3 Ways to Say L8r Dayz to Writer’s Block or How to Become More Productive

Well ‘ello loves, glad to be back for more ginger shenanigans. Today I’m going to talk about something we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives, and it’s not that dream where we look down and realize we’re pantless, though…that happens.

I’m talking about the demon, the worst person at the party, the drunk uncle (thank you SNL). Yep, all of those unrelated people point to one very annoying phenomenon: writer’s block.

The thing is, you don’t have to be a writer to have writer’s block. I would even argue that many who loathe writing, hate writing because they have no blooming idea what to write. Writer’s block, or the more inclusive “productivity block” manifests in daily jobs and responsibilities–reports, assignments, tasks, emails, whatevz. You get an assignment that you’re completely capable of completing, you sit down in front of your laptop with a steaming cup o’ Joe ready to tackle the task into submission, then the next thing you know you’re banging your head on your desk while the sinister curser blinks again and again at you in mockery. This is a dramatization, but you get my drift.

So how do you battle it? How do you take ahold of a task and twist it into what you need it to be? How do you happily slice the pen across that to-do list rather than begrudgingly add another, then another item to it? (If you don’t have a to do list, this is a really good time to start one. Trust. They’ll change you).  Here are 3 ways I combat the evil Sith lord that is writer’s block.

1. Trading Spaces

Srsly people, do you remember this show on TLC? It was my JAM. Two designers were assigned to two different home owners, and the two teams…you guessed it…traded spaces with each other. Each team revamped a drab kitchen or fugly living room while their counterpart in the other house did the same. There was a big reveal and everyone freaked out and lost their minds at how awesome their new digs were. Until they didn’t. There was one episode where someone deisgned a room in the exact replica of a circus tent, and for the first time in my life as a child watching the show, I understood what schadenfreude was. 

I digress.

In order to become more productive, you have to get in a zone of productivity; you need to trade spaces with your unproductive self.  The same place you binge watch 30 Rock with a bag of Cheetos in all likelihood doesn’t house your writing muse.  Sorry.  You brain is trained to recognize spaces for what they are. If you’re cuddled up in your comfy bed wrapped in soft blankets that are just begging you to close your eyes…for…one…second, you’re not going to be able to pound out a chapter of your YA novel or your financial report or that email you absolutely must send. You need to create a zone, a space, that screams productivity.

This place can be a tidy desk, a comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair, a floor, wherever. When I was working on my M.A. thesis there was this one spot on the floor in my spare room I swear had magical powers. I would flop down on the ground not really sure where I was going with my paper, and then like magic, I’d be in the writing zone so deeply that not even a batch of freshly baked cookies could deter me. That’s a lie, but I did accomplish a lot of writing.

I realize if you work in an office you might be worried because your desk is where you both work and shamelessly troll social media or Buzzfeed or cat videos. You’re not alone, child. It’s hard to create a space of serenity and productivity when 10 Ways to Figure out Which Harry Potter Character You’ll Marry is one tantalizing click away (it’s Ron, okay.) This brings me to my next tip…

You, on productivity.

You, on productivity.

2. Pump Up the VAH-uuume (translation: get a mix of sweet, sweet tunes)

If your desk has become a place of Youtube debauchery rather than a laser-focused writing utopia, fear not. Music is a great way to set the mood for basically any situation. I like to think of my life as a crazy, if endearing, movie set to various fabulous songs. That’s how I survive traffic jams or sucky moments. Hey everyone, it’s just a movie! Cue the Hall and Oates!

A playlist is a surprisingly easy and effective way of telling your brain It’s time to work, honey, especially, if your playlist is only played during times of work. Don’t make your writing mix the one your run to, or you’ll find yourself typing entirely too fast and jadjkdja;fdk

Get the picture?

What kind of tunes, you ask? Well that’s entirely up to you! Personally, I like a relaxing playlist because my brain personified is a hamster on a hyperdrive wheel.  Music by The Staves or Fleet Foxes really zens me out and helps me focus. You may need more upbeat songs to power you through that to do list, and that’s great! Whatever it is, make sure you quarantine it to times you need to get. ish. done.

3. Work in Spurts

Spurt is one of the worst words of all time, so I thought I’d incorporate it because I just couldn’t bear the burden of the word alone. You’re welcome.

A few months ago when I was faced with a 45 page thesis paper that required intense, at times, mind-numbing research, I learned real fast that if I didn’t take it in bits, I’d end up in the fetal position in a corner somewhere. It was important for me that I felt like I had accomplished something, but that something didn’t have to be a pristine copy of perfection. That something just had to be a bit.

Some days it was so effing hard to write, to research, to not binge watch The Real Housewives of New York because, y’all, Ramona was losing it and I loved when she lost it! But I told myself to just write for a small section of time. If I absolutely couldn’t do it after the allotted time, then I could settle my buns into the couch and dive into the drama of the Upper East Side as God intended it.

Setting aside 10 or 20 minutes of pure productivity (or if you’re a writer, writing time) is a great way to trick yourself into accomplishing something.  If this seems daunting and you just started Scandal on Netflix, then try for 5.  This is the same logic I used when I began meditating. Except I was pathetic, so I only did it for a minute–60 seconds of silence and mind control. It was hard, but putting a limit on it, telling myself I had to try for 60 seconds and then I could go back to working out the existential meaning of a cronut, actually worked. I’m happy to say I’ve worked up to 10 minutes of sloppy meditation, and if I can train my jittery brain to shut the eff up (for 10 minutes!), then you can complete the task that has been relentlessly mocking you for the last week.

Hopefully these tips help you in your writing and work endeavors.

What are other ways you improve productivity? How do you force yourself to write? What has been the outcome of more writing and productivity? Most importantly, what is your favorite Real Housewives locale? 

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Lady Love: 2 Reasons Peggy Olson is the Cat’s Pajamas

Well hello there. We’re off to the races with another Lady Love post because we all need a little motivation during the summer months. Especially when some mornings, the alarm is your arch nemesis. Especially if you walked out of the house wearing two different shoes.

Adulting is tough, y’all.

So for those who have been snoozing beneath a rock or another heavy object, Peggy Olson is one of the main characters (the main character? Ah, now there’s an argument) on AMC’s uber popular show, Mad Men. The show’s about a glamorous advertising agency filled with exciting clients and unstoppable people brimming with business acumen…oh yeah and alcoholism, depression, addiction, infidelity, and egregious, never-ending sexism toward women each time they try and, you know, use their brains. Peggy Olson goes from a meek lil’ secretary to a BAMF copy editor with her own money, her own office, and her own set of lucrative clients…in the 1960s…when women were basically seen as shiny, skirted baby making housemaids without the capability of having ideas.

Wherever Peggy goes, the tunes of Destiny’s Child plays faintly in the background.

So because inspiration is good and showing some lady love is better, here are 2 reasons why copying my girl Pegs is a good idea.

She has Confidence

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Peggy knows what she’s worth. She understands her value and her talent and she doesn’t shy away or demur from her successes. This wasn’t really the case in the beginning of the show, but soon after taking a job as a secretary it becomes evident that Peggy has a good case of the believesinherself.

Even though we live in a time where women are kicking butt and taking names, I think it’s so easy to fall silent when someone asks “Who wrote this?” or “Who made this happen?” It’s so easy to strive for being liked.  Make no mistake, this happens with men, too, but it happens way more with ze lay-deez. As a lay-dee, I would know. Though being a total toolbag is not something for which I advocate, I think being likable will only get you so far.

Gasp.

This is such a difficult concept for a born again, recovering people pleaser, but the older I get the more I realize this.  Being liked is nice, it’s comfortable, and sometimes, it’s necessary. Heck, everyone wants to be liked! From childhood we are taught to make friends and play nice, but the kind of like-driven striving I’m vying against is the kind that comes at a price.  Because y’all, there’s a big difference between being liked and being respected. I think we owe it to the world to be kind and selfless; however, when we sell our souls and our futures at the altar of people pleasing (maybe a little dramatic?), the next thing you know you’ve forgotten who you are and what you’re worth in the process.  For example, you may be a super capable employee, but out of fear of standing out or showing off, you hide, you put your head down, you keep your mouth shut.

This is no bueno.

Peggy is a fabulous illustration of this because there are many times over the course of the show when her coworkers, friends, and family don’t really like her. Her family thinks she’s too wild, her coworkers think she’s too ambitious, her friends think she’s too busy, but when copy needs to be written you can bet they call Peggy. Peggy understands her worth; by season 7 she walks into her office with purpose and swagger. It’s her confidence that allows her to be seen, and then, respected…and then RICH. (muahahaha)

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She’s Willing to Change

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The Peggy from episode 1 of Mad Men is most definitely not the confident, talented Peggy at the end of the show.  Yes, the culture around Peggy shifts and moves, but Peggy changes, too. Her wide eyes grow harder, more astute, and through her experiences with Don Draper, Joan, Pete Campbell (what a twisted, perfect friendship) Sterling Cooper (then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, then SCDP Cutler Gleason & Chaough, then SCDP and Partners…whew) she grows. Over the course of the show it’s evident that Peggy is a good person and that stays true, but she definitely transforms; there’s a very obvious arc to her character.

Peggy is open to change. She’s willing to see when she’s wrong, when she isn’t giving herself enough credit, when she trusts too much (or not enough) and she learns from it and adapts. Let’s not forget Peggy was the one who both (briefly!) doted on Don as his secretary and later became his rock, saving him with tough love and empathy on numerous occasions.  If she wasn’t willing to change, to see both Don and herself through a new lens, their relationship wouldn’t be what it was at the end of the show.

The show itself is obsessed with change. Changing identities, changing marriages, changing jobs, changing fashion (I die for the 70s fashion), and I think Peggy’s strength comes from that change. NPR agrees with me on this!

The show’s main fascination, of course, is change: whether it’s possible, what it does to people, and who pays the price for it. Holmes, NPR

In Mad Men, if you don’t change, you get left behind. We see this with Betty (poor, poor Betty) and Rodger, at times. Seeing Peggy successfully navigate life’s many shifts and shift with them is liberating. She chameleons her way to the top,and it’s awesome.  I mean the cigarette smoking, dirty painting wheeling, late for work Peggy that saunters into her new job is not the same little mouse that squeaked into Don’s office in episode one.

It’s kind of nice knowing I’m not expected to be exactly the same person for the rest of my life, because, you know, the shoe incident of 2015 was pretty embarrassing.

Photo Cred

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Why I Read YA (and you should too)

A girl walks into a bookstore and asks the clerk where she can find the newest YAL (Young Adult Literature).

Guy at the counter eyes her slowly up, then down.

Girl becomes instantly aware that she hasn’t showered for 2 days.

Guy at the book store sighs, rolls his eyes, then nods his head vaguely in an almost direction and pointedly picks up his Kafka book. Guy wordlessly continues reading.

Girl feels a blush crawling up her face then suddenly the blush changes into something else.  It becomes irritation. Then tight-lipped rage.

I was an English major, you know. Girl spits.  And Kafka’s so. freaking. dour.  

Girl leaves the bookstore and adds it to yet another place she’s going to have to avoid for the next few years.

This story about my friend perfectly illustrates the underlying disdain many avid readers (or even nonreaders) have toward YAL. In many cases, it’s a gut reaction, an instinct.  A similar reaction happens when people say they’re reading “Chic Lit,” which I have an entirely different issue with because the last time I checked there was no “Bro Lit” or “Dude Lit”–it’s just assumed to be literature.

Don’t go down that rabbit hole today, Alice.

The title Young Adult Literature is a misnomer. Yes, the books are about Young Adult experiences, but calling the works YAL assumes that only YAs are privy to reading them. This is simply not the case.

As a (kind of) grown up, I read YA because it’s a powerful reminder. It reminds me of things my job, my money, my experiences, my “adult” anxieties have eroded. I’m reminded of core truths about humanity and diversity, and, in standard YA fashion, I’m reminded of the intense passion (sometimes known as angst) I’m capable of experiencing. Yes, as a teen that passion was directed at things like pimples or Jr. High dances or Buckle jeans, but it’s funny how quickly we forget just how capable we are of feeling things. All the things.

I love it when The Washington Post agrees with me:

To simply give up on […] young adult literature as hopeless categories of fiction, fit only for the weak-minded or young and incapable of improvement, is to embrace a kind of  snobbery and rigidity about what is worthy and what is not. (Rosenberg)

Preach.

Believe me, I get it.  Many see books like Twilight or Divergent or The Hunger Games as wholly representative of the genre. Even though some of these books aren’t necessarily bad (yes, I’ve read them all), I think we shortchange the diversity present in YAL by believing YA authors are only capable of dystopian vampire romances.

If you enjoy the three books mentioned above, GREAT! I can recommend lots of otherworldly YA books that will knock your socks off. If you loathe them and find them shallow, No Problemo, there are YA books so deep and introspective, even the literati of the group won’t be able to resist them. That’s the beauty of YA, you can wade in the kiddy pool or dive head first into the deep end.

If you really give YAL a chance, you’ll find yourself immersed in a totally new, insanely unique library of books just waiting to be dusted off and devoured.

And that’s what we’re all looking for anyway, right? I good book that speaks to us.

Also, J.K. Rowling. *drops the mic and walks away*

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is just the best. He makes you feel equal parts and elated and uncomfortable which is kind of a rush.  This book is no different. Absolutely True Diary is about Arnold Spirit Jr. (aka Junior), a Spokane Indian who lives on a reservation with his family and friends. When he is given an opportunity to go off the reservation and begin attending classes at a rich, all white school (where “the only other Indian is the mascot”), he must make a huge decision–stay on the broken reservation or leave and endure being called a traitor by basically everyone he knows.

Alexie unappolegetically tackles Native American stereotypes through shoving them in your face, allowing them to come to fruition, then forcing you to see past the problems and into their origin. The book is poignant, heartbreaking, hilarious, raw, and (as expected from the mind of a 14-year old boy) kind of filthy.  It’s no wonder it’s #1 of the top 10 books challenged according to the ALA. It’s been banned and burned and blasted by conservative moms and dads, so if you love drama and pictures (yep, its filled with Junior’s drawings…his funny, awful drawings) then try it the heck out already.

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve recommended this book to a few friends and when they return the book to me and I ask if they liked it, invariably, their eyes become wide as they slowly shake their heads.

This isn’t a good book. It’s not a fun read. It’s incredibly difficult. Ironically, after reading Speak, it’s tough to articulate how it’s changed you, but it always creates an impact. The book is told from the perspective of Melinda, an outcast in her high school, disliked by her classmates for calling the cops on an end of the year party the previous summer.  Slowly, subtly she isolates herself from everyone and basically becomes a mute. The book lulls you as a reader, and you long to know why Melinda, who is obviously depressed, refuses to speak up or speak at all.  Her art class is the one reprieve from her depression, which you find out, originates from an upperclassman raping her. It’s a heartbreaking, honest work that shines a light on a dark reality that many people face and underscores a truth everyone needs to understand–things aren’t always what they seem.

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Gotta include a book with a ginger, people. It’s like in the handbook of earthtoginger blogging. Also, gotta write an earthtoginger handbook…

If you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell, then you’re welcome, because homegirl is amazing. She does a fabulous job of yanking on your heartstrings and tugging you back into the nostalgic, horrible, wonderful time in all of our lives–the time of young love (le sigh). In Eleanor & Park, Eleanor is a big-boned redhead who comes from a poor, broken home. She rides the bus and tries to avoid people since her clothes are kind of crazy, and her hair is straight up nuts. Park is a shy, half-Korean boy who loves music and comic books. The two meet and bond over rad 80s tunes (yes, this book is set in the hairspray-and-leggings-loving 80s, and yes, it’s wonderful) and share walkman listening sessions on their bus rides to school

Children, a walkman is a device from long ago. It played music from a thing called a tape which had tiny ribbons that you absolutely could not pull from their coil lest your older cousin discovered your sin and chased you down as you ran from him in terror.

The two find out that, despite their love for each other, sometimes a screwed up family, insecurities, and life get in the way and muck things up.  As Goodreads puts it, E and P are “smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”

Oomph. My heart.

What are your favorite YA books? Why?

If you hate YAL, por qué

Image Sources:

Image 1: Alexie

Image 2: Anderson

Image 3: Rowell