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Martina Castro

My Work In Progress: Lessons 6-8By Martina Castro

Immediately following the posting of my column on "My Work in Progress", I was feeling very accomplished with how far I had gotten on this endeavor to make my first radio piece. I sent the column around to all of my close colleagues and friends, and I got a very warm response to my honest discussion of this difficult process.

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling, who has been with NPR for 28 years and has won every journalism award possible, admitted to me that even HE can get anxious about his work.

He gave me permission to post his email to me here:

From: Daniel Zwerdling

Sent: Friday, November 02, 2007 10:07 AM

To: Martina Castro

Subject: I loved your column!

Now I'm going to pontificate:

When I'm feeling anxious, which is natural, as you say, and working under deadline, I find that a mantra helps me get through it: "Danny, your job is to do the best you can.. given the time and circumstances.."

Being aware of the time -- I have only 2 more hours! Or only 2 more weeks! Or only 2 more months! whatever -- reminds me that I don't have a job where I can endlessly tinker and polish and re-polish and perfect (curiously, lots of creations are better and fresher anyway, when you DON'T tinker endlessly). And being aware of the circumstances -- I'm not feeling well, or a friend is dying, or my family is going through a stressful period, whatever - reminds me that I'm human and don't live in a bubble, so I can't expect to be unaffected by what's going on around me. I can do my best to compartmentalize, but I can't expect to be a robot.

It feels good to know an award-winning journalist can commiserate with you.

This re-energized me to finally take on this first radio piece of mine and finish the damn thing. I realized that I was going to have to rewrite it. The piece needed my first-person observations to really bring it to life.

So with that fact in mind, I thought, "Great! Now on to finishing the piece!"

Well, that was the idea.

Since then (uh, that was three months ago), I have yet to dedicate a single hour to reworking this piece. Basically, I have fallen back into the shame-induced procrastination that got me to leave it aside for an entire year in the first place. Not good.

What's worse, my new year's resolution was to make 2008 "The Year of Doing." We're a month into the year, and I'm a month into NOT doing. This piece has gone from feeling like an opportunity to grow as a reporter/writer, to being this monkey on my back, a ball and chain dragging me down to the depths of lowest self-esteem.

So it feels like I'm back to square one. But logically I know that it's impossible for me to have lost everything I've learned up until now. I decided to go back to the lessons I listed in my past column, and my hunch was right: I had lost sight of all five of those lessons.

So let this be my Lesson #6 to all of you - don't lose sight of what you already know! Most lessons merit revisiting, sometimes many many times before they sink in.

Also, if there is anything new to be learned from this bump in the road, it's that I didn't have a detailed enough game plan after my last column. I basked in the glory of figuring out the important lessons without creating a constructive way to translate those lessons into action! That's Lesson #7, for sure.

There is no better way to calm anxiety about working than to, well, work. But I first needed a workable game plan, a constructive way to get from where I am now to the finished piece without being too vague about my action points. And that brings me to lesson #8. Once you have a game plan, the action points on your To Do list need to be achievable tasks, like "consult a colleague about second draft," or "spend two hours rewriting." These are easier to check off than: "rewrite piece." It's just a fact.

This is a VERY important Lesson #8. You have to set yourself up for success, and that means helping yourself achieve small baby steps to take forward, rather than setting up huge daunting leaps that keep you in a circle of procrastination and doubt.

So I'll leave you at that and I'm off to do some work. I'll get to Lessons #9 and #10 once I gain some ground on this work-in-PAINFULLY LONG-progress. I'm trying to keep in mind that success is not always about the destination; Often, it's about going through the process.

Thoughts? Write Us.

Martina Castro interned for NPR's "Talk of the Nation" during the summer of 2004. Now she is a production assistant for NPR's "Day to Day" in Culver City, California. Oops, sorry, Los Angeles, California.

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