Debunking the myth of the writers block

What productivity in the workplace can teach us to achieve individual goals

Why do we honor artists, authors, creators like Vincent Van Gogh, Toni Morrison and Martin Scorsese?

First, they create amazing artwork that touches us. But, perhaps more importantly, they can do what many of us try to do — complete creative work.

And it’s no surprise that we admire them, given that many of us try our hand at creative pursuits, from writing a novel or making a short film. But few of us are able to complete these efforts. In fact, the New York Times found that less than two percent of people who start writing a book ever finish.

On the other hand, Van Gogh, on average, produced one painting every 4 days of his career as an artist, in addition to his 1,100 drawings and side sketches.

Why is it so difficult to be creative?

“It’s amazing that the creative pursuit is so difficult,” says Eric Kester, a Georgetown professor who teaches entrepreneurial classes in creative pursuits such as book writing, novel writing, audio show development, and video production.

When I first started teaching in the creative fields, I realized how difficult it is to help someone succeed – in fact, in one of my first open courses, less than 20% completed their task of completing the first draft of the manuscript of the book they were working on. … during my course. This surprised me, because there was passion, but no progress.

Researchers have long studied motivation and drive, especially in the workplace. Researchers Teresa Amabille and Stephen J. Kramer conducted research to identify key motivators in creative careers, such as sales and marketing roles.

Amabile and Kramer looked at over 12,000 creative diary entries to find out what drives job satisfaction and productivity. Initially, they believed that the traditional measures of success that come from doing something most important – recognition, goals, incentives and rewards. But they were surprised at what they found.

“Of all the things that can increase emotion, motivation and perception during the workday, the most important is to make progress in meaningful work,” Amabile wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

Although these principles have become central to many emerging management trends within companies and organizations, few of us apply them in our own creative endeavors.

“When I interviewed people who had ditched their projects,” says Kester, “we found that they felt they weren’t making the writing progress that they expected. They expected to write so many words every day or every week. And when they didn’t do it in the first weeks, they stopped. “

Deepu Asok, Pfizer’s Portfolio Ops project manager and blogger, is working on his first non-fiction book. Asok shared, “When I originally set out to write the book, I thought it was all about writing from day one as I needed to finish a 30,000 word manuscript. So I calculated that 1000 X 60 = 60,000 words, which gives me enough material for a draft manuscript. Then I can shorten it to 30 thousand words, and I will have a finished version of the manuscript. “

In fact, when Ahsok missed, he began to doubt himself. It was then that Kester shared the concept of creative progress.

“Creative progress happens in two stages,” explains Kester. “Any creative project, from a film script to a novel or an album, starts with different achievements – progress as we learn and expand our initial ideas. This progress is erratic, non-linear, and often does not produce results that we can track. They are more likely to be notes, snippets, notes, or posts than words on a page, videos, or music. But this is very important for the initial progress. “

As for Ahsoka, he changed his approach. “Instead of worrying about getting the right amount of words on paper or writing 1000 words a day, I focused on finding at least one good research material a day.”

Kester discovers that creative progress doesn’t go the way we expect it to, which leads us to disillusionment with ourselves and often gives up on the project altogether.

“Amabile is right that making progress towards meaningful work is critical – not only in our day-to-day work, but also in our side projects and creative pursuits,” says Kester. “The truth is that in creative projects we often choose not what we evaluate ourselves by. Yes, we have meaningful work that is critical, but when we don’t see progress the way we thought we did, doubt, insecurity and impostor syndrome arise. ”

For Kester, this has led to a radical change in his approach to teaching and in the way he advises everyone who is creative. In 2017, he founded the Manuscript Group, a social enterprise dedicated to helping authors and creators through the Creator Institute and New Degree Press.

“Progress based on results — word count, footage recorded, script pages — is slower than we initially expected, but accelerates as we go. Results-based progress accelerates based on your pace of learning. So track the early progress of conversations, notes, snippets, notes or posts. It is equally important to create a community of other people who are also working on similar projects so that you can help each other see progress, even if it is not what you expected. “

The pandemic has prompted more of us to seek personal creative projects than ever, and as more of us seek to find meaning in these one-to-one creative pursuits outside of work, it is important to capitalize on progress, as both Amabile and Kester found.

“Creative projects are difficult, but if you get them right, you can complete them,” says Kester. “Just be kind to yourself and surround yourself with others – just because it’s an individual creative pursuit doesn’t mean it’s lonely.”

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