Experiencing As the Opposite of Writing

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After writing last week’s troubled blog post about my writing-not-writing situation, two quotes came to my mind.

Somehow, it seems, my brain thought it was time for me to do some changes so it picked these quotes from the long shelves of thoughts and memories, giving me a perspective on my current writing situation.

Funny enough – the quotes have made a difference.

Let’s just dive in and start with the first one. The quote is by Benjamin Franklin and goes like this:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

If you have read my posts from the previous two weeks, you know I’m longing for writing something worth reading. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past year and half, writing almost daily – fiction, journal entries, blog posts. It’s what I know and love.

But now, as Mr. Franklin/my brain conveniently reminded me of, I’m doing something worth writing.

Or am I – really?

Learning About Prioritizing

Because –

I wonder if one can travel great lengths without actually doing anything worth writing about. Just linger, wander, pass curious details and interesting human beings without really seeing them and taking in their existence – and if I’ve done just that.

You see –

During these past months of travel, I’ve been looking for opportunities to write and been disappointed when day after day I haven’t had the possibility to do so. I’ve been having many negative thoughts of what I should be doing and what I’m not and, to be honest, it has consumed me and my energy.

And as I’ve been in this gravel pit of negativity, I wonder if I’ve actually given myself the chance to enjoy and experience, to take the days as they come.

However, the thing to realize here is that in the mode of experiencing, to write or not write becomes more like a side product of that mode. You have to be willing to ease on the writing part of being a traveling writer and focus more on experiencing.

But I haven’t let that happen.

I’ve kept writing as my main mode, my first priority, and that just may have hindered me from it’s opposite – experiencing.

Experience Requires Patience

This is where I’d like to introduce the second quote my brain reminded me of. It’s from a film called Stuck In Love I saw earlier this year (a movie recommendation for those looking for films about writing – it’s not a super awesome movie but it’s about writing and that’s the best thing about it).

A writer is the sum of her experiences.

When I was little, I read a fantasy book called The Prophecy of the Gems by Flavia Bujor. It was Bujor’s first (and only) book but the thing that made it cool was that she was only 14 years old at the time. I was amazed by her young age and, as I already at that point had my dreams of becoming a published author, thought I could do the same.

But the thing is, it is very hard to write about themes such as love, loss, freedom and loneliness if one has never experienced those things. No matter how much I would have wanted to write a publishable book at the age of 9, I don’t think I could’ve done it because I didn’t have enough experience of the topics that make books feel real.

Becoming experienced in this thing we call life takes time and waiting out time takes patience. And during that time you shouldn’t just sit and wait but experience, instead.

And even then, you’re not done.

Even though I feel I’m somewhat more experienced than I was at the time I read Bujor’s debut and could put together a realistic novel, at the same time I realize I’m not done experiencing.

There’s so much more to learn about life’s quirks that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I believe one of those quirks has been presented to me during these last couple of days.

The Lesson To Learn

I don’t think it’s too late for me to switch my focus and re-organize my priorities. Even though writing is one of the most meaningful things in my life, I can let it rest for a while – that doesn’t mean I will never get back to my writing routines and never become a published author.

I just have to be patient, give time to this period in my life. Remember that experiences give me something to write about.

And even though I’ve been obsessed about writing-not-writing, I think I’ve squeezed in some experiences and observations:

I have used my senses in the desert landscape of Northern Australia: seen the drought, felt the heat and sweat in the small of my back. I’ve heard the wind rustle through the dry hay, smelled the smoke coming from forest fires, tasted the refreshing water after a hike.

During the long days of driving, I’ve had time to listen to audiobooks and in the evenings, listened to audiobooks or read fiction. Thought about my own works of fiction, the characters and what makes a book feel real.

I’ve had time to think of who I am as a person and as a writer, thought about what life’s meaning really is about and if it’s necessary to find something that feels meaningful or if the meaningfulness of things already exists there or here, I just can’t see it yet.

So I’m already on a good path here – I just need to be patient and forgive myself for not writing.

It won’t be an easy switch to just ”forget” about writing and only write when the opportunity presents itself. And I need to be careful not to put too much weight on experiencing and instead just take the experiences as they come.

This road trip might be about learning to enjoy, to experience without stressing out about experiencing, and write when the opportunity presents itself – but not force myself to do anything.

If I learn that, I might have an experience on my hands really worth writing about.

The Right Attitude for Getting Things Done

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I’ve had this topic on my mind for some time now. Ever since February I’ve been thinking about writing this post but then something else has come up and I’ve concluded that I don’t have enough time or energy to put down the thoughts on how to get things done.

(Loving the irony here.)

This week, however, I find the timing to be right for this post. After all, I’ve just managed to write the remaining 37 pages to my thesis in just four days and finished the whole thing (at least when it comes to content), reaching a deadline I was almost certain I would miss.

Therefore, I thought I could share with you today how I manage to do things that even I have trouble believing to be able to manage.

The Great Final

Of course, I did not write all those 37 pages just for fun or because I thought I had the time to do it. I put down all that effort because the great final is finally approaching: the deadline of my Thesis.

In March, I was still doing pretty well with my academic work. I managed to do the interviews and transcribe them, just in time before I went on a trip to Tallinn which was followed by two weeks of election work squeezed into one. However, as a result of those two events, I was lagging behind in my thesis work. Seriously.

In order to make the deadline accessible again, i.e. to be able to write those pages and all those words, I decided to cancel Easter. Instead of relaxing at my parents’ summer cottage I stayed home the whole long weekend writing, eating and then writing some more. And finally, in the evening of Easter Monday I was ready to declare that I had written my thesis.

Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

The thing that made the progress possible was the fact that I decided I could do it. Getting things done and reaching those seemingly impossible goals is about finding the right attitude for it, the right kind of grit. But you certainly benefit from having some time management and organizational skills as well.

So, here are the four lessons I’ve learned while aiming to become an efficient person:

1. To-do lists

This one I’ve talked about before – but I will talk about it again because it is so important to know what you need to get done during that week of yours in order to be efficient.

The to-do list that I create every Monday morning enables me to see the program for the whole week: how much I’m planning on reading and writing; what social events I need to take into consideration and what time some certain yoga classes are being held. I can also put down the details on the specific project I want to get done: how much I need to do at certain days to reach a certain goal.

By creating a day-by-day plan for your goal of the week, you are able to prepare yourself for the amount of work that you need to do because you can already see it in front of you. The to-do list makes your work and the energy it requires more predictable – and that is exactly what you need.

For me, an activity called ’thesis work’ has been on my to-do list every day for the past few weeks. To accompany the regular to-do list, I have another to-do list dedicated for thesis work alone. That’s the list where I keep a log on how many words I’ve written and what I plan to do the next day.  For a project like this, I really need a second to-do list. And you might need one too, if your project’s big enough.

2. Prioritizing

When you’ve done the to-do list for the week, you need to decide upon what activities are the most important. Can the laundry wait for a few days in order to get your project done? Can you postpone the coffee meeting with your friend to the following week? Do you have to update Instagram three times a week this particular week or could you put those minutes into planning your project?

I, for instance, decided to prioritize writing my thesis over Easter and some family time.

If you find prioritizing challenging, you can try the Eisenhower Matrix that helps to realize what tasks are truly urgent and truly important, and what tasks are important but can be done at a later time.

By prioritizing your activities you are able to maximize your efficiency because you are giving the most urgent and important tasks the time and energy they require while letting the other things wait for another day or a whole other week.

3. Just get it done

After watching this short video by Art of Improvement about simply getting things done, I’ve really been able to become even more efficient.

One especially bad habit I used to have was to read the e-mails I got immediately but respond to them always a bit later than I should have – or could have. The same thing happened with phone calls. I always drew out the time and called people back hours later – although I was there, next to my phone, when they called.

I postponed simple activities for no proper reason, and at the same time I was wasting a lot of energy on thinking about them without doing anything to them. But then I decided on something: I decided to change my behavior and actually forced myself to answer or call back as soon as possible. Today, after months of practice, I’m pretty good at answering the phone immediately and returning e-mails as soon as possible.

And the best part of it is that I’ve become energized by my own efficiency (of doing very simple things) which has helped me get even more things done.

4. Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

This is perhaps the most important thing: if you have a project that you want to get done, keep your expectations on your performance high. Don’t put the bar low – instead, put it as high as you can.

You think you could write 20 pages this weekend? Aim for 25! Or maybe you think you have the energy to clean only half of your apartment on Friday? Decide to try to clean up the whole place and see what happens!

(Of course, this principle doesn’t work for every project but the wise man knows the exception to every rule.)

Put the bar a bit higher than the point you think you can reach, because the probability of you actually reaching that higher bar is very high. As Seth Godin says, by raising your expectations you raise your performance. And that, my friend, is how you get things done and surprise everyone around you (and yourself). That is how you write 37 pages of academic text and manage to meet your own deadline.

That is how you succeed.