Persistent, Forward Progress

Last night I edited and submitted my latest entry to Writers of the Future. I’m pleased with it, though I wish it had a happier ending. I originally wanted to send another story, a lighter, funnier story, to them because I think we can all use a good laugh in times like this, but this was the stronger story and the best edited. Also it has the quality that I think a lot of my stories lack, which is an emotional gut punch at the end.

This is my fifth consecutive entry to Writers of the Future’s quarterly contest. The first story didn’t place at all. I received Honorable mentions for the next two. The fourth story is still in the judging. My plan is to submit every quarter until I am no longer eligible. (Since this is a contest for non-professional writers, once I get too many professional-level publication credits, I’ll no longer be eligible. That would be a good problem to have.)

I tracked my first day for my time study. There’s a lot of time disappearing in the cracks between activities, but that’s to be expected. Also work on activities in general is pretty fragmented with me moving from one to another at speed.

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work talks about the damage this does to work that requires deep thought. One of the things I prided myself on as a project manager was that I made it possible (as best as I could) to remove distractions from programmers, artists, and writers so that they could do their own deep work. Most of the time this meant that I took the interruptions for them and handled them so that the most valuable brains on a project were allowed to work unfettered.

I’m discovering that the habit of scattered thinking and interruptibility is not working when the valuable mind I need to cultivate is my own. On the other hand, a certain amount of intellectual collisions is also important for creativity. How to balance it?

I’m currently reading Organizing Your Creative Career: How to Channel Your Creativity into Career Success by Sheila Chandra. She has a good take on how to treat your most valuable employee, when you are an artist/writer/performer. Two important take-aways from the beginning of the book are:

  1. Focus on the main thing. “You don’t have time to learn how to build a creative career in several disciplines at once. And there’s no point in confusing your audience with stuff that’s unrelated to your main direction, until you’re huge and your name on anything instantly makes it sell… For the moment, find your central passion–the thing that makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning–and stick to it.” Several of the instructors at Superstars made similar recommendations. At the beginning stick to the main thing and build from there.
  2. You’re not expendable. You can’t afford to treat yourself “like a member of the Borg collective, that’s either expendable or can regenerate overnight. Your body, mind and creativity won’t do this, and there will only ever be one of you. You cannot simply hire someone else to do the artistic work when you are burnt out or over-committed, as a factory boss can.” This second point really hit home for me. I need to treat my creative self with as much intentional focus on how to help her work uninterrupted as I did for people on my teams. I’m not replaceable in my own work.

I’m still trying to implement the first set of her recommendations, which are about clearing physical space. Anyone who has visited my house knows that we have too much stuff and it’s not organized all that well. So that’s the first step to take care of according to this book. It will take a while so expect to hear more about the rest of the book in a few weeks.

That’s where I am. Small successes, but everything worth having starts small and grows. One of Steve’s running mantras is “Persistent, Forward Progress.” It works for life as well.

I hope you are also moving forward with things important to you. Be well, friends! And stay well.

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