Learn How to Jam

Have You Had Your Writing Tantrum Today?


No. 149 | By Christine Carron

Parker Richards opens his New York Times opinion piece, Down With Efficiency! (When We Get Around to It.), with this line: “We are no longer achieving an acceptable level of whimsy.” 

Hear, hear, Mr. Richards. And this dearth of whimsy is doubly prevalent, in my opinion, when it comes to how writing productivity is often taught. (Would you expect anything less from a woman who named her writing productivity company Goodjelly?)

When we writers think about being more productive, concepts that commonly sidle into our brains are “discipline,” “buckle down,” and “get your butt in the chair and write.” One could argue there is nothing overly punitive about those phrases. In theory. 

In reality, they are often conveyed to our inner writing selves with a judgmental harshness that pulls no punches and, for some writers, will shimmy right into the sphere of shockingly sadistic.

The Goodjelly Whimsy Factor

As a result, a lot of the work I do with writers revolves around defanging that inner harshness in order to make space for them the build a practice of healthy and sustainable writing productivity. 

There are, of course, loads of very tactical process tools and techniques related to knowing how to “jam”—the Goodjelly shorthand for embodying a practice of sustainable writing productivity—that absolutely help writers bust through their blocks and get their books done with greater ease and speed.

Coexisting with all that process prowess, however, is a very vibrant whimsy factor. One of the most prevalent places the Goodjelly whimsy factor leaps to the fore is when I encourage writers to embrace the productivity-unleashing power of meeting themselves where they are. 

That is when things get really fun. To share what I mean, let’s dive into three moments of whimsy from past Goodjelly coaching calls. (Note: It was challenging to limit myself to three.)

The Tantrum Task

On this particular call, we were discussing how to get writing tasks done that you really do not like doing. Writerly work that often falls into this category include marketing, sales, networking, querying, and anything and everything tech related. 

One writer whose novel recently debuted is getting a double whammy of these tasks: she is having to learn a bunch of new technical platforms related to marketing. Thanks to jamming, she knows how to break down that work, and give herself breaks, and celebrate each task getting done. Even so, “Sometimes,” she said, “I just feel like I want to throw a tantrum after I work on this stuff.”

“Well,” I said, “then put a task on your board that says, ‘Have a tantrum.’” 

She laughed—we all did—and then said, “That feels so subversive.”

So be it. I mean, seriously, why not have the tantrum? What’s the harm of having a tantrum in the privacy of your own home, getting the angst out of your system, moving on, so you can tackle your next writing task?

That actually sounds productive to me. 

So if it takes a little subversive and whimsical hissy fit to get you back on track, own it, work it, and tantrum away.

The Two-line Task

One of the key process skills that I teach writers is to break down their work into manageable, moveable bits. At first this seems easy, but it takes some time to land. Not because it is inherently hard, but because we often don’t want to slow down and take the time it takes to break down our work effectively.

One writer in the program, a poet, however, really embraced the idea of small tasks. And the task she came up and continues to use is: “Draft 2 lines.” Two lines!

Even to me, the notion of a poet using a more left-brain tactic like breaking down work feels a bit whimsical. For her to embrace this particular skill with such abandon, divvying her writerly work up into such delightfully-sized morsels? Fantabulous. 

Here’s an a semi-silly experiment: The next time you are really blocked with your writing, for a whole week, give yourself one repeating task each day: Write one sentence.

One sentence and only one sentence. (And give yourself permission to make it a "bad" one so your inner perfectionist doesn't show up.) Once you have the sentence done, get up, celebrate, and go on with your day.

Note: The moment you’ve gotten that task done once, you are officially unblocked. Wahoo!

I bet at some point during the week—possibly even on the first day—it will be harder to stop writing after one sentence than it will be to continue writing. If that happens, go ahead and keep writing. 

That is what the poet does. But she still sets herself the task of two lines, and she doesn't fret if she doesn't get more than that. It is the tasks size that helps her to stay in productive flow. Committing to writing a whole stanza felt too big. One line felt too small. The 2-line task has become the whimsically sized sweet spot for moving her poetry projects forward. What will be yours?

The Scratch-and-Sniff Boost

We work with analog boards in jamming—not tools like Trello or other task management systems—for many reasons, but one huge reason is I want writers to experience in an embodied way a task getting done. That happens when they physically move the ticket to the Done column on their board, and really claim what in Goodjelly land is called a Done Boost.

Sometimes writers will resist this process, thinking it is a “waste of time.” When I finally charm them into trying it just for a week, they—without fail—share their surprise at how effective the process is.

One writer, who had not resisted moving her post-its, told me one day that she loved claiming her Done Boosts so much, that she wanted to add stickers to her post-its on top of moving them to the Done column, but wasn’t sure if she could, or should, do that. Like maybe it wasn’t “adult enough or something.”

As you can probably guess, I was all for it, and added, “You are the adult. You get to decide what works for you and your productivity.”

The permission to be playful sent that writer on a delightful side trip in support of her writing productivity. She really wanted to get grapes stickers because the grapes emoji is used a lot in the Goodjelly community spaces—being as I claimed it as the official emoji of Goodjelly. 

She couldn’t find any however, but stayed with the food theme, and ended up amping up her Done Boosts with stickers of “cupcakes and pretzels and watermelon” and the like.

All this sticker action reminded her how much she loved scratch-and-sniff stickers when she was a kid, so she got those, too, and also discovered that her husband love scratch-and-sniff stickers as a kid as well! But still no luck with the grapes theme. She finally solved that “problem” by finding a grapes stamp. 

There is a writer committed to the pure fun of getting her writerly work done. 

The Seriousness of Silliness

At this point, you might be thinking this is all getting a little silly. Maybe a little too whimsical. I want to be a serious writer. 

I totally get that. I also suspect you want to be a seriously productive writer. 

These three writers, who are fully embracing a more whimsical approach to getting their writing done, are making serious progress. They are doing so by meeting themselves where they are and figuring out a process that not only supports their forward momentum, but also brings them more joy and delight. 

Joy and delight absolutely spark writing progress. So buckle down and throw that post-tech-task tantrum with subversive exuberance. Be super disciplined about defining decadently tiny morsels of writing work to get done. 

And, yes, get your posterior into a chair and write, but once you get the day's words done, get your tush right back out of that chair and claim your Done Boost with your version of scratch-and-sniff style.

Embrace the whimsy, and watch your writing productivity, and your writing delight, soar. Wahoo to that!