Tag Archives: productivity

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for February 19, 2010

Image courtesy Zsuzsanna Kilian via SXC.

How Alfred Hitchcock can make you a better storyteller

Awesome how-to post, complete with embedded film clips, from the very cool 10,000 Words blog.

10 Pathways to Inspired Writing | Copyblogger

Power blogger Matthew Cheuvront offers 10 somewhat surprising tips on how to perk up your blog posts. He makes such heretical suggestions as reading actual (paper) books and listening to entire music albums from beginning to end!

Writing skill is no longer enough to sustain journalists

Robert Niles writing on the Online Journalism Review. He argues that more people are writing and sharing information than ever before and that journalists will have to bring something extra to the table to get people to pay for what they write.

People Share News Online That Inspires Awe, Researchers Find

John Tierney writing for the New York Times about a University of Pennsylvania study that indicates that people prefer e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they like to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.

Did You Show Up For Your Job Today?

James Chartrand, posting on Fuel Your Writing, discusses an excellent talk by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, who, Chartrand says, reinforces one very important point: “You are separate from your inspiration,” so it pays to show up and write even when you’re not feeling inspired.

5 Ways to Manage Distractions for Increased Productivity

Seth Simonds writing for FreelanceSwitch. A list of very sensible ways to handle common distractions in the multimedia, social media, hyper-connected world that is many freelancers’ lot.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Tips for a Perfect Writer’s Staycation


Photo courtesy of SXC.

It’s a tough year for planning R & R – despite the fact that travel bargains abound – and given all the economic uncertainty, it seems foolhardy to plan a big, expensive out-of-town vacation. But what to do with your time off this summer? Isn’t there something to do that can get you out of the daily grind and not cost a fortune?

Of course there is. I’ve compiled a half-dozen tips for creating an enjoyable writer’s “staycation,” the sort of stay-at-home (or stay-close-to-home) vacation that will bring you back to the keyboard rested and ready for your next writing project without producing worry about its expense.

1. Tell a story in pictures. Whatever you choose to do with your days off, take a small digital camera with you, or use your mobile phone’s camera. Try to take enough pictures that you can create a “filmstrip” about your day, one that needs no captioning to get the message across. In addition to getting you in the habit of documenting your life photographically (which is fun and useful in and of itself), this tip also teaches you how to frame anecdotes and think scenically.

If you need some inspiration for what you can do with a cel phone camera, you might check out the My GPS Camera Phone blog. Blog owner Pete always amazes me with the photos he gets out of a humble mobile phone.

2.  Tell a story in sound. If you’re doing any driving around on your staycation—or even if you’re going on a long bike ride, run or hike—create a mix CD or a playlist on your MP3 player to honor your journey. The idea here is to create a soundtrack to your down-time that expresses your feelings, as well as give you experience in using subtle factors to set an anecdote’s mood and tone.

3. Buy 5 magazines to read for recreation. The trick here is to buy five that you don’t ordinarily buy, perhaps even five you’ve never heard of or would never even glance at otherwise. The farther the publications are from your ordinary reading, the greater the chance that they will creatively cross-pollinate your thinking about your writing projects or help you generate ideas for fresh, new works.

4. Keep a “vacation journal.” Even if all you do is stay home and weed the garden. If you look at the letters and journals kept by people before the invention of the telephone, they often described “ordinary” events in great detail—dinner parties, conversations ‘round the fire, walks they took in the woods. Deprived of other means of being intimate at a distance, writing about their day helped share it, and themselves, with readers of the journals or the recipients of their letters.

Being able to write about what you’ve done helps you see the value in how you spend your time, and also strengthens your ability to write interestingly and cogently in the first person.

5. Live like a Spaniard for a day. Or an Italian, Greek, or French person. If you’re mimicking the Spanish, you should definitely take an afternoon siesta, but the idea here is to make time for the Mediterranean ideal of “the sweet life,” one that includes plenty of good food, heart-to-heart talks over meals with friends and family, and a pace of living that doesn’t feel rushed.

The benefit to living this way is that it can free up your subconscious to incubate writing ideas with which you may be struggling. Plus, it’s fun and renews social ties that are easy to put on the back burner in the heat of a project. By focusing on your writing challenges before you go on vacation, then letting go while you’re taking time off, you may just come back to your work with solutions that work better than whatever you might have come up with by “forcing” an answer to appear.

6. Have at least one plan-free day. Most writers who are successful know how useful goal-setting tools and systems can be. However, if you can’t have a change of geographic scenery to shake you out of your routine (and thereby spark some insights about how you are living day to day), make it a point to build in at least one staycation day where schedules and planners are tucked away, and you set out (physically or mentally) with a few simple intentions: to explore public art in your city, for example, or to bike to the next town and see what there is to see. The idea is to be open to how the day develops, following one’s nose as it were, and receptive to what is experienced, rather than trying to cram it into one’s pre-planned blocks of whatever.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits blog and the book “The Power of Less,” recently discussed this approach as an aid to simplicity. This is what he had to say about his stepping away from excessive planning:

Don’t try to force outcomes — let them happen. Be open to what emerges.

This is a change that I’ve been trying in my life over the last year or more — slowly, gradually, because it’s not always easy. You have to learn to let go of the need to achieve certain outcomes, to embrace the flow, and that can be very difficult. So I’ve learned to embrace it slowly, and it has been wonderful.”

He asserts that this approach focuses one in the moment, and that can be very liberating.

“The lesson I learned (from my experiment): you don’t know what will happen, or what opportunities will arise, until you arrive at that moment. You can plan and plan and plan, but there is just no way to know how things will turn out…. Instead, I have forgone the need to define outcomes, and have focused on enjoying the journey. That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated to do my best … It means that I’m motivated by the work, that I enjoy the activity, not by the destination, goal or outcome.”

It’s a great lesson to learn, but as Leo points out, it can take a while to internalize it. Since vacations are the best time for most of us to experiment with new routines without the outside interference of daily pressures, why not try living a day or two by intention, instead of a strictly defined plan?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Leo Babauta’s “The Power of Less”


Writing is an easy thing to make complicated. Non-fiction writers, in particular, have to juggle ideas, approaches, pitches to competing publications, research leads, interview notes … and that’s just the actual work. Add in para-work activities such as checking e-mail, incessant Googling (how did we do research before Google?), and chatting with writer pals about your assignments on Facebook, and suddenly, it seems like there’s hardly any time left to write.

Author and blogger Leo Babauta offers a common-sense alternative to clutter, both cyber and real-world, with his new book “The Power of Less.” Babauta, who runs the wildly popular Zen Habits blog, offers easy-to-follow advice for getting control of one’s priorities, time and habits, and helps readers achieve more with less effort.

Babauta’s theme throughout the book is very basic: discover what is truly important to you, and let go of the rest. Some of the most important keys from “The Power of Less” for writers are:

Learn how to single-task. Babauta is not a fan of trying to do more than one thing at a time. His approach is do what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and then go on to the next task. Back in the old days, this was called focus. Whatever you want to call it today, breaking your writing day into a series of things that you work on until they are done can be far more satisfying and efficient than trying to do work on 3 stories simultaneously and getting next to nothing accomplished on all of them.

Learn to multi-project. Staying on-task doesn’t mean you are manacled to one project at a time — which is a good thing, for many freelancers would starve if this were true. Babauta recommends selecting up to three projects to focus on at any one time; that way, if you are single-tasking your way through a project and hit a delay (e.g., a source needs to call you back, you’re waiting to hear if your editor wants revisions), you can go to the next project on your list and hit the most important tasks on that one.

One goal, many actions. This suggestion is a variation of the task vs. project distinction noted above. Babauta recommends having only one major goal at a time, and that it be a fairly ambitious one—one that could take as long as a year to achieve. However, to make it manageable, your “one goal” should be broken down into sub-goals. For example, if you want to be published this year, your first sub-goal might be to research books in the same market as yours and come up with a focus that differentiates your idea. Drilling down even further, Babauta says it’s important to break each sub-goal into daily tasks, so that you are constantly doing something to move toward completing your goal.

Establish a daily routine. I’m a big fan of establishing positive creative habits and it appears Babauta is too. He walks readers through some simple, healthful ways to structure their days. Finding habits and routines that work for you is the first step to building a creative “grid” that grounds you, and allows you to continue writing, even when outside life events create upheaval and drama.

Fans of the 80/20 principle will find some familiar arguments here, but the book is more than just a restatement of that theory. Babauta deals at length with the difficulties of utilizing technology while not being distracted by it and the challenges of making long-term changes and habits “stick.” His book is especially laudable for its simplicity and for not attempting to be a “system” that you have to go to a workshop and buy special equipment to “manage.”

The most useful piece of advice I have taken from “The Power of Less” is continually asking myself as I move through my day “do I want to do X, or do I want to achieve my goals?” The question cuts through all manner of distraction and competing priorities and has helped me, after only a week spent reading Babauta’s book, accomplish several writing tasks in about one-third the amount of time they had taken in the past.

Whether you’re wanting to increase your writing productivity, tackle an intimidating goals such as writing a book, or make some changes to your habits to make your life happier overall, I heartily recommend “The Power of Less.” It’s a quick read that will influence your thinking long after you have set it down.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,