Stress Less, Write More
Writers are no strangers to stress. Many of us work full-time day jobs and write, or we balance a family and write, or we balance a family, a day job, and school, and write. There is just so much to keep up with, and few of us are blessed enough to have a secret lab with a death ray that will vaporize intruders….though I’m still saving. Frequently, writers will
whine say, “But I just don’t have tiiiime. Writing and work and blogging and social media. There isn’t enough tiiiiiiime.”
Granted, all of us are spread thinly, but the thing is we have the same 24 hours as everyone else. Often we DO have the time, we just lack focus. We don’t have a time management conflict, we have a values conflict. Very often we have plenty of time, we just have values or beliefs or weaknesses that are devouring our time.
I have always struggled with organization, and frankly, if don’t make a list, I will be sorting baby pictures or writing out greeting cards in three minutes flat. I’ve always been envious of people who run their homes with military efficiency. You know the people I am talking about; those folk who aren’t afraid of their closets and actually know what is in every drawer.
Know Where You Are Weak
Yet, I have to say that just because something is our nature doesn’t mean that we are to be a victim to our innate shortcomings. In fact, Bob Mayer gives a wonderful exercise in his workshops. He says to look at our Myers-Briggs personality…then look at the opposite of our personality, and likely that is the area we need the most work.
I am going to take it a step farther. I believe that the opposite of our personality could be what keeps us from ever enjoying great success. That simple weakness could be where all your minutes are hemorrhaging away, bleeding out your energy unnoticed.
More on this in a second…
Procrastination is Birthed from Fear
One of my all-time favorite books is Eat That Frog—21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey. For those of you who follow this blog, I’ve mentioned this book many times before because I love it. It WORKS. Anyway, in Eat That Frog, Tracey gives an interesting rule.
Rule: Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
Tracey advises that you sit down and write out all that is required for you to do your job. We’ll take five for our purposes today. As a writer I must:
- Have a good imagination
- A solid command of grammar
- Possess a modicum of talent when it comes to writing prose
- Have the self-discipline to write
- Possess superior organizational ability
When it comes to the first four, I totally ROCK….and then we get to that last part *winces.* Superior organization? Oh yeah.
First of all, even when you write non-fiction, information needs to flow in an optimal way or it won’t be enjoyable reading (this is part of that ever-elusive “voice” we’ve been talking about).
Same thing applies to fiction, and the way we organize and deliver the story is a HUGE part of voice. If we hope to be a successful novelist, we have to be masters at organization. We have to balance narrative plot points, character arcs, POV, setting, dialogue and keep everything straight and give it perfect timing.
The greatest part of dramatic tension is relaying the right piece of information at the right time. We have to manage all these components over the span of 60-110,000 words. This is one of the reasons many aspiring novelists never get beyond the “aspiring” part. They believe that the talent to manage all of this information is something writers are born with, when in fact it is a skill that 99% of the time must be taught, and then refined with a lot of trial, error and shots of tequila.
Writing a novel is an entirely different creature, yet many new writers mistakenly believe that they can jump from short story to novel with no problem. Sure. That is like creating a three-bar melody and then believing we are ready to compose a symphony with a 100 piece orchestra.
And, if I look at where I have had the largest struggles when it comes to writing…it has always been in my ability to organize (or lack of ability as the case may be).
Ah, but if we look at my Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP, which means I am highly skilled at concepts and BIG ideas…but I fall apart when it comes to execution because I have to work extra hard to manage the small details. If we look at the opposite of my personality we get…my husband. Seriously, there should be a picture of my husband below the ISTJ.
Tigger married Spock.
ENFP (The Inspirer)——ISTJ (The Duty Fulfiller)
HUBBY: Kristen, you are being illogical.
I have creativity, imagination and enough energy to power a small city, but it is clear where I fall abysmally short. Ah, the devil is in the details.
I think this Myers Briggs test is a great exercise for getting a clear idea of what specifically is in our nature that needs to be addressed, the weakness that is the biggest time and energy suck. But I want to take it another step.
The Pareto Principle
In Eat That Frog, Tracey also introduces the Pareto Principle. In 1895, economist Vincent Pareto noticed that society seemed to naturally divide into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” 20% of the population had all the wealth power and influence and the bottom 80% got whatever was left. He later discovered that this principle held true in all economic activity.
In short, 20% of our activity will account for 80% of our results.
This means that if we have a list of ten things to do, TWO of those items will be worth as much if not more than the other eight combined. But can you guess which items we are most likely to procrastinate on doing? The items that will cause us the most stress and sap most of our energy? Right. The two activities that could make the most difference. We are also most likely to procrastinate where we are weak.
Can you guess where I procrastinate? Yep, any activity that requires organizational skills. Whether it is plotting my novel or filing invoices, I do everything I can to get out of doing the chores that require I operate where I am weak. Yet, remember the rule I began with?
Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
This rule basically says that if I do not figure out a way to mitigate or correct my greatest weakness, that it will always be my single greatest limiting factor.
So What Can We Do?
First, buy a copy of Eat That Frog. LOVE this book and use its principles to get A LOT of work done. See, knowledge is power and once we become aware of our limiting factors, then we can take action. We aren’t at the mercy of our nature.
I know organization will never come natural to me, but it does come naturally to my mother, my sister-in-law, and my husband. When I need a system worked out for me, I have learned that I don’t have to do everything. I can delegate. GASP! I know! Cool, right? This frees me up to focus where I am strongest, which will make me more productive, which will alleviate stress.
Of course, delegating isn’t one of those things I do well, naturally either, so I have to surround myself with friends who will
slap me correct me if I fail to delegate properly.
Hi, Piper! Hi, Ingrid! Hi Jenny!
I also make lists every day and no longer try to just “keep it in my head.” I then look at that list and whatever item makes me cringe when I read it (FROGS)? That is what I do first. Remember, 20% of our activity is going to account for 80% of our results.
When I tackle the toughest items first, I actually get more accomplished overall.
When we do the toughest jobs first, we get an endorphin rush from the sense of accomplishment. Also, since our toughest jobs are out of the way, the other “less important” chores go faster since we aren’t dragging our feet dreading the FROGS.
And how does this apply to writing? Well, I know that my prose is strong and I suffer no lack of imagination, BUT I do not naturally plot well. I used to get lost in the details and had a tough time keeping everything straight. This is why most of the writing books I now buy have to do with various ways to plot.
Instead of reading book after book studying my strengths (dialogue), I started to focus more on my weak areas, because those areas would be my limiting factor if left unaddressed. I also know that my writing will be faster and cleaner and require fewer revisions if I can strengthen this weak area. I also surround myself with fellow writers who are natural plotters because they can add even more strength to my area of weakness.
We Can’t Change What We Won’t Face
What is your weak writing area? Work on that FIRST. Find fellow writers who are strong where you are weak. #MyWANA is a good place to start.
Same in life and business. What is your weakness? Is it organization? Confrontation? Community? We don’t need to remake our personalities, and I do believe we should work to make the most of our strengths, but we must acknowledge and account for our weaknesses. Some weaknesses we can and must conquer if we want to be successful. Fear is a good example.
Maybe the two things I don’t want to do are because I fear rejection. Well, the best way to conquer a fear is to face a fear. Sometimes the only way out is through.
Other weaknesses? Those might be best delegated. I know I will never be highly organized. My brain doesn’t work that way, BUT I can delegate to people who are and, odds are, if they are good at my weakness then I am good at theirs. They help me and I can help them and then we are always working in the areas where we are strongest. TEAM.
Fact is, until we take an inventory, we can’t make a plan. Again, knowledge is power.
So what are some issues you guys struggle with and how do you deal with them? Any books or resources you can recommend? Are you a master at organization and maybe can offer tips? Or, are you like me? A junk drawer junkie? How do you overcome the clutter?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.