Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Taking it easier on myself.

So I’ve been reading this book, The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block, by Hillary Rettig, about writer productivity. Much of the first part of it deals with perfectionism. Now, I’ve always known I was somewhat of a perfectionist, but I never knew how much until reading this book.

I mean, holy CRAP, I’m a perfectionist. Wow. All the self-destructive behaviors the author mentions and chalks up to perfectionism? Yeah, I recognize those. But I didn’t know just how much they were holding me back until I read the book, nor did I know how much procrastination is linked to perfectionism. All the little tricks I was doing that were, I thought, making me more productive…were actually doing the exact opposite. Things like:

• Giving myself daily or weekly word counts to meet (and then mentally berating myself if I didn’t meet them)

• Taking full days off with the expectation that I would write TONS OF PAGES during that time (forgetting, of course, that since I work a day job I do need legitimate time off, and that plowing through writing does not give me the mental/physical vacation I need)

• Being absolutely nuts about what I could do in a given time period (“you can totally write 10,000 words in a day!”)

I was doing all of those things (and more), and they were doing nothing good for me. They were setting me up for failure, and the failure was discouraging me from writing. My actions were completely counterproductive—I just didn’t know it at the time. They were actually blocking me from doing the kind of writing I need to be doing—hell, many days, they were blocking me from doing any writing at all.

The author suggested that blocked writers start small. She suggested what amounts to interval training for writing—take a timer, set it for something small (like 5, 8, or 10 minutes), and write for that amount of time. If you can’t write your story, then write notes, outline, etc—just physically write SOMETHING that can push your story forward. I was skeptical (“Really, how much decent stuff can I write in 10 minutes?”), but I tried it. About 6 minutes into writing, my brain was like, “Hey Nikki, go check out your awesome new website again. Or go work on your Goodreads page. Or check Facebook. Or, or, or…” I didn’t listen to that voice. I knew I could do all of those things later, and that right now, all I had to do was write.

So I wrote. 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes of solid, un-distracted writing time. And at the end of it, I had 991 words.

I didn’t ask myself to write that much, or for that long. I just asked myself to write for 10 minutes and do whatever I could do in that time. I didn’t put pressure on myself to do more. And when I didn’t have that pressure, I actually became productive. When I got on a roll, I just kept going. You know when you’ve hit your stride, and there’s no reason to stop just because the 10 minutes you allotted yourself have run out. Go, baby, go! And go, I did.

Who knew that taking the anti-pressure, anti-perfectionist route would end up making me have my most productive writing morning in weeks? I’m gonna try it again tomorrow. Just 10 minutes. I’m excited to see what comes of it.

In the meantime, I’m going to read more of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block. I’m only on chapter 3, but already this is proving to be a very helpful read. I’ll already recommend it to any other writers struggling with productivity and/or perfection—even if you read nothing but the first two chapters, it’ll still be a valuable resource for you.

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