Be your own muse: one secret to being more productive in your creative work

In my MFA program, there was one phrase that came up over and over: “Go with whatever is most taking your attention right now.” This was usually said in a serious Obi Wan Kenobe-voice to us just before we began an in-class writing assignment or when being coached through an impromptu verbal narrative in front of the class.

At first, it’s strange to be told this let alone think this way. But the up side to this creative directive was that it helped me generate lots of story starts and ideas. My brain never shuts up so there is ALWAYS something taking my attention.

The challenge became, how do I tune out the other distractions and focus on the one, most pressing scene or moment that was most strongly taking my attention right NOW? This directive helped me train my brain to focus with laser precision on the moment or scene that I needed to tell right now.

While having many story starts and ideas is great, the down side was that I rarely finished any of my story starts because something else is ALWAYS taking my attention. How to finish a piece of writing…that’s the bane of my existence when it comes to my own personal creative work and another blog post for another day.

As a writer and someone who always has multiple projects going on at once both at home and at work, I’ve found that going with what takes my attention helps me instinctively, intuitively juggle my priorities better. It’s an exercise in active listening. I ask myself (either in my journal or literally), what is taking my attention right now? And then I listen to what my mind says, what it pushes forth. It requires patience. It requires quiet. It requires honesty.

The payoff is that the priority or project I need to focus on first or that I am most enthusiastic about at that moment bubbles up, drowning out everything else. I am much more productive this way. As a professional writer, my ability to juggle many different projects hinges upon my ability to quickly and easily switch back and forth between clients, dipping in and out of different brands, voices and subject matters. I work faster when I focus on the project that I am most excited about at the moment–the one most strongly taking my attention.

This helps me get down to business quickly and manage my time so much more efficiently. But this doesn’t just pertain to writing. It pertains to life.

Don’t wait for the muse to find you. Try it now.
Ask yourself, what is taking my attention right now? Then listen to what your intuition says. At first, this may be uncomfortable. Your brain might get snarky and say stuff like, “Piles of laundry! Bills! The bathtub grout is moldy!” Let the snark come out, then push it aside. Listen again.

In the beginning, this may feel like listening for a pin to drop in a crowded football stadium. Wait for it. Eventually you will push everything else aside and focus your mind’s eye on one thing, the important thing, that you need to get to right now. You will hear the pin drop. You will see it. Write it. Paint it. Design it. You will work despite the laundry, the bills, the grout.

Be your own muse. Go with what’s taking your attention right now.

6 stages of the writing process for business and fiction

Recently I had the pleasure of watching a really smart, motivated guy I’ll call Sam put together a presentation  from scratch in a matter of days. I was there from the beginning to end, coaching him on, suggesting new directions and edits, watching as he shaped and crafted the content from a rough outline to a finished, polished presentation.

It occurred to me that this process was much like–no, exactly like–the fiction writer’s process. I am usually so enmeshed in the writing process myself that I forget what it’s like to look at it from the outside in. But the similarity of the writing process for business and fiction is uncanny. See if you recognize these six stages of the writing process:

STAGE 1: The Creative Spark. For Sam, it started with an email that consisted of the basic idea and eight bullet points. He was pumped! Confident he could complete the presentation in two weeks, he requested that we move thedelivery date up. Thankfully, we talked him out of that. Because once the initial excitement of the spark wears off, stage 2 sets in.

STAGE 2: Writing the First Draft. One week later, three of us gathered together impromptu to see Sam’s first draft. It’s important to note that we kept this group small and selective. First drafts are sacred and too much Continue reading “6 stages of the writing process for business and fiction”