Digital Distractions Will Keep You from Writing

If you want to publish in magazines and/or with mainstream publishers, you have to do one thing first: write

But finding time and energy to write is really hard when there are just so many easy and accessible distractions.

Exhibit A: I sat down to write this post and proceeded to first do the following things:

  • Scrolled through news headlines on my phone;
  • Chatted with my excellent friend Anita on Slack;
  • Checked my email;
  • Responded to a text from my excellent friend Danielle;
  • Saw that a story about a unicorn puppy was trending on Google and immediately clicked on it;
  • Checked out an ebook from the library; and
  • Slacked my husband (who is literally across the hall) a Parks and Rec gif…for no reason.

So how long has it taken me to write this post? I honestly don’t know because I keep interrupting myself.

My digital distractions are out of control. So I did some research on just how bad those digital distractions are on writing output. It’s pretty bad, you guys.

I have some tips for managing digital distractions in an article here. A lot of getting published is just putting in the time. You have to write to write!

How do you manage digital distractions and actually get writing done? Taking all advice!

Do You Feel Guilty for “Wasting Time” Reading?

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Reading for pleasure seems indulgence, but it’s honestly the best workout we can give our brains. Reading a book is like a gym for your noodle.

I can give you five reasons for reading fiction–totally guilt-free. Check out my article at The Startup.

Do you feel guilty when you read for fun? If you don’t, how did you set yourself free?

 

View at Medium.com

Writers: It’s Okay for People to Hate Your Work

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Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. I know that. If Taylor Swift has taught me anything, it’s that somebody always hates you. Heck, I hate Taylor Swift for reasons I can’t even articulate. And who am I? Nobody. She should never listen to a thing I say. What do I know? My singing is so bad that I mouth the words to “Happy Birthday” so that I don’t ruin anyone’s big day.

Bad reviews, even just tepid reviews, of my published writing used to kill me. After reading one meh review, I would spend at least a day seriously considering never writing again. 

Being a professional writer, though, means you absolutely have to get used to bad reviews. It’s just part of the job.

So here’s what I did to get comfortable with the idea that some people–maybe many people–hate what my work (and/or me):

Recognize that everyone is entitled to an opinion.
Some people have read my books and articles and come to radically different conclusions than I intended. Or they just flat-out disagreed with me. It’s inevitable. And it’s okay. I too have opinions. 
What’s that old saying? Opinions are like buttholes: They all stink. No wait, it’s that we all have them.

Most of the time, writers should stay out of conversations among readers. It’s just not our place to try to change someone’s mind about our work. But don’t assume that just because someone hated your book that that means it’s a bad book. It just means you agree to disagree.

Take constructive criticism with grace; ignore the other stuff.
When someone challenges your research, content, conclusions, facts, etc., it’s best to take an honest look at whether or not they have a point. I’m a better writing because I’ve listened to the criticism, especially criticism that comes from avid readers and writers.Some criticism isn’t valid. For example, I’ve had readers write to “correct” facts that were not wrong. Don’t sweat it when some yahoo writes to tell you that, well, actually, the American Revolution was fought in Poland in 1998. You will never change their mind.

I’ve had readers make wild and unsupported assumptions about what I’ve written.  One reader accused me of arguing that teens should be having way more sex. I swear, I’ve never, ever argued that.

And some readers will always correct you for not covering subject x in a book/article about subject y.  They’ll say, Your book on project management for squirrels is terrible. I didn’t find a single chapter in there about latch hook rugs. You can ignore it, or you can thank them for their thoughts. Either way, just move along.

Separate the valid from the invalid, and then apply what you learned.

Just accept nobody cares how much time, energy, and effort went into your writing.
Writing is really hard and really time-consuming, but almost nobody takes that into consideration (and maybe they shouldn’t). Readers will like or dislike your work regardless of how many times you revised or how many things you gave up to sit in front of a computer for hours at a time.

People who have published before tend to be kinder and gentler readers because they know how brutal the process is. They’ll grade on a curve. But most readers simply don’t know what the publishing process entails and they are just responding to the product in front of them. That’s okay! Just embrace that you will (almost) never get credit for effort.

Ignore the weirdos, the malcontents, and the unpleasant people.
It is true that when you publish, critics will come out of the woodwork and tell you bizarre things, some of which will be extremely rude.

Some of the strangest feedback I’ve received came from people making weirdly specific assumptions about me, like the commenter on one of my magazine pieces who said my husband hated me and I didn’t know how to use a coffeemaker. When you get feedback like that, just consider the source. And take solace in the fact that you struck a nerve. That’s what we hope to do as writers.

Readers will often make wild assumptions about you personally. You will get comments on your appearance, even when that has nothing to do with your writing. People will draw huge conclusions about you based on limited information: You are a selfish person. You spend too much money. You eat too much toast.  You are a lumberjack. Seriously, people will come up with all kinds of ideas about you.You know who you are. That’s all that matters.

To be a successful writer, you have to learn how to care about your own voice–regardless of who likes it or who doesn’t.

Being a writer means embracing the reality that writing is meant to make people feel something…even if that feeling is that you suck. 

Come at me, brah.

Bad Hair Day

brown wooden table with chair
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I have bad hair. I’m fine with it. But I haven’t always felt that way.

Here’s a piece I wrote  for P.S. I Love You about how I accidentally got a haircut that makes a radical statement about me. I didn’t realize that until I walked around in the world with short hair!

It turns out, though, that what people say about your hair says a lot more about them than it does you.

What does your hair say about you?

Fake News Isn’t Going Away, so We Have to Be Smarter

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Ever wonder why people believe in fake news? I used to believe it was confirmation bias, which is the usual explanation. Confirmation bias says we tend to believe what we want to believe based on what we already believe. In other words, if you have an abiding hatred for networking events, as I do, you’d be delighted to read a news story that says networking events are the leading cause of all natural disasters and were actually invented by Hitler. You and I would very much like to believe that story.

But it turns out that confirmation bias is only part of the problem. The real issue is that some people just don’t like to think. And it’s the lack of critical thinking that is keeping fake news from dying. We believe fake news because we don’t have enough energy, desire, or ability to think our way through it.

If you want to read more about some research in this area, check out one of my latest articles for ArcDigital.  It’s called “We Aren’t Too Partisan to Spot Fake News; We’re Too Lazy.”

The Toxic Workplace: When Work Blows

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Have you ever worked in a toxic workplace? In some cases, a single toxic person can make going to work every morning feel like descending into the depths of hell.

Did you know that incivility is the gateway to toxic culture? The uncivil behaviors that we all learn to live with–like the co-worker who is perpetually rude–build up and then create a culture that’s so toxic, nobody wants to stay in it. And those who do are burned out and do less work.

We’ve become inured to incivility because we just expect it. For instance, a million years ago, I worked in a shoe store on commission with a person who would tell customers that the rest of us were “new” and “didn’t know much.” She used that as a way to build her credibility so customers would ask for her. That’s incivility.

In another job, I had a senior co-worker who regularly asked me for personal favors (outside of work hours). If I said no to a request–like the time she asked me to take her to the airport at 4 am–she would pout and tell me that I “owed” her tasks at work to make up for this. That’s incivility.

A friend told me about a time she’d sent out an organization-wide email about the death of a colleague. She’d accidentally included a very small typo in the email that didn’t change the meaning of it. A co-worker called her and told her that she was unprofessional and should be ashamed of her shoddy work. That’s incivility.

So what can we do about incivility? We can kill it. We can refuse to stand for it. Here’s an article I wrote about how to do that.

What incivilities have you encountered? Have you been uncivil? (I admit that I’ve been guilty of incivilities.)

 

An Open Letter to Kevin, the Trick-or-Treater

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Dear Kevin:

You came to my door on Halloween, dressed in an unidentifiable costume, and I proffered you candy as requested. We’d never met before, so you might be wondering how I know your name. I know it because your friend or sister yelled, “Kevin!!!” at you several times.

You asked me what my costume was. I was wearing jeans and a sweater. I told you I was dressed as myself. You made a scared face and sarcastically said, “Wow, that’s a scary costume.” I wasn’t offended. You aren’t the first smartass kid I’ve met before. I even laughed a little. Then you grabbed a handful of candy and ran off while your friend/sister yelled at you: “Kevin!!!” and apologized to me for your behavior.

I’m going to do you a solid here, Kev, and give you some advice. I know you are only fourteen, and you probably won’t suck so much in a few years, but right now, you suck pretty hard.

Let me give you some advice from the perspective of someone dressed as myself.

That sad little mustache isn’t doing you any favors.
At first I thought it was part of your costume, and then I realized it was tragic facial hair. That scraggly little line is traumatic for everyone. Just shave it off. It won’t take you long.

You might be too old to trick-or-treat. 
I’m not one of those scrooges who refuses to hand out candy based on age.

But you, Kevin, in spite of your obvious immaturity, should probably sit out Halloween next year. A general rule of thumb, as you’ll find out soon, is that anyone with a mustache must buy his own candy.

If someone offers you candy, don’t grab a handful.
That’s just rude, Kevin. You’re the reason we can’t leave a bowl of candy on the porch and invite people to help themselves. You’re exactly the sort of person the world doesn’t need more of.

Stop making your sister scold you. 
She was clearly younger than you, but already she was playing the role of your mother. Don’t act like a jerk. Let her have some fun without worrying about you and your bad manners.

Being a teen is tough, Kevin, but you’re not making it easier on yourself or anyone around you.

Next year do yourself a favor: Go dressed as the new you (minus the mustache).

In return, I’ll agree to hand out candy to anyone who asks, laugh at anyone’s dumb jokes, and forget what a jerk you were this year.