Today I’m shifting my focus to the other end of the spectrum. We spend so much time working on our projects and ironing out their details that it’s easy for the little things (the really important little things) to slip by. But it’s vital to keep them in mind as we go, or we’ll lose sight of why we’re doing the work in the first place.
Not that long ago (like a week ago), I finished my latest manuscript. I love this one. I love the characters, I love the story, I love my world. I’m so excited to share it!
But, like any huge project, it has taken a massive investment of myself to finish. So I decided to take a bit of a break before starting the process again. (Which, for the record, I’ve already broken, as I jotted down chapter one of my next book yesterday.) The general decrease in output has left me with a bit more time on my hands, and it’s made me think about the things – and people – who have let me accomplish what I have, and more importantly, my deep gratitude toward all of them.
The simple act of noticing things that are often taken for granted gives those things an extra level of relevance. I’m grateful to the people who helped me read and edit my work, so I could bring it to the level it needed to be. I’m grateful for those who helped me with my responsibilities, so I had time to go sit in coffee shops for too many hours to write. Hell, I’m grateful to those coffee shop owners for indulging my need to claim the corner chair for five hours with a coffee.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. If we move through the motions without realizing this, the world can close in and become a pretty dark place. The news headlines want to make us see it that way, anyway. But, if we take an honest look at the small things – like the coffee shop owner with just the right amount of small talk to make me feel welcome but not distract me from my work- it sheds so much light into our day to day world. (By the way, if you’re reading this – really, thank you so much. I’ve written two novels in that corner chair.)
Also, noticing these things, and more importantly, letting people know you’ve noticed them -either through thanks or silent returned deeds- lets that light shine into their lives too. I’m not talking about being over the top here. I’m talking about being gracious.
I went to a ten day Vipassana retreat a year ago. Not just was it a truly life changing experience, but it was at no charge. They provided housing, cooked and served meals, and offered an organized schedule and lessons with nothing asked but my diligence. The organization is fully funded by donation. But interestingly, they don’t even accept donations from you until you’ve attended at least one ten day session. We learned that this was because part of the point is to experience gratitude. To be there on someone else’s dime, overseen by those who are willingly donating their time to help you. Even after, they ask only for what you CAN donate, if you feel driven to donate. They are truly there to help and teach others.
Experiencing that kind of charity, and the gratitude that comes with it, taught me a powerful perspective of the world. Both in accepting charity and rebounding that charity to others in whatever ways I can.
From this place of gratitude is where magic happens. Not magic in the spiritual sense (though, I’ve written before about the Law of Attraction. Give it a read if you’re interested). But this is where real productivity can stem from.
Think about it. Have you ever sat down to a writing session (or any project needing your attention) in a foul mood? The only thing you can think about is how much your back hurts and how much of an asshole that guy at the checkout was. Or goddamit, you have too much work to do already, and now they asked you to run that inventory as well. It’s not even your job!
We’ve all been there. No matter how good intentioned or bubbly we are, every single one of us has muttered ‘asshole’ behind someone at some point in our lives (and likely had it muttered behind ours.) And we’ll continue to do so, no matter how shining our intentions might be.
But, I want to bring attention to the other side of it. How do you feel as you do that? Like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders? Or more like your head is stuck in a raincloud raining on just you?
How productive are you when you sit down to write?
Practicing gratitude helps to keep things in perspective. Try to do it consciously. Hell, use it as a tool if you need to. Forced or not, gratitude is always a positive thing. And truthfully, when you need to force it is when you need it the most.
I’m a believer in gratitude journals. I don’t do it every day, but I used to. And now I try to remain consciously thankful to those around me. If you’re in a place where it’s hard to see the good things, give it a try.
Start big – you’re healthy, you have a job (even though it sucks – it’s a job, and lots of people struggle to find anything), you have dinner in the cupboard.
Or start small if the big things are too hard in that moment. That nice guy held the door open. The bus actually waited for you to run to the stop. There are always good people doing good things. But it’s easy for the bad to overshadow them.
If you’re in a bad mood when it comes time to sit down and work- bad timing, learning experience, call it what you will – then try jotting down a couple things you’re grateful for before you open your file. Sip your coffee, take a breath, remember that there are good people among the bad.
Then start to write.