Take A Walk. Your Writing Depends on It.

Walk in the Woods

Writers have known for years how important walking is to fostering the creative process. Now science backs it up.

On those days when my writing isn’t coming to me (like today, to be honest) I take a long walk. Sometimes I go on a run. During that walk (or run) I think through the problems I’m having and figure out why I’m stuck.

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How Much Reading is Too Much?

Bookshelf by German Poo-Caamano

Is there a limit to how much you can read in a day? How do you strike a balance between consuming and creating?

For a while now, I’ve struggled with these questions. As someone who spends most of my day reading for both work and for pleasure, I wonder how much I can handle. When does too much reading lead to fatigue and information overload?

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Friday Reads: Productivity for Writers

friday reads banner

How do you manage your writing goals when dealing with life, business, or family?

It’s a common question for writers, and one we all face. I’ve discussed some of the ways I stay sane and productive when I’m at my busiest, and I use strategies like digital detox and writing in notebooks to focus. But now, I’m faced with even more time management problems now that I’ve moved and started a full-time freelance editing business. Some client work is coming in, and now I have to maintain a productive schedule.

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Six ways to become a more productive writer

Here’s a reminder from bottledworder about how to avoid getting stuck as a writer. It’s possible to be a more productive writer by remembering these common sense things.

This morning, I have a request: don’t read this blog (or any other blogs). Go write! Turn off the computer if you have to. Just write something (anything!) and come back later to share it.

–Kevin

curiosity

This quote, and the article by Aaron Swartz, empowered me to get some writing finished up this morning. I wanted to share it with everyone. Happy reading/writing!

Photos from the 23c3 in Berlin, Germany. Photos from the 23c3 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rethinking Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek: Maybe He’s Not an Asshat

Fitter...Happier
Image credit Brian Caldwell, flickr creative commons
Image credit Brian Caldwell, flickr creative commons

I’m in the middle of major life reorganization. Two weeks ago, I moved from Illinois to Central Florida, as I mentioned earlier. Since that move, I’ve also started transitioning to full-time freelance editing. I used to teach full-time while editing and writing on the side. Now I hope to flip that: edit and write full-time and teach fewer classes each semester.

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Why It’s OK To Be An Awful Writer

With my recent move to Central Florida, my routine has changed. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with my writing schedule now that I’m here, and it has meant that I’ve had to refine my habits.

That’s why I found comfort in this article from Mathew Henderson titled “It’s Ok To Be An Awful Writer.” In the article, Henderson gives some excellent advice for all writers worried about their craft:

It’s okay to be an awful writer. In fact, I suspect most great writers are also terrible writers. It all depends what you show people.

I think this is the key to beating the empty screen. Because it’s the pressure that kills, right? The urge to write the next great novel, or make a boatload of money with scandalous, (un)literary smut, or prove what a deep, deep thinker you are with stark poems about the common man. The pressure is too consistent, too constant, to ever get anything done.

So, yield to mediocrity, accept that the next word you write is likely going to be the wrong word and keep going anyway. The real worst case scenario isn’t that you might write something bad–you have a recycling bin (real and virtual) that can and should overflow with bad writing. The worst case scenario is that you might write nothing at all.

He goes on to give advice on how he avoids the pitfalls of writer’s block:

1. Each and every time I go to write, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to fail. It doesn’t stick with you. The pressure doesn’t go away. I sit down, and I want each word to be the next word of the best thing I’ve ever written.

2. Some people write very slowly, word by word, editing as they go. They are rare and beautiful creatures. You’re probably not a rare and beautiful creature. You’re probably like me.

Getting Things DoneMy personal approach to writing is similar to his: I believe in freewriting and scheduled writing times every day, usually in the morning. I come up with my best ideas this way. I do a lot of my early drafting and brainstorm on paper instead of the computer to avoid the blinking cursor. I also try to take notes throughout the day when I think of an idea; my smartphone and notebooks are full of random notes.

The key is to stop worrying about being awful and just write. It ends up better than you think.

Our contributing editor Jason Braun writes a poem-a-day to keep his writing alive. Other writers devote to a set number of words or pages every day. I devote at least a half hour to writing something, although I often devote more.

Writers: what do you do to keep up with your writing? How do you avoid writer’s block, and how do you meet your goals? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Tim Ferriss: 4-hour-hero or Just Another Asshat? Part Five

Fitter...Happier
“Fitter…Happier” from flickr user JoshSemans

Jason Braun  and I continue our discussion on Tim Ferriss and the role of self-promotion. Earlier, we asked: is Tim Ferriss a 4-hour hero or just another asshat? In part four, Jason explained how Ferriss’s ideas helped him accomplish more. Today, I respond to Jason and show how I’ve accomplished a lot without Ferriss’s help.

As Jason said in his last post, Tim Ferriss’s ideas can be applied to make specific, practical change in your productivity. It seems that with a strong will and a lot of solid ideas, you can accomplish a lot, as Jason has.

I see his point, but I’d like to explain further how I’ve become a more productive person without practicing Ferriss’s ideas, and clarify that a lot of Ferriss’s approaches are highly subjective. Like Jason, if you enjoy reading a long list of accomplishments behind your name, Ferriss’s approach might work for you.

Or, it might make you feel like a failure as you lose sight of the things you’ve already accomplished. Not everyone can do what Ferriss does at that scale, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We like to emulate heroes, after all.

I’ve read The 4-hour Workweek, and while I think the ideas presented work for some projects, they don’t work for everything. In his book, he mentions the “pareto principle” or the 80/20 principle, the idea that 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your work. This idea seems great in concept, but I find it doesn’t work in every scenario.

For example, if I want to cut down on my email, I can apply the 80/20 principle by automating most emails, forcing my replies down to less than five sentences or some arbitrary number, and only respond to emails at set times of the day. Emails that require a longer response shouldn’t be dealt with in email. They either need a phone call or a meeting. That’s the 80/20 principle: setting limits and eliminating inefficiency.

However, email is a chore. Does this principle work if you’re applying it to a creative activity? Not so much. This is where the 80/20 idea falls apart. For example, if I’m a writer I can’t cut back on the time I spend editing or researching. I might be able to outsource those tasks at certain stages in the writing process, but ultimately I’m responsible for their completion.

Also, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to anything that has my name on it. I think this is a good thing, and I can’t cut back if I care about something. If it matters this much, it shouldn’t feel like work, anyway. I’m sure Jason, and even Tim Ferriss, would agree with me.

In The 4-hour Workweek, the sections on Elimination and Automation are where I agree with Ferriss the most, but again, I agree with it in terms of eliminating chores, not meaningful work.

As I keep thinking further about these ideas, I come back to Fight Club. I only sort of liked that movie when it came out, but this line is still powerful:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

That’s right, you are not your fucking khakis. What’s in the bank doesn’t matter. Also, quit comparing yourself to others: what have you done? Does it have meaning? Does it let you accept that your are human?

I discovered Zen Buddhism a couple of years ago. I have used it in a similar way to how Jason has used Tim Ferriss’s ideas: it has helped me shape a life philosophy of minimalism, focus, and determination to carry out things that matter to me. I’ve also tried to stop comparing myself to others as doing more for the wrong reasons is counter-productive.

If Ferriss helps people go to new places and accomplish more, I’m happy for them. I’m glad that Jason has done more after reading Ferriss’s book and blog. However, Ferriss’s approach complicates things. When I read his work, I think: here’s another aphorism, another system to apply, another acronym to memorize.

I see his books as the ultimate self-promotion. He gets to promote his ideas in a credible format while also giving out simple lifestyle advice that’s been promoted before. He’s become the gorilla of guerilla marketing. I respect that on one level, but it’s not going to change how I approach my daily life.

Just remember: you are not your fucking khakis. Go out there on your own and do something. Don’t wait for Tim Ferriss, Jason Braun or me to give you permission.