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China has all but overtaken the United States based on GDP at newly-computed purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, twenty years after Paul Krugman predicted: “Although China is still a very poor country, its population is so huge that it will become a major economic power if it achieves even a fraction of Western productivity levels.” But will it eclipse the United States, as Arvind Subramanian has claimed, with the yuan eventually vying with the dollar for international reserve currency status?
Not unless China battles three economic foes. One is well-known: diminishing marginal returns to capital. Two others have received less attention. The first is Carlos Diaz-Alejandro. Not the man, but the results uncovered by his research on the Southern Cone following the opening up of its capital account that culminated in a sovereign debt crisis and contributed to Latin America’s lost 1980s. If the capital account is liberalized before the domestic financial system is ready, the country sets itself up for a fall: goodbye financial repression, hello financial crash. The second is the “reality of transition”: rejuvenating growth requires hard budgets and competition to improve resource allocation and stimulate innovation, counterbalanced with a more competitive real exchange rate. This is the principal insight from the transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which was far simpler than anything China faces.
China was able to raise total factor productivity (TFP) growth as an offset to diminishing marginal returns to capital, especially after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, and faster growth was accompanied by a rising savings rate. But TFP growth is hard to sustain. Any developing country targeting growth above the steady state level given by the sum of human capital growth, TFP growth and population growth (the latter two falling rapidly in China) will find that its investment rates need to continually increase unless it can rejuvenate TFP growth. China’s investment rates have risen from around 42% of GDP over 2005-7 (prior to the global crisis) to 48% in recent years even as growth has dropped from the 12% to the 7.5% range. Savings rates have hovered around 50%, reducing current account surpluses (numbers drawn from IMF 2010 and 2014 Article IV reports).
This configuration has forced China to choose between either investing even more, or lowering growth targets. It has chosen the latter, with its leaders espousing anti-corruption, deleveraging, environmental improvement and structural reform to achieve higher quality growth. The central bank, People’s Bank of China (PBoC), has reaffirmed its goal of internationalizing the yuan and liberalizing the capital account.
China’s proposed antidote is to “rebalance” from investment and exports to domestic consumption. But growth arithmetic would require consumption to grow at unrealistic rates, given the relative shares of investment and private consumption in GDP, even to meet scaled-down growth targets. Besides, households need better social benefits and market interest rates on bank deposits to save less and consume more. Hukou reform alone, or placing social benefits received by rural migrants on a par with their urban counterparts, could easily cost 3% of GDP a year for the next seven years as some 150 million additional people gain access to such benefits—quite apart from the public investment needed to upgrade urban infrastructure, according to calculations shared by Xinxin Li of the Observatory Group. And the failure to liberalize bank deposit rates has led to the rise of “wealth management products” in the shadow banking system. These “WMPs” offer higher returns but are poorly regulated and more risky.
Indeed, total social financing, a broad measure of credit, has soared from 125% to 200% of GDP over the five years 2009-2013 (Figure 2 in the July 2014 IMF Article IV report, with Box 5 warning that such a rapid trajectory usually ends in tears). Local government debt was estimated at 32% of GDP in mid-2013, much of it short-term and used to fund infrastructure projects and social housing with long paybacks. Housing prices show the signs of a bubble, especially away from the four major cities. Corporate credit is 115% of GDP, about half of it collateralized by land or property. While the focus recently has been on risks from shadow banking, it is hard to separate the shadow from the core. Besides, WMPs have become intertwined with the booming real estate market, a major engine of growth yet the centre of a “web of vulnerabilities” (to quote the IMF) encompassing banks, shadow banks, and local government finances. A real estate shock would ripple through the system, lowering growth and forcing bailouts. The gross cost of the bank workout at the end of the 1990s was 15% of GDP in a much simpler world!
2014 began with fears of a hard landing and an impending default by a bankrupt coal mine on a $500 million WMP-funded loan intermediated by a mega-bank. The government eventually intervened rather than let investors take a hit and risk a confidence crisis. And starting in April, stimulus packages were launched to meet the 7.5% growth target, a tacit admission that rebalancing is not working. But concerns persist around real estate. Besides, stimulus will help only temporarily and China is likely to be facing the same questions about growth and financial vulnerability by the end of the year.
With rebalancing infeasible, and investing even more prohibitively costly, virtually the only remaining option is to spur total factor productivity growth: China is still far from the global technological frontier. This calls for a package that cleans up the financial sector and implements hard budgets and genuine competition, especially for the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), while keeping real exchange rates competitive. The real appreciation of the past few years may have been offset by rising productivity, but continued appreciation will make it harder for the domestic economy to restructure and create 12 million jobs a year to absorb new graduates and displaced SOE workers.
In sum, China must heed Diaz-Alejandro. No one knows what the non-performing loans ratio is in China and few believe the official rate of 1%. If the cornerstone of a financial system is confidence and transparency, China is severely deficient. This must first be fixed and market-determined interest rates adopted before entertaining hopes of internationalizing the currency. China must also accept the reality of transition; the formidable remaining agenda in the fiscal, financial, social, and SOE sectors reminds us that China is still in transition to a full-fledged market economy.
The combination of a financial clean up and the policy trio of hard budgets, competition, and a competitive real exchange rate will improve resource allocation and force innovation, boosting total factor productivity growth. But doing this is hard—that’s the essence of the “middle-income trap”. Huge vested interests will be encountered, evoking Raghuram Rajan’s description of the middle-income trap as one “where crony capitalism creates oligarchies that slow down growth”. Dealing with this agenda is the Chinese leadership’s biggest challenge.
The era of cheap China is ending, while the ability of the government to virtually decree the growth rate has fallen victim to diminishing returns to capital. Diaz-Alejandro and the reality of transition are no less important as China seeks a way forward.
Headline image credit: The Great Wall in fall, by Canary Wu. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Productivity. How much you do, when you do it, how you measure it. Put a bunch of writers together, and you can guarantee it’ll come up at some point. We had a great post about the Productivity Pyramid here on Pub Crawl by our own Sooz Dennard.
Do you write in the morning? Are you more productive at night? Do you have a daily word count? Do you count pages when you’re editing? How do you balance the demands of email, social media, writing and (hopefully) the rest of your life?
She got a slew of answers, and author R. J. Anderson provided an epic reply, storified here – I recommend reading it.
I started writing my response, but it got so enormous that I’m going to break it up over three posts. Today, I’m going to talk about time management. Specifically, to-do lists and the Pomodoro Technique. This may not sound sexy, but trust me, it can be a game-changer. The second post will talk about task types, social media and your working day. The third will talk about attitudes and approaches to work.
I find productivity advice a really interesting area, because a lot of it is for people who work in offices, with jobs where you actually know when you’ve completed a task. That’s not always the case for writers. So the advice below is specifically for writers (and other creatives), and is based on years at a not-for-profit running a highly productive team, as well as my own experience studying, working full time, and writing two trilogies at once.
I’m not just talking about a regular to-do list here. Putting everything on one giant list is a guaranteed way to look at it, get overwhelmed, then voluntarily throw yourself down a Lizzie Bennet Diaries rabbit hole rather than doing any work. It’s too big a chunk of information to be absorbed at once and it looks like more than you can ever do. But a good to-do list can change your life, seriously. It can help ensure nothing is forgotten, avoid last-minute rushes and actually reduce your stress. Promise!
There are lots of different techniques, and you should pick one that works for you, but I’m going to show you what mine looks like. The keys are:
Clearly outline each task
Allocate an achievable amount to each day
Leave room for the unexpected
I keep my list in a draft email, so I can access it from my phone or laptop anytime to add an item. When I acquire a new to-do task, I don’t jump on it that day unless it’s urgent. I assign it to a future day and forget about it until it’s time to do it. I cannot say enough how much this reduces stress.
I list each day of the coming week and allocate tasks under it. I then have a heading for ‘Coming Dates’, a heading for ‘Next Week’ and a heading for ‘Future Actions’. And then each day I hand write a list of what I’m going to get done, and put the rest of the list away. That way I only have to look at my bite-sized tasks, not the road stretching out ahead. My rule: if I can’t fit my daily list on a post-it, there’s too much on it to do it all.
Here’s what goes under each each heading I use:
Daily heading: Only the tasks I will achieve that day. These should be clearly outlined, and there shouldn’t be too many.
Coming dates: Appointments or commitments that I can’t forget, that I’ll want to enter into next week’s list.
Next week: A list of things to do next week, but not yet sorted by day — I won’t do this until I know how the week’s shaping up, with any requests from my editors or personal commitments.
Future actions: Stuff that’s happening a while away, that I don’t want to forget.
And here’s an extract from my recent to-do lists. I’ve just listed two individual days for the week, since this is already turning into an epically long blog post.
MONDAY [These items will take up most of a day, but I've left an hour or two free in case of the unexpected. If I get ahead, I'll probably write.]
Write Pub Crawl blog post
Send email to (author friend)
Fill out author questionnaire [for Aussie publisher]
Crit read (CP’s novel) – 100 pages
Crit Meg’s chapter [of our WIP]
Email Jay [to make a time next week to catch up and plot for our WIP]
TUESDAY [This day is going to see me write at least 3,000 words, so I'm not counting on myself to have brain to do too much else -- I've allocated myself easy tasks aside from drafting.]
Write chapter [of WIP with Meg]
Send invoice [for a guest speaking gig at a local university]
Email agent [re a foreign rights offer]
Email editor [with a question about a timeframe]
Email (friend) [this person is a doctor and checking a few medical aspects of my WIP]
13th May – This Shattered World cover reveal
15 May – brainstorming with Jay
31 May – 1 June – Emerging Writers Festival (panel on Sunday)
Tweet for release of (book that’s coming out)
Email (name), (name) and (name)
Finish crit read for (author)
Provide bio/headshot/interview answers to (conference name)
Email accountant [this one is there eeevery week, finances are confusing, yo]
[Note here about a story seed I want to work on.]
[Note here about a place I want to visit for research when I have time]
[Note here to buy and read some books in a particular genre that focuses on a skill I'd like to improve]
And that’s how my to-do list works! Though it looks complex, it takes about sixty seconds to set up. For me, its main strengths are that it’s easily accessible, easy to maintain, allows me to allocate a task to when I need to do it and then forget it, and means that each day I wake up knowing what I need to get done that day! Whether you decide to go with this format, an app or a more technical system, having a way to track all the balls you have in the air is vital. Your system should be flexible while still making sure you know what to do each day, and allow you to focus on a day at a time as well as seeing the big picture.
When it comes time to tackle the list above, I swear by the Pomodoro Technique. There are variations in the way different people use it, but I’m going to give you a brief description of mine — I’ve shared this with other writers, many of whom have reported it really helps them as well. You can grab a free Pomodoro app for your phone, or do this with a regular kitchen timer.
The technique requires that you work for 25 minutes, followed by a five minute break. You do this four times in a row, then take a half hour break. The key for me is that I start my working time with a list of things to do, whether that’s writing or admin or marketing. I jump on the first one, work until it’s done, then pick up the second one. Under NO circumstances while I’m in my 25 minute period do I do aaaaaaanything other than the tasks I’ve set. Absolutely no social media, making cups of tea, daydreaming, etc. What I find is that the 25 minutes never seems insurmountable, so I jump on in, and the ban on other activities means I skate past that danger time five minutes in, when my fingers start to creep toward opening a new tab for Twitter. By pushing past that ‘distraction point’, I get a heap done.
Equally key is taking the five minute breaks — the idea here is to rest up before you get tired, so you’re ready to keep going for your next 25 minute run. In my five minute breaks I usually stretch, grab a drink, make a bathroom run or throw a three minute dance party with the dog, which has the added benefit of loosening up my back before I get sore from too long at the keyboard. When I hit my 30 minute break, I usually go for a walk — it’s important to leave the keyboard during that break.
I get a heap done when I use this approach — if you’re interested, try it!
What tools and techniques do you recommend for improving productivity? I’ll be back next month to talk about task types, social media and your working day. I’d love to hear your suggestions (and I’m happy to answer any questions) in the comments.
Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is coming in November 2014, and her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.
In March, I took a fascinating class with Gwen Hernandez on working with the software program, Scrivener . Scrivener, available from Literature and Latte, is widely touted as a totally wonderful program for writing, and while I had owned it for a while, I knew I needed guidance in fully taking advantage of its many features. The class was great. Hernandez laid out daily information in chunks that were just right to absorb and work with. The homework was easy and helpful. I end the month with a growing level of comfort with using Scrivener—in fact, this post is written in Scrivener. Overall, though, I still have questions about how useful it is when compared to regular word processors.
WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get
Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get — pronounced Wizziwig) word processor. I am old enough to remember how exciting it was to actually get a WYSIWYG word processor, to have the ability to SEE what your document would look like. In that respect, Scrivener is a throw-back to a time when typewriters were the only way to get your story on paper and then you left it to a printer to actually typeset a page. Let me quickly say, Scrivener is anything but a throwback in any other respect; it’s a complex program with many features.
But let’s discuss the WYSIWYG question. Do you want to SEE what your words will look like when typeset/printed as you create the story?
Creating in WYSIWYG. I’ve done it both ways. Joel Friedlander sells book design templates, which allow authors to design and layout a book in MSWord. There are many arguments for and against using MSWord for this and I don’t want to get into that. Instead, I want to focus on my experience of writing in an exact WYSIWYG environment. I had a novel almost done when I put it into a template and worked with that environment as I revised. I found it fascinating and enjoyable. I found that it did affect how I wrote: the voice, the wording, chapter length and more. The choice of typeface mattered. The layout on the page mattered. The story demanded a certain voice, which was strengthened by the layout and design. In fact, I loved it.
The Compose Window of Scrivener isolates the writing in its own screen and helps you focus.
Creating in Non-WYSIWYG. On the other hand, I am typing this in Scrivener, and it’s definitely NOT WYSIWYG. The environment here is more focused on productivity. I’m writing in the Compose window, which shuts out every other window on my computer and helps me focus on the writing at hand. It tends to increase the flow. However, after you finish a draft, you must Scrivener’s Compile function to export into a printable format. In Gwen Hernandez’s book, Scrivener for Dummies, compiling takes 70 pages because of its complexity. For this blog post, it’s a simple copy and paste into my blogging software. For a novel, an ebook and other common formats, there are presets for compiling that make it simpler. But it’s not WYSIWYG; it’s an extra step to format. You must learn to become an old-fashioned printer and control all sorts of things: fonts, margins, headers, footers, page numbers, and so on. Or at least tweak the presets. Some say the beauty of Scrivener is that you can output the same writing into multiple formats. For some that will be an advantage; for others, it will be a shrug.
The relationship between layout and design and content isn’t straightforward. Maybe I’ll never decide between WYSIWYG or Non-WYSIWYG environments. Maybe it will be on a case-by-case basis. But if you are considering Scrivener as your word processor of choice, you must deal with the WYSIWYG problem. Which environment do you want to write in?
One big advantage of Scrivener is the ability to track metadata, or data about the data. First, in the binder view, the hierarchical structure is always displayed. That’s not much different from a word processor that allows for an outline view. In Scrivener, however, each item is a separate file, and you can drag and drop these files to restructure. Nice—if you need that sort of thing. Of course, the question is this: do you need to restructure your writing often?
Second, you can mark any file (which can be a scene, a snippet of something like a description, or a full chapter—it’s up to you what goes in a file and how finely grained it is) by using one of three methods: labels, keywords, status.
Status. The default Status markings start with To Do and progresses to Finished. In other words, it marks your progress. But you can use status for anything you want. I liked using Status to indicate the setting of a fictional scene because the terms used here show up as watermarks in the cork board view. Making setting visual seemed a good use for metadata.
Labels, by default indicate Concepts or Chapters. You could expand that to terms like Idea, Rough Draft, and so on. Or you could switch and use Labels to indicate progress or some other story element. All the metadata can be customized.
Keywords have no default setting; the cool thing here is the ability to mark a folder with a colored tab. For example, if your keywords are characters, then in the cork board view you can see at-a-glance all the folders marked Orange for Villain. Of course—you must remember which color goes with which character to use this at-a-glance method. Otherwise, you must look up what color stands for what keyword. The more characters (or keywords) marked, the less useful and more confusing it becomes.
In other words, you have three major ways besides hierarchy to organize your writing. Some are color-coded, while others appear as watermarks in certain views. Some are more flexible and some are more comprehensive. One advantage is that you can search your project for files marked up in any way. For example, you can find all the “keyword: Villain POV” files and then print them separately for editing. You may want to search by status TO DO and keep that view up until all files have been worked on.
Flexible? Certainly. But overwhelming.
The metadata is flexible enough to accommodate cookbooks (keywords: chicken, beef, veal, etc.), fiction (keywords: character names), or nonfiction (keywords: fact, quote, indirect quote, opinion, analysis, etc.). But the metadata system of taming the chaos of writing doesn’t seem intuitive to me.
I went in search of what others have done with all this metadata. First, I asked Gwen Hernandez how she used the metadata. She said that it changes with each project and I shouldn’t worry about the metadata, but just write until I felt the need to separate out files and then decide what metadata made sense. In some ways, I understand that, and that method would work if I wrote by the seat-of-my-pants, a panster. I’m more middle ground, though. I like some structure to start and then I work a while and then adjust structure. And for the writer who loves structure so much they outline extensively, I doubt that answer would help.
Second, I looked at Scrivener templates to see how they used the metadata. Most just use the hierarchical structure and ignore the metadata. Labels, keywords and status were unused by all of the templates that I downloaded and installed.
That brings me to the question: What metadata do we NEED to know as we draft? As we revise? Is a hierarchy enough or do we truly need metadata?
Metadata and the Shrunken Manuscript
I am known for the Shrunken Manuscript, a revision technique that shrinks pages so small that you can’t read it. After shrinking, I ask writers to mark their manuscript in various ways so they can SEE what they have done. After this Scrivener class, I realized that the Shrunken Manuscript deals with metadata, but in a manual and visual way. This technique is now popular with authors who need to see the underlying narrative structure. So, I know the value of metadata and making it visual. One thing I’ll be trying out with Scrivener is how metadata can work for us, without taking on a level of complexity that makes it onerous.
Overall, then, one supposed advantage of Scrivener is it’s ability to keep your writing organized. It does this with a simple hierarchical view and the ability to add metadata in three ways. But I found few instances of people actually using the metadata or being able to explain when and where and why they use it. I’m undecided if this much-touted feature will help or just be too much complexity. I’ll report back after trying out some ideas and working with Scrivener for a while.
I LOVE that the default is backing up every 2 seconds. That’s so aggressive! I thought I was smart when I changed my MSWord to backup every 2 minutes; backing up every 2 seconds is brilliant–and Scrivener does this seamlessly in the background without any hesitations or hitches..
Scrivener has a built in way to track productivity: words per session, project goals, daily word counts, percentage of project completed, and so on. Some authors like this ability to tracking progress; they set and regularly meet productivity goals. Certainly, it’s possible to do this with word processors, but Scrivener makes it simple. I want to try this with my next major project.
Overall, I am still undecided about Scrivener. I do plan to use it for projects this year and Gwen Hernandez’s class was definitely helpful and worth the time. Ask me next year if I’m still using the program.
Don't know about the rest of you, but I find my background noise preference depends heavily on what I'm working on. When I'm illustrating and am past the early sketch stages, I listen to audiobooks or have episodes of a previously-watched tv shows playing on my second monitor; the key for me is to have something interesting enough for variety but not TOO interesting to distract me from work.
For early creative stages and for writing, I used to prefer silence. These days, however, I like to have something going on in the background, especially if my work day has been especially long. Music with English lyrics is too distracting, so I listen to Italian progrock but even that can start driving me crazy after a while.
One of my favorite background sounds for intense creative work? Coffee shop noise: murmured conversations, movement, muted clatter of cups and cutlery. I also find having people around who are DOING things stimulating, and I'm less likely to start daydreaming or slack off. I used to go to real-life coffee shops to do my writing, but this has downsides. The expense, for one thing, plus sometimes the conversations taking place around me are a tad TOO interesting.
Looks as if I'm not the only one who finds coffee shops and coffee shop sounds motivating:
For others who like coffee shop sounds in the background while they work, here's one solution:
Coffitivity: Just opening up the website page will start up the sounds of a coffee shop, and you can also get free apps for iOS, Droid and Mac desktop. I prefer the latter because I don't like having my browser open while working because it's too tempting to "just check one more website."
There are choices of other sounds as well, like a campus cafe and lunchtime lounge. Coffitivity has also invited the community to submit sounds to share, so I expect we'll get more choices soon.
Anyone who has been in my office knows that I’m a list maker. Post-It Notes wreath my monitor. Reading lists cover my bulletin board. My first thought is that I do this so that I can focus on my work. Once I write something down, I don’t have to put any energy into remembering it and can just write.
But when my to-do list gets too long, it saps my energy. It always starts out reasonable enough. I have my blog posts for the week, work for the courses I am teaching or taking, and my top two projects for the month.
Then I spot a market listing for a manuscript I haven’t quite finished. Add it to my list. Then I read an article that reveals the fix I need for my novel. There’s another item added. Before I realize what’s going on there’s also a group of essays and a series pitch.
When my list is too long, my productivity lags because I focus on what I’m not getting done. That’s when it’s time to refocus my list and, through it, my work. Use these five steps when you need to do the same:
Review larger goals. I begin with a review of my year-long goals. Maybe you have a five year plan or a list of resolutions for 2014. Whatever form your goals take, look at what you want to accomplish. Do these goals still make sense? If not, take a few moments to revise them.
Assess your to-do list. Once you have committed yourself once again to a list of larger goals, evaluate your to-do list. What items help you meet those goals? Things that don’t may need to go away.
Clean off your list. You don’t have to get rid of everything that won’t lead to your larger goals. For example, I keep my church blog and post on their Facebook page, neither of which helps me complete my dream book. But there important to me so they stay on the list. When numerous items don’t relate to your goals, something must go.
Put other things on hold. You also need to look at what can be accomplished in a month. Anything that can’t, needs to be removed – for now. I jot these items on the bottom corner of my dry erase board or put them on a Post-It on the back page of my calendar. They aren’t priorities, but I won’t forget them either.
Refocus your work area. Once I remove items from my to-do list, all related library books, files and articles need to come off my desk. I take things back to the library and refile a wide variety of material. It’s time to streamline so you can focus on your current projects.
The world is a distracting place. Help yourself focus on what you want to work on right now, and you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish.
Find out more about author Sue Bradford Edwards and her newly refocused to-do list on her blog, One Writer's Journey.
Does this happen to you? You’ve got an article assignment, and you’re all excited.
You get your research organized, and interviews if needed. You feel like you’re making good progress.
Then it comes time to write it up.
And you freeze.
That blank page is just mocking you.
And that deadline is looming in your face. Soon, you’ll have to face your editor and tell her your piece isn’t going to be ready on time.
What’s happened here?
You’ve got a complex.
You know your topic…and yet you can’t seem to organize all the bits and pieces of information into a coherent whole.
You can’t find the starting point.
You’re dead in the water.
How do I know about this? Well, I am the queen of this non-starter complex.
Especially if it’s my first article for a brand-new client. Massive, massive complex.
Much woe and teeth-gnashing ensues, and/or compulsive inhaling of entire bag of dark-chocolate Lindt truffles.
Fortunately, I know how to snap out of it and get the article done — even if the piece has a ton of different interviews and research I need to weave in.
Here are seven strategies for cracking the blank-page problem and getting your article written, and written well:
Re-read the publication. You probably looked it over when you researched this market, but crack it open (or read it online) again now. Study their articles — how do they start? What’s the tone? How do they use quotes? Subheads? How do they end? Now, close your eyes and imagine the piece you’re writing in this publication. Often, you can envision the opening immediately by doing this.
Start anywhere. Don’t get hung up on the first line or sentence. If you know the end, write that. Got a section of bullet-points in the middle that are easy? Knock them out. Now, you’ve beat the blank page and are well begun.
Read and highlight notes. If you’re nervous about whether the material you need is all there, read and highlight all your notes. By the time you’re done, you’ll know whether you have all the information you need — or if you’re stumped because you need to find an expert to interview because you don’t know enough about your topic yet.
Create an “idiot’s outline.” Making a real outline, where you graph what points will go where, has always seemed like a time-waster to me, especially for a 500-word or shorter article. Instead, create a source outline — simply list each source you have and the most important points they make, in any order. List any important stats you want to use, too. Now, you have a pithy list of the most important things to say in your article. Put them in order of priority, and you’re ready to write.
Set the quotes. Sometimes, it helps to pull out the few great quotes you know you want to use and write them out. Then, start writing the lead-up and follow-on paragraphs that go around it…and by then, you’re well on your way.
Write without notes, exact quotes or attribution. One of the biggest writing problems comes when we stop and start all the time to look up facts and name spellings and the precise wording of quotes we want to use, and other trivia. Instead, let all the fine details go and simply begin to tell the story. Let i
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oddly, this accidental screenshot was taken when my screen was actually busted and looked totally nothing like this. iphone magic, i guess.
My iphone died today. I dropped it on a tile floor. I drop it all the time, but today I guess I dropped it in some extra-special way. All the stars aligned, and the screen totally went. I watched in horror as it happened—I actually felt like I was in a movie. I think that all speaks volumes to my iphone attachment, for better or for worse, and how, maybe (and I'm looking for the silver lining here, but justmaybe) it's not a bad thing for me to view this whole debacle as an opportunity for a little self-examination.
For one thing, I do not NEED to use my phone as much as I do. Yes, it is an indispensable tool. Yes, it is the biggest technological revolution since the computer and the internet. Yes, I do need it—there is no getting around that— it's the swiss army knife of productivity for me.... BUT (you knew this was coming!) the iphone does not have a conscience. It does not have an opinion. It can't tell me what it thinks I should or shouldn't spend my time doing. (Kazoo, anyone? Flinstones?) It can only go where I tell it to go, do what I tell it to do. That, unfortunately, can sometimes add up to a fair amount of time goofing off. Time that would be much better spent with my sketchbook, or my notebook... or even just hanging out with my dog more. I'm certain of this. Sure, I mostly use it for productivity-laced activities.I read helpful e-books on it. I have so many tools on it that help me communicate with others, deliver files to people, and generally keep things running well. The phone itself even assists me with off-line creative work in several ways. And when I do play a game, it's often Draw Something, which I consider a casual but engaging creative exercise, not a waste of time.
But... my iphone can't tell me to knock it off when I take the off-ramp into junkdom (Hello, Us Weekly!). It can't coach me to curb my Instagramming. (Hey I love Instagram, but I also love pie, and if I ate pie the way I Instagram..) It doesn't set a timer when I'm making photo collages in PicFrame, my latest obsession. (Think they should make an app for that?)
So, I'm coming clean: On some level, my iphone addiction actually bothers me! Yes, It is an uber-productivity tool, but it's also an uber- time-suck-and-goof-off tool if one is not really careful about it. This is something I've been aware of. It's not a secret. But here I am, now, in this situation. And it's really a great, gifty opportunity to investigate my phone habits and take steps to revise them where needed. I'm not saying it's great that I dropped and accidentally killed my phone. But I am glad that I'm self-aware enough to see this as a chance to make some small changes that I think will add up, and eventually improve— ironically—my productivity. Definitely, when it comes to sketchi
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I was recently asked this question: How do you get so much work done?
What have you found to be the single most important element to boost your writing productivity?
Office hours. About 8 years ago, my husband and I bought a 3-story Victorian house in downtown Little Rock. The bottom two floors are my husband’s real estate appraisal office, but I got the attic. I go to work. When I still had kids in school, it was 9-3 office hours; however, if the family needed something, well, I am self-employed and could take off. Just not too often. Now, my office hours are more like 8-4. If you’re at home with small kids, though, you can do office hours, too. 1-3 pm while the kids sleep and 9-10:30 at night. Just DVR that great 9 pm program and keep your office hours.
What are your three greatest productivity challenges and what ways have you found to counteract them?
Being self-employed is the biggest challenge, how to stay motivated when no one much cares what you do, except you. This Fiction Notes blog, gives me an audience, readers who expect me to post on a regular basis, at least 2x/week. I get regular feedback on the blog, so it’s not just shooting things out into space. In other words, I’ve found a real audience (YOU!) for something small, yet useful. If I am productive here, it carries over to the bigger fiction projects. Find a real audience, doesn’t matter where. It might be reading your fiction to your child’s class once a week, or writing the newsletter for your church. Real audiences motivate.
The second challenge is that as a freelance writer, I must juggle many different projects at once. I’ve tried without success things like calendars, online project management software, and finally went low-tech. I have a yellow legal pad that I turn landscape (sideways). Across the top, I hand write categories of things to do: speaking, writing, blog, PR, friends, publishing, other. Then, each week, I jot down tasks in each category. When I finish a task, I cross it off and look over the tasks written there to see what to tackle next. In other words, I am not saying to myself that I must do this first, then that. Instead, I list the range of tasks to be done that week and over the course of the week, try to make sure it all gets done. What doesn’t get done is carried over to a clean sheet for the next week and mentally, I prioritize those tasks. Notice that I have a category for Friends: It’s just as important for me to critique my friend’s manuscript as it is to write my 750 words. Or to meet a friend for coffee. I try to stay balanced, yet get things done.
Third, the challenge is that as writers, we work alone, with only our own thoughts for company. On days when I’ve gotten a rejection, or I have a cold, it’s hard to stay upbeat and productive. For those days, I talk to friends both on and off line. They keep me sane and working. Thanks, gals!
How do you organize your writing day?
Organized? Me? I just go with the flow of the day. My yellow legal pad is my only organization.
What does a productive writing day look like to you?
I usually start by answering emails, because that gets me writing. Next, I try to do some rough draft writing. Since January, I have been using 750words.com to make sure
The most common question I get during the summer deals with productivity–or the lack thereof.
If that’s your struggle this summer, I found some things you might want to try!
Help is On the Way
Do you need to put the “prod” into your productivity? Then I’ve got the little tool for you! It’s called Write or Die, and there is an online version or a downloadable version. Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.
Focus Booster is a free download that helps you focus! You can also use it online if you don’t want to download anything. “Focus booster is a simple and elegant application designed to help you eliminate the anxiety of time and enhance your focus and concentration.”
And if those don’t work for you, there are half a dozen MORE apps to help you focus on your writing in an article called “Quit Wasting Time Now”. Some are free, and some cost a small fee.
If you try any of these focusing helps, please report back to us on the pros and cons. I’m willing to give almost anything a try, if it will help me focus on my writing better!
Well, we’re officially two-thirds into 2012. My daughter has gone back to school and as she starts classes, for me that marks a new beginning as well. Plus the busiest time of the year is upon us. Halloween…Thanksgiving…Christmas….New Year. Today I sat down with my calendar and looked back at what I accomplished and looked forward to what I need to do. It all boils down to this:
Where in the heck did all that time go and why aren’t there more hours in a day?
As a writer, I spend so much more time researching, calling, writing, editing, posting than it appears I do. All the reader sees is the final product, and I suppose that’s true with all types of work. I often challenge the time consuming process of writing and search for ways to improve my productivity. I recently came across this fantastic article on NerdFitness.com with tips on being more productive. You’ve got to read it! It really gets to the heart of what causes us to slow down and forces us to take a look at how we waste time and how to change it. Now I must begin to implement the article’s tactics. The author of that article insists that after implementing productivity tactics and staying focused, he now has more time than ever to enjoy his life.
A while back I reviewed Seth Godin’s Book “Linchpin,” (note that mine remains the top read review on Amazon!) and what I learned from that book is that we all have a “lizard brain” at times that slows us down and makes us lose focus. It’s a constant battle not to repeatedly check for new emails, log into social networking sites and just get sidetracked on the internet.
So now my goal for the next 4 months is to step up the productivity and reduce the time I have this Apple computer on my lap. Now that I’ve made a public promise, I’ve got to follow through with it.
A book published in 2008 made the claim that, in order to be great in any field, you needed to put in about 10,000 hours of practice. It applied to musicians and writers and doctors–anyone wanting to get better in their chosen field.
However, in a recent newsletter by Scott Young, he pointed out that the author’s research has been misinterpreted. (The book was Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.)
Young makes a very good point, one I had suspected for a long time. It isn’t just about putting in the hours working. It is about practicing our craft.
Aren’t They the Same Thing?
Working and practicing are NOT the same thing. That’s why 10,000 hours of writing might turn one writer into a mega seller, and the other writer might still be unknown.
What you do with those 10,000 hours (or however many you spend writing) makes a lot of difference.
Work vs. Practice
What is the difference between work and practice? According to Young,
Many professionals confuse the two, and as a result their skills stagnate even though they’re investing considerable time.
Elite athletes don’t get better at their sport just by playing a lot of games. They do drills. Drills are highly focused activities designed to rapidly build proficiency in one minor detail of their sport.
Violinists don’t play every song start to finish to practice. Instead they identify the hardest sections and practice them endlessly until they’ve mastered them.
Yet, when we want to be a better programmer, writer or designer, what do we do? We just work. We don’t practice the highly specific, immediate-feedback oriented tasks necessary to cultivate mastery.
The fix is simple: if you want to get better you need to adopt the mentality of an elite athlete or musician and actually practice (as opposed to just work).
Get the Most from Your Writing Time
None of us have much time to waste. We want to make the precious hours we save for writing really count. How do we do that?
First, much of your writing time will be working time (planning and writing rough drafts and revising).
However, you’d be wise, if you want to be published and build an audience and sell lots of books, to set aside a portion (the bigger, the better) of your time for honest-to-goodness practice. Like the pianist and violinist who practice the hard parts over and over, we writers need to do the same thing.
Tasks to Master
We probably all could name several writing areas where we are weak. If we don’t know, we can ask our critique people. These are the areas to practice.
For example, one of my weak areas is writing figurative language. If I think of one original figure of speech per book, I’m doing well. So what’s my plan?
I’m going to take regular time to practice, using Cindy Rogers’ excellent book, Word Magic for Writers, which is chock full of exercises in every chapter. For feedback, I’ll probably ask a writer friend to look at my exercises (a writer who is especially good at figurative language).
Target Your Practice Time
If we spend our writing time doing the same kind of writing in the same kind of way, we can’t expect to improve very quickly. But if our practice time is intentional–if we target specific weak skill areas–we’ll make observable progress.
How about you? Is there one specific area you could study that would make a big difference in your writing? Or two or three areas that could become goals for 2013? Please share!
I used to set ambitious New Year's goals every year ("I'm going to write 2000 words a day, every day!") but then get discouraged when I inevitably realized that, once again, I had set a goal or goals that were unrealistic. Or that had originally realistic but then got put on the back burner because of circumstances out of my control that had to take higher priority.
This year, I'm taking a different approach. While I am going to set some realistic work-related goals (to be posted on the MiG Writers blog) which I have tried hard to make realistic, I'm also going to work toward an overall goal:
Make more time to read and create books.
It's so easy to say, "I wish I had more time to xxxx" but the truth is that it's up to me to MAKE more time for what's important to me.
One of my tendencies is to want to do everything. I want to write (and illustrate!) more picture books. I want to work on my new MG and YA novel projects, because I know my writing and knowledge of the industry has improved over the years and I'm much confident about getting these newer book projects published. I have some fun nonfiction book ideas for grown-ups that I want to turn into book proposals so I can start pitching them. I'm thinking of self-publishing a compilation of my writing comics, but I also know that self-publishing requires a lot more admin/promo/marketing time. I want to keep all my webcomics updated but know I have way too many webcomics to keep updated. I want to improve my German language skills before Jeff and I attend Essen in late 2013. I want to improve my French language skills before Jeff and I visit French-speaking friends in late 2013. I want to write a new song for my music group to perform in our concert at FilKONtario. I want to reorg my home office. I want to learn more about non-digital art techniques like ink and watercolour, acrylics and multimedia textural art. I want to turn some of my cartoons and daily doodles into greeting cards. I want to help beef up content in my various collab group blogs. I want to improve my Photoshop skills and also go through Lynda.com tutorials on various creative software packages I've purchased in the last year. I want to write more songs.
I could go on and on and on. Clearly, I can't do all the above. I need to let go of many of these goals, else I know I'm going to end up not attempting any of them very well. So again, I've decided to focus on the following:
Make more time to read and create books.
Throughout this coming year, in addition to my regular Inkygirl.com posts, I'm going to be sharing my experience in trying to make more time to read and create books.
My first steps:
1. Managing my email more efficiently.
2. Being more aware of how much time I'm spending on social media.
I'll report back on both of these first steps in upcoming Inkygirl posts, so stay tuned. :-)
WordPressers, day in and day out, you entertain us, you make us think, you make us laugh, and you make us grateful to be exposed to so many voices all over the world. It’s a pleasure to read what you’re writing. Like everyone in the community, we value that feeling of connection that comes from reading something that speaks to you, that resonates, that makes you feel not so alone.
For this edition of Freshly Pressed Faves, we’re looking at three posts that do just that, all around the idea of “busy-ness.” Modern society seems to embrace the idea that unless you’re “swamped” or “super busy,” you just aren’t being productive enough. Free time? Fill it up, preferably with something that pays! This attitude permeates children’s lives, too, with scheduled after-school dance classes and soccer practices and violin lessons and foreign language tutors. The idle hours that once allowed kids to daydream seem to be no more. When’s enough enough, though?
Author Tim Kreider believes ‘Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness.’ We feel we are nothing, not worthy, unimportant or left out if we have nothing to do.
But there is another aspect to it. Perfectionism – that shadow from our childhoods. We want to be excellent – because if we are, we will be worthy of love. So we take on anything and everything that is thrown us. Even when we are aware we are overwhelmed, we find it hard to say ‘NO’. Because we fear that if we do – people will think less of us. So we end up doing more than our fair share.
Sofagirl at Campari & Sofa writes eloquently about her own fight with the “busy” beast and the scary personal episode that drove her to question it all. Weaving in others’ research on the topic, she presents a compelling argument for taking a step back — and a deep breath — and for refusing to participate in the tyranny of “busy” any longer. Bet you’ll find it difficult to disagree.
As kids we could come up with 16 ways to put our lives on the line using the jungle gym in ways no designer ever intended. They were days when we simply looked at clouds and imagined animals (or teachers or, for the juvenile delinquents, body parts) hiding in the puffy expanse of the heavens. … We were bored, but no one was ever bored enough to learn something.
Except it appears, according to recent research, that boredom is good for the brain. Evidently, boredom switches our brain’s little buttons and the synapses and neurons start firing on more cylinders, pushing us to creativity and intellectual growth.
John Wegner of Consistently Contradictory harkens back to a time when “boredom” and free time were acceptable and even encouraged, when we didn’t rely on technology and scheduling quite so much, and when we allowed our brains to wander. Are we losing the benefits of this today? Should we re-introduce some “slack” into schools? Read John’s convincing and thought-provoking post and you’ll probably be answering “yes.”
When I was a kid, Dad made it clear that ‘mere play’ was being idle—something lazy people did. And boy, you couldn’t get lazier than me.
Michael Maupin from Completely in the Dark takes us back to his childhood and the lasting effects of not being encouraged to “play.” He explains, “As a shadow, it darkened the room, filling me with anxiety and self-doubt: ‘What am I doing now? Is it practical? Is it useful? Shouldn’t I be ashamed?’ … For years that sound, that shadow, was all around. It blocked up my writing, my artwork, my self-esteem — everything. I was psychologically held at gunpoint by an ethic that carries little currency in my world.”
Not one to be bullied, however, Michael has found ways to protect and embrace his natural tendencies towards “play and reverie.” Read his post, and you’ll be inspired to do the same.
Did you read something in the Reader that you think is Freshly Pressed material? Feel free to leave us a link, or tweet us @freshly_pressed.
If you want a career in writing, you must keep the stories coming. In the midst of life, with all its ups and downs, words need find their way onto paper. Here’s how to keep the characters talking to you.
Create an office. Even if you don’t have a separate room, create some sort of office space. You need a consistent place to keep your computer, your drafts and supplies. Even if it’s a box that sits under your bed until you need it, don’t waste your precious time collecting supplies.
Instant Success. Do something small that will give you success. Perhaps just a character description or a description of a setting. A bit of dialogue. Start and end each day with something that you know you can complete.
Use psychology. Tell yourself that you only need to write for five minutes. Quickly get into the flow and when you finally stop, you’ve likely done twenty minutes. The key is to keep writing no matter what. If you don’t’ know what to type, try this: I don’t know what to write next. Repeat that 100 times if you have to until it turns into something else. Believe me, you’ll get so bored with that phrase that you’ll write something else.
Plan marathons. Kids are spending the night with someone and the hubby is going hunting? Bingo. It’s time for a writer’s marathon. Star as soon as the house clears out and write until late into the night. Get up early and repeat as long as you can. Marathons like this can jump start a big project, or get you through those rough spots.
Plan a writing marathon to jump start a project or to finish your novel.
Turn off the internal editor. Write, do not revise. Keep the flow of writing going and ignore the internal editor when s/he wants to stop and look up facts or check a dictionary for spelling. This isn’t the time for that. Instead, let the story flow.
Stop early. Some writers swear by this technique: stop writing in the middle of a sentence and pick up right there on the next day. It makes sense. Just competing the thought gets your head back into the story and it’s easy to move on from there.
Don’t wait. Are you waiting until you get answers to a bit of research or until you figure out a plot point? Instead, write and trust the process. Trust that there will be tidbits to save out of whatever you write.
Trust your instinct. Don’t worry so much! And certainly don’t think about what a reader or an editor will say at this point. Just write. Trust your storytelling ability and write. Trust your sense of story. Trust your choice of words. Write, write, write.
Marla Beck is a certified Life Coach for writers who has an MFA in creative writing. She’s been mentoring me as I work towards my wellness coaching certification — and I can’t say enough good things about her! You can connect virtually with Marla in December through her Two Days to Write group coaching program — two fun, focused and productive days of writing…no matter how scared, busy or overwhelmed you are. (That’s my affiliate link; if you decide to check out or join the program, I hope you’ll use this link. Thanks so much!)
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a coach?
It was pretty natural for me to begin working with writers. When I got trained as a Life Coach I had the opportunity to think through the kinds of people and the kinds of challenges I wanted to work with. I’m trained as a writer; I have an MFA in creative writing with a specialty in poetry, and I’ve worked writing press releases, profiles, and grants for arts and nonprofit organizations.
I felt like writers are the people that I understood. I really know on a heart level what it’s like to struggle with productivity, life balance and entrepreneurial challenges too.
After graduate school, I worked for a while with at-risk youths. I loved the job and it was very meaningful to me, but I knew I needed to move on and I realized that the skill set I was using was coaching more than educating and teaching. So that’s what made me decide to be a Life Coach. When I got started I just put the word out to folks in freelance writing communities and things have been going great ever since. It feels good to be doing work I love.
What do you think is the biggest thing getting in the way of success for aspiring writers?
There are two mindset pieces that I think people overlook the importance of. One is making a very clear decision to be successful. I’m not trying to come off like a Tony Robbins, but we really do have to think about our mindset when we start a project.
And part of what gets in the way for aspiring writers is that we also have to believe in ourselves and give ourselves permission to envision ourselves as successful. So you need to be able to make a clear decision: “I am going for this. This is meaningful. It’s worth it to me. I will find the help I need to get there.” You need to believe that it’s possible and worthy and you need to give yourself permission to step into that bigger vision of yourself.
On top of that, it can be hard as a freelancer to find time to do the big picture business-building or portfolio-building activities because you are a professional responder to the market. You’re trying to figure out how you can fit into the needs of the marketplace, and to really be successful you also have to learn how to be self-directing.
How can writers change their mindset?
Many people thrive by working with a private coach. So I just plugged my business! It’s a great way to get custom tailored help. It’s like having a personalized self-help book or someone to really help see your particular challenges and help you rewrite your narrative in your mind.
Also, accountability can be really helpful. If you have a group of peers who are striving for the same thing, and you think they’re positive people who will support you and challenge you in a good way, that’s another way to support yourself. Also, journaling, self-reflection, and affirmations can be helpful. There’s a whole host of tools for
I caught this video from illustrator Will Terry this weekend, and it's got me thinking. He talks about how his studio workflow is now basically paperless. He's been using a regular computer and Photoshop to render the final illustrations, naturally, but he's always used good ol' pencil and paper to do any sketching.
Now, it seems, he does that digitally, too. He uses his iPad and an app called Brushes and his finger. Yep, not a stylus—his finger. Give this a watch and he'll explain why, as well as take you through his process:
I can definitely sympathize with a lot of the frustrations he mentions about sketching on paper. Not just running out of room, but I might sketch one thing just the way I want it, but the rest would need to be re-done, or one thing's the wrong size, etc. etc. Rather than mess with all the tracing paper and light table crap, I'd scan it and play with the sketch in Photoshop until I got all the pieces the way I wanted them.
Once I got a Wacom Intuos pad, I tried doing my sketching on that for a while. It was nice to be able to skip the scanning process, but I still felt somewhat of a disconnect between what my hand was doing and where my eyes were looking. Drawing the old fashioned way—pencil on paper—gave me better, more natural results.
After seeing this, however, I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't give digital sketching another try. Like Will mentions, there's bound to be a learning curve drawing with a finger instead of a pencil or stylus, but if one could get over that with a little practice, then maybe all the benefits he mentioned are worth it.
One side note: He mentions emailing the images from his iPad to his computer, but if you have iOS5 and Mac OS Lion, I would think the automatic syncing should take care of that. If not (I haven't tried it), I've used an app called PhotoSync to transfer images between iPad, iPhone and iMac that works pretty smoothly.
One of my writing goals for 2012 is learning how to recapture the “fun” of writing. I love having a writing career and being published, but sometimes I long for the days when it was simply enjoyable to write.
I remember the days of getting into my fiction simply because I loved the character and I wanted to tell her story. No deadline. No contract. Just a story to tell. I’d get immersed in my fictional world, lose all track of time. Then I’d hear a baby wake up crying, and be shocked that ninety minutes had passed!
Getting into the Flow
In order to recapture this “timeless state of writing,” I’ve been reading books like The Art of Relaxed Productivity e-book and Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us and a few blogs. I found many references to “flow” and the “flow experience.” It reminded me of a book I read years ago incorporating the principles of “flow” (from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.) That book is Writing in Flowby Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. I’m re-reading it now, and I think the topic is so important that I’ve decided to do a blog series on it.
We all want to be more productive as writers and make the best use of the little writing time we have. And we all want to ENJOY it more. We want to relax and lose ourselves in our writing. This is true if you’re a student working on your first lesson or a much published writer in an established career.
What is writing in flow? According to Perry in Writing in Flow, “You know you’ve been in flow when time seems to have disappeared. When you’re in flow, you become so deeply immersed in your writing…that you forget yourself and your surroundings. You delight in continuing to write even if you get no reward for doing it…”
Apparently we writers have a lot more control over getting into this “flow state” than I used to believe. There are habits and rituals that can help you get into flow. We don’t have to wait for the muse to appear. I’ve been trying the author’s advice this month on how to write in flow more often, and it works for me. There are things to watch out for and avoid, too, so that you’re not jerked out of flow once you enter it.
One condition to be aware of resonated with me. Apparently I’m not alone in needing to get through an entire draft or two before showing a manuscript to anyone. “The optimal conditions for creativity (and thus for flow entry) include a condition of psychological safety from external evaluation,” Perry says. “Tell yourself that no one has to see this, that you can decide afterwards whethe
As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I have ADD. Because of this, I tend to attract mentoring clients who also have ADD and who are frustrated with their inability to focus or to stick to a writing schedule.
Well, I’ve tried creating schedules for myself in the past. I’ve paid coaches good money to help me figure out what I’ll be doing during which hours and on which days; for example, most recently I decided to do wellness coaching and mentoring on Mondays and Wednesdays, and writing tasks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (I typically take Fridays off.)
I was all psyched to get started on this new schedule — and it lasted exactly one day. Not even one day, in fact. I had to face it: If I’m not interested in writing on a Tuesday, then I’m not going to write. And if I’m suddenly struck by the urge to work on an article at 8 pm on a Wednesday, then that’s what I’m going to do.
Last week my partner for the Freelance Writers Blast Off class, Carol Tice, said something during the class that articulates exactly how I work: “I always do whatever I’m most passionate about every moment of the day.” I had never thought about it in those terms before, but that’s precisely what I do.
For example, Monday might find me writing blog posts all day. On Tuesday, I might work on an article that’s coming due for a little while and then follow up on some old LOIs and then implement some crazy e-course pricing scheme I came up with five minutes ago. Then, on Wednesday I may be in one of those moods where I just can’t get any work done…so I don’t. But as soon as our 3-year-old goes to bed, I’m inspired to finish that article I started on Monday.
This always felt just wrong, but when I thought about it, I realized it’s always worked for me. Everything gets done, and it gets done on time. So I’ve come to trust the process and let it go. I have one ADD mentoring client who is religious, who originally wanted me to help her come up with a schedule, and the saying that resonated with her was “Let go and let God.”
This tactic also works well with the typical ADD sufferer’s problem of being unable to force himself to focus on something he’s not interested in. If I’m trying to write an article when I’m not really inspired to do so, it’s torture and I click away every paragraph or two to do something more interesting, like check my e-mail. But when I am inspired to write, well, get out of my way!
Some people with ADD actually tend to hyper-focus on things they’re interested in and block out all distractions (including people trying to get their attention, police sirens, and other important events), and working on what you’re most interested in every minute is one way to take advantage of that.
Of course, if you decide to go this route you need to take a small leap of faith to test it out and make sure everything does get done. We’re all different, and some writers simply need to create and stick with a schedule.
So, all you writers who are ADD or even just easily distractible — have you ever tried to force yourself to stick to a writing schedule? Did it work, and if so, how did you do it? If it didn’t work, did you manage to come up with a better plan? [lf]
How many of you are wearing slippers right now? Let me get a show of hands. How many of you rolled out of bed at 9 a.m. or later? How many of you are nursing your first cup of coffee, torn between writing that blog post, playing Spider Solitaire, or seeing what’s on the DVR queue? (Me.)
When I first started freelancing full-time, I struggled with my motivation levels. I wore fuzzy, Cookie Monster pajama pants 24/7. I watched all-day America’s Next Top Model marathons and, when it came to a decision between Spider Solitaire and work, the card game won every time.
Five years later, I have a much better grip on things. After going through a period in which I never stopped working, I’ve settled into something that looks a lot like success, coupled with a healthy work/life balance. What was missing before? Accountability.
My motivation and accountability come from my writing partner, who sends me threatening emails every week. But there are so many ways to find that same sense of accountability. So where can you go to ensure that your writing goals are met, thanks to a mix of motivation, camaraderie, and abject fear?
1. Month-Long Writer Participation Events
Fiction writers have NaNoWriMo, during which they can go all in on that large project they’ve been daydreaming about for eons, a built-in support network (and hard-core accountability) just an email or dedicated forum away. For bloggers, there’s NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. (Both are in November.) Or there’s Michelle Rafter’s annual WordCount Blogathon, in May. And those are just the more well-known ones. You can search for blog carnivals within your specific niche at this handy-dandy online directory.
2. Professional Organizations
Once upon a time, I was a member of Freelance Success (FLX). One of my highest periods of productivity ever was during their twice-a-year Query Challenge. Participants were split into teams and pitted against each other, earning points through queries and LOIs, and through the assignments that resulted from them. Team members had to report their points once a week, and team rankings were sent out in the weekly e-newsletter.
There’s nothing like some healthy competition (and the fear of letting your teammates down) to make you sweat. Of course, you could also find accountability on the member forums of a variety of professional organizations. I list the benefits of membership in ASJA, EFA, NWU, and others over here.
3. High-Stakes Writing Applications
There are several sites and applications that target your writing productivity, and that can be used year-round. 750 Words is one such resource. It’s a site on which users aim to write at least 750 words a day and, for their troubles, receive points for their progress, and stats about what they’ve written.
Or there’s Write or Die, for those who work best under pressure. It tracks your writing and, if you pause for too long, you either a) receive a gentle reminder pop-up, telling you to stop being such a goddamn slacker (gentle mode), b) are subjected to an “unpleasant sound” that only ceases if you continue writing (n
I have my mentoring clients fill out a form for each session. Many clients tell me that what they love most about the form is answering the question, “What did you accomplish in the last week?”
Why? Because many days we feel like did nothing but spin our wheels, but when we write a list of what we got done, it’s always more than we think. Nothing boosts your confidence more than feeling productive!
I was talking about this with a client today and she came up with the idea of a daily “What I Got Done” list. Instead of simply crossing things off your to-do list as you complete them, you would enter them into your special “What I Got Done” list.
I thought I’d try it today because, funnily enough, I felt like I was putting out fires all day and getting zero done. I started work at about 10:30 am, and here’s what my “What I Got Done” list looked like by the end of my day at 4 pm:
* Answered e-mails.
* Sent source bio to my editor.
* Prepared for two mentoring calls.
* Did two 45-minute mentoring calls.
* Discussed new teleclass with Diana Burrell.
* Wrote up teleclass schedule.
* Reserved space on the teleconference line.
* Wrote up copy for the Renegade Writer website teleclasses page.
* Posted on the Renegade Writer blog about the teleclass.
* Sent an e-mail about the teleclass to more than 2,000 e-mail list subscribers.
* Fielded dozens of RSVPs for the teleclass.
* Went for a half-hour brisk walk.
* Cleaned the house. (Except vacuuming — that’s hubby’s job today!)
* Scanned the Freelance Writers Den for new questions and answered a question.
* Discussed new assignment with editor via e-mail. (Yay!)
* Wrote this blog post.
Wow…I felt a lot better after writing that list. A day I thought was wasted was actually quite productive.
I invite you to add the “What I Got Done” list to your to-do list and see if it improves your mood, confidence, or productivity.
How about you…do you like to write down what you got accomplished each day? Why? [lf]
“Here’s how it works. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing (or drawing, painting, etc…), I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”
I had forgotten about this blog post of mine. I added the “or drawing, painting, etc…” part for a little clarity, and to show it can apply to anything you wish to apply yourself consistently to. I need to put this into action once we get back in Vancouver next month.
Freelancing pretty much defines lack of control: We don’t directly control when we get assignments, how much money we make, and even when we get paid. It certainly gets frustrating at times, and can lead to a lack of motivation and, ultimately, burnout.
Since writing that post — which is one of the most popular ones I’ve ever written — I’ve come to realize that even if our freelancing life is objectively going well, if we feel out of control in other areas of our life, it will leak over into our work life.
The “broken window” theory says that when a neighborhood has a house with a broken window that the owners neglect to fix, it starts to attract vandalism and other crime; people assume no one cares, so they treat it that way. The same thing happens in our lives: We let bills and laundry pile up, we skip out on exercise and binge on mint chocolate chip ice cream, we put off getting the car inspected — and suddenly, our freelance writing work becomes out of control too. (Or, really, it just feels out of control, because our perspective has shifted that way.)
So…I’ve come up with 7 more ways to gain control over your freelancing life — most of which don’t actually have anything to do with work!
1. Clean something — anything!
Recently I had several (too many!) article deadlines, and I started freaking out. Sources weren’t getting back to me, one article required me to reference a book I couldn’t find, and tasks on my to-do list were mounting. So what did I do?
I cleaned out the pantry.
Even if I can’t control when sources get back to me, I can at least control my own pantry. Out went the expired Annie’s Bunny Pasta with Cheese. Out went all meat products, since we’re now vegetarians. What was left, I organized nicely.
Suddenly, my workload seemed a lot more manageable. Just knowing that one area of my life was unarguably under control helped me feel more in control of my work. Remember, a lot of feeling out of control is just that — a feeling. If you can shift your perspective with some quick cleaning, the problem is solved.
So pick one small thing and clean, organize, or polish it. Clean out your junk drawer, organize your clothes closet, go through your stack of mail and toss the junk, scrub the coffee stains from your mugs, or even clean up your computer desktop.
2. Don’t check e-mail first thing in the morning.
Checking e-mail as soon as your eyes open in the morning is a good recipe for a frazzled day. You wake up, and instantly you’re on call and responding to other people’s emergencies.
I’ve found that when I hold off on checking e-mail in the morning, even for only an hour, it sets a calm, controlled tone for the rest of my workday. In that first hour I may have breakfast, enjoy a cup of tea, read a book, or play with my son before he goes off with my husband or my mom.
Afraid you’ll miss something important? Me too. But when I hold off on e-mails, I find that when I finally do check, none of the e-mails waiting for me are all that urgent.