Ain't Got No Writerly Satisfaction?
No. 146 | By Christine Carron
When writers start working with me, I have them respond to a series of statements, indicating how true—or not true—each statement is for them. One of the statements asks if they are satisfied with their writing progress.
Most writers disagree with that statement, some even strongly disagreeing. That reality clues me in to a facet of their struggle to achieve consistent forward momentum on the writing adventure.
So let's talk satisfaction today. Are you satisfied with your writing progress? If not, here is the not good news: Not being satisfied with your writing progress is actually making it harder for you to make writing progress.
The previous sentence may seem to be a circular argument. It is not.
It just seems circular because many writers have a block around actually claiming legit writing progress as progress. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first start with discussing why claiming progress is so critical to making progress.
The Power of the Done Boost
Long before I came across the research of professors Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer on The Power of Small Wins, I was seeing the effect in the teams I managed in the corporate world. The basic assertion of the power of small wins is that the biggest boost to long term productivity is small, daily progress in work that is meaningful.
Sometimes team members would want to slide through a planning meeting with estimates like, “I think this task will take a week, and this one maybe will take two weeks.” They just wanted to “get to work” and not “waste time” planning.
But I knew that perspective was setting those team members up for a harder few weeks. They wouldn’t get any "finishing" satisfaction until the whole thing was done. That would be demoralizing and demotivating and actually tank their forward momentum. So we would focus on getting those large tasks refined.
Once the team members designed their work into small, bite-sized chunks—what I came to call Manageable, Moveable Bits—then lots of goodness followed both from a productivity perspective and a satisfaction perspective.
First, with smaller tasks, the team members felt more confident that they could get the work done. They were also more motivated to get the work done because now the path to getting it done was filled with lots of easy to achieve steps. And as they got each step done, lo and behold, they got a boost of confidence and that motivated them to tackle the next tasks in the plan.
Their work became a victorious cycle of Done Boosts. Small wins stacking one on top of the other, generating surges of confidence that led to even more progress.
This process of breaking down work into smaller tasks in order to claim more Done Boosts is exactly the same process I teach to writers.
So what’s the problem?
It is really, really, really hard for many writers to claim Done Boosts due to the combined power of three particular inner selves: the inner critic, the inner perfectionist, and the inner maxer.
Mindset and Done Boosts
The inner critic, the inner perfectionist, and the inner maxer are three powerful energies that function in writers.
The inner critic, of course, is the part of us for whom none of our writerly efforts are worthy. The inner perfectionist is the part who sets the staggeringly high bar that serves as a key variable in the inner critic's harsh assessments. The inner maxer is the part of us who expects us to be producing at top speed all the time no matter what. No excuses tolerated.
Now, from a Goodjelly perspective, there is nothing inherently wrong with these parts of ourselves. In many of us, they are just running a bit amok. And that’s how they start messing with Done Boosts. Let’s go to the research again.
Before gathering data on small wins, Amabile and Kramer conducted research on the importance of inner work life, which is what they call the subtext of business performance. Here’s what they mean:
People experience a constant stream of emotions, perceptions, and motivations as they react to and make sense of the events of the workday. As people arrive at their workplaces they don’t check their hearts and minds at the door. (Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance, Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, Harvard Business Review.)
The data from the inner work life research confirms that productivity goes up when we are in a good mood and goes down when we are in a bad mood. When we are creatively challenged by our tasks, have reasonable autonomy over our work, and have the time and resources to do the work, productivity goes up. When folks are motivated, “especially by the satisfactions of the work itself,” productivity goes up.
All intuitively logical, of course, but it is great to have such assertions validated.
Amabile and Kramer focus the application of their research insights on helping managers better understand how they can create environments that support positive inner work life and the cultivation of small wins.
We writers must be the managers of our own inner work lives, setting the tone and creating an environment where we can claim the full power of Done Boosts.
What Happens When We Don't Manage the Trio
To be able to cleanly claim Done Boosts without inner interference, we each have to take charge—in a healthy, effective way—of our inner critic, our inner perfectionist, and our inner maxer. Once we do, we can get all those productivity gains that Amabile and Kramer’s research shows is possible.
If we are not in charge of those parts of ourselves, however—i.e., we’re in their thrall—this is what we end up with instead:
- We experience a near constant inner harangue of not good enough, not fast enough, not enough period, which makes it near impossible to be in a good mood about our writing.
- We are not focused on creative challenges, we are focused on trying not to creatively capsize.
- We actually don’t have much autonomy. The trio is running the show, they are calling the shots, and it feels like we can never get away from the clamor of their scathing judgements.
- We feel like we never have enough time, thanks to the spin of the inner maxer.
- The inner critic and the inner perfectionist stop us from getting the resources we need, (no matter if what we need is taking a workshop, practicing our craft, or simply taking a break,) because they are constantly telling us that we should know how to do this and just get on with it already.
- And of course, we cannot leverage the power of Done Boosts, because, oh my, does this trio (when unmanaged) suck ever drop of potential satisfaction right out of our writing adventures.
Meet the Trio With This Move
Meeting yourself where you are is a key principle of Goodjelly’s approach to writing productivity. It applies here, big time. If you want to free yourself from the productivity-tanking power of the trio, you have to meet those parts of you where they are.
Not in anger. Not in fear.
Meet them with grace. With generosity. With curiosity. With kindness.
All of the parts of ourselves are part of us for a reason. At the core they are trying to protect us. Sometimes their approach gets a little wackadoo. But when we have the courage and patience to see past that surface glitchiness, there is a wisdom to be learned from them.
When we learn it, our writing adventures become so much more satisfying. We are able to claim Done Boosts with greater ease, for sure. We are also able to move forward on our writerly adventure with a lot less inner static and drama.
Claim Writerly Satisfaction
Claiming writerly satisfaction begins with the simple (and quick!) fix of integrating smart process. How? Design your writerly work into much (much!) smaller tasks.
Taking charge of the trio will most likely be a longer endeavor, with fascinating inner twists and turns along the way. Happily, it will also be an endeavor that deepens and enriches your relationship to your writing, to your creativity, and to yourself as a writer.
So ain't nothing to it now. Go get all the writerly satisfaction that is waiting to be claimed.
You've got this!