Cheryl Reif headshotHi! My name is Cheryl and I help writers reach more readers by teaching them about emerging storytelling tools, techniques, and technologies.

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The Hidden Price of Increased Productivity Every Creative Needs to Know

The hidden price of "productivity" every creative needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more reading, more writing, more education, more promotion, more everything.

Add in all the great podcasts, webinars, online classes, and audiobooks available–not to mention the fact that most Kindle devices will read your digital book aloud for you–and it’s easy to be more productive. Simply fill all those open, unused spaces in our lives with educational audio. You can listen during your commute, while exercising, or while doing chores. The only limit is your imagination! Sounds great, right?…

…except that what these tips don’t mention is the hidden price you pay for filling up your mindless moments. You might be getting more done, but in the process, you’re probably also sabotaging your most important, most creative work.

You may be sabotaging your creative process by trying to “get more done.”

A Wandering Mind Is a Creative Mind

Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? That’s because the shower provides you with a safe, relaxing environment where you don’t have to concentrate very hard.

Safety + Relaxation -> Your alpha brain waves (important for creative thinking) increase. Your inner critic takes a nap; your brain starts playing with wild and crazy connections, and coming up with creative solutions.

Pro Tip: When you fill your spare moments with podcasts and audiobooks and other information-packed audio, you take away opportunities for your brain to wander into that relaxed state where free association is more likely to occur.

Boredom Encourages Creative Connections

Perhaps, though, you’re easily bored. It’s not just that you’re trying to learn more and be more productive; you want to avoid thumb-twiddling and time-wasting.

If that’s the case, it’s time to increase your boredom tolerance. Recent research shows that boredom in the workplace may increase creativity by providing the opportunity to daydream.

Pro Tip: If you combat boredom by focusing on email, webinars, reading and other “productive” activities, you switch your brain from its wandering, creative mode back to focused, attentive mode–and creativity suffers.

Stressed Brains Aren’t Creative Brains

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules,

Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed.” — Brain Rules website, Brain Rule #8

Remember how alpha brain waves encourage creativity? You see them when you’re relaxed, daydreaming, or practicing meditation. A stressed brain produces beta waves, a “fast” type of brain wave that occurs when you’re focused, solving a problem, or making a decision. 

Pro Tip: If you want to be more creative, don’t increase stress by packing every spare moment with things that require focus and attention.

Increased productivity is a fabulous goal–unless it interferes with getting your most important, most creative, work done. What do you think? Do you fill up your free moments with all those wonderful podcasts, audiobooks, recorded class sessions, or other great information sources? How do you strike a balance and make sure you have enough “down time” to nurture creativity?


Henry, A. Why Great Ideas Always Come in the Shower (and How to Harness Them). Lifehacker website.

Cheryl K. Stress and Brain WavesAmerican Nutrition Association website.

British Psychological Society. Being bored at work may make us more creativeScienceDaily website.

Bergland, C. Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today website.

Herrmann, N. What is the function of the various brainwaves? Scientific American website.

Novotney, A. The science of creativity. American Psychological Association website.

3 Easy Ways to Make NaNoWriMo (Practically) Stress Free

As the temperature outside creeps downward and autumn winds swirl leaves from the trees, writers around the world shiver in anticipation. The season approacheth: NANOWRIMO IS ALMOST HERE! Oooooh…so exciting! And daunting :). Exciting AND daunting–but worth it, and with a little advance prep, you can totally rock this 50K-words-in-30-days thing. Let me show you how! But first, in case you haven’t heard of NaNo… NANOWRIMO Survival Guide

What’s NaNoWriMo?

Here’s the quick-and-simple definition:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing…. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” —NaNoWriMo, “About”

What’s the Point?

I love NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. It encourages writers of all stripes to make a month-long commitment to creativity. Do you suffer from “Someday I’ll write that book…” syndrome? NaNoWriMo helps you conquer it!
  2. It helps writers establish a writing practice. Have you been meaning to write more, or write more regularly? Nothing like making a public commitment to help you make the change!
  3. With its ambitious word count goals, it pushes writers to accomplish more than they might otherwise. You know that feeling you get when you reach a seemingly impossible goal? It’s fantabulous–and it will provide you writing energy and enthusiasm for months to come!
  4. It inspires writers with a sense of community. When you aren’t the only one working on a difficult task–writing a novel–that sense of community can often provide that little extra something you need to keep going.
  5. It inspires writers with regular pep talks and encouraging emails from published authors. I love the author lineups they’ve put together for previous years–and the diversity of encouragement and advice they’ve offered.
  6. It helps writers practice writing without letting that inner critic interfere…an essential skill for any would-be prolific and productive writer. Anyone else fight with perfectionism? NaNoWriMo is the (perfect) antidote!

This video sums up the “WHY” of NaNoWriMo:

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4 Easy Tips to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

We started talking about perfectionism–and how to bypass it–in last week’s post.

If you haven’t already read it, it takes a deep dive into Tip #1 – Reframe Writing as Playing. You’ll also hear a bit about how perfectionism has held me back from some types of writing (cough**picture books**cough) for waaaaaay too long.

Go take a look, then return here for tips 2 through 4!

Hillary Rettig quote

Tip #2: Remove Artificial Constraints

If you’re feeling stuck, it often helps to broaden your definition of what counts as “writing.”

  • Don’t feel like writing the next scene? Feel free to skip around in the narrative.
  • Not sure where your story is going? Try writing about your writing — journaling about the writing process.
  • Consider making lists to help you brainstorm. For example, list
    • Actions your character might take
    • Words that elicit a specific mood
    • Potential rhymes to serve as reference when stringing words together
  • Or simply select an intriguing entry from your idea log and start freewriting!

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Picture Book Inspiration from Dan Yaccarino – RMC-SCBWI 2015

I'm delighted to share (with DY's permission!) my Sketchnotes from the fabulous author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino. Dan  spoke about the journey from inspiration to publication at the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI a few weeks back.

In this talk, he explained the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist in the world of picture books. He also covered a wealth of information on what makes a good story for young people...I wish I could transport you all back with me, so you could witness his enthusiasm and energy first-hand! Since I still lack those magical time-travel powers (alas), hopefully a little bit of Dan-style inspiration will come through these notes. Enjoy!  

Did you find this post helpful? You might also enjoy this month's subscriber-only download: 4 Easy Tips to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing. Click here to download your FREE PDF of tips to help YOU sidestep perfectionism and get rolling on your work-in-progress!