Grand Productivity Experiment Phase Four: Exhaustingly Successful!

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that no part of your life is about to burst into unmanageable flames. But keeping it that way, it turns out, is rather tiring.

Dance with spinning plates2(js)
Last week went something like this.
Day 1: did something in each of seven areas and had energy for more!
Day 2: did something in each of seven areas.
Day 3: did two errands, two loads of laundry and nothing else.
Day 4: did something in each of seven areas, trying not to overdo it.
Day 5: did something in about five areas, but very slowly
Day 6: (people day) full of people, busy pretty much all day.
Day 7: (rest day) rested – and boy was I ready for it!

So on the one hand, I’d call the Seven Areas (Seven Spinning Plates?) Method a roaring success; on the other hand I’m either going to need to scale it back a bit or build up some more stamina. Or maybe only do 15 minutes in any one area.

This week, I’m trying another of my own inventions, which I call Inculcating the Right Frame of Mind. (Really needs a catchier name. Suggestions?) It came about as a reaction to my usual habit of bullying myself into doing whatever needs to be done (or more often, not doing it at all, because I don’t respond well to intimidation).

Chongqing yangjiaping 2007
I won’t and you can’t make me!
In Dorothea Brande’s excellent little book Becoming A Writer, she writes that, “in changing habits, you will find yourself getting your results far more quickly and with less ‘backwash’ if you engage your imagination in the process instead of calling out the biggest gun of your character equipment [the will] first.”

I’ve written about this before, or something like it. But there are more possibilities than, say, looking at a houseful of chaos and asking oneself What Would Jeeves Do? A picture of a garden might inspire one to go out and hoe into the weeds; a book or fantasy movie might inspire one to change how one lives in one’s home; reading about one’s personal heroes – whether individuals, groups or societies – might inspire one to have another stab at emulating them. For some people, music might be the thing that inspires them.

So this week, instead of browbeating and bullying myself into doing what is needful, I’m going to set about cultivating enthusiasm for the task that lies ahead.

What inspires you to joyfully go about the tasks before you?

Helpful Books for Writers

Being a passionate reader as well as a writer, I have inhaled a large number of books about writing over the last (cough) years.


Here are ten I have found particularly helpful – though it’s worth remembering that your process may be different and therefore Your Mileage May Vary.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
This book isn’t about writing per se; it’s about being a writer, a person who writes – and how to not be a person who wants to write but doesn’t. It’s not by any means a new book, but in my opinion it is darned good stuff. It’s encouraging, it’s practical, and it’s one of the books which frequently appear in the pile under my bedside table.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Technically a screenwriting book, it is worth reading if only for the wit and enjoyment. Though fiction writing can be looser in structure than screenwriting, a lot of the lessons carry across (the Pope in the Pool is my personal favourite).


Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
If you feel you are lost in a swampy thicket of “I don’t even know where I am or what I’m doing here or what this book even is” then this is the book for you. I was first drawn to it by the structural aspects, but got a healthy dose of all the other essential elements of a successful book.

Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke
How to plot for character-driven writers and how to character for plot-driven writers. A painless extraction. I feel it improved both my project in hand and myself as a writer in general.

Please Understand Me IIDavid Keirsey
A handy tool for when you’re mulling over your characters, considering each type’s values and how they function as leader, spouse, parent or child. I don’t advocate using it as a tool for creating your characters out of whole cloth, but it can help you fill out the dimmer corners.

Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes & Improprieties more or less prevalent in Conduct and Speech
The Irresistible Novel
by Jeff Gerke
You will never come to the end of people telling you how every last detail of your writing should be done: rules, rules, rules. Jeff Gerke cuts through all that by pointing out that the only must is that you must keep your reader’s interest. And then he lays out a whole range of choices you need to make and gives you the information needed to make those decisions yourself.

Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell
You get to the end of your epic first draft. You celebrate. You take some time off to let it settle, maybe work on something else for a bit. And then you come back and you look at that massive indigestible mass of paper. And what do you do then? You make yourself a cup of tea and you settle down with this book, is what.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
Basically the best book on self-publishing I’ve read to date. Currently in its third edition, but the first edition (2011) is freely available for download from his website if you want to get a feel for it (it’s under a CC-BY-NC-ND license). Mostly about ebooks (hence the title) but with a helpful section on print-on-demand as well.

The Kindle Gazer, after Lilla Cabot Perry
How to Market a Book
by Joanna Penn
What I like most about this book is that it doesn’t make you feel guilty for not being the world’s top salesperson. She lays out the many and various options for marketing your book and then lets you decide what will work best for you.

Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb
The how and why of blogging and other social media for authors. I haven’t necessarily implemented everything in her book, but it’s encouraging stuff and makes it all seem possible.

So there are my recommendations – what are yours?