Tag Archives: productivity

Outsmarting Distraction

“The evolving text was never, for Murray, purely a creation of the writer—it was an active participant in the process itself. He would speak of ‘listening to the text,’ or ‘the informing line’; he would describe the thrill of writing outrunning intention and entering new territory….if the writer was alert to cues and possibilities, and not tied to an outline or a plan. ‘Be patient, listen quietly, the writing will come. The voice of the writing will tell you what to do.’ ”

– Introduction to The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher

 

To hear this voice, as Murray said, we must believe in it.

And it’s incredibly difficult when we’re constantly pulled away.

CSC_0024It can seem impossible these days, but if we’re to hear the voice, we have to fight for it.

But we won’t stop being so easily distracted and pay attention.

I believe it’s self-evident most people are chronically over-involved. In church and with friends and family. People have legitimate needs and we have ability to fill them.

We like people dependent on us so we don’t have to face ourselves.

But there are also entertainments and hugely involving activities. In the now-classic Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman wrote prophetically about the problem now rampant in so many creative people’s lives. We all tend to think we’re above the law–special, unusual, the exception to the universal rule that no one can produce consistently good work when being continually distracted.

With all the crazy modern influences our culture throws at us, we’ve got to realize we’re not an exception to how humans function. And it’s astounding to me how many people think they are! We think we can circumvent natural laws and never have to say no.

DSC_0006We never even consider that God’s law is higher than our limited perspective.

Why do we think our best intentions will escape the consequences of over-involvement?

Why do we trade our best for so little?

It isn’t rare–everyone seems to have a touch of this disease. But most ambitious writers I run into these days seem to be in advanced stages of disarray. They think they can do whatever they want, say yes to everything and never sleep, cut corners and cheat the system. Maybe they believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

And aren’t we all tempted to agree? Maybe we just need to learn to manage. Or maybe that’s our exceptionalism talking.

We’re too dang busy. And we’re distracting ourselves from noticing.

IMG_5944It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realize we’re running from the truth about many things–situations, people, deeper emotions, issues, pain. We forget that people who run from pain are still being controlled by it. The proof is when their fragile sense of control slips, they become angry or depressed.

We get over-involved and call it normal in order not to face our pain and hide from fear. Pain always forces us to deal with it, one way or another.

And as we all know, with all the convenient distractions available these days, dealing with it head on is far easier said than done.

Yet is there anything more important than to get free of this?

Everyone has to face it or continue to struggle. The pain of life leaves us no choice. And our culture preys on this universal weakness. It’s a war for our attention and we give ours to whatever comes by. Anything flashy or convenient, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Oh, hello beautiful, manipulative advertisement designed to sell me some IMG_5998expendable junk! You want some of my attention? Well, sure! It’s only my most precious possession…

You do this. I know because I do this. And what I’m saying now–in as sincere a way as I can muster–is you’ve got to pay attention!

The Opposition is winning.

So what’s your method to preserve your attention for your greater intention?

We each need a personal strategy, or we’ll end up dead before we get free. We’ve got to begin to fight.

We need a practice to get behind until it becomes effortless, even if initially it takes a lot of effort. Remember, everything worthwhile (like good writing) takes practice.

Everything worth doing is worth doing well. All it takes is patient persistence.

IMG_5988Pain, fear and the Opposition will conspire to keep you silent forever. You’ll only grow more self-centered and incapable of changing anyone, convinced you’re entitled to overindulging your numbing comfort of choice, and trading your dreams for panaceas. That is, if you don’t stop, pay attention, and commit yourself to a better way.

People make their own prisons. It happens. We’ve met them, known them.

Research shows many will choose addiction. They’ll coast through life and sample many things and never achieve what dreams God placed in them. We know about the “quiet lives of desperation” because we could so easily choose them too.

We all have to cut back and slow down even though we don’t want to.

IMG_5949And why? Because the world requires our attention. Practicing discernment and making time for what deserves our attention is the only way to escape the undue demands we face.

The tyrannical dictator of Urgencia tries to demand our allegiance. But we serve the Life-Giver, and our lives require us to learn to live for him and not be afraid.

Our collective destiny is just down the road in Futureland. But first we have to reclaim it from the stickle-backed demon Overwhelm.

In its grip, even heroes lose their minds, can’t think, can’t feel. We’re in the battle for our lives. It would kill our desire to contribute.

Do you truly realize the unlimited value of your Ruler’s gifts to you? You have been given all the power.

Simply decide you won’t allow it to be undermined. Don’t allow your contribution and output to be stolen by inattention.

Reclaim your freedom and breathe in the fresh air of your rekindled dream.

Too much busyness breaks anyone’s resolve.

Don’t go down without a fight.

And if we seem ascetic to some people and family members who don’t understand what we’re doing for the sake of the work, so be it. If we want to make room for the inspired words to become everything to us, it’s a small price to pay.

For until the Inspired Words do become our everything, no one else will see their eternal value either.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
 
“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
 
“Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
 – Maria Rainier Rilke
For the higher purpose,
Mick

My #1 Tool for Ultimate Productivity, Part 2

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
—George Orwell

Do all writers struggle with low productivity?
I believe they do. At least until they get free of having to perform for validation and acceptance.

DSC_0007What? You don’t do that? Well, let’s just see….

As I said last time, first we have to get free of the pressure to produce. Then, we have to get free of the pressure to perform. And if we could all let go of the idea that our worth was by some great talent or our perfect skill, we might finally realize it’s by consistency within inadequacy that we become the writers we really want to be.

And need to be. Because that freedom is also what every reader longs for.

But how do we actually get free of performance anxiety to become productive?

Last time, I shared my #1 tool for eliminating low productivity: instead of focusing on being productive, focus instead on showing up, and merely read what you wrote last. That’s being consistent.

DSC_0002This week, unfortunately, we’re not so lucky. Removing the pressure to perform isn’t so easy. We don’t like inadequacy. We write to feel validated and affirmed (I know, not you, but everyone else), you’ll feel pressure to produce only “good” work—and that causes you to try to control your output. It won’t be honest or true enough, and you’ll be producing junk.

I know. I’ve been there.

Ask any writer if they’ve lived this. Over and over, I’ve tried to remove the pressure by showing up and reading the previous days’ pages, then slowly getting back into it once I felt freer. But when I saw how my own feelings were intricately wound up in the main character’s, I feared writing a book that revealed my true feelings, even through fiction. And I choked.

I was almost 40 when I realized I was writing to have my wounds seen and the damage to my heart known and accepted. It never crossed my mind before; it was just “fiction.”

DSC_0009But it was never just fiction. It was fictionalized autobiography. And as the book grew and became more honest and I had less places to hide from my fear of family and strangers who’d read it and judge me, as I knew they would, I knew writing it would leave me exposed. I’d have to admit I’d felt silenced, dominated and unimportant. And many people experience that and worse, so I was also afraid my story would seem small in comparison. I may never be normal, but I had so much to be grateful for. Others may never know what it really feels like to be free as I had…

And yet. Had I ever been able to write in full honesty or get over my resentment and anger? In the end, it’s always been just too much, and the fear of what might happen if I spoke up held me back. Finally facing that and feeling it was the only way to recover a semi-normal working process. To share it all and escape and begin a deeper level of healing, I had to let it go.

Of course, therapy and loving community is essential too, however you find it. Even though I knew letting go controlling what people saw was the secret to productivity, I still couldn’t show up thinking I was going to write what will heal me. I couldn’t even show up thinking I was going to write, necessarily. I still had to let go of producing something so a non-pressured process could take its place.

And I’m ever in need of prayer and friendship, so the need for validation gets dealt with, diminished bit by bit.
Through showing up and just reading my previous words, I recall my truth, the fears I’ve carried and the wound I’ve caused by diminishing them. And facing that mess, I slowly move through the next stage of healing what led me to writing in the first place.

DSC_0005We can’t aim for it, but it’s only from this redeemed ground we recover anything that may help someone else. And perfectionism dies a thousand tiny deaths…

Sadly, I don’t know if years or books or experience or time ever fully resolve this. And I still want a silver bullet, some beautiful solution, but so far I haven’t found one. I say that with all the empathy I’ve been able to recover so far…

I don’t think there is one.

But there is a beautiful broken way to productive writing, a “secret” to consistent work. We show up, we look at the blocks we’ve set up, why we set them up, who was involved, what it produced, and when…and we can know this: we’ll get free.

Just by willingness to be inadequate, and to let the story deliver what we need.

And maybe instead of perfect examples, we’ll become true writers.

Sadly imperfect. But honest.

Hopelessly unimpressive. But free.

Roald Dahl quote

For the higher purpose,

Mick

My #1 Tool for Productive Writers, Part 1

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

– Walter Wellesley Smith

For a long time, I believed the hype about being a more productive writer. I thought the usual advice about setting goals, getting on a schedule and visualizing was right on. But I think for some of us it’s not enough. There are deeper issues that keep us from achieving our high-minded goals.

It may only seem worth the effort if you’ve tried many of the tools and tips and been unable to keep it up. Initially I found those tools and tips helpful but because they couldn’t deal with the root of my problem, I felt inadequate, embarrassed. Maybe I was just lazy. I wanted to write. So why didn’t I do it?

Turns out my struggles were soul deep, and no matter how simple the steps appeared, nothing else worked for me before this.

The tools and tips about apps or methods can become useful after you sort out the deeper challenges. But for me, there was a psychological tool I needed that freed me to pursue the practical advice about how to be productive.

It was permission.

walk

Basically, I needed permission to stop focusing on productivity. If you want to be productive, often you have to stop focusing on it, and start seeing where you’re sabotaging yourself.

Despite my best efforts to write, I’d always end up rebelling. I’d eventually resent the work and go on a word-spending spree, numbing out on surrogate thrills in all kinds of ways.

And here’s where a different writing coach might recommend getting a separate computer for writing or using Pomodoros or setting goals and rewards. They just never worked for me. I’d try and fail, then, wracked with guilt, lament my hopeless situation yet again and wish by Thor’s hammer there was some lasting method for finding infinite flow and recapturing optimum productivity in life.

Whatever.

But now, after well over 10 years of on-and-off-again writing this novel, I may finally have my answer. It’s a deceptively simple method that effectively removes what I produce as the end goal of the work.

And that’s it. If you’re a strong-willed over-achiever like me, it may solve your problem of low productivity forever and remove the guilt to stop focusing on productivity.

deer

That’s right. Instead, focus on the process, i.e. just getting the cup of whatever, sitting down, opening the document and reading some of it. 

If this isn’t you, I know this might sound crazy, but the only way to get a stubborn donkey to move is to stop pushing it. Showing up and opening the document and staring at it for a while, sure it takes some effort, but it doesn’t require trying a bunch of things that only complicate your process.

And, best of all, you have complete permission not to write a word.

If you struggle with productivity, make it your new intention to shift your thinking to not writing new words but simply reading the old ones. It’s nothing fancy; it’s just reassigning your effort to restrict what you’re paying attention to.

Outsmart your inner rebel.

lightBelieve me, before I did this, I’d always find a way to get out of writing. And what changed for me was that I realized I was continually hampered in my writing because I was my own worst enemy. While I wanted to produce good work and be diligent, something else inside, something deeper, wanted easy comfort and relief from long-held pain. And I knew I could find it (at least quick fixes) in myriad other places.

And until I stopped and realized that pain was legitimate and deserved to be heard and comforted, I only kept trying to muscle my way to a specific word count, using will-power to try and stay “on task” even as I knew it would be short-lived and probably not produce any meaningful writing. And becoming distracted all the time.

Next time I want to talk about a practical trick I’ve used to reward myself for sitting down to read (not to write) every day. Because it’s been quite a rewarding journey these past few weeks already…

I’m not completely out of the woods yet—I could still stumble and fall down. But I’m confident that my focus on this simple process frees me to face ever more dragons guarding my cave, whether or not I eventually win out over all of them. Just showing up, I have less chance of forgetting that this is how writing life-changing books is done, whatever it may look like to anyone else, day in, day out.

One healed piece at a time.

“I have experienced healing through other writers’ poetry, but there’s no way I can sit down to write in the hope a poem will have healing potential. If I do, I’ll write a bad poem.”

– Marilyn Hacker

Mick