Friday, September 9, 2016

3 Insights Into Improving Writing Productivity

Our current series is about beginning a new writing career or jump-starting a stalled one. Carla shared 5 things she wished she’d known when starting out as a writer and JoAnn talked about coping with a lull in her enthusiasm for writing. My post today focuses more on the latter, but I think it's also of value to beginning writers. Before I get to that, I'd like to share two bits of news:
  • The revised edition of my middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola, (originally published by Candlewick Press) is now available in both ebook and paperback, and includes a new "Discussion Questions" section for classroom use. I'm currently sponsoring a Goodreads giveaway, which I invite you to enter on this Goodreads page or via the widget below:  

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino

Rosa, Sola

by Carmela A. Martino

Giveaway ends October 05, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
  • Also, for those of you who live in the Chicago area: it's not too late to register for my class on "Finding Your Writer's Voice," which begins Tuesday, September 13, at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. See my website for details. 
Now for today's post.

Like JoAnn, I’ve been stalled in my writing lately. The problem started back in April, when I was sidelined with a repetitive stress injury to my dominant hand. The injury has not only interfered with my ability to type and to write longhand, but it has also caused me to lose my enthusiasm for writing. Fortunately, though, I'm currently leading a small, private class on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The timing of the class is perfect, as it’s helping me examine my writing process and the causes of my current lack of productivity. Here are three insights I’ve been led to recently, via Cameron’s book and other reading I’ve been doing:

1. “In order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly.”

These are Cameron’s words in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Tarcher Books), but they convey a concept I've found in other books on writing and creativity--think the “sh**tty first draft” in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (Pantheon Books). Elizabeth Gilbert also touches on the topic in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books) when she talks about the necessity of accepting imperfection if we want to lead creative lives.

I’ve always been a perfectionist, and now that I’m a published author and a writing teacher, part of me thinks that I should be able to produce a polished draft right off the bat, with little or no editing. And when I don’t do that, I feel like a failure. So I was shocked when, in Big Magic, Gilbert confesses to publishing a novel she’d written without revising a major flaw that her beta readers had pointed out. I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t quote Big Magic directly. But I did find an interview in The Guardian where Gilbert is quoted as saying:
“Perfection murders joy. You cut yourself out of the game before you even start. You cut yourself out of the game because you’ve decided it’s never going to be as good as your ideal.”
I also found the following image, which I’ve printed out and posted in my office as a reminder that I will always be a beginner. I’m hoping that trying to keep an open, “Beginner’s Mind,” will help me overcome my perfectionism.

found here with caption "Image Source: Facebook user Elizabeth Gilbert"
2. If I can’t “find” time for my writing, I need to “make” the time.

My students often complain about not having enough time to write, and lately I’ve been using the same excuse. Julia Cameron addressed this recently in a blog post:
"Most of us think, 'If only I had more time, then I would work.' We have a fantasy that there is such a thing as a 'good' creative time, an idyll of endless, seamless time unfolding invitingly for us to frolic in creatively. No such bolts of limitless time exist for most of us. Our days are chopped into segments, and if we are to be creative, we must learn to use the limited time we have."
That's how I worked on this blog post, in little segments of time stolen between physical therapy appointments, lesson planning, household chores, etc. If I can make time to blog, I can make time for my own creative writing, too.

When I explain this to my students, they often reply that they can’t just sit down to write. They need to feel “inspired.” But, as M. L’Engle says in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Crosswicks):
“If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go.”
3. My attitude has a profound effect on my productivity.

It’s not enough for me to “make time” for my writing. I need to bring the right attitude with me when I sit down to write. I’ve shared before about how research is showing that happy people tend to be more productive. But this is a lesson I need to constantly remind myself of.

In an excerpt from The Artist's Way posted on her blog, Julia Cameron says:
“Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. 
Enthusiasm (from the Greek, 'filled with God') is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.”
Hmm. There’s that word again: JOY.

For years I’ve been signing my posts here with “Happy writing!” I think I need a more expansive catch phrase. What do you think of this:

For more joy and inspiration, head over to this week's Poetry Friday round-up at The Poem Farm.


Mary Ann Rodman said...

Terrific post that really hit home with me! It reminds me of the great Jane Yolen writing book, TAKE JOY. So many good thoughts here. It's a keeper!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, MA!

Susan Ekins said...

Helpful article, Carmela. I have many of the same issues you do, having come from an analytical background. Indulging that inner child-artist and being more light-hearted seem key to my recovery also. Love your new catch-phrase at the end!

Carmela Martino said...

Glad you like my new phrase, Sue. :-) Thanks for stopping by.

Margaret Simon said...

These is great advice from some amazing writers. I had the privilege to meet Madeline L'Engle before I really knew who she was. Such a wise person who has left a legacy we can all aspire to. Thanks for sharing. I love your new motto!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Margaret. I'm a huge admirer of L'Engle but never had the opportunity to meet her or hear her speak. So glad you did.

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you so much for this discussion. I love the quote, how perfectionism murders joy. These are wonderful hints at bringing the joy back.