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  • gretchenrubin 19:35:12 on 2017/10/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , NaNoWriMo, , writing   

    Signing Up for “NaNoWriMo”–National Novel Writing Month? Here’s Why It Works. 

    Have you heard of "NaNoWriMo?" "National Novel Writing Month" is an engaging approach to writing a novel. The writing "month" is November, and starting on November 1, participants work toward the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel by midnight on November 30.

    Are you planning to join NaNoWriMo?

    As I describe in The Happiness Project, I did this program myself. I'd run into an acquaintance on the street, and she mentioned that she was writing a novel in a month. I was immediately intrigued. "How, why?" I asked.

    She told me that she was following a program laid out in Chris Baty's book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. You start without any preparation, don't edit yourself, and by writing 1,667 words a day, you write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

    Now, for many people, this wouldn't be an exciting prospect, but I went straight to a bookstore and bought the book myself. I followed the book's instructions, and wrote my novel in the month of September, but far more people join the NaNoWriMo community each November, and each year, a big surge of people do it together.

    By doing joining the official "month," you join an international group of people who are pursuing their writing projects at this particular time, and you can announce your project to the group, attend local events, award yourself with participation and writing badges, update your word count each day, verify your word count by writing your draft on the site, choose a "writing buddy," and so on.

    In all my work, I think about the question, "What makes us happier, and how can we get ourselves actually to do the things that make us happier?" And one challenge for many people is: "I know I would be happier if I worked on a creative project, but how do I actually get myself to make consistent progress on this project or side hustle?"

    A common happiness stumbling block is the feeling that you have a creative or entrepreneurial idea and impulse, but you're not putting that creation out into the world.

    I've been fascinated by NaNoWriMo for years, as a way to tackle this problem, and it's interesting to think about why its design has helped so many people to complete ambitious projects.

    For one thing, it's interesting to think about how it works for the Four Tendencies.

    For Upholders, write-a-novel-in-a-month provides a clear set of expectations. Note: as an Upholder, I didn't join the group or do my project in November. I did it on my own, in September, when it made the most sense for me. Just reading the book was enough to get me to do it, without that structure. Which may have meant that I missed out on some fun, too, of course.

    For Questioners, the program gives a concise justification for its perhaps seemingly arbitrary rules. "Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 words is a challenging but achievable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. This is about the length of The Great Gatsby. We don't use the word 'novella' because it doesn't seem to impress people the way 'novel' does." This brief explanation establishes authority, shows that experience has born out the effectiveness of this program, and explains why the goal has been set at a certain number.

    For Obligers, NaNoWriMo provides many kinds of accountability, which is crucial because a) Obligers need accountability if they're going to follow through and b) different Obligers respond differently to different forms of accountability. Here, you can set up accountability by announcing your goal publicly, joining a group, earning visible gold stars in the form of badges, attending a meeting, pairing up with a "buddy," getting your word count verified daily and at the end of the month by the program, etc.

    For Rebels, NaNoWriMo is a fun challenge. It's like running the Boston marathon, for creativity. "My friends don't think I can write my novel in a month? Well, I'll show them!" Rebels often like to meet their aims in unconventional ways -- like NaNoWriMo. And with this program, you can drop out at any time, obviously, and you're not locking yourself in for long. "Can I do this for a month? Of course I can!"

    Obviously, even people who aren't Questioners like to understand the reasons behind what they're being asked to do, and even people who aren't Rebels like a fun challenge, and even people who aren't Obligers can benefit from accountability. That said, I do think that certain aspects of the program will resonate most deeply to particular Tendencies.

    Also, in my book Better Than Before, I outline the twenty-one strategies we can use to make or break our habits.

    NaNoWriMo taps into these habit strategies:

    Convenience: by writing on the site, it's easy to save your work, get credit for it, and track your word count.

    Monitoring: when we monitor, we tend to do a better job of following through, and this program is all about monitoring what you're creating. I remember that when I was writing my novel, I spent a lot of time checking my word count, to see if I'd reached the magic number of 1,667.

    Scheduling: you're writing every day, and as my Secret of Adulthood holds, it's often easier to do something every day rather than sometimes or most days.

    Loophole-Spotting: no excuses, no loopholes!

    and very important...

    First Steps: for many people, it's hard to get started. This kind of boot camp, start-now approach is a way to get a project off the ground.

    Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo -- if so, how did it work out? If you haven't done it, does this kind of program appeal to you?

    If you want to read more about my experience writing a novel in a month (a novel that's safely locked in a desk drawer now), I describe it in the chapter "September: Pursue a Passion" in my book The Happiness Project.

     
  • gretchenrubin 17:27:57 on 2017/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , writing   

    A Little Happier: The Book “The Hobbit” Illustrates How Boredom Can Spark Creativity. 

    In Episode 92, Elizabeth and I interviewed Manoush Zomorodi, the host and managing editor of the terrific podcast Note to Self — “the tech show about being human.”

    Manoush has a fascinating book coming out soon, called Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.

    I got to read the galley, and in the book, she recounts a wonderful story, about J.R.R. Tolkien.

    In the early 1930s, J.R.R. Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, and he made extra money by grading papers. As he was doing this (very dull) work, he came upon a blank page. He wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    Almost ten years after writing that first line, Tolkien completed his book, The Hobbit. And that line is, indeed, the first line of that novel. After his publisher asked for a sequel, he went on to write the giant towering masterpiece trilogy, The  Lord of the Rings.

    Sometimes, boredom allows us to dream up some new idea.

    Have you ever had a great idea, insight, or creative spark while being bored? While driving, while showering, while doing some boring household task? Perhaps this is one reason that walking and running seem to spark creativity.

    This mini-episode is brought to you by the Platinum Card from American Express. There’s a world of experiences waiting to open up with the Platinum Card–backed by the services and security of American Express.

    Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

     

     Happier listening!

    The post A Little Happier: The Book “The Hobbit” Illustrates How Boredom Can Spark Creativity. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 15:42:04 on 2017/05/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , side hustle, , writing   

    Podcast 116: Start a Side Hustle, a Travel Hack, and the Stumbling Block of “Raising the Bar.” 

    Update: Elizabeth’s new podcast Happier in Hollywood launches on May 18!

    Try This at Home:  Start a side hustle. We were inspired by Chris Guillebeau‘s excellent podcast Side Hustle School (which is part of The Onward Project, by the way).

    Elizabeth and I interviewed Chris during our live event in Seattle. If you want to listen, it’s in episode 87.

    Chris’s terrific book, Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days, is available for pre-order.

    If you want to take the quiz to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, take it here.

    Also, I now have a cover for my book The Four Tendencies. We worked on it for a long time, and I love the final version.
    1pixThe Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

    The Four Tendencies is now available for pre-order. (If you’re inclined to buy the book, it’s a big help to me if you pre-order; pre-orders build support among booksellers, the media, and other readers.)

    Happiness Hack: When Christa travels for work, she takes pictures of Mr. Potato Head in various places. This gets her out of the conference venue and is a fun thing to send to her children.

    Elizabeth mentions the father Stephen who photo-shops pictures of his baby in dangerous places (see above). You can see more photos here.

    Happiness Stumbling Block: Sometimes, with very good intentions, people “raise the bar” in a way that takes the satisfaction out of our achievements.

    Listener Question: Sarah asks whether it’s a crazy idea to keep a chart of “keeping-in-touch goals” to strengthen her relationships.

    Demerit: Elizabeth doesn’t make timely decisions.

    Gold Star: I give a gold star to my daughters’ school, which has many lovely, fun traditions for seniors to celebrate the end of high school. If you want to hear Eliza talk about a school tradition on her podcast, Eliza Starting at 16, listen to the bonus clip at the end of this episode, or listen to the whole episode here.

    Two Resources:

    1.  If you’d like a discussion guide for my Better Than Before, you can download it here; for The Happiness Project or Happier at Home, download here. Or email me to request what you want.
    2. Speaking of my books, Mother’s Day approaches. If you need a gift for a mother in your life, I will self-promotingly suggest that one of my books might make a good gift. The books, the coloring book, The One-Sentence Journal for Mothers, there’s a lot to choose from.

    If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

    I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

    Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial,  including postage and a digital scale — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

    Also check out Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

    Also check out ThirdLove, the lingerie brand that uses real women’s measurements to design better-fitting bras. Try one of their bestselling bras for free, for 30 days, by visiting ThirdLove.com/happier.

    We love hearing from listeners:

     

    To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

    If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

    Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

    How to Subscribe

    If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

    Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

    Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that on May 18.

    HAPPIER listening!

    The post Podcast 116: Start a Side Hustle, a Travel Hack, and the Stumbling Block of “Raising the Bar.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:31 on 2017/04/29 Permalink
    Tags: National Poetry Month, , , writing   

    Is There a Poem that Constantly Runs Through Your Head? 

    April is National Poetry Month.

    I don’t read much poetry these days; usually, when I do, it’s because a book that I’m reading includes a quote from a poem, and that makes me interested enough to look it up.

    I found one of my favorite poems that way. I was reading Marjorie Williams’s wonderful collection of essays, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, and that led me to read Randall Jarrell’s brilliant, haunting poem of that name. Read it here.

    When I was researching my book Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I came across the fact that at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral, Constantine Cavafy’s Ithaka was read at her funeral. Beautiful.

    Or a poem is called to my attention in another way. The other day, I was walking with a friend, and she pulled up a poem on her phone and said, “Reading this has been a huge epiphany for me.” I see why! That last line! Read Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

    I’m obsessed with the subject of color right now, and it’s clear that the patron poet of color is Wallace Stevens –“The Man with the Blue Guitar,” to take just one example. (In my obsession, I’m truly hunting down any color-related material I can find.)

    In middle school, I had to memorize a lot of poems, and I can still recite them.  Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” I will recite them in my head if I’m feeling anxious in a dentist’s chair.

    Do you read poetry, or do you have a poem that sticks in your mind for some reason?

    You know what I was, you see what I am: change me, change me!

     

    The post Is There a Poem that Constantly Runs Through Your Head? appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 19:55:50 on 2017/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , writing   

    A Little Happier: An Important Lesson from a Sticky Note on a Friend’s Computer. 

    A note on a friend’s computer taught me a giant lesson about writing — and about life. Down with boredom. Whenever possible, skip the boring parts!

    In writing all my books, if there’s an aspect of my subject that bores me, I figure out a way to write around it. And no one has ever seemed to notice.

    I try to do the same thing in all aspects of my life. Down with boredom. It’s not always easy, but it’s often more possible than you might imagine.

    Have you ever figured out a way to skip a boring part?

    Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

    Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

     

     Happier listening!

    The post A Little Happier: An Important Lesson from a Sticky Note on a Friend’s Computer. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 16:10:37 on 2017/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: birthday, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , writing   

    Podcast 113: Reclaim Your Dump Zones, a Hack for Making Tough Decisions, and Is Your Birthday Important to You? 

    Update: There’s an official launch date of May 18 for Elizabeth’s great new podcast with her writing partner and old friend Sarah Fain. Yes, Happier in Hollywood launches in a few weeks. I’m counting down the days!

    The Better app, all about the Four Tendencies, is now free. If you want to learn more about Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, join the discussion on the app. Or if you want to use the framework at work, with your health clients, with your family, with your students, you can find a lot of focused discussions there, too. And you can start or join an Accountability Group. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take the Four Tendencies quiz.)

    Try This at Home: Reclaim your dump zones. I reclaimed the little table I describe — above, you can see it pictured in its naked glory.

    Here’s one of my all-time favorite podcast episode — #10, live from Elizabeth’s messy closet.

    If you’re intrigued by the subject of clutter-busting, you might enjoy my book Happier at Home. For many people, outer order is a very important for happiness at home.

    Happiness Hack: Turn on the subtitles when you’re watching TV.

    Know Yourself Better: Is your birthday important to you — or not?

    Listener Question: Danielle asks, “My family constantly debates whether we should stay in New York City, or move to the suburbs, and it makes me feel constantly unsettled.”

    The book I mention is Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness.

    Demerit: I made the mistake of “treating a gift like a burden,” when I was working over spring break to get The Four Tendencies ready for publication.

    Gold Star: Jack’s nanny Cynthia made lots of special plans to make spring break fun for him.

    New feature: Each week, at the end of the podcast, I list “Two Resources for You.”

    1. To get every new episode of the podcast by email, sign up at happiercast.com/join.
    2. Every Tuesday at 3:00 pm Eastern Time, I do a Facebook Live video about the most recent episode. Join the conversation with your questions, comment, and insights. If you miss the live conversation, you can always see the archived version on my Page.

    If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

    As mentioned above, I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

    Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

    Also check out StitchFix, an online personal styling service with real stylists who handpick clothing for you — your taste, your schedule, your lifestyle, your budget. Sign up at StitchFix.com.

    Also check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial,  including postage and a digital scale — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

    1pix

    We love hearing from listeners:

     

    To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

    If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

    Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

    How to Subscribe

    If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

    Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

    Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

    HAPPIER listening!

    The post Podcast 113: Reclaim Your Dump Zones, a Hack for Making Tough Decisions, and Is Your Birthday Important to You? appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 23:44:24 on 2017/04/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , studying, , , writing   

    Podcast 112: Pick a Uniform, Time Yourself, and a Deep Dive into a Conflict with a Boss. 

    Update: There’s an official launch date of May 18 for Happier in Hollywood, the fantastic new podcast that Elizabeth is doing with her longtime writing partner and friend, Sarah Fain. Of course I’m biased, but it’s so good.

    Try This at Home: Pick a uniform.

    Here are the two articles I mention about wearing a uniform: “Why I wear the same thing to work everyday” by Matilda Kahl, and the follow-up article, “Saatch & Saatchi has a Dress Like Matilda day.” So fun to see this uniform in action! (The photo above shows people at the “Dress Like Matilda” day.)

    We talked about Kim Scott, co-host of the podcast Radical Candor and author of the bestselling book Radical Candor, who wears a uniform of an orange sweater and jeans.

    1pix

    I also mention the article “Obama’s Way,” the interview by Michael Lewis where President Obama talks about paring down his decisions about choosing suits.

    Happiness Hack: Clare in Seattle suggests timing yourself to see how long a task actually takes.

    Deep Dive: We return to Cindy’s listener question, which we discussed in episode 108: “My boss quit smoking, and now wants to join me in my precious solo lunchtime walks.” Listeners raised so many excellent points.

    If you want to take the Four Tendencies quiz, it’s here–find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

    Speaking of Kim Scott, because so many listeners suggested using “radical candor,” we actually called her to ask  how to use radical candor in this context. For more info on Radical Candor, check out the podcast. And here’s a photo of the “Flintstone House.” It’s pretty kooky.

    1pix

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    Listener Question: Tara asked for study tips, because she’s a mother, working full-time, and studying for online course.

    Demerit: Elizabeth’s glasses were scratched and hard to see through — for years. But now she has new glasses! Demerit becomes gold star.

    Gold Star: I give a gold star to Eleanor, who used a cute video of baby sloths to calm herself while getting a shot.

    New feature: I’m starting a new feature; each week, at the end of the podcast, I’ll list “Two Resources for You.”

    1. Check out Elizabeth’s terrific young-adult novel, Flower.
    2. The Better app, which is all about the Four Tendencies, is now free! It used to cost $9.99/month, but I decided to make it free.

    If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

    I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

    Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial,  including postage and a digital scale — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

    Also check out Little Passports. Check out “Science Expeditions” — the new educational subscription with a science theme that kids and parents will love. To save 40% on your first month’s subscription, enter the coupon code HAPPY.

    Visit Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 15% off your first Framebridge order. Shipping is free.

    We love hearing from listeners:

     

    To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

    If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

    Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

    How to Subscribe

    If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

    Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

    Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

    HAPPIER listening!

    The post Podcast 112: Pick a Uniform, Time Yourself, and a Deep Dive into a Conflict with a Boss. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:35 on 2017/03/30 Permalink
    Tags: architecture, , , , , John Freeman Gill, , , , The Gargoyle Hunters, , , writing   

    “Deciding to Write Consistently and Actually Doing So for 5 Years Are Very Different Things.” 

    John Freeman Gill

    Interview: John Freeman Gill.

    I’ve been friends with briliant writer John Gill since the first months of our freshman year at Yale — the days are long, but the years are short!

    He’s been a New York Times contributor for many years, and writes for many other publications as well. He has just published his debut novel, The Gargoyle Hunters, and it is so good. I was thrilled to have the chance to write a blurb for the cover, and here’s what I said:

    John Freeman Gill’s The Gargoyle Hunters is a brilliant evocation of many things: the world of a thirteen-year-old boy, with its mixture of thoughtless destructiveness and wrenching emotion; a son’s relationship with a charismatic, architecture-loving, thieving father; the endless changes to timeless Manhattan during the crumbling, tumultuous 1970s. Funny, heartbreaking, elegiac, unforgettable—David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green meets E. B. White’s Here Is New York.

    The novel is getting tremendous buzz and praise. Among other things, The Gargoyle Hunters was named one of Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection for Spring 2017. And if you’d like to read a (terrific) review, check out “‘The Gargoyle Hunters’: A Love Letter to New York City.

    I’m going to do a Facebook Live interview with John on Friday, March 31, at 3:00 pm Eastern — we’re going to do the interview on the steps of the townhouse where the novel is set. How great is that!

    John has been working on this novel for a long time, and I was curious to learn how his habits helped (or hurt) the process.

    GRETCHEN: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, etc.?

    JOHN: Yes, but to explain I’ll first need to give a bit of background. I’ve wanted to be a novelist ever since fifth grade, when I wrote a series of waggish short stories about a raffish British private detective named Anthony Bristol. My tastes became more literary as I grew up, and ever since high school, my favorite novel has been The Horse’s Mouth, by the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary. The book is a hilarious and irresistible 1944 tale about a winningly irreverent old London painter named Gulley Jimson, who begs, borrows, steals, and cons his way through life, shoving all else aside in a relentless drive to finish a gigantic modern painting that has seized his imagination and won’t let go.

    When I was in my twenties, I attended an MFA program in creative writing, and in 1995, the first week after I graduated and was on my own, I sat down in a fever and banged out 15 pages of a novel. I liked those pages, but life took me in another direction (screenwriting), and then another (journalism). Over the next two decades, despite writing no new fiction, I read literary novels nonstop and never stopped seeing myself as a novelist who just happened to be writing other kinds of stories. But somehow I never quite took the plunge and committed myself to writing a novel.

    Then, a few years ago, I was walking around in Park Slope, Brooklyn, not far from my home, and I stumbled upon a cardboard box full of discarded books in front of an old brownstone. One of the books was a crumbling, yellowed paperback copy of The Horse’s Mouth, a 1957 edition with a tattered purple cover. The serendipity of that moment really did feel like a lightning bolt. I’d forgotten how much I loved Gulley and his relentless artistic drive, and I’d forgotten how much I needed to write fiction. That old paperback book, its spine broken and its pages falling out, reminded me. I gathered up the pages and began to read as I walked home, so engrossed that I nearly got hit by a car in a crosswalk. The novel is narrated in the first person by Gulley himself, and one sentence in particular resonated with me. “And I perceived I hadn’t time to waste on pleasure,” Gulley writes on the very first page. “A man of my age has to get on with the job.”

    “The job,” of course, is the making of art. And I, in my forties at the time, decided that Gulley had it exactly right. The time for procrastination was past. I began writing my novel the next morning and didn’t stop until I finished it five years later. It’s called The Gargoyle Hunters, and Knopf is publishing it.

    So it sounds like you managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—writing fiction consistently—that had eluded you for ages. How did you do it?

    It’s a fair question. Because, of course, deciding to write consistently and actually doing so for five years are very different things. The new habit that I think proved most important was that I began keeping a daily log of how many hours I wrote. This kept me from lying to myself with all kinds of rationalizations about how hard I was working if I wasn’t really buckling down.

    When you’re writing a novel, see, you don’t have a boss either to pat you on the head or kick you in the ass. All you have is your own constantly fluctuating sense of how good a day’s work you just performed and how the novel is going over all. So I felt it was necessary to superimpose an overarching structure on the writing process, to simulate having a boss who would take me to task if I was underachieving. And for me, the best way to ensure steady progress was to monitor the time spent at my desk. For me, time equals writing. Some writers talk about how many words they write each day, and I’ve always admired authors who can crank out page after page in a single sitting. But for me, that measurement is pretty meaningless. I’m a very slow, methodical writer who labors over the language, so for me, word count is sort of beside the point. I mean, the idea is to write the right words, not just a lot of them, isn’t it? So by logging the number of hours I write, rather than the number of words, I free myself from the tyranny of quantity and permit myself to take as long as I need to get every sentence and paragraph into a form I’m happy with.

    Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    I’m terrible at going to bed. I just won’t do it. I’m a sleep idiot. I stay up too late, which saps my energy and keeps me from ever becoming that well-organized fellow of lore who leaps out of bed each morning, carpe-ing the diem and immediately penning reams of deathless prose.

    Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    I think the most important newish habit I have is swimming. I have no fear of the water—I grew up in the ocean at Fire Island, exultantly body-surfing hours a day—but I’ve never been a strong swimmer; for most of my life I was never good enough to do more than three or four frantic, exhausted laps at a time. My wife’s parents have a beautiful pool up in the Berkshires, though, and two summers ago I basically taught myself to swim. I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong—I’m just going on memory from the lessons I was given as a child—but by taking it slowly and breaking down the elements of what my body was doing in the water, I taught myself to breathe properly, and now I can basically swim laps indefinitely. I belong to a gym that has an Olympic-size pool, and it’s just half a block from my house in Brooklyn, so anytime I’m feeling stressed or just need to escape my own mind, I go swim until I’ve got my zonk on. Immersing yourself in the world of a novel for several years is so consuming that it’s hard to turn your mind off at the end of the work day. Your brain wants to keep rehashing those creative issues you’ve been grappling with all day. And that’s just really destructive and counter-productive. So I’ve found that the best way to make a clean break from the day’s mental efforts is to swim myself to exhaustion. When I do that, I get out of the pool happily devoid of thoughts. Part of the secret to writing, it turns out, is to learn how not to write.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits?

    The Internet is the enemy. And lunch. I know from experience that if I ever meet someone for lunch, I never refocus on my work again properly that day. So I solve that problem simply by never having lunch with anyone. I meet someone for lunch maybe five times a year.

    The Internet is even more insidious. There’s simply no way to do serious creative work if you keep interrupting yourself to check e-mail or read online articles that fuel your righteous indignation about the state of our national politics. I used to belong to a writers room here in New York, and I found it very enlightening and motivating. On the one hand, there are writers—usually women in their fifties or sixties, I’ve found—who are hardcore: banging away at the keyboard as if they can barely type fast enough to keep up with the rapid-fire verbiage their Muse is shouting in their ear. On the other hand, though, you wouldn’t believe how many people spend their writing days reading about celebrity Scientologists or shopping for shoes. News flash: You can’t write fiction while checking out sparkly high-tops on Zappos.

    The truth is, though, I don’t have particularly good self-control myself. So I installed a great piece of software on my laptop called Freedom, which you can program to lock you out of the Internet for whatever period of time you like. It’s a life-changer. I think of it as prosthetic will-power.

    The post “Deciding to Write Consistently and Actually Doing So for 5 Years Are Very Different Things.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:18:40 on 2017/03/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , writing   

    “All That I Ever Hope to Say Is that I Love the World.” What Do You Hope to Say? 

    “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”

    –E. B. White

    He wrote this to a reader of his masterpiece of children’s literature, Charlotte’s Web.

    If you were to fill in the blank, “All that I ever hope to say is that I _____,” how would you answer?

    Ah, Charlotte’s Web. An extraordinary, beautiful book. If you haven’t read it since you were a child, re-read it now. It’s a book that immediately made it onto my list of my 81 Favorite Works of Children’s and Young-Adult Literature.

    The post “All That I Ever Hope to Say Is that I Love the World.” What Do You Hope to Say? appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:43:03 on 2017/02/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , writing   

    How Agatha Christie’s “Kittens” Game Helped Prepare Her to Write Her Famous Mysteries. 

    When people ask about career change, or also, how to get more fun in life, I often find myself telling people: “What you did as a child is probably something you’d enjoy as an adult, for work and for play.”

    I’m fascinated by how a person’s play as a child can prefigure their adult life. For instance, a friend who played with her three dollhouses well into her teens is now an interior designer.

    I was reminded of this when I read Agatha Christie’s fascinating Autobiography.

    In recalling her childhood days, Christie noted of her nurse that “Perhaps because she was an old woman and rheumatic, my games were played around and beside, but not wholly with, Nursie. They were all make-believe.”

    Christie would sit near her nurse,  and play games with “The Kittens.”

    “Nursie was too wise ever to talk to me about them, or to try to join in the murmurings of conversation going on round her feet. Probably she was thankful that I could amuse myself so easily.”

    Many years later, while Christie was recovering from the flu, her mother suggested that she might try writing a story.

    Christie got the idea to write a detective story when she was working in a medical dispensary. She started to think about how the murder would be committed, and by whom, and why.

    As the story started to take shape, she began to form her characters, and then, she recounts, “I took all three [characters] off the tram with me to work upon–and walked up Barton Road muttering to myself just as in the days of the Kittens.”

    Much later in the book, reflecting on the process of writing, she says, “Oh well, I suppose it is just the same as when I was four years old talking to the kittens. I am still talking to the kittens, in fact.”

    For me, this story has three lessons:

    1. We never know what’s a “waste of time,” for ourselves or for other people.
    2. What we did as a child is probably something we’d enjoy as an adult, for work or play.
    3. People do best what comes naturally.

    Do you agree with some or all of these conclusions?

    The post How Agatha Christie’s “Kittens” Game Helped Prepare Her to Write Her Famous Mysteries. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
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