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Annotated Resource List for Writers


A list emphasizing nonperfectionism, noncompetition, compassion, and other catalysts of productivity, fulfillment and happiness. By Hillary Rettig, author of the forthcoming The Seven Secrets of the Prolific. I'm constantly updating: if you feel I've left something important out, please email me at

Overcoming Procrastination / Empowerment / Creativity Literature

Books dealing generally with issues of productivity and empowerment. Many of these themes are also discussed in books in the other categories, but these will bring you up to speed most quickly.

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield
I recommend this to everyone, mostly for the first section in which Pressfield does a terrific job of analyzing the components of “Resistance,” his word for the force inciting procrastination. A short, punchy, easy to read book with lots of fun anecdotes; and also a lot of candor about Pressfield's own life, including his successes, failures and false turns.

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
David Bayles and Ted Orland
A slender book with vital wisdom on practically every page. Discusses, in depth, the two main types of fears: (1) fear of inadequacy (fear of the self), and (2) fear of others. Also, a lot of discussion about society's ambivalence towards creators, eloquently and insightfully expressed.

A Life in the Arts
Eric Maisel
Maisel is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping artists and performers, and his book dissects the motivations, attitudes, rewards and punishments of the creative life better than anything else I've read. It goes into great detail on topics such as talent, isolation, moods, and obscurity and stardom; and he also includes a transition program for moving out of a professional art career.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow is the feeling of being fully and happily immersed in whatever you're doing. Others call the same phenomenon being in the zone or peak performance. Whatever you call it, you probably want to experience it as much as possible, and this book will help. It begins with a discussion of what flow is, then moves on to what causes it, what impedes it, and how you can encourage it in different areas of your life.

Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkers
Michelangelo Signorile
Isolation and invisibility are inimical to productivity, so if you are "in hiding" as a writer you need to come out. You can adapt the techniques in this book to do so: just substitute writing for sexual orientation. I love its systematic, commonsense approach that begins with coming out to yourself, and then to other gays (or writers, in this case), friends, family, coworkers and strangers.

Blogs and Articles

Writers like to write, so there are a zillion blogs by, for and about writers.

Jennifer Crusie's Blog
Many inspiring articles for writers by the bestselling romance writer. These articles are perceptive, witty, generous, candid; and as if all that weren't enough Crusie is also clear about writers needs to personally and professionally liberate themselves. My favorites: "A Writer Without A Publisher Is Like A Fish Without a Bicycle: Writer’s Liberation and You" and "Green Is Not Your Color: Professional Jealousy and the Professional Writer"

J.A. Konrath's blog
Thriller author Konrath probably knows more about self-publishing and e-publishing than pretty much any other author, and he shares a lot of his knowledge on his blog.

L.M. May
An eclectic blog that discusses writing as both a craft and a career, and also issues related to motivation. May gets a lot of stuff right.

Dr. Wicked
Dr. Wicked is a lot of fun. He's got an interesting blog on writing productivity, and he's also created the fun perfectionism-spoofing writing application Write or Die.

J.K. Rowling Commencement Speech at Harvard: The Fringe Benefits of Failure
J.K. Rowling
Not a blog, nor directly related to writing, but one of the most fantastic and inspiring things I've ever read.

Writing Careers
An excellent list of resources on every aspect of building a writing career.

Tools and Technologies - Timers

Java Timers
My most essential tool, after the PC itself. This is the timer I use for timed writing exercises. It's free, and works great! You can set it to count up to a set time, or down from one. I sometimes use two timers at once: one I set at 21 hours (my weekly budgeted writing time) at the beginning of the week, and that counts down while I write. The other timer counts up from 0, and I use it to track my breaks so that they don't get out of hand.

Tools and Technologies - "Internet Management" Programs

If you're struggling with procrastination, you ideally want no Internet connectivity on your writing computer. This sounds draconian but even with programs like the below you're at risk, because you can always reboot.

Mac Freedom
“Freedom is a simple productivity application that locks you away from the internet on Mac or Windows computers for up to eight hours at a time. Freedom frees you from distractions, allowing you time to write, analyze, code, or create. At the end of your offline period, Freedom allows you back on the internet.”

“Anti-Social is a neat little productivity application for Macs that turns off the social parts of the internet. When Anti-Social is running, you’re locked away from hundreds of distracting social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites you specify.”

"LeechBlock is a simple productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day. (You know: the ones that rhyme with 'Blue Cube', 'Pie Face', 'Space Hook', 'Hash Pot', 'Sticky Media', and the like.) All you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them. You can specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set. You can block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 9am and 5pm), after a time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour between 9am and 5pm). You can also set a password for access to the extension options, just to slow you down in moments of weakness!"

Time Management/Effectiveness

There Must Be More Than This: Finding More Life, Love, and Meaning by Overcoming Your Soft Addiction
Judith Wright
Wright lists more than forty "soft addictions"—everything from compulsive video game playing and email checking to fantasizing and hair twirling—that can interfere with your success. Although not as dangerous as traditional addictions like alcoholism (see below), they should nevertheless be dealt with. This book tells you how.

Are Your Lights On? How to Determine What the Problem Really Is
Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg
The first and most crucial step to solving any problem is determining what exactly the problem actually is—an often-tougher challenge than it might seem. This book discusses this subtle topic in simple language and using fun examples. I'm partial to Weinberg's work ever since having taken a class on Problem-Solving Leadership with him that changed my life. New York: Dorset House, 1990. Also recommended: Weinberg's Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully.

The Mental Edge: Maximizing Your Sports Potential with the Mind-Body Connection
Kenneth Baum
Tips from a top sports coach that can help you attain both your athletic and non-athletic goals. Baum advises you to work to envision your goal in great detail and plan for how you will get there. He also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and not arbitrarily setting limits on what you can achieve; and also offers useful tips for improving your ability to focus and concentrate and stay in the moment.

Stop Sabotaging Your Career: 8 Proven Strategies to SUCCEED in Spite of Yourself
Lois Frankel
Frankl, a corporate coach, says talented people often make the serious mistake of over-relying on their core talents and neglecting other important talents and skills. She also discusses common problems underachievers have, including overlooking the importance of people, inability to function effectively as part of a team, failure to focus on image and communication, and insensitivity to the reactions of others.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Stephen R. Covey
Covey's four quadrants method for organizing your time and tasks is particularly useful; and I also like the way he advises you to work toward effectiveness in both your professional and personal lives.

The Effective Executive Revised: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done
Peter Drucker
First published in 1966, it remains one of the most-read management guides. Its emphasis is on goal setting, time management, and prioritizing your activities so that you invest your time on those activities that best support your mission. Drucker's advice applies not just to executives, but anyone shouldering a lot of responsibility. Also recommended: The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, New York: CollinsBusiness, 2001.

Writing & Writers: "How to's" and Memoirs

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott
A fun, quick read about the realities of the writing life, and writing. Very down to earth and concrete. Lamott comes closer to nailing the nature of perfectionism ("the voice of the oppressor") than most other authors, and her dictum that most works of art start with a "shitty first draft" is a classic.

Making a Literary Life
Carolyn See
A terrific book that offers wonderful advice on the mechanics of a writing career. A really generous guide, and a pragmatic guide. Especially useful in areas such as how to build a career, and how to cope with rejection.

On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
A fun book that's filled with useful advice presented in down-to-Earth fashion. Also filled with fascinating personal stories and tidbits.

Mentor: a Memoir
Tom Grimes
Where to begin? This book illustrates and exemplifies many of the principles discussed in The Seven Secrets of the Prolific, including perfectionism, harmful teachers, and disempowering career paths. Grimes's own career arc went from obscurity to wild hope and potential as the favored student of Frank Conroy, head of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, to crushing disappointment. An acute observer's narration of not just his own disempowerment, but his blindness to the forces that are disempowering him

On Becoming a Novelist
John Gardner
A warm and compassionate book that's half filled with practical advice, and half with encomiums to writing and the writing life.

Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive
Joni B. Cole
A really useful book on important topics - how to run a writing workshop, how to constructively criticize work, and how to accept constructive criticism.

Writing & Writers: Fictional Portrayals

Looking for more examples of substantive portrayals of writer's block and perfectionism.

Violet Clay
Gail Godwin
Perhaps because prolific writers either don't understand writer's block, or are terrified of it, there's not a lot of fiction out there that covers it in a meaningful way (as opposed to as a convenient plot device). The standout contemporary example is Gail Godwin's novel Violet Clay, about a blocked painter who must find her way back to her vocation. (Even though she's a painter, the dynamics of the block are the same as I've discussed.) A subplot concerns her charming but feckless uncle, a tragically blocked writer.

Mr. Bedford and the Muses
Gail Godwin
Several of the protagonists of the short stories in this collection are blocked writers.

George Eliot
George Eliot's classic Middlemarch offers us not just Edward Casaubon, the tragically blocked pedant, but Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant doctor who is defeated by both his blinding arrogance and the fatal mistake of having married a beautiful but pathologically self-centered wife. By the way, the BBC adaptation is fabulous, and Patrick Malahide's portrayal of Casaubon is heartbreaking.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
The preface to my edition says the major theme is David's developing a “disciplined heart.” Most readers focus on David's love relationships, but there's a strong theme of discipline relative to writing, too, both in David's own career and that of others. (For instance, Mr. Dick learning to cope with the voices in his head so he can help David with court transcriptions.) It is, of course, in this book that the prolix and terminally improvident Macawber advises David that, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Lost Illusions
Honore de Balzac
Describes the careers of Lucien Chardon, a gorgeous but fatally ambitious poet, and his friend David Sechard, a noble and honest inventor. The book focuses on Lucien's scheming ascent in Parisian society, and even more rapid descent. By the end, he's ruined not just himself but his family, including David, who has married his sister. At the book's conclusion, Balzac writes that David goes on to research, “the as yet secret metamorphoses of insects only known to science in their final transformation.” If Lucien and David had had an inkling of how that metamorphosis works in the human realm, their stories might have ended differently.

Grad and Other Students

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or Ph.D
Robert L. Peters, Ph.D.
A really terrific book filled with pragmatic advice. It begins by examining the decision of whether you should even go to graduate school, and then takes you all the way through choosing a school, choosing an advisor, navigating the social milieu, "playing politics" and writing and defending your thesis. All the advice is spot-on.

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day
Joan Bolker
A terrific book that is particularly good at characterizing, and offering suggestions for coping with, perfectionism. Also offers pragmatic techniques that encompass the entire dissertation process, from choosing a topic, to choosing a committee, to writing, getting the dissertation accepted, and moving on. Bolker gets extra points for her having her picture taken with her dog on her official page and writing this: "...owning an Irish Water Spaniel ...means that every morning I have to negotiate with him who's the person, and who's the dog. Sometimes the negotiations with my writing feel quite as precarious--and much more dangerous." She's right, at least about the writing: the task of becoming prolific is all about managing your relationship with your work.


Why Are Artists Are Poor?: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts
Hans Abbing
A fascinating book by an author who is both an economist and an artist. Abbing answers the title question in part by analyzing the economics of the art world, and in part by analyzing the psychology of artists. Briefly: the art market is irrational, and artists tend to be more motivated than most people by internal rewards such as pride in a job well done than external ones such as status and paychecks. Artists are also prone to a gambler mentality that hopes for easy success and is not good at weighing the benefits, costs and risks of their endeavors. Much of what Abbing says also applies to activists.

Money Drunk, Money Sober: 90 Days to Financial Freedom
Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron
This eye-opening book, which is interestingly co-authored by the author of the classic The Artist's Way, is essential reading for anyone struggling with money. It discusses the ways people tend to make themselves poorer, focusing on five common dysfunctional attitudes towards money: Compulsive Spender, Big Deal Chaser, Maintenance Money Drunk, Poverty Addict, and Cash Codependent. The book also offers a plan for recovering from poverty.

How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously
Jerrold Mundis
The classic guide to getting out of debt and living a debt-free life, based on the methodology and teachings of Debtors Anonymous. The beginning chapters help you recognize if you have a debting problem—symptoms include unopened mail, unbalanced accounts, and soliciting family and friends for loans—and explains how it could have arisen. Later chapters offer a plan for recovering from debt.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter
This popular book explains which habits lead to wealth accumulation, and which don't. Short, to the point, and easily understood. Note: some find the authors' advice misguided, however I think their general principles (e.g., put money into assets not expenses) are sound.

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy
Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
Ignore the hype-y title. This book is useful because it deals mainly with those who accumulate wealth, not those who inherit it. It shows how, through frugality and wise investing, you can parlay even a moderate income (for example, a teacher's income) into a comfortable living and retirement. (Hint: it's more about how little you spend than how much you earn.) Here's an approving review from the guy I linked to above who dislikes Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Relational and Communications Skills / Career Strategy / Job Hunting

All those categories mixed up for a reason!

It's Not You, It's Your Strategy: The HIAPy Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market
Hillary Rettig
80% - 90% of job applicants screw up in obvious and easily preventable ways: my approach is designed to save you from that fate. HIAP = High Intensity Application Process, which means you only apply for a few jobs at a time, but with great focus and attention to detail. When I coach using this process I aim for 25% of resumes winning an interview, and 25% of interviews landing an offer. That's way better than sending out dozens or hundreds of resumes, all with a 0% chance of succeeding.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I LOVE this book. It's a parenting book that has sold millions, but I recommend it to everyone whether they have kids or not. It is basically about how to deal with people and get them to buy into your agenda without exploiting or undermining them. (That's what good parents seek to do with their kids, after all.) Topics include effective communication, problem solving, and the dangers of shame, blame and negative labeling.

Nonviolent Communication
Marshall Rosenberg (movement founder)
The practice of “radical empathy and nonjudgment” toward self and others, Nonviolent Communication will support you in your quest to overcome perfectionism, and also has the potential to transform the rest of your life. Most major cities or regions have NVC organizations that sponsor workshops and discussions, and if yours doesn't there are plenty of books and even Youtube videos.

Addiction and Trauma

Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self Deception
Abraham Twerski, M.D.
If you have an addiction, deal with that problem before all others and seek professional help. This book will provide insight into some of the probable causes of your addiction and the mindset that keeps you addicted. Topics covered include self-deception, impatience (a warped time sense), denial, guilt, shame and hypersensitivity. If you don't believe you are an addict, but any part of your life feels out of control, or any serious problem you have seems intractable, then you should also read this book.

The Heart of Addiction: A New Approach to Understanding and Managing Alcoholism and Other Addictive Behaviors
Lance M. Dodes, M.D.
Dodes maintains that an addictive act is always a displacement activity (you're doing something other than what you want or need to do), and an expression of disempowerment. His theories fit in very well with my ideas about perfectionism and grandiosity as expressed in The Seven Secrets of the Prolific. For those actively struggling with an addiction, he helpfully takes an eclectic approach to treatment that looks beyond the 12 Steps.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why
Amanda Ripley
Ripley tells about why some people survived and others didn't, in situations including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, airplane crashes, and hotel fires. Writers will find it useful not just as source material, but to aid our understanding of the kinds of "professional traumas" that can cause perfectionism and blocks.


Rules for Radicals
Saul D. Alinsky
A unique and irreplaceable classic. Alinsky spent decades doing labor and other activism, chalking up many victories. His book contains a wealth of pragmatic wisdom on not just how to create change, but how to live as an activist. It is distinguished by a very plain-spoken and candid approach, and Alinsky is not just forthcoming in his opinions, but fearless in tackling some very tough questions, including, in a long chapter entitled Of Means and Ends, the appropriate uses of propaganda and violence.

Ethics Into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement
Peter Singer
Explores the attitudes and behaviors that contributed to Spira's many victories, as well as his preferred strategies and tactics. I was struck by how Spira, though an avid coalition builder, preferred to work solo or with just a couple of part-time assistants, to avoid what he considered time-wasting bureaucracy and meetings. The book is also a guide to what it's like to live as a truly dedicated activist, and the rewards of such a life.

Letters to a Young Activist
Todd Gitlin
Gitlin was a leader of the 1960s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) movement, and he has been doing, writing about, and teaching activism and progressivism ever since. His book is packed with great advice and perspectives, including on difficult topics such as anger, self-indulgence, and what he calls "the discipline gap" between the Right and the Left.

Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing
Linda Stout
This activist autobiography is filled with practical advice and inspirational stories. Stout grew up poor and, as the title states, a major theme of her book is how activists can reach out to, and connect with, people of other classes. Some of the stories she relates of activists who failed to do so—or, worse, failed to even try—are painful to read.

How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie
An easy book—or title—to mock, but this may be the best book ever written on how to get along with others and, yes, influence them. (It's under the "Activism" category for a reason!) Critics consider some of the techniques manipulative, but they can be used sincerely. If every progressive activist used the techniques described in How to Win Friends in his or her activism, the world would be a much better place.

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