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Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Poverty of Positive Thinking

Positive, or even manic thoughts, might also come to me as I'm writing.
This book is going to be really great.

I am brilliant.

I am having a lot of good ideas today.

Boy, I like that sentence. I am a good writer.

Thomas Basbøll is going to really like this.

I still have it!

I could write dozens of books like this.

I've written a lot today, and it is good.
I might get such thoughts, also, dozens of times as I am writing, on any given day. It is also good to notice and acknowledge those thoughts, and move on. There is nothing harmful there, I couldn't repress them even if I wanted to, and they make me feel good. But what I am really aiming for is a total absorption in the work itself, not an ego trip about how good my work is. I have to keep my attention on the concrete problems I am trying to resolve, like "that paragraph doesn't quite belong there." The most useful thoughts are neither negative, nor positive, but pragmatically focussed on the actual work.

That is why "motivation" in either negative or positive senses is kind of misplaced. I can't be focussed primarily on a potential punishment (no tenure!) or a reward (distinguished professor!) as I'm writing. The motivation is in the focus on the work itself. The absorption. Without that it is impossible to do good work.

3 comments:

profacero said...

Or: too many synapses. I did not have time to write the paper I gave this morning, or rather I did, but could not settle down, did not have the patience.
However, I did stand up and give it, very clearly, no notes, ending where I wanted to and taking 20 minutes exactly. Everyone said: your book is going to be fabulous! What I thought: if I can possibly sit down to write it. I may invest in a standing desk.

Andrew Shields said...

This reminds me of how Tim Parks describes meditation in "Sex is Forbidden": when you have negative thoughts while meditating, you make "an objective note" about them and concentrate on your breathing. But you should do the same when you have "positive thoughts." The point is the discipline, not how you feel about it.

Andrew Shields said...
This comment has been removed by the author.