Break it down into small steps



For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of writing more about what goes on behind the scenes on Cultivating Joy and personal take-aways I’ve picked up along the way about writing, photography and creativity in general. I already scribbled on a piece of paper a list of topics I want to reflect on and share that I’ve been carrying around in my journal since January, but perfectionism came along and I found myself setting unrealistic expectations.  I felt like if I wanted to make a new series, I should have a clearer idea of which direction I want to take it and have drafts about several topics ready to give it a cohesive feel.  I put the stakes so high, that I just ended up procrastinating.

So this week I decided to try another approach. Applying the agile techniques I’ve learnt at the office, I decided to break this ‘big’ task into small achievable steps.  In my weekly accountability email (which helps me to plan and complete my goals), I changed my objective from ‘start new series’ (which is vague and led to me putting pressure on myself) to ‘write one post‘.  Just one post! And so here I am, sharing this post:)  I’m really looking forward to working on the next ideas and really hope you will enjoy this new series!

Outsmarting the inner critic


In order to progress on my different writing projects this weekend, I spent a lot of time attempting to outsmart the shitbird (as my writing teacher so poetically calls it). For those unfamiliar with the term shitbird, you may know it under another name such as inner critic or personal sabotager.  It’s that voice inside your head that says writing (or any creative activity) is not worth the effort, that it’s very tiring, that what you’ll write will be mediocre anyway, that no one will ever want to read it and so on.  The shitbird also kindly recommends less threatening activities to distract yourself, such as reading other people’s writing online or watching another couple of episodes of Casa de Papel.

Despite the fact that the shitbird makes a systematic appearance, I know that once I sit down and write, I will get into the flow. When I am actually typing the details of a scene, thinking of what happens next in my story or figuring out how to make my dialogue work, the fear melts away and the shitbird goes quiet.

Some of the tricks that work for me are the following:

  • Setting a timer for 25 minutes and telling myself all I have to do is focus uninterrupted or that amount of time. Usually when the timer rings, I feel entitled  to stop, however more often than not, I’m immersed and happy to continue for a while longer.
  • Working on different types of pieces in parallel, like fiction and non-fiction. The positive thing being that I can procrastinate on one with the other depending on where the shitbird is being more vocal.
  • Planning a fun activity/treat I can enjoy only once I’ve spent a certain time focussed on writing.  This works really well for me.  Most of us do this intuitively to some extent and I learnt recently that this strategy carries the beautiful name of ‘temptation bundling‘ (term coined by Katy Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania). Basically it means linking an activity with short-term benefits you like to do, with an activity with long-term benefits you should do, in order to feel motivated to do the latter.

Please let me know your techniques for dealing with the shitbird in the comments. I’d love to try them!!

Positive procrastination

With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments.  I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).


When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air.  In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.


Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light.  I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.



When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen.  My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.