Writing and Editing
I confess, I am a devotee of lists. Lists are my friends. I take great satisfaction in making lists of things, and then I enjoy crossing these items off my list, one by one. I will not admit or deny that I add things to my list just so I can have the pleasure of crossing them off. I have my standards. I cannot add a chore to the list I made today if that task was completed last week. However, I can add very short tasks (inhale, exhale) if I need more guaranteed check marks or a boost to my self esteem. For those of you who also love lists, you do not need to read further, but you are probably the only people who will keep reading.
I don’t expect everyone to be this nutty, but I may be able to convince you that lists can be very useful. Here’s the trick – think of lists as a compilation of things you WANT to do, not things that you have to do. For example, I have “Watch Project Runway,” on this weekend’s list. I also have laundry, pay bills, and sweep the garage on the list and they are not quite as appealing as things-to-do, but I do want to get them done and will be pleased when I have finished.
Tips for list making:
- Most importantly, have enough things on your list that you WANT to do, like, “Shop for a camel jacket.” I was able to check that off rather quickly.
- Decide if your list is for a day, week, or six months and make the number of chores appropriate.
- If you need to carry things over from one list to another, do it – so what.
- Be reasonable. For a daily list, don’t write, “Lose 8 lbs.” Maybe you want to say, “Eat a salad” or “Go for a walk.”
- Lists that are ridiculously impossible only make you feel bad; they don’t work. Keep it somewhat reasonable.
- You are the boss. Change your list if you need to. After all, this is not homework for 6th grade and your teacher isn’t watching.
- Break things down into small steps (baby steps). For example, my monthly list has, “Paint the dining room,” but this weekend has, “Take down the cabinet.” The full week’s list has, “Pick paint color, Buy paint, Tape woodwork” – very possible with llots of check marks.
Lists work. They get the chores out of your head and on paper; you can think about other things; you won’t forget; you are focused; you feel organized; and you will get more done. Tell me about your lists and share your tips.
This is re-posted from several years ago. At the time, I was finishing up the edits on, “What Do I Say? The Therapist’s Guide To Answering Client Questions.” It was, and is, a book for graduate students and early career therapists, whether they are counselors, social workers or psychologists. I wrote it with Charlie Waehler as an outcome of a conversation about our teaching, supervising and mentoring experiences. We realized that no one talks about answering questions and yet, grad students are quite apprehensive about that sort of thing. So, we wrote it and John Wiley & Sons published it.
We are now in the process of doing the final edit on “What Do I Say?” Editing is very different from writing. When I write, I don’t censor my words in the first draft. I just get them down on paper. Then I go back, and back and back. I probably revisited each chapter in What Do I Say? 8 or 9 times, revising it, making it smoother, filling in missing material, taking out loads of stuff that sounded goofy as I reread it, but when I wrote it months earlier, I thought it was quite clever.
Editing is a ruthless task. I get attached to my words and then I have to force myself to be cold. I have learned to keep the two aspects of writing separate – writing is one part of the job and editing is a different job. Some writers blend the two tasks together. For me, writing comes first. It doesn’t work for me to edit as I write; not the first draft. It is like trying to be free and restrained at the same time. I can’t do it very well. When I write, I try to suspend my judgmental voice (always eager to chime in). When I edit, I step back and am critical of the words, the ideas, and the requirements of the project. Some very good ideas get eliminated because they are wrong for the particular piece, just like the fact that there are loads of beautiful clothes in the stores but they don’t all belong on me.
If you have helpful ideas about editing, please let me know. Everyone wants to be a better editor.
Cultivate better attention:
- Take a short break at regular intervals.
- Attend to one thing at a time when the task is worth doing well. Easy tasks like folding laundry that don’t require all your brain power can be accompanied by music, conversation, etc.
- Set aside periods of time for the task that needs your attention and protect that time. Break down the job if it is big and do one piece at a time, for example, give yourself a designated hour to clean a closet, pay bills, make build a house.
- Stop, breathe, take a few minutes to meditate and relax if your attention is flagging.
- If your task is moveable, consider leaving your usual place and trying a new spot (library, coffee shop) that might allow for fresher attention.
- Set a goal. It almost doesn’t matter what the goal is – just set one!
For Independence Day…. This is a post for anyone who has a teenager or who has ever been one.* It is a classic exchange between a mother and daughter. The daughter was me at age 18; luckily my mother had a good sense of humor.
This is an excerpt from a letter my mother wrote to me when I was a college freshman. She was responding to a letter (now lost) in which I think that I demanded to be “free of their parental tyranny” and had invoked all the psychological knowledge I was able to summon at the time. Really, I wanted to stay in Boston for the summer with my friends and my mom and dad didn’t like the idea.
* I was on academic probation when I made my demands
….That letter you composed to us was a very good one. If you applied yourself to your studies as diligentl, I’m sure you could do very well. By the way, “independence” is spelled with an “e”. As long as you want your independence so badly – maybe you had better learn to spell it.
Well, you’ve received our permission to spend most of your summer vacation in Boston. Just don’t forget the conditions………………
The letter went on with a gentle reminder of responsibility.
When the two groups were compared, authors found that, compared with normal people, comedians had the following characteristics:
- They found it unusually difficult to feel physical and social pleasure–psychologists call this anhedonia.
- They were antisocial and nonconformist.
- They were prone to magical thinking, like believing in telepathy or paranormal phenomena.
- They were easily distracted and found it difficult to focus.
One of the study’s authors, Gordon Claridge, explained:
“The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis–both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’.”
Author Mason Currey writes that “there”s no one way to get things done”. But, there are patterns. Currey studied writers, painters, philosophers and other wonderful minds. Perhaps we can learn from these work habits and increase our own creative lives.
Patterns seen in creative people’s work habits:
1. Be a morning person – early risers make up the majority of the great minds studied.
For some, an early start is a necessity because they had to combine creative pursuits with a job, raising children, both, or in order to avoid interruption. To become an early riser, get up at the same time daily but go to bed only when you”re truly tired – it trains your body to a new habit.
2. Don”t give up your day job; it provides financial security and forces you into self discipline and regularity
3. Take lots of walks, especially in natural settings if it is possible. Shake things up if you want to get novel ideas and walking also keeps disturbances at a minimum – esp. if you shut your phone off.
4. Stick to a schedule. Many creative people have more than schedules, they have rituals. It is better to have a tight schedule than no schedule. Psychologist William James described how a a strict routine helps to unleash the imagination. He believed that only by rendering many aspects of jameshallison casino daily life automatic and habitual could we “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”. Once you”ve resolved your time, that”s just what you do, no much thinking about it.,
5. Practice strategic substance abuse
Substance abuse is pretty common and no one recommends it – even as an aid to creativity. But there”s only one that has been championed near-universally down the centuries: coffee. A clear benefit of caffeine is heightened focus.
6. Learn to work anywhere
Don’t be precious – give up the idea that you must find exactly the right environment before you can get down to work. Get over yourself. Use routine, coffee, schedules that eliminate distractions, novelty and outdoors for freshness, embrace disciple – all these things give you freedom to create.
source: Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, published by Picador in the UK
If you need to feel better NOW, here is one technique that works. Make a plan! Making a plan provides you with anticipation and something to look forward to. The folks who research happiness say that anticipation can be a positive emotion (think holiday, gift, last day of school, new clothes, next game, special meal). Looking forward is an enjoyable experience, even better than reflecting on the event afterward.
So, the plan doesn’t have to be big; just put some treat out there in the near future and try to always have something to anticipate that is positive.
Source: Van Boven and Ashworth, 2007
A therapy book for everyone interested in smart questions and answers.
We all make goals, especially around the new year. When goals are very grand or very vague, they become difficult to achieve. Here are a couple of tips for achieving goals or solving problems. When a goal or problem seems too big to tackle, the advice (I’ve given and received this advice) is often, “break it down”. Well, it seems that we can go two steps further and
1. Break it down even more
2. After you have broken it down into simple components, try to generate other ideas about how to tackle it?
Tom McCaffrey, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts calls this the “generic-parts technique”. It helps to shake us loose from looking at the goal or problem in only 1 way. For example, he gave people candles and asked, “How could you break it down into parts?”
They broke the candle into wax and wick. Then he asked if they could use the wax and wick in other ways. After doing this, the participants’ success rates with other puzzles rose from 50% to 80%.