Last September, during a solo writing retreat to Northern Ontario, I created an audacious goal for myself.
By March of 2021, I’d complete the manuscript for my first horror novel. All 60,000 words.
I’ve only made it to 23,000 words.
It feels like a cruel April Fool’s joke.
Between the pandemic, wrapping up the MBA, and subsequently searching for a new job, my fiction writing fell on the back burner.
So, I did what any writer would do: scour the web for some motivational quotes to get me going again.
If you’re also stuck on a writing project, I hope these quotes help you put pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard.
"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good.” - William Faulkner
“There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published. Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is to come to terms with your life narrative. Another is to work through some of life’s hardest knocks—loss, grief, illness, addiction, disappointment, failure—and to find understanding and solace.” - William Zinsser
"You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it." - Octavia E. Butler
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page." - Jodi Picoult
"You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." - Jack London
“The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.” -William Zinsser
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E. L. Doctorow
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.” - William Zinsser
"I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles." - Shannon Hale
"Start before you’re ready." - Steven Pressfield
Long before the pandemic when I was working from home as a full-time writer, I made a deal with myself.
Anytime I’d sit at my desk, I’d force myself out of my housecoat and pajamas.
Instead, I’d put on a pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. At the very least, I’d change into a T-shirt and slacks, even though I wasn’t interacting with anyone most days, even virtually.
My reasoning was simple: it made me feel motivated to work. Aside from feeling extra productive, I also felt happier.
I didn’t know then that there was science to back up my reasoning.
In North America, we’re now past the one year mark of living with COVID-19, which has forced a large segment of the workforce to work from home.
While many put effort into dressing up for work during the aughts of the pandemic, that effort is wearing thin.
Sweatpants paired with a college hoodie is the new business casual.
And while comfortable attire is key, it turns out that dressing down is taking a toll on our productivity and mental health amid this lockdown.
A study from Northwestern University dating back to 2012 shows that clothes have a strong influence on the wearer’s psychological processes. It finds that clothes have a symbolic meaning for the wearer, and they also impact our physical experience, depending on what we wear.
The study uses a lab coat to—in part—come to its conclusion.
“A pretest found that a lab coat is generally associated with attentiveness and carefulness. We therefore predicted that wearing a lab coat would increase performance on attention-related tasks. In Experiment 1, physically wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing a lab coat,” the study notes.
“What a strange power there is in clothing.”
What we wear also impacts our mental health.
“One of the most important things people can do for their emotional, mental and psychological health,” is put effort in how we present ourselves to our own self, Psychologist Tracy Thomas said, speaking to The Huffington Post.
Thomas points out that daily grooming rituals are small ways we celebrate living.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t work for everyone, including those dealing with body image issues who might find the act of dressing up distressing, psychologists note.
And then there are others who feel completely content and productive in their sweatsuits while working from home.
Even before the pandemic, the world of tech was pretty relaxed when it came to workplace attire. And the sector was—and continues to be—booming.
Different strokes for different folks.
For now, however, I’ll continue to dress as best I can while working at my desk.
If only for myself.
Patrick Lencioni deftly defines politics in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
He describes it as “when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”
I’ve never heard politics described so aptly.
Lencioni’s book has gems for those looking to understand how a healthy team in the workplace should function.
This book is a page turner. I finished it in three sittings in part because Lencioni describes the five main dysfunctions through rich storytelling.
He teaches readers lessons using a fable based on a company struggling to get its leadership team to successfully function.
Lencioni illustrates the five dysfunctions using a pyramid graphic.
He starts at the bottom of the pyramid, which is where you’ll find the first dysfunction: absence of trust. Everything else is built up from there: fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.
Absence Of Trust
Absence of trust entails a lack of vulnerability; not being able to admit your mistakes or weaknesses to team members out of a fear of judgement. Lencioni writes absence of trust creates a culture of invulnerability. And because this sits at the bottom of the pyramid, you can imagine it’ll lead to the other four dysfunctions, too.
Lencioni notes that one of the best ways to alleviate this dysfunction is to start at the top, that is, get the C-suite team to become vulnerable in an effort to get other team members to do the same.
Fear Of Conflict
A lack of trust leads to the next dysfunction: fear of conflict. And it makes sense. How do you expect passionate debate over ideas when you can’t trust your team members. Instead, team members end up hiding their thoughts. This creates a culture of artificial harmony.
Lencioni recommends that team leaders should showcase restraint in the face of ideological conflict—debate related to work—at the boardroom table. Instead, create space for robust, constructive conflict.
Lack Of Commitment
Without passionate debate, team members will fall prey to artificial harmony, and that leads to the next dysfunction: lack of commitment. Team members are less willing to commit to ideas when they feel like they’re not being heard. It’s not necessary for the team to be on the same page. It is, however, necessary, for everyone to feel they are heard. Doing so allows team members to commit to the group decision, even if it doesn’t align with a dissenting team member’s idea. The act of being heard is often enough.
Without it, don’t expect employees to commit. And without commitment, ambiguity around goals and targets takes hold.
Avoidance Of Accountability
The next dysfunction is avoidance of accountability. If you’ve worked on a team, you’ve probably been there. Calling out the scary boss is, well, scary. And telling that super friendly employee who reports to you that he’s not doing his job right is also a tough conversation to have.
But hardest of all is being accountable to yourself. Lencioni recommends team leaders being held accountable in order for others to feel comfortable doing the same. A lack of accountability leads to low standards. And that’ll only hurt the team, and the company.
Inattention To Results
Because team members aren’t held accountable, they put their individual needs first, often driven by ego and status. Results get relegated to the back burner. It’s the leader’s role to bring the focus back onto results.
If you run a team, or if you’re a part of a team, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must read. It’ll help you spot the dysfunctions holding your team back. And it’ll also show you how to alleviate them.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.