The secret ingredient to productivity

They say one of the keys to being successful at any creative endeavour is perseverance. Discipline comes in handy too. Yeah yeah, there are also talent and self-belief, but they’re very hard to control…

There is another secret ingredient I’ve come to value very highly over the years — and that’s friends. More specifically, friends who share my creative passions. Kindred Spirits. People who ‘get’ my need to spend hours and hours chained to my second career. People who understand the down days and comprehend just how amazing the good days are.

These days, social media is a fabulous vehicle for forging friendships with like-minded souls. One of the best things I ever did was join up for Kristen Lamb‘s blogging bootcamp, which provided me with an instant (more or less) community of kindred spirits on facebook and twitter. I just know if we lived close enough for coffee . . .

Fortunately for me, however, Melbourne is not devoid of kindred spirits. I’ve managed to find several I can and do meet for coffee — as well as a whole lot more.

Writing retreats

I’ve just spent a fabulous four days away with a dozen members of my writers group, SuperNOVA (warning: fledgling web site!). We rented a massive house on a lake, and the aim was to write, write, write. We did get up to some other mischief (which has been summarised here and here*), but mostly the house was silent except for the clacking of keyboards, the scrape of pens, and the screeching of cockatoos out the window.

The general consensus, I believe, was that most participants (I don’t claim all) were more productive than normal. This may have been simply the act of getting away from the distractions of home, but I like to think it was at least partly because of the atmosphere, the camaraderie, of being amongst other writers. There was an almost audible hum of energy in the room . . . OK, I’m possibly being fanciful and cliched, but you get my point!

Over the past few years I’ve been on several weekend writing retreats, some with as few as two of us, others with more. Every time, I get a lot more done than if I take myself off on my own for a weekend — which I do periodically. I think having a kindred spirit present helps with both discipline and perseverance. There’s also the added bonus of having a ready-made sounding board for nutting out tricky plot points, or debating word choice etc, if necessary.

Writing in cafes and pubs

If a weekend retreat is too much, a companionable session in a cafe (or the pub!) can be very effective. I’m currently meeting a few of my writing friends on a weekly basis for a Saturday brunch/afternoon writing session in one of my local cafes. We sit in the back section for up to five hours, ordering occasionally, computers fired up. What I love about this is:

  1. It forces me to write on a Saturday (or Sunday), when otherwise I might feel compelled to do housework. Or something away from the desk.
  2. It combines socialising with ‘work’.
  3. I have ready-made sounding boards for tricky bits.

Last year (when I wasn’t working), a few of us met regularly on Tuesday afternoons in my local pub. And earlier this year, we tried Friday night gatherings for a few months. Those were both awesome habits for the same reasons. It’s very easy to get really busy at work (ahem) and stop writing all together . . . at least if I have a weekly writing session planned, I’m locked in for that time at least.

An epiphany . . .

This post stemmed in part from an epiphany I had on the weekend, as I sat in the corner of the hive, pen in hand, mulling. These were after all my friends I was hanging out with, not just the ‘other writers in my group’. I’m sure I’m not the only writer to despair occasionally, to consider throwing this writing gig out the window and live a ‘normal’ life. (OK, so I was having black thoughts.) But then it struck me that if I did throw it all away, then I’d lose my connection with all these people, these friends, who have become a huge part of my social network. And I don’t want to lose  them. I realised that I’m committed, in for the long haul. This life defines me now. There’s no going back . . .

So . . . If you’re a fellow creative, struggling with all these things, how do your friends and networks support you? Have any writers out there ever tried cafe writing — alone or otherwise? Care to come to Melbourne and write with me?

* If you click through to Jason’s blog post, I’m the one sitting in the middle on the dock… and the one carrying the case of wine…

8 thoughts on “The secret ingredient to productivity

  1. I’d LOVE to come to Melbourne & write with you.
    Right now most of my writing support comes on-line, even from people who live in Seattle, but you’re inspired me to email a couple and set something up. Nice post!


  2. I have no doubt we would be meeting for coffee if we lived closer than an 18 hour flight from each other. 🙂

    I totally agree about writing in the company of others and friends being helpful for productivity. My very small writing group used to meet every other week where we’d provide crititques of each other’s WIP. Knowing I had to get the next 10-15 pages to them on the alternating weeks kept me cruisin’ along. And then… we had to stop meeting for a while due to crazy schedules, etc. Guess when my productivity slowed to a crawl? We’re planning to re-group and start meeting again and I am so looking forward to it.

    As for writing in cafes, I love to do that. In fact, it’s my preference. It might be a left over from my university days when that was the only place to go to focus on my studies.


    1. I have no doubt either re coffee. Glad to hear you’re ‘getting the band back together’. I’m not sure the pressure of having work critiqued is one I like, but the simple act of meeting and writing together is such a boon.


  3. This is such a great idea, Ellen! I’ve heard of writers meeting to critique each other’s work, but I like the mutual productivity session. It reminds me of day-long study marathons I used to do with my roommates in college. Something about being in a mass of stimulated brain cells…


    1. Hehe, yes it’s a bit like a study session… Only I never did that in a cafe… Although I did go away for a study weekend once!

      Hope you can get something happening with your circle!


  4. I’m so envious of your experience. I’ve had writing groups in the past, gone on retreats for the weekend, met in coffee shops to write, but unfortunately, I am the lone hanger-on-er among my local writer friends. Work, family, health have taken them away from writing.

    I don’t know what I would do without my social media friends. You all keep me honest and keep me feeling part of a community of people who get what I’m trying to do.

    I feel like I don’t have the time to scout out a new group of writers who are dedicated to craft and community, but I know how wonderful it is to be in such a group. Maybe, soon, I’ll give it another try.
    Glad you had such a great weekend.


    1. Oh, Sara, what a shame! I’m amazed at how my network has grown, and I think it’s largely due to the tight speculative fiction community in Australia. We tend to congregate. I do hope you manage to find some local writers to hang out with. It makes all the difference. (although our online community is also wonderful.)


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