How would your productivity change if you looked at writing as if it were your real job?
Ann Patchett, an award-winning author, has done her best to avoid writing.
Her novel Bel Canto, has won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and England’s Orange Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has a number of best-selling books and prizes to her credit. Nevertheless, she resists writing, putting all sorts of distractions in her path.
In the Washington Post (12/10/2009), Ann Patchett writes, “Writing is an endless confrontation with my own lack of talent and intelligence.” Otherwise, if she were “as smart and talented” as she ought to be, she says, she would have finished the book she is working on by now.
Yes, she procrastinates. She will do about anything rather than write. If she is struggling with a troubling section, she is happy to rush off to Costco with her mother.
But things changed for her as a result of a dinner party where she talked with musician Edgar Meyer. Like Patchett with her writing, Meyer found himself bogged down with his music composing. But Meyer had made an amazing discovery: “He put a notebook by the door of his studio and kept a careful record of the number of hours he actually sat down to work. The startling conclusion of this experiment was that the more hours he spent working on compositions, the more music he actually composed.” Imagine that!
She jabs at herself, wondering how she hadn’t realized that “by giving my art the same amount of time and attention that I gave to, say, meal preparation, my art might be more likely to flourish.”
For years, Patchett had no particular routine to her writing. She would write now and then, whenever she found time. Somehow that hit-or-miss approach had allowed her to get a manuscript out the door. But as years went by, she found that writing without a schedule became increasingly difficult.
She says now that she had always known that people in other jobs, such as her husband, would leave early in the morning for work, regular as rain! To put herself on a schedule –and have “a real work day”– would “require not just a change of scheduling but also a change of mind.”
Writers, such as Ann Patchett, as well as my own dissertation coaching clients, say frequently how hard writing is. Writers put all sorts of distractions in their paths to avoid the tedium and the dead ends and the uncertainties of writing.
But writers do have choices.
–Be straightforward and honest about what you’re doing.
–Say no to distractions rather than embracing them.
–Stop sabotaging yourself.
What if you didn’t readily volunteer to be the one to wait for the plumber or the air conditioner repair person? What if you didn’t run out in the middle of the day for a couple of items from the grocery store, just because we can?
What would a work day look like if you acted like writing was your real job?
Until next time,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
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