How do writers manage their time and produce writing, even if they are taking on a subject new to them and are raising young children?
When I learned of an upcoming interview with Gretchen Rubin, the writer of the New York Times best-seller Happiness Project, I was curious.
I had come across Gretchen Rubin’s blog, but I thought I would learn more about her work before deciding if I would listen to the interview.
It appears that her book arouses opposing responses. One grumpy reviewer renamed Rubin’s book as “Be Happy by Being Perfect All the Time,” attributing the writer’s motivation to perfectionism, to a need for external validation, and laziness—that is, she was avoiding doing “what it would take to really make her happy.”
In spite of the negative blog, I continued to poke around, and the more I learned about Rubin, the more I was intrigued.
Gretchen Rubin is an academic and was trained as a lawyer.
Some years ago she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She decided that law wasn’t for her and left the law to write. She wrote three books on various subjects.
But then she decided to write about happiness. An odd choice for someone trained to be a lawyer?
Maybe not. She and her well-to-do husband and children live in Manhattan. Rubin says that she had everything that should make her happy, but she clearly didn’t feel happy. She wrote the book to learn “what it would take to be less snappish and more lighthearted.”
And like the academic researcher that she was trained to be, in order to learn how to be more lighthearted, she immersed herself in research—in the emerging field of positive psychology and the extensive critical literature on happiness. Then she spent a year testing all of the research and happiness theories. The Happiness Project is the book that she wrote detailing that year.
I’ve always found writing to be hard work, and a best-selling writer who has researches heavily and spends a year testing the research in order to write her book arouses my interest.
Gretchen Rubin read hundreds of books on the subject of happiness not only to write a book, but also to help herself be grateful for the life that she has: “Why am I getting myself distracted by petty irritations?” she asked herself before she started the project.
The more I read about Rubin’s process to research and write the book, the more I knew I wanted to hear the interview with Gretchen Rubin. And she didn’t disappoint.
In the interview, Gretchen Rubin said that she loves a schedule and a routine. However, as a result of the many demands on her time because of her children, she has to be more flexible. Instead of a schedule, she uses accomplishment as her structure. She puts up a blog post every day, sends out weekly and monthly newsletters, and is currently working on yet another book.
She gets up at 6 am, an hour before her family wakes, to get started on one of her writing tasks. Her commitment is that sometime during the coming day she will spend three hours doing “hardcore, original” writing. Every day she writes for at least three hours. Any reading is done outside of that time.
According to Rubin, making a firm decision in advance that you will do a fixed amount of writing each day is critical.
I’m inspired by a writer who writes every day, no matter what, and who avoids the “yeah-but’s” that she might use to excuse not writing. I admire Rubin’s self-management—her grit, resilience, mental toughness.
Perhaps like me, you have also been inspired by a writer’s story. Who inspires you to keep writing? Whose writing process would you like to use as a model?
I’d love to hear from you.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com