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Despite intentionally trying to avoid them, I fell into a trap today; I read an article about graduate unemployment.  The best I can say about it is at least I don’t feel alone. The Independent reckons there are, on average, 69 applicants for every one position; The Guardian has a bleaker outlook: 12,000 applications for 50 places.  Talk about spoiling the rest of my full English breakfast (probably the last I’ll ever be able to afford if The Guardian staff writer is right).

So what did I do with this information?  Did I immediately hop onto the computer and begin– for the 20th time — job hunting?  Fraid not.  Did I fret and flutter and burst into tears?  Well, nearly.

Nope.  I got out my rolling pin and baked some delicious cheese scones. And then I knitted some more of the square cake handbag.  And you know what?  The future didn’t look so bleak afterwards.

We are creative beings; we thrive from positive nurturing and encouragement. With so much discouragement out there, sometimes you have to use your hands to create something beautiful and delicious. It’s what we were made for.

Here we are:  two unemployed graduates… but we seem pretty happy so far.

Recently, I started knitting.  I began for a few reasons, the most obvious being that I wanted to extend my wardrobe with lovely, handmade garments.  Also, it was around Christmas and I was annoyed at all the over-spending that goes on around that holiday, and on gifts that have arguably less meaning that something handmade.  As a writer, you always have the option of writing your loved ones a story, poem, or memoir (hopefully keeping it as cheese-free as possible).  But, let’s be honest, how difficult would it be to write something creative and uniquely styled for each family member while also working on your own projects?  And with the same 25th deadline for each present?  I don’t think so.  Now, with knitting, I’ve got next Christmas in the bag.

One of the driving reasons for my learning to knit, though, was as a way to connect with my grandmother.  Although she is healthy and active now, I know that she won’t always be around.  I feel a great push lately to spend as much time as possible with my grandparents and to accept their gifts of knowledge and skills, which will otherwise be lost.

So those were my reasons, and the time spent with my grandmother in pursuit of this craft produced lasting and precious memory.  However, as I’ve now completed two projects and am working on a third, I’ve discovered another benefit of learning a craft.  Knitting to me is like praying the rosary.  Sometimes I do pray; knit by knit, perl by perl, a prayer for every action, every loop, ever tug, every person in my life, for the stranger I’ve never met.  But even when I am not actively praying, I am meditating.

Knitting preoccupies the hands in a creative way, allowing the mind to mull over other creative pursuits.

For me it’s a great time to think — sometimes without being aware of it — of my writing projects and to work out issues which, if I stared at a computer screen and forced myself to work them out in an attitude of frustration would, A, be unproductive, and B, possibly, and hopefully only temporarily, snuff out the positive creative  vibrations associated with that project.  There is so much to be said for taking breaks from writing.  There’s even more wisdom, I think, in taking craft-based breaks which keep your creative muscles engaged in a way that might seemingly have nothing to do with your writing, but is actually keeping you in tune to those voices.

I’m officially a knitter, but I realize that as long as I’ve been a writer I’ve always been a crafts person.  In these next few days, I’d like to discuss the philosophy of “craft” and how it pertains to the writing life.  What crafts do y’all enjoy in partnership with your writing?

Pictures of my latest project, a basic hat using Araucania yarns from Chile.

I love how my camera picked up the lovely glints of green and blue of this yarn.  Safe to say it will be a photogenic hat even if the wearer is not.  🙂

I just read the Forbes study rating the healthiest states in the US and was pleased to find my home state solidly in 37th place.  Go Tarheels!  Incidentally, if I were to rate my productivity from the past 50 weeks (roughly) since I began working on my novel, this past week would figure in at about 37th place.  That’s 37 with 1 being the most productive and 50 being the week I vegged out on the couch and watched back-to-back BBC Life and Ray Mears episodes.  This week wasn’t  as bad as that, but what did I actually do?

I planned.  There comes a time in every writing project when you have to back off from creating and do a little tidying.  For me that meant going back to my chapter outline and cleaning it up a bit.  I’d written a rough and unfinished outline several weeks back, but had abandoned it because I feared (and rightly so, as it turned out) that it would stopper the flow of ideas and words that were pouring out of me.  At the time the story was coming easily too me then and, knowing how quickly the winds of inspiration change, I prefered to let down my sails, cut off my planning engine, and let those winds push me along.  Sure enough, the winds did change and this week my engine seems to be out of gas.

It’s not that making a chapter outline isn’t important.  It is.  Some people say they can write a story, script or novel without a clear plan and maybe they can.  But in my experience, even if I think I have an idea of where my story is going but I don’t actually sit down and plan it all out in detail, I will write myself into a dead-end.   Discouraged and full of self-doubt, I don’t have the confidence to retrace my steps and begin again, this time with a plan.  That’s how so many projects never get finished.

Planning my chapter outline this week was hard going, and not entirely owing to the frustration of improving the logistics of my plot.  There were some details which I had to mull over and rework until I felt like they advanced the overall plot.   But the most frustrating part about planning is, without a doubt, having to take time off from actual writing, which can and does disrupt the flow of ideas.

How to get back into writing the story once you’ve taken off a week to plan it?  That’s my task this weekend and one that hasn’t produced much fruit yet.  Instead I’m left looking at my plan and listening to the familiar voice of my inner critic who’s whispering, “Do you really think you can do all that?”

finish lineI’m celebrating a milestone in my young writing life.  After three years of writing fiction, I did something today I’ve never done before.  I finished a short story.

I don’t know much about the psychology of persevering through a project — I only know it stinks when you’re working at it, but feels oh so good once it’s completed.  Kind of like exercise.  And I don’t have a ton of advice for motivating writers to finish their projects.  I’m learning myself!  Though, I will say, I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of hard work involved with just the tiniest bit of luck.

I guess what I did this time that was different from others was that I wrote, kept writing and didn’t go back and scuba-edit everything I wrote as I wrote it.  Which means, my next task is rewriting.  But there’s something to separating out the writing stage from the rewriting… if only a psychological something.  You feel accomplished when you finish; you feel discouraged when you murder every sentence baby before it’s even born.

So  I’m  properly chuffed.

I began working at 9:45 am and finished at 4:05 and celebrated with a brain-exploding run.  It was a long haul of self-doubt, with my inner editor telling me to take a break after every sentence.  But I didn’t!  How many great stories have been lost because their authors took a break and never had the courage to come back?

It’s a rough story and will need a ton of rewriting, but today I persevered and I finished it.  Hurray!

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E.L. Doctorow

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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