Judging your worth by productivity

Judging your worth by productivity

American culture is obsessed with productivity.

You can look to apps (another obsession of ours) for proof. There are all kinds of apps dedicated to tracking, managing, organizing, rewarding and inspiring productivity. You can make lists, set reminders, coordinate your schedules, color-code emails, schedule tweets and more—all in the name of productivity. Ironically, you could waste a lot of hours trying to decide which out of the thousands of productivity apps are worth your time.

As for us writers, when we talk about productivity, we’re talking about progress in the form of putting words on the page. Simple and gut-wrenching as that.

The problem is, our sense of self-worth is often closely linked to our productivity (or lack thereof). If we fall short of even the most arbitrary of goals, it can be devastating not only to our mental health, but to our work as well. Thus creating a cycle of suckiness, or the “I Suck Spiral,” as my boyfriend calls it.

I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend when updating my five-year diary every night. I’ve completed almost three full years of it, and looking back on the past couple of years, so many of the entries refer to how productive I was or wasn’t on any given day. The more productive days reflect happy moods with exclamation points. But on some of the days I deemed unproductive, I go as far as spelling out a few sighs. So dramatic, right? I can practically see the roller coaster of emotions in my jittery handwriting.

Here’s the thing: It’s so much easier to get down on ourselves for not writing enough than it is to write one book, one blog post, one sentence that feels right. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be, but if we stopped attaching our self-worth to how much we haven’t written and instead celebrated every crappy sentence or shitty first draft we did write, we’d all be better off.

The label “writer” is a part of our identity. Word counts and rejections and bad days are not.

Now, I’m documenting only the little victories and things I’m grateful for in my five-year diary, even—and especially—on bad days. And I don’t need an app to be productive. All any writer needs is someplace to put the words and the faith that those words will come.

 

 

A peek at WTH Weekly (plus 30 writing prompts)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Just wanted to check in and see how your writing is going. What are some of the problems you’ve run into lately? What would you like advice on or help with? (And if things are going well, awesome! What’s working for you?)

One thing I know we could all use help with from time to time is inspiration, which is why I put together 30 days of writing prompts and inspiration for subscribers of WTH Weekly, the newsletter I send out every Saturday. Starting today, if you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll receive a PDF of 30 writing prompts designed to get you writing every day (or to help out on the days when you’re feeling stuck). If you’re already subscribed, you’ll get a link to the writing prompts in this Saturday’s newsletter.

Here’s a glimpse of what these weekly newsletters look like: 

WTH Weekly newsletter

The newsletter usually includes a short note from me (Cassie) about something writing-related or something that’s been in the news lately. The rest consists of my favorite interweb finds of the week, submission deadlines for writing contests, fellowships, etc., and a little inspiration to round it out. (Yes, sometimes that includes pizza. In GIF form, of course.)

WTH Weekly newsletter

In the future, I plan on creating and sharing even more resources to help make this space useful to writers. (And in the coming weeks, the “resources” page in the menu up top will be beefed up to include some great stuff for you!) Newsletter subscribers get first dibs, because inboxes are personal spaces, so I want to thank subscribers for allowing WTH Weekly to grace their inboxes every week.

Lately, I’ve been trying to clean up my own inbox by unsubscribing from newsletters that no longer interest me, don’t provide any value or are spamming me with too many emails. There are a handful, though, that are consistently wonderful.

Here are some of my favorite newsletters for and by writers:

Ash Ambirge’s Middle Finger Project (even though the word “newsletter” makes Ash gag)
The Ann Friedman Weekly
Nicole Belanger’s Girl Gang Missives
Paul Jarvis’ Sunday Dispatches
Christine Frazier’s Better Novel Project

I recommend you add those to your inboxes—you won’t be disappointed. And if you’d like 30 free writing prompts, add WTH Weekly to the mix, too. If you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy putting it together, then I’d call it a success.

If you end up publishing anything that was inspired by the writing prompts, tweet it to @WittyTitleHere so I can share.

Let me know what’s on your minds, and if you have any newsletter recommendations of your own, leave them in the comments!

 

Advice from past NaNoWriMo participants on writing your novel

 

Write that novel: Tips on winning NaNoWriMo

It’s day two of National Novel Writing Month, which means all around the world, writers are furiously typing away at their computers (or staring at blank screens—hey, it’s all part of the process!). I’m happy to report that, despite some major doubts about my plot in the days leading up to NaNoWriMo, I kicked it off by writing more than 2,000 words on day one. Even though it’s Monday and there are a million other things to do, I’m anxious to dive into day two.

But first, I thought I’d share some advice from former NaNoWriMo participants on how to tackle this month like a champ. Even if you’re not joining in on the festivities this month but are thinking about writing a novel, these are great tips to keep in mind.

 

A reminder that comparison is the thief of joy…

NaNoWriMo advice

…and that this is supposed to be fun.

NaNoWriMo advice

Some perspective that the first draft is just a draft…NaNoWriMo advice NaNoWriMo advice

…and every little bit counts.
NaNoWriMo advice

Always have a plan for your next session…
NaNoWriMo advice

…and don’t forget your priorities.NaNoWriMo advice

And some words of wisdom from the NaNoWriMo coaches themselves:NaNoWriMo advice

Happy novel writing!

Related: 7 tips for making sure you kick butt at NaNoWriMo

11 ways to hone your writing craft

11 ways to hone your writing craft | Witty Title Here

No matter how long you’ve been writing, or how good you are at it, there’s always room for growth.

I find that comforting, as I do the idea that no matter how bursting with love your heart may be, there’s always room for more. (D’aww.) With that in mind, here are 11 ways to continue honing your craft as a writer, whether you’re just starting out or have been going at it for years.

1. Read widely

In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Better keep a steadily rotating stack of books on your bedside table, then. While you’re at it, get a library card. Read a lot in your preferred genre, and read books by authors who don’t look like you. Read books with challenging prose. Read books with short, snappy chapters. You’ll be inspired in ways you can’t predict, and your writing will be better for it.

2. Reread

Wait, what? Yup. Turns out you unlock the secrets of great writing when you treat that page-turning drama like the textbook from which your teacher lifted all the test questions verbatim. Read once for enjoyment, then read a second time to study the tricks the author has used to switch perspective, go back in time or drop a major plot twist. A great writer will do these things without you even noticing what’s happening. Go back in search of those pivotal moments or scenes, read slowly and pinpoint the exact sentence or sections that did the work and dissect them word for word. Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work, especially when you make this a regular practice.

“Those discoveries will manifest themselves in your own work.”

3. Expand your vocabulary

If you read constantly, this will come easily. Don’t just fly over words you’re unfamiliar with. Study them. Context is helpful up to a point, but be sure to look up the words you don’t know or jot them down so you can do it later. (Then write down the definitions so you don’t forget.) You can also check out sites like Otherwordly for a daily dose of unusual words. Won’t it be wonderful to use serein in a sentence? When you learn a new word, you start to see it everywhere, and that’s when its meaning finally soaks in.

4. Seek feedback

When you’ve tweaked and blinked at a piece for too long, it can be near impossible to know if you’re hitting your mark. If you’ve hit that point, it’s best to hand your story or article over to someone who can look at it with fresh eyes. Find a trusted teacher, mentor or friend who will read your work closely and give helpful, honest feedback. Seek out people who read a lot and will say more than just “it’s good!” If you’re looking for feedback on one thing in particular, say so, but be open to suggestion elsewhere, too.

5. Know your weaknesses

What part of the writing process do you dread, or where do you most often get stuck? Instead of avoiding the problem (or getting exasperated every time you write), identify what gives you the most trouble in your writing. If it’s spelling or grammar, seek out a tutor, have a friend proofread your work or read up on Grammar Girl’s quick and dirty tips. If making sense of a rambling, disorganized first draft gives you problems every time you write, spend the extra time mind-mapping and outlining before you get to work. If you fall prey to procrastination or give up too easily, come up with a plan to help you combat those urges. Whether it’s a regimented routine or rewards system, don’t let yourself fall victim to the thoughts and temptations that crop up in moments of weakness.

6. Challenge yourself

Write outside your genre. Set intimidating goals. Tackle the classic novel you never read in high school. Enter a writing contest. Participate in NaNoWriMo. If we only wrote when the conditions and timing were perfect, we’d never write. No excuses.

“Write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words.”

7. Emulate your heroes

One of the best things about writing is that you’re allowed to experiment as much as you want, and that includes letting your work be influenced by the styles of writers you admire. If Joan Didion is your literary crush, spend a couple thousand words on a piercing review of your own psyche. If you love Charles Bukowski’s bare-bones truth bombs, write the truest thing you know in the least amount of words. And if you believe you were Jane Austen in a former life, ask yourself, “What would Jane do?” when writing the final scene in your romance novel. Let yourself be inspired by greatness and see what comes of it.

8. Develop your own voice

There are always a few books in your to-read pile, you’ve studied the greats and you’ve learned all the “rules.” Now forget everything you know and write something only you can, in your voice. That requires not only writing constantly, but cutting out the bullshit or anything that rings false. Your voice is influenced by your gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, beliefs, family, upbringing, where you’re from, who you grew up with, the stories you’ve been told and so on. It’s already in you. Voice is a tricky thing to master because it’s so deceptively simple, but you’ll know it when you’ve written something that feels utterly true. Your voice evolves right along with you, which means you’ll always be developing it in your writing.

9. Revise, revise, revise

Nothing comes out perfect the first time. Let me reiterate: Nothing comes out perfect the first time. This is no reason to be sad or frustrated. Look at it as an opportunity—the opportunity to get better with each draft.

10. Submit and pitch

Congratulations—you’ve written something. Now set it free. Submit your story to a publication or pitch a story to your dream magazine. Open yourself up to the possibility of rejection while keeping faith that you will be validated. Don’t keep it to yourself.

11. Write every day

Make the time.

 

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What happens when we let fear dictate our art

Praise can be addictive.

Whether it’s Instagram likes, parental approval or compliments on our writing abilities, we get a dopamine rush with each reward. The desire to belong is a basic instinct of human survival. (Plus, it just feels good to be liked.) But we’d all be better off if we gave fewer shits about what people think.

Intellectually we all know that, right? Somewhere inside each of us, there’s a tiny pantless version of ourselves giving People With Opinions the middle finger. And then there’s the other miniature version of us in grown-up clothes hoping to blend in with the cool crowd. Unfortunately, the insecure one often takes over even the most confident of us from time to time.

When I picture myself at 70, I picture a woman with long, gray hair who swears a lot, laughs a lot and says exactly what’s on her mind. When people’s eyes widen in response to her brazen herness, she flashes them a big, red-lipped grin. Except I don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to be the picture of Not Giving a Shit. When it comes to my writing, I simply can’t afford to wait.

Why we need to give fewer shits about what people think.

Most of us are not writing in a vacuum. Most writers want to be published, to find an audience, to be read by more than, like, three people. And who doesn’t dream of becoming a best-selling author? Of course we want to be seen and, hopefully, we will get to relish in some praise and recognition (maybe even money?!) for our efforts.

But there’s a fine line we all must walk when it comes to our motivations. As writers, artists and creatives, if our desire for acceptance outweighs the desire to share truth in all its raw vulnerability, we essentially hand over our power to outside sources. Our work ends up being shaped not by our authentic voices, experiences and beliefs, but by what we think people want to hear. And if we don’t get the approval we seek, it’s a dark, lonely feeling.

When we create art with the intention of being popular, the end result only reinforces ideas people already agree with. At best, you’re just adding to the noise. (If you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of lame-ass content on the internet. Who needs more?) At worst, people will see right through you. Either way, no one really benefits from it.

No good comes from writing watered-down versions of our truth, but it’s especially tragic if our fears and self-doubt prevent us from writing anything at all. If your story is deeply personal, highly controversial or simply way out there, you’re inevitably going to raise some eyebrows. But if you’re trying to avoid pissing people off or making them uncomfortable, you’ve made your job impossible. You can’t worry about the outcome of writing or publishing your story before you’ve even written a first draft.

There are no rules in art or in life. Just the limits we impose upon ourselves.

I turned 26 last week. It’s a weird age—nothing especially special about it. Yet it’s fascinating to me the range of life experiences my peers have had. We live with five roommates, we live with parents, we have kids, we start companies, we buy houses, we travel the world. At 26—or at any age, for that matter—there is no normal.

It can be utterly frustrating when there’s no roadmap for where you “should” be at a certain stage in your life. But it’s also  liberating. It means we can define and redefine our versions of success. And by success, I mean a life of creative fulfillment and happiness, at least a good majority of the time.

So rather than worry about whether we’re going to be judged, ridiculed, laughed at, pointed at, shunned or ignored, let’s make a pact to put integrity before mediocrity. Audacity before fear. We’re never going to please everyone, anyway. Might as well be ourselves.

I don’t give a shit if that sounds hokey. It’s true.