The 7 Secrets of the Prolific

By Polly Cleveland

If you’re like me, you always wanted to be a writer—but obligations came first: family, friends, bosses, students, bills, good causes. Recently, I grumbled about my lack of productivity to my editor Chris Sturr at Dollars & Sense magazine. He sent me The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig.

Wow! Hillary, where were you when I needed you 50 years ago! My mom taught us to finish our dinners, clear and wash the dishes, and only then eat dessert if there was time and we were still hungry. Writing was like dessert, sweet but rare. And hard to justify unless obligatory—I did indeed belatedly finish my Ph.D. dissertation on wealth inequality by going to my ex’s office at 4am every day for a year to use the $40,000 Raytheon word-processor! That was back in 1980.

Since then, I’ve spent my life obligated. First my ex-husband’s health and beauty aid business—largest product, Ezo denture cushions to stick in your false teeth, followed by Zip Wax to peel the hair from your legs. Then my present husband’s two tiny apartment buildings just off Central Park West, where we both lived and offered “luxury furnished rentals.” (Some of our tenants were famous actors or actresses in town for a Broadway gig.) Both of the two businesses took me into fascinating and challenging new worlds, but seemed to leave little time for much else besides family. After my husband and I mercifully sold the buildings in 2009, I should have been liberated to write almost full time, no excuses!

I had in fact set up my own website, www.mcleveland.org, in 1996. And in 2005, I added my occasional WordPress blog, Econamici, mostly on economic issues. (I spent five weeks in Bologna, Italy, that year, studying economic cooperatives hence the name.) I’m deeply grateful that the editors at Dollars & Sense not only republished many of my blog posts, but made them better. But still…

Hillary Rettig has my number, and maybe yours too. It’s not just the obligations, but the distractions—I really don’t need to read about the latest Trump outrage. And the perfectionism—I teach a course at Columbia every fall; I love my students, but I don’t need to turn one course into a full time job. I don’t need to fix my husband’s computer problems three times a day either. (Have you tried rebooting yet?) And speaking of perfectionism creating writer’s block, 37 years ago I wrote a 450-page dissertation, and I’m still talking about turning it into a book on inequality! Hillary’s site provides a time schedule, which I downloaded and followed for three weeks—sort of. Yes, I really can make good time to write. (Until the router fried, sending me to Best Buy for a replacement, and a day tinkering with wires—another distraction?) I’ve started spending Thursdays working on my laptop in the Columbia Law Library, which has the comfiest chairs. I get more done there than at home, despite losing an hour traveling. Maybe I should spend two days!

Thanks, Hillary for the toughest  advice of all: come out of the closet as a serious writer! Advertise! That means not only writing regularly, but publishing—even if only on my own website! So I have just uploaded to “Working Papers” on my website over a dozen of my orphan children—good articles still looking for homes. Check out one of my best, Obama Does Havana: Observations on Cuban-U.S. History and Prospects During Obama’s Visit in March 2016.

Finally, being a serious writer means regularly reaching out to you, dear readers, for comments, advice, and even rejections. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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