home or elsewhere). More money. Retirement. ”To do more research.” While there is often some logic to waiting, it's usually better just to get started. For one thing, the impulse to wait is usually partly a response to perfectionist fears of failure, success, and showing the work. (And, often, no matter how well rationalized, it's entirely a response to perfectionism.) So don't wait: do your work in short intervals — even five or ten minutes at a time, if that's all you have. (Here's the technique.) You'll not only vanquish any perfectionist fears, but transform your work from a cold theoretical endeavor into a warm, living project that you'll be inspired to continue working on. In fact, people who do this often discover that, while they might like the extra time, … [Read more...]

I Bought the World’s Best Coffee Mug at Goodwill Recently, and The Best Part is…

              no matter what J says to me, I can respond simply by pointing at it. … [Read more...]

Want to Get More Work Done? Then Show it Early and Often

There are many techniques that will help you boost your writing output, but one of the best is to show your work early and often: Show drafts. Show chunks (paragraphs and pages). And even show individual sentences and clauses. ("Hey, what do you think of this metaphor..." Or, "Super proud of how I framed this...") Show them to: colleagues, bosses, and subordinates. Also, critique buddies, workshoppers, editors, and agents. Also, friends and family members who get what you're doing. And, of course, your audience. Perfectionist writers are terrified of having their work seen and judged, so they keep it private--and, in doing so, create a "wall" between themselves and potential readers and critics. They hide behind that wall, endlessly writing and revising, but never finishing or submitting or publishing. (Sometimes they don't write at all, since that's an even better technique for remaining unseen and unjudged!) The problem is: the more a writer hides, the more terrifying showing his work … [Read more...]

Don’t Forget to Check Out My September Online Classes!

Online courses are convenient, cheap, and fun--and you can be located anywhere! My SavvyAuthors class for graduate students, faculty, and other academic writers starts Monday September 16. I'm offering a discounted class/coaching bundle via famed writing community The Loft. All writers, including creative, business, nonprofit writers, welcome. Take a class now and have a productive fall! … [Read more...]

Why the Middles of Projects are Tough (Part 3): Middles Have Middles!

I previously wrote about how the middles of projects are tough: *They're the place where the work seems to get much tougher right at the same moment that your enthusiasm starts to ebb. *They're a much bigger part of the project than most people realize. (Around 80%!) However, there's another problem with middles: they have middles! Yes, you can have a middle-of-a-middle. Here's how it works: Many endeavors begin with a “honeymoon period” where the work is fresh and new, the possibilities seem endless, and you're filled with energy and enthusiasm. That's the beginning of the project. Alas, like all honeymoons, it too soon comes to an end. Reality sets in, and inevitably disappoints. The work doesn't come together as easily as you had at first imagined, and you become aware that what you write may never live up to your pristine early vision. Your motivation wanes, but you resolve to soldier on. And then, you hit a point where everything seems particularly bleak. I call that the “anti-honeymoon,” … [Read more...]

I’m Offering a Powerful and Economical Online Class/TeleCoaching Bundle at The Loft

Super-thrilled to be teaching an online class at The Loft, one of the world's premier community writing programs, starting September 30. Even more thrilled to be offering a class/coaching bundle. The class will set you up for greater productivity; the 40 minutes of individualized telephone coaching will personalize the class information and help you amplify the result. All students also get a free e-book of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. More info. For more classes (online, Boston, and Hyannis) check out my Events Page. … [Read more...]

Why the Middles of Projects are Tough (Part 2): Plus, How to Have Fun Revising!

Middles are Tough. Last time I wrote about how the middles of writing and other projects can be difficult, citing Dante's Inferno, which begins “midway upon the journey of our life," and John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress, in which the protagonist, Christian, literally bogs down midway, in the infamous “Slough of Despond.” Middles are where your enthusiasm ebbs often at the exact moment when the project itself seems most chaotic, disorganized, and daunting. They're a double whammy, in other words. But that's not all... Middles are massive. Anne Lamott famously said, in Bird by Bird, that every piece of writing begins with a “shitty first draft,” but it's probably more like ten, twenty, or thirty shitty drafts. Make sure you understand what a “draft” is, though: *It's a single, quick run-through of your piece (or chapter or other section), during which you correct its obvious and easy problems, and partially correct its hard ones. *You move quickly and lightly through the piece, making … [Read more...]

Last Call: New England

If you've wanted to take my Grub Street Writers class NOW is the time. I am moving to Michigan in September (more on this later!), and August's class will be the last for a while. It will be held August 12-15 (Monday-Thursday), 10:30am-1:30pm at 162 Boylston Street (2 mins from Boylston Street T; discounted parking available). All writers welcome, including creative, business, nonprofit, and academic writers. Sign up now! … [Read more...]

What To Do If You Are Stuck in the Middle of a Project

Middles are tough. It's no accident that Dante began The Inferno, his allegorical journey through Hell, thusly: Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost. Or that Christian, the pilgrim in John Bunyan's allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, encounters the bog called the “Slough of Despond” midway along his journey. At Grub Street Writers, where I teach, many writers refer to the “Murky Middles” of writing projects. Dark forests, bogs, murk: you might get the idea that a lot of people find middles not just difficult, but confusing and downright scary. Here's the problem with middles: The piece (or project) is no longer fresh and new and shiny. Your early energy and enthusiasm are waning. At the same time, the piece is at maximum entropy: meaning, what you've done up till now is super chaotic and disorganized. You've also become more aware of the piece's problems. It's not living up to the pristine, Platonic vision that … [Read more...]

Ira Glass on Developing Your Creative Skill: Go for Quantity, Not Quality

The below 2 minute video of Ira Glass explaining how the secret to artistic quality is to do a lot of art is well worth your time. Bayles and Orland make the same point in their terrific book Art & Fear. They tell a (true, I believe) story of two pottery classes: One class was told to create one fabulous pot by the end of the semester. The other was told to create as many pots as possible. In the end, it was the students who created many pots who also tended to create the best ones. This is for at least three reasons: As Glass notes, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop a skill. The "quantity" students were being nonperfectionist - i.e., focusing on process, not product. (It is likely that some of the "quality" ones didn't finish even a single pot.) Quality is not something you can force, and when you try to force it you sabotage the creative process, which demands freedom and flexibility. Rather, quality is something you work towards and hope for. As Flaubert said, "Success … [Read more...]