My (very few) Twitter followers already know that I loved Patricia Lockwood’s essay, “How Do We Write Now?,” published in Tin House, particularly what she calls its “alternate title”: “how the fuck do we write now?”
Lockwood is a poet—and a bawdy one—so the vulgarity is allowed, expected even.
But she makes a good point. How do we keep going on projects large and small when social and other media relentlessly point out all the ways the world is falling apart?
You can try logging off and muting all, which we’ve advocated before. You can also try slowing down and noticing (maybe even appreciating) the unpixelated view out your window, which Lockwood and Jocelyn Glei suggest.
But if you’re just putting off a big job or trying to finish a complicated one, you may not need inspiration. You might just need persistence.
There are many research-based strategies that promote actual persistence (the kind that follows from engagement). You could, for example, integrate weekly updates into project reporting. Psychology professor Gail Matthews’s study on goal achievement in the workplace found that 70 percent of participants who updated friends weekly on their progress reported goal achievement.
Or, you could break down a new project (or what’s left of an old project) into smaller, finite (and thus reachable) goals. By doing so, you manipulate the completion bias—the bias that makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something when we’ve simply made a to-do list—to serve your bigger purpose.
Or, you could constrain your project (and yourself) by shortening your timeline. This isn’t always possible (or desirable) for large-scale, multi-team projects. But when projects are given a long lead, scope can creep and focus can become more diffuse. It’s Parkinson’s Law: tasks expand to fill the time allotted for completion.
Persistence doesn’t have to be the purgatory of productivity. If none of these strategies work, just follow Lockwood’s lead: go ahead and write a fucking poem.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.