Tag Archives: writing goals

Creativity Hack: Forget Goals, Focus on the Process

Have you ever noticed how the best writing reads like it sprung from the page spontaneously with an undeniable clarity and logic, like it wasn’t so much written by the author as discovered?

FullSizeRender_2Watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics with my wife and daughters last night, it was impossible not to realize to how hard every one of those athletes had trained and worked and sacrificed to get there, not to mention their families and friends. Clearly, they were uncommonly focused on their goals.

But less obviously, in order to endure and continue, in order to transcend raw effort and brute strength necessary to reach the level of play, each of them also had to see the work of training as a process, and largely forget about the product, the result.

Like famed writing teacher Donald M. Murray said, this writing thing has to be about process.

Yes, your processing of life and all the seemingly pointless and repetitive pondering and pontificating is absolutely productive.

It’s true, but some part of you still doesn’t believe that. It’s okay. I have proof….

IMG_7217I make a conscious effort to focus on motivation in these little screeds, and the reason, my dear fighting writers, is that when you write, it’s absolutely essential to know your true motives. At least as much as is possible. And of course, that’s far easier said than done because we’re all strangers to ourselves. But in writing, we’re always teaching, and that demands a certain respect for the fact that often, though we’d like to be helpful, insightful and life-wise, we aren’t even aware of the most basic facts.

For instance, the fact is you have to first possess the instruction yourself before you can give it to readers. It’s one thing to know what’s right–it’s quite another to do it. And so many times, I’ll catch myself saying things to writers I myself haven’t yet mastered or put into practice. 

The other day, I caught myself saying: “It’s important to write every day. Be sure to pay attention to your process and record the challenges and changes you notice. When you fail to write one day, set yourself a more achievable goal for the next day.” 

Seems like practical, logical advice. Maybe I should start applying it….

FullSizeRenderOh, sure. I’m busy with many other books. But everyone is busy. And maybe I’ve got too many stories roaming around my head, but who doesn’t? Those aren’t completely invalid, but they’re still just excuses.

Are you this way too? You’d rather serve as channel for the wisdom? Maybe see others benefit through you rather than be a direct recipient? Why do we do that? Why resist what we know we need? Is it fear of change? Simple laziness? Dogged immaturity maybe?

I think I know, at least in my case. It goes back to something I wrote a while back on fear of success. If I took my own advice and it worked, I’d be forced to admit the time I’ve wasted. And worse, I’d be responsible not just for that, but for the new path I’d be taking and for staying on it. I couldn’t slack off and use the old excuses for my limitations.

And maybe that honest assessment is exactly why I’ve needed this blog for 12 years.

FullSizeRender_3I’ve also learned an essential lesson from all the piano lessons my grandma bought me and my mom forced me to do.  Holding a lot at once to make it come out your fingers is never automatic. The secret is discipline, something none of us have until we learn it.

There’s the process of scales and chords and arpeggios. There’s the process of learning to read music. There’s the process of exercising and strengthening fingers, working through resistance, and becoming aware of all the things you must remember. And who knows how long it will take? But even as that’s all slowly happening, there’s the process of synthesizing it all as your grasp grows.

It’s the same with learning a sport or learning to read or to drive or to write. The process of learning requires processing, and it is productive because that’s how you come to possess the learning.

Processing is how we learn to apply our new ability to produce results, the product of our training.

FullSizeRender_1New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert shares that Tom Waits taught her “about the process of songwriting that can apply also to the process of making art, the process of writing a book.” 

She said Tom said, “Every single song has its own individual character and you can’t treat each song the same way, because it wants to be treated differently and there are songs that are like scared birds that you have to sneak up on over the course of months in the woods.” 

I think that’s true of stories and playing piano and great sport performances as well. There are times when the work and the sweat and the hours of hammering on technique and process fall away and all that’s left is the unvarnished beauty of an artist at play. And that’s what I want to see when I read–that’s what we all want to see and want to produce.

But to get to that product, we have to first love the process. 

Just do your thing today, writer. Show up. And speak the words for the love of this incredible 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