Thursday, July 31, 2014

See The Work

I entered my first writing contest this week, and to celebrate, I spend this morning pretending I was on a talk show and interviewed myself while I was in the shower. This is one of my favourite self-rewards after a bunch of tough work: I picture myself in Jon Stewart's hot-spot chair, being totally charming and wearing something really flattering and expensive. I am super well-spoken and he is just delighted by me, and then my book/article/blog post goes on to sell one million copies. Somehow, in these fantasies, my forehead isn't the size of a billboard and I make Stewart laugh so hard that, sputtering, he has to go to commercial, which is very gratifying.

Obviously, this isn't likely to happen any time soon, but this is incredibly useful for motivating my easily distracted brain and my lazy fingers to actually get the band back together and make something good. Creativity is its own reward sometimes; other times, I want to see my name in lights.

I've read that feeling engaged with meaningful work - in other words, feeling like the time we spend doing something actually matters - is one of the most overlooked motivators when we're at work. And likewise, having a framework that supports that engagement is one of the best things an organization can do for their workers. It's not enough to tell people that if they work hard and make the company more money, they'll get a raise or a bonus or an extra vacation day; what people need is buy-in (believing their own work matters) day-to-day encouragement (knowing that someone sees their hard work) and the time to figure sticky problems out on their own schedule (knowing that their supervisors trust them). Leaving appreciation out of the equation is a recipe for disgruntlement. (It's also only one of the reasons that bad HR and management practices make me so incredibly crazy, but that's a blog post for another time.)

Creativity often happens in a vacuum, and without the benefit of any framework of support at all. The Twitter hashtag #amwriting exists for a reason, y'all: it's the voice in the wilderness, the "can anybody hear me?" of the person behind the desk, working on a deadline or a passion project or an underpaid blog post, just looking for some validation. Everybody loves seeing the finished product, but the process of getting there is hard work. It can be lonely. Joining writing circles, craft fairs, and stitch 'n' bitches works sometimes, but you still have to actually do the work, and for a writer, that's not something you can do by committee.

I spent the second half of last year writing out a first draft of my very first novel: a murder mystery set on a post-apocalyptic farm. I set word count goals. I tracked my own progress. I made a spreadsheet of each chapter and would often reward myself with a Nia class or a slice of really good cheesecake at the end of the day. In short, I managed myself, and recognized my progress, and I gave myself time to figure the whole sprawling project out. It was one of the first times in my life where I felt like the work I was dong mattered - not like I was making a different, exactly, but that my brain activity and my hand activity synchronized. The first draft turned out to be only so-so, but that's okay: I can edit like the wind and find the gold inside.

And yes, I also interviewed myself in the shower then, too. Not only does it help me keep going, but when I forced myself to explain what I was writing about, it helped see where things had stopped making sense. That's a good thing to know.

I look forward to the day when I can have a job where I feel encouraged and recognized: where my work feels seen. Today is not that day, but that's okay. Maybe one day I'll be an HR guru with a little side business as an internationally beloved science fiction author. Maybe one day I'll end up in Jon Stewarts hot-spot chair after all...and if I don't, I can keep the dream alive, one shower at a time. 

Image via Warby Parker Class Trip