Self-compassion for writers (it’s not what you think)

In a recent Study Hacks blog post, Cal Newport, “a computer science professor who writes about how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age,” quotes Kalonymous Kalman Shapira’s advice on learning:

“If you have compassion on yourself, you will learn to budget your hour; every hour will have its own task. You should decide before you begin how much time you want to spend at even mundane matters…Your hours should not be left open, but should be defined by the tasks you set for them. Write out a daily schedule on a piece of paper and don’t deviate from it; then you will reach old age with all your days intact.” [Rabbi Shapira, quoted by Cal Newport]

Read the entire short and accessible post here, and see an example of how Cal plans his day here.

Photo credit: Courtney Dirks (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Courtney Dirks (CC BY 2.0)

What struck me about the quotation was the word compassion. We are all busy. We are all easily distracted. Some of our brains have been hijacked by the election season. Finding time not only to write but to have a writing life of purposeful reading, daily practice, long-term goal setting, and regular submissions may feel like anything but a form of self-compassion.

However, if we think of such habits as self-care and kindness toward ourselves by creating a more meaningful life, rather than an obligation imposed from the outside, perhaps they will get easier.

TTFN. On to sketch out today’s to-do list.

The Discipline of Passion

Resources for writers and other creatives

“I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” ~ Jo Nesbø

The Discipline of Passion, Part I

A good friend sent me a link this week to Marion Dane Bauer’s “While I’m Talking about Aging,” a thoughtful piece about life, death, writing, and the choices we make every day:

“My discipline is the discipline of doing each day what I most love to do, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s a day spent with my daughter and my grandchildren. Sometimes it’s a Pilates session followed by lunch with a friend followed by grocery shopping and preparing another meal for myself and my partner. (I’m one of those who loves grocery shopping and food preparation. It’s only putting the groceries away that annoys.) Sometimes it’s doctor’s appointments, of course, or other unpleasant necessities, but whatever else I’m doing, each morning I rise knowing the writing waits. And I always turn to it with gratitude.” Read more

The Discipline of Passion, Part II

To keep myself motivated during NaNoWriMo, I have been listening to podcasts for and by writers, especially when driving to and from work, and one I particularly enjoyed this week was a Guardian interview with Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. This was his answer to the question of how he keeps himself from getting distracted:

“I’m not disciplined, really. I don’t have any routines, but it’s easy because I love writing. I never saw writing as a job. I saw it as a privilege, to actually spend time writing. I try to keep it that way, and I mean this seriously. Writing is something I do when I have nothing else to do. I never decide that I’m going to get up early in the morning and write from eight to four. If I wake up at eight, I may get up and go to a coffee shop and sit and write for two hours because I want to. Or when I’m traveling I write in trains and planes. It’s as simple as that, I think. I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” Listen to more

While I do need to impose discipline on myself, there is wisdom in his words. The question we can ask ourselves is this: When we have “nothing else to do,” what do we do? If the answer isn’t writing, maybe it should be.

The Discipline of Passion, Part III

Finally, I was struck this week by Magdalena Kay’s “Leave Me Alone,” in which she asks, “How much does a scholar lose in work time when called upon to pitch, advertise, and network herself into a frenzy?” Although she is addressing academics primarily, her ambivalence about the conflicting pull toward writing and push toward networking is familiar to writers from many disciplines and genres:

“The fact is, I’d rather spend time writing, in as much solitude as I can muster, than advertise it. Should I tweet about forthcoming publications? Should scholarly work be advertised on Facebook? I cherish my minuscule group of Facebook friends, and can only imagine them ‘liking’ a publication out of loyalty and pity. When my publishers sent me sheaves of order forms to distribute at conferences, I slunk around hallways like a thief in the night, plunking down a stack in what seemed a good location and then scurrying away. Publicly begging for book sales just felt wrong.” Read more

If we truly enjoy time alone spent writing, isn’t that, at least in part, its own reward? As Kay concludes, maybe “it is time to reaffirm the value of quiet, solitary, unglamorous work, and to recognize its necessity as well as its pleasure.”


Do you stop too soon in the creative process?

Recently a young friend on Facebook posted the following quotation, and it has completely changed the way I think about my own creative roadblocks:

The list is simple and not at all scientific, but anyone who has ever struggled through the creative process (which is everyone, at some point or another) knows it is true.

Tiffany Shlain similarly writes of the “Confusion” stage of the creative process:

“Dread. Heart of Darkness. Forest of fire, doubt, fear… [But] as hard as it is — and it is really hard — any project … gets infinitely better after I’ve rumbled with all of my fears.” Read More

My insight is simply this:  Far too often (and this has happened more as I get older), for creative projects both big and small, I stop at steps two, three, or four. My mistake is in thinking that my feelings and doubts at that point must mean that my ideas aren’t worth pursuing, that they are laughable, embarrassing.

But what if everyone has those feelings and doubts in the creative process, and the only difference between those who finish and those who don’t is that they plow through their self-doubts, treating them as perhaps not just a nuisance, but necessary?

The next time we reach step four, we can celebrate rather than quit, because we will know we are almost there.

Photo by thecrazyfilmgirl CC BY 2.0 (white text added)
Photo by thecrazyfilmgirl CC BY 2.0 (white text added)

Whom do you surround yourself with?

“While some people might find my directness and my dry sense of humor to be offensive and intimidating, there are others who find it refreshing and entertaining. The trick is to surround myself with the latter.” ~ Anna, a 30-year-old from Seattle

Two Parrots

I was blown away recently by the wisdom of the above thoughts from a friend, and it made me think about the power of our choice of association.

It’s a choice we don’t often realize we have.

  • Who finds you refreshing and entertaining?
  • Who laughs at your jokes?
  • Who makes you laugh?
  • who appreciates your efforts?
  • Who notices your strengths?
  • Who listens to your worries and fears without judgment?
  • Who encourages your hopes and dreams?
  • Who applauds your efforts?
  • Who enjoys your company and tells you so?
  • Who trusts you enough to be authentic in your presence?
  • Who likes you for who you are rather than who you are capable of being?
  • Who makes you feel better rather than worse about yourself, your life, your world?

The trick is to surround ourselves with them more rather than less often.

Photo credit: Vjeran Lisjak

Dave Grohl on finding your voice

“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” ~ Edward de Bono

“There is no right or wrong. There is only your voice.” ~ Dave Grohl


We all have those days when we need someone or something to help us to see life differently, to change our perception and move us in a different direction, to dig a different rather than simply a deeper hole.

Lianne Stokes’ “The Top 5 Ways to a Better Life According to Dave Grohl” did that for me this week. Here is a taste:

“5. Spark a revolution.

Grohl, on his hope for his small daughters as they grow into women:

‘As a proud father, I pray that someday that they are left to their own devices, that they realize that the musician comes first, and that THEY find THEIR VOICE, and that THEY become someone’s Edgar Winter. THEY become someone’s Beatles and that THEY incite a riot, or an emotion, or start a revolution, or save someone’s life.’

Always have the highest bar for yourself. Wake up everyday and no matter how crappy you feel, want to change something for the better. Even if that day it means organizing your grandmother’s spice rack. Do something that makes someone happy. Create something that inspires someone. Be someone’s light when they are hopeless. Or just eat an amazing sandwich. You know, a really good sandwich is a total game changer.”

You can watch Grohl’s address in its entirety at the end of Lianne’s piece (note that there are f-bombs a-plenty). One of my favorite parts of his talk is about voice. While he is referring to a musician’s voice, we can easily substitute “writer” and similar words, as I did below [in square brackets]:

“What matters most is that it’s your voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s … gone because every human being is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last? It’s there if you want it. Now, more than ever, independence as a [writer] has been blessed by the advance of technology, making it easier for any inspired young [writer] to start their own [journal], write their own [story], record their own [narrative], book their own shows, write and publish their own fanzine—although now I believe you call it a blog? Now more than ever, you can do this, and it can be all yours, and left to your own devices, you can find your voice.”

What will you write to find your voice today?

Photo of Dave Grohl by remixyourface (Flickr: Foo Fighters Tenacious D concert in 2011) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons