No. 99 | By Christine Carron
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from expert dog trainer and agility champion Susan Garrett is to set your dog (and yourself) up for success. Another Susan gem that totally aligns with my process improvement consultant perspective: if something is hard or a challenge, there is likely an easier way to do it. You just have to figure out what that easier way is.
For example, in one group training session Susan said, “Look, if your dog is reactive when you pass another dog, move your dog to the other side so that you are between the two dogs. This helps both you and your dog manage the reactivity.”
That suggestion was so brilliant in its simplicity (and obvious once she pointed it out) that move the dog to the other side has become one of my mottos. A metaphor not just for dog training, but other areas of my life, too. Like writing.
So if I’m faced with a writing situation that is hard or a struggle, I ask myself: what is a move the dog to the other side action I could take here?
Often when I’m walking Keiko the Wonder Dog, we run into dog owners who don’t know the move the dog to the other side tip. The dog is on the side closest to us, the owner does not switch the dog to the other side, and we sometimes have dogs lunging and pulling toward us. No harm, no foul. Everyone is on their own dog journey. I do my thing with Keiko and we move on.
Recently, however, we've come across a dog owner who actively does the exact opposite of what Susan suggests. The woman has a dog that outweighs Keiko by at least forty pounds. Both times we’ve seen her, the dog starts on the opposite side. (Where the woman is between us and her dog. Yay!) But then this woman sees us coming, stops, and methodically moves the dog to the side closest to us. (What?)
I don’t know if she was trying to do some kind of exposure therapy, or what, but both times this bruiser of a dog was suddenly barking, lunging, and pulling toward us with the woman struggling to keep hold and yelling, “Come! Come! Come!” as they passed.
Why did she make it harder for herself and her dog? I have no idea.
Like that dog owner, I often see writers make the writing adventure harder than it needs to be. Are they doing this on purpose? Goodness, no. But intentional or not, common ways that writers think about, interact with, and manage their writing often slow their progress and mess with their mindset.
Lack of progress and mindset challenges negatively impact our morale. Morale is one of the most precious resources a writer has, yet hardly anyone teaches writers how to nurture it, how to maintain it, how to avoid squandering it.
Squandered morale undercuts grit and determination. In one study about morale and productivity, the data* showed that low morale leads to:
That study was done in a corporate environment. Let’s translate those data points into writing journey consequences. The decreased productivity effect of low morale for a writer means they are not making the progress on their project(s) that they want to make. Increased rates of absenteeism means the writer is probably skipping planned working sessions, and possibly can’t even explain why. They just don't show up for their writing when they say they are going to show up for it.
Increased conflict in the corporate world means interpersonal conflict with coworkers. From a writing perspective, increased conflicts means more intrapersonal conflict, i.e., more (and more vicious) inner critic attacks, less self-compassion, greater disappointment and doubt. Which then, of course, contributes to even lower morale.
Finally, how increased employee turnover translates to the writing context is probably the most devastating consequence of low morale: it's when a writer gives up. Stops writing. Lets go of their writing dreams.
These are the reasons why cultivating and maintaining morale is such a critical part of the Goodjelly approach. We want to set ourselves and our writing up for success. That starts by getting straight about the ways which we are inadvertently making the writing adventure harder.
(1) Not Claiming Progress
Many writers don’t claim the progress they are making. They are always focused on what is left to do and fail to acknowledge what they’ve gotten done.
(2) Dissing Progress
Many writers go further than simply not claiming progress, they actively diss the progress they do make. It wasn’t “enough,” they “should have done more,” or some language that is even harsher, courtesy of their inner critic.
(3) Valuing only writing
Acing the writing adventure requires more than just writing. Writing, obviously, is the star of the show, but if that is all a writer values, i.e., actively minimizing or getting annoyed by the other work that is required, the writer makes it harder to get that other work done.
Sure, keeping your files organized, learning how to plan your work effectively, learning a new technology like Scrivener, building your author platform, etc., may not be why you signed up to be a writer, but if that work helps get your words, your story, your writing out to the world, then it needs to get done. Internally bad mouthing it is counterproductive.
Note: I’m not suggesting you have to achieve rah-rah enthusiasm for every aspect of the writing adventure, but moving to neutral will make the journey easier.
(4) Trying to max all the time
Many writers hold themselves to a standard where any and ALL writing time they have is supposed to be uber creative, uber productive, and generally maximized to the nth degree. This is an unrealistic standard. Trying to hold yourself to it and then failing to meet it tanks your morale.
(5) Denying or dramatizing blocks
Writers are generally not taught how to handle blocks in a pragmatic, methodical way. The truth is that writers run into blocks like any other person who does creative work. Which is pretty much anyone I’ve worked with in the past, be they business strategist, technical programmer, quality assurance specialist, designers, academics, biotech researchers, or . . . writers.
In other fields, blocks are treated as part of the process. Something to be identified, sorted, and handled. Not as failure of the person or of their work.
Note: If you want to learn more about handling blocks Goodjelly-style, check out this free audio lesson and worksheet.
(6) Not creating rhythm and flow
Most writers make massive to-do lists. That is better than no planning, but to-do lists don’t create rhythm or flow, they don’t allow elegant prioritization, they feel endless, and contribute to a feeling of slogging with your writing. Slogging is morale tanking, rhythm and flow are morale boosting.
(7) Not understanding normal planning adjustments
Here's the truth about a plan: it is a best guess based on the data you have at the time. That’s it. A plan doesn't guarantee time lines or delivery dates or progress. A plan is basically out of date the moment you start taking action on it, because as you implement it, you learn new information that often requires you to update the plan.
Many writers take such normal planning adjustments to mean that the plan failed. Or that they failed in planning. Not at all. Planning gives you clarity. Taking action on a plan gives you more clarity.
Planning is really a process of planning and revising the plan.
When writers get this truth, planning becomes more powerful, realistic, and fun. It becomes a process that boosts morale, boosts confidence, and brings greater clarity to a writer's process and progress.
You probably noticed that none of these ways that writers make the adventure harder have anything to do with the craft or the art of writing. That's my point. It’s the point of Goodjelly, too.**
This kind of stuff should not be messing with your writing.
When you change the ways you manage your mindset and your work, the writing journey becomes easier. You spend less time in frustration and efforting (i.e., less time managing a barking, lunging dog) and more time joyfully engaged with your writing. Your morale stays strong.
Which, in the end, is what moving the dog to the other side is all about.
* Source: The High Cost of Low Morale by Nicole Fink
** It's also why I developed the Jam Experience, a unique and innovative, multi-week program where writers learn specific skills and tools that help the bring more ease, confidence, and progress to their writing adventures. The results have been powerful.