"This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arises in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground." ~ John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress
If you are a writer, fine artist, amateur pundit, blogger, self-publisher, consultant, or social media zealot, Boston based writer and business adviser Hillary Rettig has written a book that you will find invaluable. It is The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, available at Hillary Rettig Shop.
The overarching message of The 7 Secrets is that creative people--like you--are not lazy, undisciplined, or uncommitted to their art or task. More to Rettig's point is that they are not destined to spend their productive lives mired down in the Bunyan inspired Slough of Despond that opens this story.
Rettig addresses the sometimes chronic problem of creative under productivity among writers and other content producers. Among these unproductive behaviors or conditions are procrastination, perfectionism, resource scarcity, time scarcity, an ineffective writing process, bias, ambivalence, internalized oppression, toxic/traumatic rejection, and the consequences of being on an exploitative career path.
At first glance, such a long list of barriers or blocks is intimidating or, frankly, a bit precious. For writers of the Jack Kerouac School--"all you really need to write is a pencil"--something called "internalized oppression" seems a little artsy-fartsy and unlikely to resonate with experience. It turns out, though, that most writers--and artists in general--struggle with feeling that no one gives a hang about what they--the content producer--produces. Rettig describes this as "The Problem with Invisibility and Isolation."
Here's an illustrative story:
Several years ago I jumped into a taxi cab and asked the driver to "as quickly as possible" navigate through rush hour traffic to National (Ronald Reagan) Airport. "You bet," he said. And, "while we're driving would you like to hear a poem?"
That was a first, of course. And, of course, I said yes. What else could I say? For the next 30 minutes I listened to Monte Smith recite his poems and talk about how he came to be--as far as I know--the only hack driving poet in Washington, D.C. Mr. Smith's poems were quite good, but the story of why he was driving a cab was most illuminating.
"The hardest part about being a poet," he said as he navigated through traffic, "is not having an audience. Every poet I know said the same thing. We hold a reading and maybe six people would show up--and four of them would be there to read. It was really demoralizing. I'd pour blood on the page and no one cared.
"I started driving a cab to help a friend out and, just on a whim, decided to ask passengers if they'd like to hear a poem. Almost everybody says yes. I think people are too surprised to say no--and way surprised that a cab driver can even write poetry. I sell a lot of books during the day and, finally, I've found an audience," he finished, pointing to a stack of his poems on the seat by him.
Rettig also offers good advice about more common and prosaic blocks to producing content. For example, she says that writers should choose the smallest, simplest projects they can. "Once you finish your simple project," she writes, "you can then tackle a slightly more ambitious one, and then a slightly more ambitious one after that...up to your own version of War and Peace." After having read that I understood intuitively why I write so many recipe columns: they are almost as easy--and satisfying--as kneading dough.
My initial thought about reviewing The 7 Secrets of the Prolific was "oh no, not another self-help book!" I got over that almost immediately when I saw how thoroughly and professionally Rettig understands the world of content producers. Each of the "7 secrets" is comprehensively and perhaps exhaustively described, justified, and supported by the reader saying (over and over again) "oh yeah, I've experienced that" or "yes, I know how that feels."
I also realized that The 7 Secrets of the Prolific is a highly effective tool for engaging our new publishing environment, that place where public and private media marry and become one. Never before have so many people published their photos, their ideas, and their rants and dreams alongside their essays, blogs, newsletters, websites, podcasts, videos, and books. The 7 Secrets embraces that radical world and clears pathways and permissions for content producers to escape their personal slough of despond and get on with the business of producing content.
Readers interested in contacting Hillary Rettig can do so by clicking on her name here. The 7 Secrets of the Prolific is available for $24.95 in trade paperback and for $3.95 as an e-book, plus shipping and handling.