Unhappy with your Writing Progress? You Need This Secret Power

In this TED talk, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks the question, “What makes a life worth living?”

He says that a lack of basic material resources contributes to unhappiness but the increase in material resources does not necessarily increase happiness. He shows in this video and his books that those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction are engaging in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

I know that when I was in “flow” mode today while working on my MG adventure novel, I was very happy. I hit my word count goal for the day. I enjoyed the food I ate and the music I was listening to while writing. When I picked up my four-year-old after daycare we played and laughed and ran around more vigorously than when I haven’t been able to get any writing done for the day.

When we are in flow, Czikszentmihalyi says, we disappear. Our existence is temporarily suspended. I feel this way when I write or perform. I disappear into these other worlds for the time I am engaged in my story.

Seven things he mentions that are important for flow:

  1. We are completely involved in what we are doing, focused, concentrated
  2. A sense of ecstasy – being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that we are up to the task
  5. Serenity – no worry about self, feeling of growing beyond the ego
  6. Timelessness – focused on the present, hours seem to pass in minutes
  7. Intrinsic motivation – engaging in flow is its own reward

Stories are the wildest things.

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One Simple Technique to Change Your Writing (and your Life) Instantly

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I’m a big fan of James Altucher. He blogs, he podcasts, he writes books, he kvetches, he kvells, but he is AUTHENTIC and inspirational He speaks his truth to power and his truth is engaging and has made a big difference in my life.

I recently started using a technique James taught in his post, “I Used My Magic Power and Exploited Everyone in My Path” and it’s made a huge difference in my day-to-day to life. I want to share my story with you. Although James says he exploited everyone, he really gave them a gift. The gift of himself.

If you haven’t read James’ post yet, pop over to his site, read the post, follow him and then come back over here for my version. You’ll be glad you did.

He does this thing that he calls his “magic power” where he smiles at everyone he sees AS IF he is their mother or that they are about to die. At first, it sounds really creepy. But I’m a big fan of the AS IF as a fiction writer so I thought I’d give it a try in the trenches of higher education where most students are so wrapped up in their cellphones and their relationship woes and their grades that  I have to jump up and down in front of them in class to get their attention.

A few days ago, I started using James’ technique and thought, “These students are going to think I’m creepy. They’re going to run away and report to the Dean’s office that some pervert is on campus smiling at them like he’s their mother.”

Well, that never happened.

What did happen was amazing. The first few people I met changed instantly. Their faces went from concern and worry and looking lost to being open and smiling and glad to see that someone cared about them, even if it was just for a split second. Some of them knew my name and I wasn’t even sure I had ever had them as students. Some of them jumped like an electric current passed through them. Some were unreachable and that was alright, because I know there have been plenty of dark times in my life when I’ve been unreachable as well.

I started using this technique off campus with everyone I’ve come in contact with, strangers, friends, students, elderly folks, little kids, it works on everyone.

Each person I’ve used this technique on, unless they were completely wrapped up in their own darkness, transformed into someone whose face lit up for a brief second as I sent them my full body smile. Like, James, I’ve started to feel stronger, like the rays of the sun giving power to Superman.

My favorite time to do this is when I see someone I normally don’t want to engage with, someone a little off, someone who seems a little too crazy or emotional or withdrawn, but almost every time I’ve done this, even with those people, the difference has been remarkable. It’s almost like those people are the ones who need it the most.

But really, I’m the one who needs it the most.

I’m a natural introvert and would prefer to stay all alone in my dark little world most of the time.

But opening up in this way, smiling at people as if I’m their mother and they are the most important person in the world to me at the moment, has been an engaging and uplifting experience and one I recommend.

We’ve recently had two gun incidents on or near campus just in the past week. One of them was fatal. Maybe if people practiced this technique with each other, they’d spend more time caring about making someone feel loved and less time worrying about why they’ve been “disrespected” and now have to shoot them with a gun.

Thank you, James, for sharing your experience with all of us and allowing me to share it with others as well. I think it can make a huge difference in the world and I appreciate that.

Let me know if you start using this technique and what affect it has had on your life and those around you. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories, because stories are the wildest things.

Coffitivity App – Enough Noise to Work

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Some of my favorite writing days have been when I was living in Chicago back in my twenties and had a long day all to myself at a local indie coffee shop.

The sound of the steamer frothing milk, the sharp bang of the coffee funnel on the counter, the grinder turning beans into the quickest way possible to get caffeine into my system and the low hum of conversations all contributed to creating just enough noise to get some great work done on whatever project I was working on at the time.

Now that I’m a Daddy Writer I don’t have as many of those leisurely days alone to ponder in random coffee shops.

That’s why this really cool app at Coffitivity.com was so exciting to find.

With a free download, you can have a coffee shop ambiance (either “Morning Murmur” or “Lunchtime Lounge”) anywhere you need it and you don’t have to pay $4 for a latte!

I really like the user interface and the sounds are calming. Check out the scientific research they cite to back up their theory that low-level noise actually enhances creativity.

Let me know if you try out the app and if it helps you with your writing. It’s available for both the iPhone and Android platforms. They also have a few other productivity apps as well.

What We Can Learn from Daily Routines of Famous Creative People

ImageAt first glance at the Dickens infographic created by RJ Andrews on Info We Trust and my lame attempt to copy it for myself, you would say Charles Dickens and I have nothing in common.

According to the chart, Dickens slept a good seven hours while I fitfully get my 3 hours in between my writing and my four-year old jumping on my stomach to wake me up.

Dickens had no “making ends meet” job, while I put in my eight hours in the trenches of higher education.

Dickens wrote for five hours a day while I’m lucky if I can cram in four at the end of a long day of working and running errands and spending time with my wife and taking care of my son and eventually falling asleep on the sofa with my laptop burning my thighs.

One similarity we do have, however,  is that Dickens spent five hours at the end of his day with friends and family.

I like to do that, too, but my time is often spent with them on social media because we are so scattered around the world. I like to Twitter and Facebook and Google Hangout and  Skype, ways of communicating Dickens didn’t have.

As part of the digital age,  these are some of the many ways we spend time with our friends and family.  Using these technologies have allowed us to engage in our communities in deeply meaningful ways and reach wider audiences for our stories.

That being said, I do think we as creative people need time away from social media and technology so we can hear what our true selves are trying to communicate. With so much constant demand for our attention from the interwebs, how do we listen to that still small voice crying out to be heard over the roar of the infinite variety of content instantly available to us?

Netflix. Reddit. YouTube. Hulu. Google Play. Amazon On Demand. Funny or Die. After being on the internet for too long, clicking on link after link, I start to feel like I might have had Balzac’s 50 cups of black coffee.

Andrews says in an interview with Jillian Steinhauser on Hyperallergic.com that it’s harder for us to have dedicated time like the people on his poster because “technology completely fragments lives and fewer and fewer people live creative routines for every hour of the day.”

Some people looking at the poster might lament that the famous people listed were able to  “live creative routines for every hour of the day,” but I find Andrews’ infographic comforting in many ways. The details of each famous person’s schedule seem “of the past” and different from our experiences but all of them are still very universally human here in the present.

Victor Hugo liked to wake up every morning by “Daily gunshot from fort” and Charles Darwin had a leisurely two hours at night to just think about the problems of the day. Maya Angelou would go to a hotel or motel room to write for seven hours a day. Thomas Mann would listen to gramophone records.

All of these details show creative people working out ways to set up their lives to be creative. Also, these infographics are only a sample of their real days, much like my silly one, of a specific time period in a person’s life, edited for public consumption. My routine is never exactly the same every day (this one is exaggerated to prove a point) and I’m sure most of theirs weren’t either.

While working on this post, I decided to change my routine a bit and try something from Dickens’ routine. Instead of taking a “vigorous walk through the countryside” though, I took a vigorous bike ride on our rail trail. I actually rode more than 10 miles for the first time in a long time. It was exhausting, but felt really good to ride through the woods on a gorgeous evening. When I came home, I was able to finish this post and get a lot more creative work done as well.

So you see, Charles Dickens and I have a lot more in common than you may have originally thought.

Part of my nightly routine is that I also have a glass of red wine or two at night. (Thank you, Tim Ferriss and The Four Hour Body!) Yes, it’s milder than W.H. Auden’s four-and-a-half hours of guests, “strong vodka martinis” and dinner, but then again, I don’t have to go to bed with the help of Seconal. Something else I’d like to add to that routine is Ben Franklin’s ritual of asking, “What good have I done today?”

I hope this post is one of those things.

Keep searching for your creative routines and let me know in the comments anything interesting that you do to support your creative life. I love hearing from you.

PJ

For a great video on the cool things we did BEFORE the internet, click HERE.

 

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts

Demian Farnworth has some pretty smart ideas on this poster from Copyblogger about how to get that first draft done.

I suppose if you follow number 5, however, you don’t really have to follow any of the others.

With the series of MG paranormal adventures I’m working on right now, my biggest problem is going back and editing nitpicky details before I’ve gotten a big enough chunk of writing done.

I struggle sometimes with letting a mess happen and trying to clean it up after that first draft is complete. I worry that I’ll forget which direction I was heading in with the ideas if I leave it and come back to it later. I’m trying to put more trust in that part of the process right now and the ideas on this poster are helping me with that.

How about you? Which of these rules speaks loudest to you?

Tell me when you write…

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If you’re like me, you’re curious about when writers are putting in their writing hours. Are you someone who gets up early, stays up late, or writes when you can? There’s a lot of advice out there (and some science – click on the link). I’m interested in finding out when writers are actually putting in writing time to see if there is a trend.

If you could pass this quick poll along to your writer friends and other bloggers, I’d sure appreciate it. It would be nice to get a big enough sample to share the results with everyone in another post. Have a great writing day!

Stories are the wildest things.

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