Pandemic productivity hack #1: Lower your standards

Sage CohenProductive writing, The life poeticLeave a Comment

Life has changed for many of us—rapidly and radically. You may be overwhelmed by grief, facing unexpected swaths of free time, or consumed with far greater demands of family and work.

Whatever your life is like today, chances are good there’s something new to solve. Your old systems and strategies may not apply. And whoever you thought you were just a few months ago—as a writer, parent, contributor, or human—may have left the premises.

I want to be the kind of person I have come to expect of myself. And yet, someone new is emerging from that woman’s ashes in this time of concentric living, working, parenting, homeschooling, and creating. This version of me is not pretty or polished. She’s got gray roots and a sad son and a lot of potato chips and Netflix hours under her belt.

Today, when a single coherent hour of writing is the best I can do, I am communing with the spirit of William Stafford. In an interview with Bill Moyers, the poet once spoke of his daily routine of writing a poem very early every morning. When Moyers asked, “What if what you write isn’t any good?” Stafford replied with his signature wit and wisdom, “Then I lower my standards.”

If ever there was a time to lower our standards, this is it. We don’t need to be any good at any of it. We just need to keep showing up for the writing we love to do. And letting that be more than enough.

Writing can keep us connected with ourselves and resourced for everything else our lives and our world demand of us right now. Whatever you need to do to stay there, with yourself on the page, is worth doing. I suggest focusing on progress, not product, not perfect. Maybe it would even be a good time to choose a “pandemic project” – something you can start and finish quickly. Something that serves as your little lifeboat in words. So you can say whatever feels most necessary to express right now. What I want for you is this:

blessing the boats


may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


May you write yourself into that loving wind. May you move deep into your truest waters. May you sail through this to that.

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