About a month ago, I escaped the frigid late-winter temperatures of the American Midwest and headed out on a big road trip.
(And to walk on the beach.)
’Twas a big investment of time and resources. ’Twas a grand gesture.
Grand Gestures for Deep Work
Some big writing projects I wanted to dig into continually sank to the bottom of the jumbly piles of obligations and domestic duties. I’d try to set aside time for the ideas, the words, the keyboard, but they struggled to gain traction when I could only dedicate a few minutes here and there. I decided to find focus—and sunshine—elsewhere.
This approach to plunging into deep work by making major investments of time, money, or space, are what Cal Newport calls “Grand Gestures.”
Rowling’s Grand Gesture
In his book Deep Work, Newport offers a few examples of people who have made grand gestures, including J.K. Rowling. When she was working on the final book in the Harry Potter series, she faced everyday interruptions that broke the creative concentration needed to pull together all the threads of the story and finish strong.
So she decided to step away from home, where the doorbell would ring and the dogs would bark. She checked into a room in the five star Balmoral Hotel at $1,000 a night. Newport notes that she didn’t intend to continue writing there more than a night, but she accomplished so much, she kept going back and ended up finishing the book there.
The Boost in Importance
The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy. (122-123)
Let me assure you I wasn’t staying in anything close to the Balmoral Hotel for my Grand Gesture, but it was certainly a radical change from my normal environment and required a significant investment of effort.
My tasks did indeed take on greater importance, and I sat on the balcony with my laptop and tapped out the ideas and words that got my projects either significantly under way or completed.
And I walked on the beach.
In the sun.
Less “Grand” Gestures Are Still Grand
Now, there have been eras of my life where an outing that radical simply would not have been possible. Just out of college, I didn’t have nearly enough money for such an adventure. When my kids were little, no way could I have taken off that many days and driven that far away. Truly, it would have been nothing but a dream—a dream deferred.
Back then, though, I made smaller grand gestures. That sounds like an oxymoron, but though they were small, they felt grand. I would escape to the library on a Saturday and stay all day, tapping out chapters in a book or articles for magazines, stepping out only to eat a little lunch I packed.
Or in good weather, I might head to a local park and work at a picnic table, enjoying the atmosphere, penning poetry or a blog post. Sure, I’d love to have escaped to a more inspiring locale, but I settled for a less grand alternative—it got me away from my distracting dining room table. With some creativity, I still managed to gain focus and get ‘er done.
It’s Worth It
The goal, I believe, is to find ways to convince yourself that this project you’re working on is worth it. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the effort. Even a less dramatic “grand” gesture tells the brain to stop procrastinating and do the work.
Creative Grand Gestures
One of my clients drove her RV to a beautiful campground and stayed the weekend to finish three chapters in her book. She nailed it. All three chapters, complete.
My friend and coauthor Charity Singleton Craig booked a room for several days at a state park lodge to complete some of her projects. She got it all done.
An acquaintance rented a room at a local bed and breakfast located a few blocks from her house just to escape her domestic setting and dig in to complete her manuscripts. It worked. Every time.
I know personally three writers who have writing cabins where they’ve completed book projects and other work—though “cabin” might oversell it. Their spaces aren’t much more than a basic shed ordered from a home and garden store and delivered to their back yard. One person took over an existing space that the previous owners used as a greenhouse and gardening shed.
A few years ago, my first truly grand gesture was to discuss as a family the possibility of my taking over the dining room for my dedicated writing space—my office. To agree that my work as a writer was important enough to provide me with a space all my own? That was a big deal. I knew I’d have to focus and finish the book I was working on. I’d take my writing seriously—because my family was taking my writing seriously, offering me that otherwise shared, communal space.
What’s Your Grand Gesture?
If you’re struggling to get to your project—if you find you’re procrastinating and it’s always dropping to the bottom of your to-do list—invent a grand gesture.
It says to your loved ones the work is worth it.
It tells everyone—yourself included—that you, the writer, are worth it.
Design your grand gesture, then go get ‘er done.
- Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Grand Central Pub, 2018. Kindle version. [Affiliate Link: if you click through and purchase via this link, I receive a small percentage as an Amazon affiliate]
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Great article Anne,
Let’s get radical! I love the concept of a grand gesture. Go to the beach, Sell your car, get out of that toxic relationship, Do something to create a pattern interrupt.
Keep up the good work.
Ann Kroeker says
You’ve thought beyond what I conceived of when you bring in additional grand gestures that may inhibit our writing. Excellent ideas to create space for us to do our work. Thanks for joining the conversation with even more input for writers to consider, Cary.
Sarah Frantz says
I have a fiction I am working on and life interrupts constantly. I have a self-imposed deadline of November that I am trying to meet.
Maybe a get away would be just the thing…
Ann Kroeker says
Oh, I hope you go! You wouldn’t believe how much I got done on my Grand Gesture. I thought I might be tempted to lie on the beach; instead, I took those long walks to think (sometimes I cleared my head and sometimes I generated ideas, as you saw above), and then was able to work super-efficiently. May you find all the time for all the words, whether you get away or not, Sarah!
Sarah Frantz says
Thank you, Ann!