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Fierce Inner Kindness as a Writing Superpower


No. 140 | By Christine Carron

On a recent group coaching call with the writers in the Jam Straight program, we were discussing how to stay motivated in the face of rejections and uncertainty. Part of my answer included the suggestion to practice “fierce inner kindness.”

Inner Kindness is one of Goodjelly’s three pillars of writing progress, but that was the first time the group had heard me pair “fierce” with “inner kindness.” 

“Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?” one of the writers asked. 

Not only is it not a contradiction, the fierceness part is often the only way writers are able to shift into and embrace inner kindness, which is the foundational move for sustainable writing productivity.

That statement sometimes surprises writers. Kindness is the foundational move for writing productivity?

The Research Is In and Kindness Wins

There is a deeply rooted belief in our culture and certainly in writing culture that you have to be “tough” and “hard on yourself” to be successful and productive. 

In their Harvard Business Review article Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron write, “. . . there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, [but] what cutthroat organizations fail to recognize is the hidden costs incurred.” 

Seppälä and Cameron then identify three hidden costs. And those costs are doozies. First, the negative health impact of high-stress environments. Some of the stats they cite include: “more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job.”

The second hidden cost is disengagement. Here are some of those stats, “In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.” 

And pointedly they add, “While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term.”

The final hidden cost is lack of loyalty. They write, “Research shows that workplace stress leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover. People go on the job market, decline promotions, or resign.”

Who is Your Writing Boss?

At this point, you may be thinking, “This is all interesting data, Christine, but what does research on corporate environments and employees have to do with me and my writing?”

Well, in my perspective, writers who want to get published, by definition want to be professional writers, i.e., get paid for their writing. That is work. Which means you have a work environment. And you have a boss in charge of that environment: you. 

So, yes, you are both the writer and your writing boss. You are a company of one. 

Let’s translate that data to the writing endeavor so all of us writing bosses can make smarter decisions about the environments we are setting up for ourselves.

First, the health impact. If you are pushing yourself so hard that you are getting sick or stressed, you are not going to be writing or producing at your best.

Second, if you are bossing yourself and your writing in a hard-core, cut-throat kind of way—for example, letting your inner critic run the show—then, sure, you might get some initial productivity, but over the long term? Nope. 

I see the hardcore approach fail every time, both in my work in the corporate world and in my work with writers. It absolutely has net negative effective on writing productivity over the long haul. 

Finally, is that lack of loyalty. How does that translate to the writing adventure? It’s when writers feel so overwhelmed and disheartened that they give up. I find this consequence the most heartbreaking of all. It is also a full stop end to any writing productivity.

I am guessing if you are reading this post, that is not the outcome you want. You, like me, most likely want to redirect toward consistent, sustainable writing productivity. And that goal returns us to the notion of and the need for fierce inner kindness.

An Environment Where Your Writing Thrives

Once Seppälä and Cameron set up the costs of high-stress, hardcore environments, they identify—in contrast—six essential characteristics of positive and healthy work cultures:

Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.

Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes.

Inspiring one another at work.

Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.

Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

Now, again, we can look at those and most likely agree that they sound good. But to really set up our writing to thrive, we have to do the work of looking at those points through the lens of the environments we are creating for ourselves as writers.

To do so, I revised the principles a little and turned them into questions:

  • Do I care for myself, am I interested in what makes me tick as a writer, and do I maintain responsibility for my writing self in the same way I would for one of my writing friends? 
  • Do I provide support for myself, including offering kindness and compassion when I am struggling with my writing, with self-doubt, with rejections, with inner critic attacks, etc.?
  • Do I avoid self-blame and forgive myself for my mistakes?
  • Do I find ways to inspire myself to keep going?
  • Do I consistently reconnect to the meaning of why I started off on this adventure in the first place?
  • Do I treat myself and my writing with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity?

Oof. I don’t know about you, but for me the second list is a bit more confronting. It’s harder to think about applying that level of kindness and generosity to myself versus others. So, for me at least, it feels like we have officially strayed into the territory of “Yep, to do all that absolutely would take some fierce inner kindness.”

Be A Productivity-Inducing Boss of Your Writing Adventure

“It takes courage to be kind.”

— Maya Angelou 

Often writers hear the exhortation to write daily. Indeed, that mandate is often presented as the only path to writing productivity. Unfortunately, it is often applied by writers in ways that are so harsh and punitive—the "no pain, no gain" approach to writing—that it leads to doubt, despair, and blocks instead of consistent, inspired productivity. 

So my invitation (notice not an exhortation) is instead to focus on a daily practice of fierce inner kindness. It will require courage. It will require faith. Why? Because you will be completely rewiring your expectations of yourself and how you get your writing done. 

At first it most likely will feel slower. Like you are finding your way. (You will be.) And it will most likely feel weird to be kind to yourself. Which is why you need that little oomph of fierceness to keep yourself at it.

When you do, you will end up with a writing practice that generates progress from empowered action versus harshness, rigid exhortations, and inner critic bullying.

You will build trust in your writing process and in yourself as a productive writer. You will find yourself working for the best boss you’ve ever had. And you will be all in on your writing adventure with commitment, with confidence, and with courage no matter what twists and turns come your way. 

Wahoo to that! 

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