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Small Actions Get Big Things Done
The week before last, I found myself on Twitter, posting about a Rick the Rock of Room 214 review (see below!) and retweeting the kind words of people at the ALA conference who were reading the book. I've gotten to a point where I look at Twitter once a week, or once every two weeks, and I don't look for long. But this time it it pulled me back in, quickly: I kept clicking and scrolling once I was logged on and people were saying nice things about my book. I logged off and meditated, and my mind kept wandering, back to Twitter.
I think it's fine to still be on social media (I am!) as long as you're (I'm) intentional about using it, and an afternoon of scrolling without intent reminded me of that. The reason I stepped away from social media in the first place was because of how it had taken over my brain, how I would think about it when I was meditating, or on a walk, or falling asleep. It took months, but now I think about other things when my mind is wandering. I would argue: more important things. Sometimes the things I'm thinking about are rough. Figuring out a book, parenting a teenager, living a life -- all these things can bring up difficult emotions. But they're difficult emotions in reaction to what is happening right here, in my life.
I got a lot out of a podcast interview I listened to with Dr. Ellen Vora, whose new book is The Anatomy of Anxiety. Regarding social media, she says: "Human brains were not designed to be able to grapple with this much suffering...At all times, there's suffering somewhere in the world. We're not equipped to triage that, and to rest and relax and sleep when every single night there's some horrific, horrible thing happening in the world."
There is a lot of suffering to take in on social media, true suffering, and there's also outrage and anger. There are also things that are truly wondrous and full of joy. I want to spread joy, and even if I’m posting something on social media that is, to me, joyful, it’s bound to cause stress for someone else. Something that is happy for me might cause pain for someone else. But beyond that, I’m giving everyone a job. They have to read my post, and have some internal or external reaction to it. And it’s a job for me, too, to craft content for the internet.
When my first kid was born, there was a sweet person who wanted to give us a plant. They wanted to give us something beautiful that would grow along with our child. I love plants! But the thing was, this person was really giving me a job. I had to go to the garden store to choose a plant (this person lives far away) and then I had to care for the plant at the same time I was caring for a new tiny human. It was stressful. With love and thanks, we declined the plant.
But! Sometimes a plant is a welcome gift! Sometimes someone wants a plant, and is hoping so much that you will give them a free plant. Every time you post on social media, you're giving everyone who follows you a metaphorical plant. Maybe they want it, but maybe they're too stressed out and don't want another job. Maybe they even think they want a plant, but then, when they open Instagram and are presented with hundreds of plants, it's too much. Too many plants! So many needs, so many jobs, and it can be nice to be needed, but it's too much.
I know when I was posting a lot on social media, I felt useful. I was giving people something of value, right? I was spreading joy, right? And even if you don't go along with my notion that I was giving everyone a job, I was giving myself a job. But my job is not to post on social media. It's to write books.
July is a time of feeling overwhelmed by the annual impossible summertime math equation that is getting writing done while also being a present and good-enough parent to my kids who are home.
Recently, I made my plan for the day and saw that it was yet another day where I might get a few minutes of time to think about the book I'm about to revise. I feel a real urge to get going on this book. I wrote a zero draft of it last summer, and I already know I'm going to cut at least 60% from it. I'm excited about it, but I also know that there will be, realistically, at least two more drafts after this one. So I want to get to it! Get moving! Get closer to this book being done! Come on, come on, come on!
At the beginning of each year, I make a list of the writing I hope to get done before December 31. I like to make it ambitious but doable. I usually don't get everything done, or at least not in the idealized, finished-and-polished state I'm dreaming about in January. And as I was making my to-do list for the day and trying to shoehorn in some writing time, I suddenly realized: this book is the last thing on my list for the year. I've done everything else. You can see my list in the photo above -- I keep it on a post-it on my monitor.
I was pretty surprised, let me tell you. It's not like I've been a productivity workhorse. I've just been...doing stuff? Every day?
But guess what, doing stuff every day is being productive, even if I'm more of a productivity workpony. There are always going to be things that interrupt my writing time, and they're important too. It's ok, because the small work sessions add up. Small things get big things done.
I think I was surprised by how much writing I've gotten done this year because I feel the same amount of busy as I have in the past, when I haven't written as much. Being on social media every day felt productive and busy. Social media masqueraded as small work sessions, except at the end of it I was covered in plants.
I'll be honest, getting off social media has not been easy. I really had to do the work of deciding why I didn't want to be on there as much: I wanted to think my own thoughts. I wanted less stress, less gifted outrage. I just wanted my mind to wander down its own paths, not ones shoved into my cerebrum by tech corporations. Was I even thinking about writing more, about being covered in my own words instead of plants? It seemed too impossible to consider. But it wasn't until this year, when I finally, with love and thanks, declined all the plants, that I was able to reshape my day toward small and quiet productivity.
Which, it turns out, is how to get things done.
Publishers Weekly gave Rick the Rock of Room 214 a starred review! Rick will be published August 30 -- have you preordered yet? If you want a signed/personalized copy, preorder from Print: A Bookstore.
Thoughts and Links
Thanks to Travis Jonker for naming Rick the Rock of Room 214 one of the books he's looking forward to in the next few months.
Here's Cal Newport talking for 13 minutes about the perks of living without social media.
Mason Currey profiled artist Duncan Hannah, who died recently, and I especially love the part about Hannah saying the trick to creating good art is to keep wanting something.
Ramona grabbed this Ultimate Reading Challenge thing when we were in Print and it is extremely fun. I recommend it if you want to make your summer reading program a little extra. And I like that the prizes aren't only for kids! They are things like post-its and coasters, so get one for yourself!
I got Dirty Gourmet out of the library and immediately bought a copy. It's the first camping cookbook I've found that is mostly vegetarian, delicious-looking, and not impossible. On a recent camping trip, we made creamy vegan tomato sauced gnocchi (the recipe is less involved in the book!), goat-cheese-stuffed mini peppers, chilaquiles, and breakfast burritos. All easy, one pot (or no pot!) and extremely yummy.
Since I'm thinking about writing, productivity, and how to write when all the kids are home, this interview with Rachel Yoder resonated with me in about a billion different ways.
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