Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect

You know your creative batteries need recharging when, instead of writing, you’re reading about whether, how, and when to write. I’ve come to the end of a long project (and I do mean long), and the how to’s of the writing life are like Dixie cups full of water held out to the runner - they get me to the finish line.

Brainpickings.org, itself a cool shower of inspiration, recently offered up on its bookshelfManage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Edited by Jocelyn K. Glei, this colorful, little book (Amazon Publishing), is diminutive in size only. Full of useful, and at times inspired, advice on how to take control of your creative time and energy, Manage Your Day-to-Day, brings together not only writers and artists, but academics and business consultants as well 

Business consultants?  Yes, after all, for many of us, writing is our job. And like any job, can benefit from the occasional overhaul of motivational tools and time management techniques. With subheadings like, Building a Rock-Solid Routine, Finding Focus in a Distracted World, and Taming Your Tools, Glei covers some essential ground in the battle to increase a writer’s productivity and job satisfaction. As she points out in her introduction, creative minds are exceedingly sensitive to the buzz and whir of the world around [us]. Managing our workplace, and more importantly, circumventing our own psychological stumbling blocks, are essential do doing our best, most productive work.

Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, has some particularly useful insights along these lines. In his essay Understanding Our Compulsions, he describes why we often make bad or counterproductive decisions, and how temptation (I’ll just check my e-mail before I start….) sabotages our forward momentum:

The psychologist, B.F. Skinner came up with the idea of random reinforcement, where you give a rat a lever and every hundred times it presses the lever, it gets  a piece of food….  I think that e-mail and social networks are a great example of random reinforcement.  Usually, when we pull the lever to check our e-mail, it’s not that interesting. But, from time to time, it’s exciting. And that excitement…. keeps us coming back to check our e-mail all the time.

In Making Room for Solitude, Leo Babauta, argues that being alone is something the creative artist often has to relearn, practicing solitude, much as one would approach meditation. He advises setting aside increasingly long blocks of time, where the noise and bustle of the outer world give way to the quiet, contemplative, creative world within.

In his essay, Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine, Mark McGuiness argues that the single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second…..  By definition, this approach goes against the grain of others’ expectations and the pressures they put on you.  It takes willpower to switch off the world, even for an hour.  It feels uncomfortable, and sometimes people get upset.  But it’s better to disappoint a few people over small things, than to surrender your dreams for an empty inbox. Otherwise you’re sacrificing your potential for the illusion of professionalism. 

To which we say, Amen.

Ultimately Glie’s book, is not so much a proscription, as a prescription, an authoritative guide to not only getting over the finish line, to getting the work done, but to sustaining and renewing a lifelong, creative practice. The routines we make for ourselves, the ways in which we renew our creative energies, these are as varied and creative as the work itself.

Now let’s get back to it….

Hollis Shore is a  co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writer's Collaborative, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program. She was the 2012-13 Boston Public Library Children's Writer in Residence, and a winner of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her novel, The Curve of The World. 

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