The system behind productivity: an overview

It is with an exasperated sigh that I begrudgingly site Cal Newport, and his concept of “deep work,” as the basis for my systematic productivity. [I read his book early on in my process of discovery, and I was as taken with its underlying concepts as I was repelled by its tone.  He is at best a product of his environment—a high pressure, promotion-based, publish or perish, tenure-oriented, win-the-capitalist-game-by-hacking-your-life-until-you-can-squeeze-blood-from-a-carrot kind of guy.  He’s also better than us because he doesn’t use Facebook and goes running in the winter.] But, whatever…he has some good ideas that I used to streamline the habits I was already building, and I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.  Most importantly, while he doesn’t use the terms attunement, engagement, and endorsement, the book still provides no-nonsense tips for turning the Aristotelean tripartite balance into reality. Attunement On episode 65 of Write Now, Sarah Werner talks about the artistic version of the writer that we can

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The power of shitty first drafts

I think Anne Lammott gets the credit for establishing the power of “shitty first drafts.”  She says as long as you sit down and write something, anything, you have the chance at editing something terrible, into something good, into something terrific.  But if you have nothing in front of you, you have nothing to cultivate, and that’s not a good feeling. Until the beginning of this summer, I was lost in that uncultivated place.  I had been told so many times, both blatantly and insidiously, that was I stupid, that my values were misplaced, and that my project was unimportant, that I couldn’t hear the voices telling me I was good at my work. As a consequence, I developed a bit of rust.  Not engineless-tractor-in-the-cow-shed kind of rust, but a layer just deep enough to make each attempt to restart my project a slog.  Given my depleted confidence, I interpreted that slog as incompetence. But eventually, with enough distance from

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Rituals for good writing

A lot of writers talk about their muse.  How they can only write when their muse is with them, providing inspiration and excitement.  The sheer thrill of writing in these moments, and the following exhaustion and baited-breath-waiting for the return of the muse. I’m not that writer. I mean, I have plenty of days where I feel excited to write, where the words come freely, and I sit in rapt witness to my characters’ brilliant actions. But I don’t have a muse. Instead, I have drive, sheer stubbornness, and ritual, the latter of which I’d like to discuss briefly, because I think it might be helpful to other writers.  Exportable technique, instead of some intangible, magical writing power. Here’s how my ritual works. STEP 1: Journal. Ritualize positivity I’ve been keeping a bullet journal for two and a half years now, and a habit-tracker/couple-of-lines-a-day journal since January.  And when I was flipping back through these journals, I noticed something rather

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Synopsis writing

There is a truism about grant-writing in academia that goes something like this: Sure, applying for grants is exhausting and painful and humbling and almost always fruitless, but you’ll learn so much in the process. I really want to be able to brush this off with a casual “fuck that” but, as is often the case with these things, truisms hold….well, truth.  Every time I’ve applied for a grant, I’ve learned about myself, honed my project, produced useful abstracts, and strengthened the armor that protects me in the face of rejection. So, when it came time to decide whether or not I would apply to Clarion West, I decided to just go ahead and learn from the process. To be fair to myself, I suppose there’s a chance I’ll get in.  But it’s the tiniest snowball’s chance in the deepest layer of Dante’s inferno. More so, I applied because I wanted to see if the application process was as useful

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Fiction editing: lessons from the read-aloud, continued

It took me a month away from this site, all of my mornings, most of my evenings, and lunch hour scribble time, but the Beta copy is finished.  I’ve voiced every character, looked at every scene, solved final plot points, and slammed out a finish. The next thing on my list: Send this version to beta readers for comments on continuity, consistent character, plot holes, pace, and whatever else they feel needs said. Terrifying and exhilarating.  My characters out in the world! But before I do that, I want to share just a few last lessons from this portion of the editing process, in the hopes they will be helpful to other writers, as always. Lesson eighteen: Know thyself (and thy tics) As you go about your read-aloud, you will probably notice that there are certain words or syntactical tics that you encounter all. the. damn. time.  Your job will be to recognize this and pare the hell down. For

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Fiction editing: lessons from the dialogue read-aloud

I expected to have additional lessons from the back half of the first edit to share with you, but it turns out that by the time you’re that far into your piece, it’s really about applying everything you’ve already learned and picking up speed. Instead, new lessons come this time from my first forays into the dialogue read-aloud. Yet again, the learning curve has been a bit of a shock.  Yet again, I figured I would be quick about it, soaring through this new form of editing like a trumpeter swan.  After all, I’ve already edited the entire book once for major plot and character overhaul.  How hard could it be to read the thing out loud and fix a little grammar? Hard.  Real Hard.  Like, I-am-less-a-swan-and-more-a-barnyard-chicken hard. So, in the spirit of transparency and education…some further lessons. Lesson thirteen: Fill out character sheets I know.  I know I said in the last set of lessons that you would know

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Fiction editing: lessons from the first half

Halfway done! Halfway done.  …..halfway done…*collapses* And the lessons this time are about trust–of self, of other authors, of characters, of ability. Lesson eight: The iceberg metaphor I think the majority of us have probably heard the iceberg metaphor: maybe because we were emo teens with “complex” emotional lives that vibrated below the surface; maybe because our teachers had a poster up on the wall, desperately trying to drive home how much actual work goes into a project. But if not, it goes like this. For every 5% of material that makes it to the page, there is another 95% of material supporting it silently, unseen, from behind the scenes. In other words, if you don’t know the world you built inside and out, if you don’t where your story is going at all times, or if you don’t know why your characters say the things they do, based on backstory and motivation, your shit is going to get wrecked.

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