Productivity & Routine

This post has taken me forever to write, which itself should tell you that my routine is non-existent, my habits easily shaken by the unpredictable cadence of everyday life. Happy Monday, everyone! 

These days, we’ve become obsessed with control. Over our identities, how others perceive us. We like to plan out every second of our days for the sake of productivity. And how do we define productivity? By the number of words written, the number of tasks completed, concrete goals achieved. And in case our human limitations fail us, we have limitless smart devices and apps to help us out. We have to make time-efficient, practical decisions. We value people who are good at juggling various responsibilities.

Now, I’m not a numbers girl. I got a 1 on the AP Calc exam and a B+ in stats last semester. I’m old-fashioned, I like the organic feeling of pen on paper over any writing app that claims to simplify my life. Technology’s bells and whistles tend to disrupt rather than improve my work. Considerations of practicality hurt my dreamer’s soul.

I don’t think there’s any secret approach to writing, working, or living that will work for everyone. I certainly don’t want to become a slave to a particular way of doing things. I don’t want to live my life according to a script, repeating the same thing every day.

I’m learning to not let productivity determine my mood. I’ve noticed that if I don’t get any work done I’m not in the best mood and it affects other areas of my life. What I need to do, I will get done.

Perhaps that’s the most practical solution.

On “the Death of the Author”

I loathe “thinkpieces”. But I may have written one anyway. 

In the middle of the last century, the French philosopher Roland Barthes famously claimed that works of literature and art should stand separate from their creators. He called this principle “the death of the author”, meaning that the personal beliefs and lifestyle of an author or artist should remain just that, personal, private. There is no need to dissect the person along with the work; whatever the work says, it should say on its own.

This attitude becomes particularly useful for creators working under pseudonyms. They maintain an extra step of separation from their work. Their backgrounds are untraceable unless they choose to make them known. The pseudonymous author is just a name floating in the ether of space and art, free to define themselves, immune to the currents of real life. There is a certain air of mystery.

Of course, one has the right to remain anonymous or disguised if one chooses. That’s a matter of personal decision. While I do not mean to argue that working under an assumed name is evil or wrong (though I personally tend to agree with that more recent philosopher Ron Swanson, who famously said, “If you believe in something, you sign your name to it.”), I question how separable from their works authors really are.

Ayn Rand would probably not have become the anti-communist radical she was had she not grown up a Jew during the Russian Revolution. Flannery O’Connor’s stories lose their power and regress to depictions of pointless violence rather than visions of the Christian mystery if one does not consider her intense Catholic faith. You could not understand Sylvia Plath’s poetry without first understanding her personal history of depression.

You can appreciate the work without knowing the author, but you cannot mine it for all that it means without understanding where it came from. 

In an article about pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante amid rumors that a renegade journalist revealed her true identity, Suzanne Moore of The Guardian wrote that “if you want to know who Elena Ferrante is, there is a very simple way to find out. Read her books.” Even Ferrante could not write her works without the backdrop of midcentury Italy, even if the persona she presents in her books is fabricated. On a personal note, I know that I could not have written my novel without believing in its central tenets, those of connection and inescapable pasts that haunt my characters like O’Connor’s “Jesus [moving] from tree to tree in the back of his mind”.

In some general sense, then, I think that books need their authors, as context for their origins and their meanings, even if the people choose to be invisible. 


5 Things I Appreciated This Week

At the top of my list will always be my blessings disguised in the forms of my wonderful family and friends, but here are some other things that stood out in my journey to positivity. 

1. My Journal

I bought this beauty at Target while picking up some shiny supplies for the new semester. I couldn’t resist the color and the inspirational message on the cover. Not to mention the absolutely lovely feel of the pages. I fill up notebooks (for class and for personal use) like a machine, and it’s easier to bring journaling back into my routine when I have such a nice, dedicated place to deposit all my Deep Personal Thoughts, rather than scatter them through the Notes app or on pieces of paper that I’ll lose because I’m a scatterbrain.

2. The MBTI Test

You probably took this personality test in high school when your guidance counselor was trying to help you understand yourself and your interests for when you inevitably hit The Real World (TM). It’s proven really insightful for me, and now I have a Pinterest board entirely devoted to analyses and memes about the different types. If you’re interested, I think offers the most-indepth analysis, and the test is quick and easy.

I know, you think it’s a bunch of useless psych crap. Prepare to be amazed. I’m not that well-studied on the different cognitive functions the test analyzes, but the summaries I’ve read are scarily accurate. And even people who don’t normally put much stock in them say the same.

I can’t wait to work in career planning and help students interpret a similar test this semester. Like, that’s my whole job.

3. YouTube

I went on a binge the other night. What kept me laughing after midnight were Jenna Moreci’s videos on her ten worst character pet peeves broken down by gender (male and female) and the one she made about cliches to avoid when writing romantic plots. My favorite lesson? You can’t just take your wicked hot guy with no baggage and give him nice abs. Abs so nice, in fact, that you mention them every other page. No.

I also introduced myself to LilyCReads, who reviews books. I especially enjoy her rant reviews. I wish I had the video production skills to make similar rants.

Like this post if you want to see a “Books That Made Jess Feel Some Type of Way” series.

4. ProWritingAid

A lovely web-based writing tool that I’ve used mainly to analyze sentence variety, word frequencies, common constructions, and other elements of my writing that I might not catch on my own. It helped me rewrite the beginning of my novel like three times.

It’s also aesthetically pleasing, and free if you use the web version.

5. The fact that my pool got filled

And it’s no longer just an empty concrete pit, and I might finally be able to go swimming this summer. Huzzah!