By Yvonne Ventresca
I never feel like I get quite enough done. To combat that (and to occasionally procrastinate), I’ve been reading about productivity. Here are four productivity experiments I tried this week:
1. Each morning, I’ve been journaling as part of the new year. I find this helpful, but it’s still an easy habit to break. I write about mundane stuff for a page or two, then try to write about some of the story questions or creative issues I’m facing. I’ve solved some plot problems this way, so I hope to continue with it.
2. On Monday, I attempted to schedule the whole day by using half hour segments, as suggested in Deep Focus by Cal Newport. (See last week’s post about the book.) The morning went great, and I was very pleased with myself. Then I realized I forgot to schedule lunch, or account for a phone call to my mom, and then a doctor’s appointment got moved up by an hour and a half. Newport suggests re-planning the day to the right of your original schedule as it transforms (which it inevitably does), but I felt frustrated and gave up. But, on the bright side, it was still one of most productive days of the week. The rest of the week I used a modified approach and blocked out which chunks of time I would use for writing, letting the rest of the day flow, and leaving breaks between creative sessions. That seemed to work better for me.
3. I’m participating again in a monthly #WritingChallenge, something that’s helped me in the past. It’s a Facebook group that includes a group Google document where you can track your wordcount or revision time for the month. Not everyone likes this type of public accountability—you could also try stickers on a private calendar.
4. I am currently revising a new story which is in a messy state, and it can be overwhelming. One thing I did was make a list of useful things to do when I get stuck, like research a certain drug’s effect on memory, read a chapter of nonfiction (I have a biography of a killer I’m using as a reference), or work on my character notes instead of an actual scene. Sometimes these tasks are enough to get me feeling creative again, while keeping me out of the social media time-suck. (For another author’s take on revision, check out Jody Casella’s latest blog post. I love her puzzle analogy.)
I hope you have a productive week! This quote from Sage Cohen's The Productive Writer can be applied to other pursuits as well: "Writers make time for writing. And everyone does it her own way. Your job is to find your way."
How long can you focus intensely on a mindful task? Forty-five minutes to an hour works best for me, then I get antsy and need to move around. I'm hoping this will increase over time. Do you ever get happily lost in the zone?
It's time to Celebrate the Small Things! This is a blog hop hosted by Lexa Cain, L.G. Keltner, and Tonja Drecker. My celebration: I have a short story, "The Art of Remaining Bitter," included in the Insecure Writers Support Group anthology. The anthology, due out in May, is called Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life. I recognize several blogger friends among the winning names -- congrats to all!
By Yvonne Ventresca
Happy New Year! Over the holidays, I read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, which I loved. The first part of the book is about why deep (vs shallow) work is important, but since I was already on board with that, I mostly skimmed and went on to part two, where he includes lots of helpful strategies. Deep work is defined on his website as the "act of focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task."
Newport outlines four philosophies (lifestyles?) for creating deep work. One way is to focus on a project to the exclusion of everything else, which isn’t necessarily practical for most people. A second way is to work seasonally, so an academic, for example, could research one semester and teach another.
But what about us writers with families and other obligations? Another method is to work whenever you can to squeeze deep focus around other tasks, training yourself to shift gears quickly. But since I work from home and can somewhat schedule my time, I’m looking for something more predictable.
And ta da! There is a “rhythmic” philosophy, of which Newport says, “…the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.”
Rituals, my friends. I’ve actually come across this answer before, but have somehow failed to successfully implement it. Newport mentions Seinfeld’s chain strategy, for example, which I blogged about in Quick Productivity Tips for Creative People. And I explored rituals during my productivity-themed A to Z Challenge with R is for Routines and Rituals. Obviously I'm not entirely following my own advice. But it’s a new year! Anything is possible!
I hope to explore being a productive writer in other blog posts, but for now I’ll leave you with a quote from author Mason Currey (Daily Rituals: How Artists Work) that was included in Deep Work.
“. . . waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.”
Let me know how you’ve successfully created new habits
and if you have any creative rituals that work for you.
Do you wait for inspiration or rely on a routine?
One aspect of writing that people often ask about is inspiration. Since Pandemic was officially released as a paperback this month (hooray!), I'm revisiting that question.
I had many sources of inspiration for Pandemic, including:
An anecdote: At one point during the Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009, the vaccine became available in my suburban town. Public health officers organized its free distribution at the local middle school after school hours. They were only vaccinating the children, if I remember correctly, and not the parents. The line extended for blocks. I waited with a mom who had a son the same age as mine. The boys ran off to play nearby while we chatted.
At first, it was a relatively pleasant afternoon. But at some point, they announced that there wasn't enough vaccine for all of the children waiting. Kids with asthma (or other health conditions that would make the flu more dangerous) were to be vaccinated first, and the families at the end of the line were told that they should go home.
Hell hath no fury like a woman protecting her young. The whole mood of the crowd changed. I had gotten there absurdly early (if you know me, you're not at all surprised by this) and we were within the cutoff to receive the vaccine. I watched as unhappy parents verbally accosted the public health officials who stood outside, trying to keep order. It was definitely chaotic. And--keep in mind--the swine flu, although highly contagious, was not any more deadly than regular seasonal influenza.
Later on, I couldn’t help thinking. What if? What if it was highly contagious and lethal? How would people act then? The fear and the emotion would be that much higher. What struggles would people face to survive?
There are no lines of people waiting for the vaccine in Pandemic; it’s too early in the disease timeline to have one available. But the Swine Flu pandemic was certainly a source of inspiration.
Pandemic links: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N | Books A Million | Book Depository | AmazonUK | Goodreads
Creative Inspiration for You
In the 2013 A to Z Blogging Challenge, I blogged about writing inspiration with twenty-six posts corresponding to the letters A to Z. All my alphabetic posts are linked together on a Writing Inspiration Pinterest Board, but I’m listing a few here individually in case you’re in need of creative inspiration.
B is for Butt in Chair, J is for Jealousy, K is for King, Q is for Quotations, R is for Routine, X is for Xenocryst, Z is for Zig Ziglar
Writers: What inspires you to write? Is the news a source of story ideas?
Readers: Do you like books that relate to the news or current events?
By Yvonne Ventresca
For this week's Friday Five, please visit my guest post over at Nerdy Chicks Rule, "A Black Belt's Guide to Writing: The Eyes Must See All Sides." It includes 5 ways you can apply this martial arts philosophy to your writing. I'll be responding to comments here and over there as well, so please leave one in either place.
Here's a quote from Bruce Lee for your inspiration -- martial arts, creative, or otherwise. Have a great weekend!
My theme for the April A to Z blogging challenge is productivity for creative people.
It sounds counterintuitive, but unplugging from technology can improve your productivity in the long run. Disconnecting has its benefits (Huffington Post): “Research shows that signing off from work email over the weekend allows you to recover from the demands of your job. . . .What's more? Taking a break will make you MORE productive in the long-term, according to emerging research on ‘strategic renewal.’” If you’ve ever taken a break from social media, you probably agree that it can be refreshing.
Unplugging can also make you happier. According to Fitness magazine, "A study at the Missouri University of Science and Technology investigated the relationship between Internet usage and moods and found that college students with depressive symptoms all shared similar behaviors when it came to browsing the Web and that excess time spent chatting online only increased feelings of real-world loneliness. Lesson learned: Beat Facebook fatigue by logging off. It's that simple.”
Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards, takes a “technology Shabbat” every week (Greatist.com): "Without the constant buzzing and pinging, Shlain has time to space out and explore her imagination. 'It puts my mind into a different mode of thinking,” she says. “It’s supple and allows me to be creative and inspired.'"
I love the idea of one day a week without technology, but I haven't implemented it yet. Do you unplug on vacations? Have you tried to disconnect on a regular basis?
My theme for the April A to Z blogging challenge is productivity for creative people.
“Filling the well” is a concept from Julia Cameron’s book about creativity, The Artist’s Way. Cameron says, “Any extended period or piece of work draws on our artistic well. Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources. . . As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond, so to speak. . . . In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun.”
Listening to music can fill the well, or cooking (if you find that fun). I like to go to new places, even if it’s a new grocery store, so that mundane chores have a different feeling. Visiting museums or reading outside of your usual genre can fill the well. Even sitting in a coffee shop, observing people, can work.
Do you take time to replenish the artistic well?
What are your favorite activities?
My theme for the
April A to Z Challenge is Productivity for Creative People.
A key premise in Getting Things Done by David Allen is creating a system to clear your mind. His theory is that increased productivity comes from taking all of your ideas and to dos, from the mundane (pick up dry cleaning) to the macro level (my next book will be a murder mystery!), and keeping them someplace other than in your mind.
The gist of his book is about how to accomplish this. You can use electronic systems or paper notes and files, but the concept is the same. Do a giant brain dump. Then make sure you have a good system for following up on the deadlines, ideas, and tasks that you cleared. Allen says, "Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them." If you trust that your calendar and files, for example, will keep you from forgetting anything, your mind is less distracted and free to focus on the important creative stuff.
One thing I struggled with is keeping my to dos in too many places because I was afraid something would get lost or forgotten. Before I streamlined, I used a weekly planner, an “important things” folder, a birthday calendar, a bulletin board, a plastic folder for “really* important things” (printed out), and a to do list. I’m still tweaking my system but I’ve eliminated a lot of the duplication.
How do you keep track of everything that needs to get done?
Welcome to the A to Z Blogging Challenge!
For the next 26 days, I'll be blogging about personal productivity for creative people. Feeling like we don’t have enough time is a common problem, because there never seems to be enough hours to accomplish everything we want in a day, week, year. Think of these blog posts as the best of all the productivity books, articles, and tips that you would read--if only you had more time.
I’m not a big fan of the “muse” concept. Sure, some days creativity comes easier than others. We’ve all probably experienced flow, where the minutes pass and the creativity continues almost effortlessly. But if we wait for a source of inspiration, it seriously reduces the amount we can create. As William Faulkner said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
We can force inspiration by setting up triggers. If we play the same music or light the same candle--whatever trigger works to say IT IS TIME TO CREATE!--the creativity tends to happen. Training the brain to work this way is much more reliable than waiting for a good idea. One writer leaves the laptop on at night for the morning, with email and social media closed, and only the WIP open and ready for the next day.
Seth Godin said, “The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I don’t feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are not going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it” (from “Honing Your Creative Practice,” Manage Your Day-to-Day).
I tend to sit in the same spot, with my laptop and my coffee, when I write on the computer. When I proofread, I sit at a desk and use a purple pen to mark my manuscript. These changes help me adjust to the change in work mode.
In his article, How to Be Motivated Every Day, James Clear says, "Most people never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. Having a ritual takes that burden off your shoulders."
Do you have any triggers for creativity or something that helps put you in a creative flow?
Feeling like we don’t have enough time is a common problem. There never seems to be enough hours to accomplish everything we want in a day, week, year. For 26 days in April, I’ll be blogging about personal productivity, especially as it relates to creative people. My goal is to provide ideas, techniques, and inspiration for increasing your personal productivity. The A to Z challenge starts on April 1.
2016 A to Z Theme: Productivity for Creative People
I also blogged about productivity in the 2015 challenge. My previous posts are listed below. (Obviously, 2016 will feature new material!)
2015 A to Z: Posts about Productivity
A is for Analyze: How Do You Spend Your Time?
B is for Beginning: Wisdom from Newton, Hemingway, and Others about the Power of Getting Started
C is for Ciotti: Interview with Sparring Mind's Gregory Ciotti
D is for Digital Procrastination and the Illusion of Productivity
E is for Exercise
F is for Focus and Flow
G is for Getting Things Done
H is for How to Procrastinate
I is for Important Things First: Prioritizing Tasks
J is for Julie: A Calendar Trick from Author Julie Lindsey
K is for Killing Time: An Unscientific List of the Best 5 Ways
L is for Lifehacks and Links
M is for Myths about Productivity
N is for "No"
O is for Open Loops (Unfinished Business)
P is for Pomodoro Technique
Q is for Quit Bad Habits
R is for Routines and Rituals
S is for Sleep
T is for Technology Tools
U is for Unclutter: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
V is for Vanderkam: Interview with Productivity Author Laura Vanderkam
W is for Will Power (Which Isn't Enough)
X is for Xeriscape
Y is for Yours Truly: Productivity Advice from Yvonne
Z is for Zig Ziglar Quote
If you're participating in A to Z, include your theme below.
If not, do you have a favorite topic you like to read about on blogs?
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