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All Your Work Should Be Sand Castles

Aug 13, 2012 | Updated Oct 13, 2012

The wonderful and much-missed writer and writing teacher John Gardner wrote in On Becoming a Novelist:

"If children can build sand castles without getting sand-castle block, and if ministers can pray over the sick without getting holiness block, the writer who enjoys his work and takes measured pride in it should never be troubled by writer's block. But alas, nothing's simple. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on."

However, if you work on your perfectionism and other barriers to productivity, all your work CAN be sand castles! Those other barriers, as outlined in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, include: resource deficiencies, unmanaged time, ineffective work processes, ambivalence, unhealed traumatic rejections, and an exploitative/unliberated career path.

Yes, your work might be intellectually or emotionally challenging, but the act of sitting down to do it should be little harder than sitting down to build a sand castle. All your work should be play, in other words.

A key phrase in Gardner's quote is "measured pride." Perfectionists both overidentify with their work and tend toward grandiosity, and so when their work goes well they have unmeasured pride -- which, of course, sets them up for a crash the next time it doesn't go well.

Let's take it a step farther. As a writer or other worker, you must have dominion or sovereignty over your work while you are doing it. Yes, you and others may eventually judge it, but at the moment you are working you need to forget all about that and be King or Queen of your project and process. More on this here.

This summer, watch a kid build a sand castle. Not only is he typically completely engaged and engrossed and having fun, he is also completely in charge. He builds and destroys with impunity, knowing that he'll never run out of sand or ideas, and you should do your work from a similar attitude of abundance.

Go out and try it! First, build a sand castle (or snow castle, in the case of my Southern Hemisphere readers), and then import the same attitude and behaviors into your work. It won't just boost your productivity; it will be a sublime pleasure.

For more by Hillary Rettig, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.