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I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Building Your Production Capacity

Production: Mowing the lawn.
Production Capacity: Maintaining the lawnmower...so that you can mow the lawn in the future.

I've been reading Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I strongly recommend, but only when you're ready to have your life critiqued, blown apart into tiny bits, and stitched back together. (I had to stop after Habit #2. You're just paused, I tell myself, scraping together some semblance of self-respect. You'll get back to it, after you master Habit#0 and Habit#1.)

In Habits, Covey talks about Production vs. Production Capacity. Production is getting stuff done; Production Capacity is the maintenance that builds the capacity to produce in the future. Covey uses the fable about the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg to demonstrate the difference: the eggs are the production, the goose is the production capacity. Both are necessary and important.

I excel at Production. See my life vitae.
I sucketh badly at Production Capacity.

In Real Life
I'm too embarrassed to list all the ways that I suck at Production Capacity in Real Life, so let's just focus on one example. I've always had a black thumb, meaning I can't keep plants alive. I've killed a cactus (seriously) and long ago gave up keeping anything alive in the house besides humans, cats, and the occasional cheese mold. I suck at keeping plants alive because it requires maintenance, and I'm just not any good at remembering to water the plants. I cringed when my wonderful father-in-law gave me a beautiful planter of geraniums for Mother's Day. I mean, I'd already killed the rose bush he gave me last year. Grandma understands the problem because she put Dark Omen in charge of watering, but the driest summer on record in Illinois looked ready to doom even that hope. When I realized that this plant was dripping with symbolism of my inability to build productive capacity into my life, I became determined to rescue it. I snipped off the withered blooms and watered it every day. Sure enough, the thing came back from the dead.
Now I'm proud of every single bloom on it.

Moral: it IS possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

How This Relates to Writing
Writing, unlike any other endeavor I've tackled in my life, requires a lot more Production Capacity that I generally manage to muster up during my head-long pursuit of ever-more Production

Production: Writing. Editing. Publishing. (I do not include marketing.)
Production Capacity for Writing/Editing: Reading. Watching TV/movies. Free writing. Studying bestsellers. Writing classes. Any kind of craft study. Staring out the window daydreaming.
Production Capacity for Publishing: Marketing. Social Media. Writing Conferences.

From the beginning of my writing career, I've excelled at getting words on the page, logging ridiculous amounts of wordcount, but also lots and lots of revisions. Fortunately for me, this is also one of the best ways to start out. A high Production rate continues to be important for a writer as they mature down their writerly path.

And I'm not as bad at Production Capacity in writing as I am in Real Life: I continue to create craft study programs and examine bestsellers, as well as invest in publishing production capacity like social media and marketing. But I skimped on the production capacity that directly fed my creativity (reading, free writing, daydreaming). And as I get further down the writing road, I realized that this, almost as much as the writing itself, is vitally important to my writing career in the long haul.

You see, I want to have a career in writing that spans decades, not just years. And to do that, I need to be continually watering that plant and bringing forth new blooms, or I will either burn out or stagnate -  neither of which is acceptable to me.

So, this summer I've been reading a lot more. I've been free writing in the mornings several times a week. I even allow myself to daydream on occasion. :) Plus I'm working on all those pesky Productive Capacity things in Real Life, so that I can keep up my stamina for writing Production as well.

And I can feel the difference when I sit down to write: my Creativity Well is full when I dip my pen into it.

What do you do to feed your writing Production Capacity?

20 comments:

  1. I can't keep plants alive either. And my interest in pulling weeds fades by June. I think we must be cut from the same cloth, because I, too, am good at production -- but not so great at Productive Capacity.

    Come to think of it, pulling weeds would be a good venue for day dreaming, which increases Productive Capacity. Perhaps I'll put that on my To-Do list this week! :D

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    1. I knew we were sisters! :) And it's amazing how your perspective changes when you start putting things in the dichotomy of P vs. PC - yet, I find that Production Compulsion coming on with a fury this week.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I'm the opposite. I am all over the Production Capacity -- I'm constantly daydreaming during everything I am doing, practically anything I run across gives me a new idea. But I am horrible about sitting down and actually getting to the work of Production. There are a million other things that I "have" to get done before I allow myself to sit down and write. Would the house fall down around me if I didn't get those other things done? Probably not, but in the moment I convince myself that it would.

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    1. I think many writers are like that, high on the production capacity end of things. I don't have great advice for you there, because I've never had a hard time saying "no" to laundry in favor of writing! But I think the hardest part is to start ... once you sit down to write, I don't think the laundry will call to you anymore. :)

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  3. Nice breakdown. I'm with you with the black thumb. I've had to limit myself to two house plants and one flower bed. More than that and they all die :).

    I love how this takes the guilt out of "free" reading, tv watching and daydreaming. These things are necessary to the longevity of what I want to accomplished. Awesome!

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    1. LOL! And I'm always happy to oblige the justifications - I'm a master at it! :)

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  4. Yup, I'm a plant killer too. I think it's because I have no interest not because I couldn't. I've been reading way more since I started self publishing but that might coincide with all the awesome self published books I've found. My reading has branched out and it is all affecting my writing in a good way. Reading crucial for writers - I think.

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    1. I couldn’t agree more – I had always read a lot, but for pleasure. Since becoming a writer, I read for learning. It’s taken a while, but I’m back to reading for pleasure AND learning. :)

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  5. Thanks for this post, Susan, and thanks for reminding me of Stephen Covey's book. I'll have to read it again.

    Confession: plant killer here. :)

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  6. Great post. I used to keep a garden and be very good about taking care of my indoor plants. Not this year. Writing has officially taken over every empty corner of my life! Speaking of production capacity, I do really like getting the Daily Writing Tips email. I think over time it has helped with my editing skills.

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    1. Ah! I'll have to check out Daily Writing Tips! Writing used to occupy every empty corner, but I'm trying to find some balance now. Not entirely convinced it's better. LOL

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  7. I am a master at daydreaming. But my biggest production capacity building occurs when I'm journaling regularly. It's like stirring the compost heap of creativity. (Although I enjoy extending metaphors to their extremes, I'll spare you this one.)

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    1. I’m just now beginning to appreciate the benefits of that regular free writing (or journaling) – most people are way ahead of me!
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. What a great and though-provoking post, Sue! I'm a huge fan of Covey's and have read pretty much all his books--but your post reminds me that I wanted to get Habits for Teens since my boys are heading in to middle school now. Thanks for the reminder!

    Now that you've pointed it out (thanks so much for that!) I realize that my production capacity has crumbled into non-existence. Time to refuel!

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    1. Thanks Ali! I'm not surprised you're a Covey fan - you've always struck me as a very centered person. :) I snagged a copy of Habits for Teens for my Jr. High kid too!

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  9. Great post and I'm planning on reading the book. Learning and always improving on the craft is very important to me but I often find that I either 1) reading articles and books on craft in favor of putting words on paper (not so good) or 2) have so much going on that I neglect the craft-related books for a fun book I can relax with in the rare moments, like the commute (also not so good). So I have to catch up with the "maintenance" and create a better balance.
    Also, I'm not good with plants either but when my co-worker went on maternity leave, she left me 4 plants - and I'm managing to keep them alive and green! So I'm pretty proud of that, too. lol

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    1. I almost always make sure I have a specific WiP that I can apply a craft book to, before I allow myself to pick it up. For example, I'm writing short stories/novellas this summer, so I picked up Short Fiction by Damon Knight. Tying one to the other helps to keep that on track (for me). And my trick with the fun books is to use them as rewards. I was dying to read Mockingjay, but I forced myself to wait a couple weeks, until I was done with a draft I was working on. The reading was all the sweeter for the waiting. :)

      And go you, on keeping the plants alive! No one would trust me with such a thing; such is my reputation. *hangshead*

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  10. The first step is recognizing those old patterns. That's huge. Then setting out to change them is the second and often daunting task. Seems like you've moved right on to taking charge of step three: finding how to use what you've learned in this process and applying that in many parts of your life. The book sounds excellent and probably one I could have used a few years back. Have to get a copy. Now I'm off to trim some geraniums and offer them some water.

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    1. Re-evaluating and applying what I learn: it’s a never ending process, isn’t it? But that’s a good thing.  It means we’re still alive, still learning, still moving forward. I hope you enjoy the book!

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  11. What a great post, Sue! I know when I get too busy to read, free write, or daydream, I do see my creativity dip. The nice thing is when I pay attention, it usually comes back.

    And isn't it great to be in a profession where reading and daydreaming are fundamental to success? :D <3

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers