Perfectionism and productivity

Sometimes you have to acknowledge you are what holds you back

If you looked at my messy hair and sometimes messy house, you wouldn’t think at all that I suffered with perfectionism. Increasingly we see a world where we are surrounded by perfect. Whether it’s facetune or show- home-style houses, I have probably seen a hundred images to show me perfect in the last day.

Even though we are savvy to the filter of social media influence, it still does effect our perspective on what we believe is achievable. These are really just a few ways that we say to ourselves, perfect is possible. Some weeks there are just small things I do to keep my head above water (and that was before this global crisis.)

I was writing recently about goals and how for some people it is freeing to say “Dare to be average”. What I understand David Burns means by this is not actually do a poor job, instead do the job as it needs to be done. So rather than procrastinating because we cannot do it perfectly, we get the job done well enough. Compared to a job not done, average is suddenly above average!

I think this relates well to one of my creative blocks. Realising that perfectionism is hampering my productivity. To the point, at many times in my life I haven’t written at all. Though it was a passion as a young child, two short stories were rejected at 20 and I didn’t write again until I was 30. That’s a pretty devastating consequence of perfectionism.

Brené Brown writes that perfectionism is a way of avoiding anyone else’s judgement. This has been a real revelation for me. We actually try and protect ourselves using perfectionism as a tool to mitigate shame. The shame for me is I will never achieve my ambition, or I will achieve publishing something and it will be terrible or even one person will read my work and think it is terrible. The worst piece of writing ever written. Or, they will laugh when it’s scary, recoil when it’s funny. And if all these thoughts preoccupy my imperfect morning pages, it’s a wonder I start at all!

The whole point of Mum, Write NOW in shouty capitals is to remind me, today is as good a day as ever. It doesn’t always work to motivate me. But it reminds me to plod on, to tackle my perfectionism with the work.

Do you think perfectionism holds you back?

Don’t ask me if I am writing

The pressure to feel productive gets too much at the best of times!

I snapped at a friend this week who asked if I was writing. They were making kind enquiries and didn’t expect my reaction I am sure. It’s smoothed over, but I think my sharp response is probably a sign that I haven’t come to terms with the fact that I am not writing. Or only just a little.

The usual problems of time and interruptions are in addition to the unusual issues of living through a global pandemic, managing my anxiety and getting through each challenge day-by-day. The sense that I have is that the current normal, which is likely to continue at least until the end of the next month ( where we are all at home, all working, all doing school) is perhaps not just a tough situation but a relief too. I can forgive myself for writing so little.

Maybe it’s just an excuse, but I have had for a while thought that there is a cult of productivity or demonstrating that you are productive in the Writing Community. Bear with me if you think I am trying to offend you, please. It’s just that I have seen a lot of you “you should be writing” memes and such which impacted me negatively if I am not in the right headspace to work. More productive than I are producing work and I am not, and it is discouraging to me. Well I suppose that’s my problem!

I have been reading a few articles about identifying your core values, such at this. It’s a new way of thinking about what drives and motivates me. In completing the exercise Ivan Martin recommends, I noticed as well as diligence and concientiousness, I came up with words such as peace, calm and comfort and ease. These competing values or ideas about how I want my life to look, probably explain why I have such a strong reaction to seeing others productivity. I won’t always put myself into discomfort to work through in the same ways others would, because that is not in my make-up.

I have been rereading the excellent “What I Talk about when I Talk about Running.” Having read this at the beginning of my writing journey, no wonder I think that writing is all about being able to write everyday and having hours to give to it. Murakami’s book is a marvel and so inspirational but on this reread it was so clear to me that I cannot work with the same method. Though with even a tiny bit of Murakami’s commitment and dedication would be a great improvement.

I am not a marathon runner, but completing a novel or long-form work is a marathon. But pushing myself to the extremes of my body or mind’s capabilities, that was never how I could run it. I haven’t the stamina. Nor have I the luxury of time and energy that it takes to get into running a marathon – to extend the metaphor to breaking. Murakami first wrote after his bar closed into the early hours. His commitment to anti-social hours is so admirable but also completely unrealistic in my life. While he inspires me with his discipline, he also teaches me about my own energy levels.

So, I have to consider what sort of runner am I? I conclude it’s what I knew already, I’m a jogger. A slow, plodding jogger who makes frequent stops to catch my breath. It’s not the most flattering depiction but, nonetheless, it reflects a realistic picture. And so no, I haven’t been writing of blogging much at the moment. It turns out, when you’re living through unprecendented times, you have to forgive yourself if it leaves you out of breathe.

Have you found inspiring books about writing help your practice?

Writing With a Distracted Mind

If you are finding it hard to be productive, you’re not the only one…

You know how if you had all that time, you’d write your novel? How’s that working for you? Ha! If you’re like me then your distracted mind is struggling. I think it’s clear from my posts in the past that I don’t do great creative work when life is too much. And it’s all a bit too much for me at the moment

We are in the lucky position of still having work that we are trying hard to do at home with our son alongside. A privilege because even as a keyworker, I am not on the front line and a relief because we don’t have quite the worries that other people have around finances. So believe me, I am thinking about others in a lot worse positions than us when I write this. All this extra time at home and I am still too distracted to write.

Not me but…mood.

It’s frustrating. But this time in isolation is unique in its character. I am on an emotional rollercoaster. Right now, blogging on my phone while my son is on the laptop I am enjoying sitting about in comfy clothes. No school run stress. No demand to dry my hair then pick if I do makeup or eat breakfast today because I didn’t leave time for both. (That’s my usual week day) So I am even feeling good enough to write. But later I might try and read and manage two pages before I want to nap.

In this hour by hour existence, I have been thinking about my son’s mind. His neurodiversity means his attention can be very short if he isn’t motivated. And anything remotely schooly for him has to be of interest to engage him, particularly if he finds it hard to do something. The thing that his dyspraxia and attention make it hardest for him to do: writing. The physical act of writing is very complicated. He gets intense support for this at school. It takes time. And he’s got to be interested.

It is not without irony I realise that I am battling to help him do any writing while school is closed. And I think looking at his highly distracted mind can teach me something about how to approach any work I can do while this is our reality.

How to Help Your Distracted Mind Write (or A Seven-Year-Old Learn)

  1. Keep it short. Don’t expect to stay on topic a long time. I have been using a free Skillshare login to do some courses and quick writing exercises. This has led to a short story. Maybe this isn’t the time for long form! Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  2. Make it interesting: while I won’t pretend to be reading a lot, I have been indulging my obsessions in audiobooks and podcasts. Just as my son has been indulging his Minecraft interest, I have been enjoying tales of antiquity. Mythos by Stephen Fry and podcasts such as Myths and Legends. These stories are short and inspiring. And delving into something that really interests you may keep your mind engaged a little longer.
  3. Use time limits. Often it doesn’t feel like you have done much if you have only sat for 10 minutes. But you have to accept if you have done that, you have achieved something. A time limit is a great way to remind yourself to do nothing else in that time. And I have surprised myself with what we have achieved in a short time.
  4. Use a task list. My son gets stressed by timers as he has to watch it count down. We use a list of three tasks he has to achieve instead. This is also a good way to approach work, for me it’s about polishing some work with a few questions in mind: get information across, let the characters move forward, leave early enough. These are all things I learnt in writing classes that I can tick off when I revise work. And an achievable set of tasks to do with maybe a scene or a story.
  5. Reward any effort. You might be giving yourself more treats anyway but the thing that keeps me motivated might also be a little sit in the backyard. It doesn’t have to be much but if you did anything towards some writing you need to do, reward yourself!

So these are my distracted thoughts on getting work done...how have you been managing to write?

The Simplest Things

Despite the creative block, sometimes it is small hacks in life that make me get back to the page. If you have been struggling to sit down to work, what are the small things you do to get your creativity flowing again?

What made a difference this week?

Cold extremities. The office is cold, the house is cold; storm Ciara has left us mercifully unscathed, where I live, but still Winter’s last blast is here.

The Spring flowers I photographed just last week are a distant memory as the sharp wind beats my cheeks in the playground. But despite the chill that permeates the house, it has made me nostalgic for the times I hunkered down to write. If I don’t want to go anywhere else, I may as well absorb myself by creating something. Whether I like it or not, the time I spent as a student was both my least efficient and my most productive . It must be a sense-memory, but as my hand flies furiously across the page, I associate a desperate need to complete work with this peculiar sense that the air is cold around my nostrils. And like the muscle memory of athletes, my inner student is making me work harder, and suddenly I have more new words than I have had in a while.

Cosy socks. I find slobbing out in comfy clothes not just necessary in this weather, but an inspiration to enjoy the hygge sensations of blankets and pillows by dressing in the warmest fabrics. And in this cosiness, I imagine myself other places. Like my characters, inside looking out on bleak surroundings. Or imagine trying to take off the socks and insist on being barefoot in the woods. The sensory appeal of soft clothing, firing up these thoughts about how my characters are feeling.

A Good Book. I have started a thriller and was so absorbed on my way to work, I almost forget to get off at my stop. A page-turner can be inspiring whether or not it is in the genre you are writing. Whether it inspires you to try your own hand at writing, or it just sparks ideas for a work-in-progress, I have been glad of time to read on my commute this week.

Old Photos. I found an old photo of myself as a child. Looking a little extra, trying on my Grandmother’s pearls, I was inspired not just by the girl I once was – much more spirited than I am now. I was also inspired to delve deeper back into the past of my characters. Though the work I have written may not make the final cut, the depth to which I know my characters now is clear as it flows easily.

Also I think a lot about my childhood ambitions, as I have said before, I do believe in dreams. They have changed a little, but one of the exercises I have been using writing letters to my encouragers in my journal, I wrote to my Grandparents this week, inspired by the photo and by the joy my visits there always brought me.

A Blank Page. The final thing that has really helped me this week has been a blank page. Rather than fill in gaps in my work-in-progress, I have allowed myself time with a notebook or a blank Word Doc. This is an indulgence as I know that having been making progress by fleshing out the first part of my novel. But if it get me working again, it will be worth the type-up time.

I’d love to know what you have done to get back to writing this week?

Happy Bloggerversary to Me!

Has it really been a year?

My first post New Year, New Writing debuted a year ago today. I sound a bit despondent in the post about ever finding inspiration or finishing the book I am writing. Despite not being where I thought I would be I recently reviewed my year and did better than expected. And this blog has been such a part of that journey for me. My blog birthday is the perfect time to decide what’s next…

More Reviews

My most popular posts have been Reviews like this one of great historical drama: The Mermaid and The Bear. I aim to do more reviewing this year and to highlight my favourite genres like gothic novels and intriguing first person novels. I have also set myself the task of “reading up” all the books on my shelves (Kindle/or real) as my to be read pile is so huge.

More Inspiration

I love sharing real life updates and try to be inspiring to others like me. I have a new Instagram.com/mumwritenow for inspiring quotes and things that take my fancy. I also plan to write more about my Artist Date experiences. I love this list of Cheap and Easy Artist’s Dates but really want to add some ideas to this and commit to the practice. Julia Cameron – whose book The Artist Way has been so instrumental in my creative recovery – recommends that Artists (and may be everyone) take out two hours a week to explore and enchant with something new so that we can reinvigorate our inner Artist.

More Writing

Finally the biggest commitment I want to make is not to this blog at all, but to my writing. I want to reassert my right to the time to write. I want to make writing much more than a hobby. And I want to plod on, day-by-day, towards the finish line of not one, but two different projects I am working on.

What are your blogging goals this year?