Ramp up your writing speed

Ramp up your writing speed

Nicola PittamNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of my screenwriting pals and a talented journalist, Nicola Pittam. I’ve come to know Nicola through my screenwriting training programs and love her clever wit and ability to churn out the writing at a moment’s notice (I’m pretty sure she wrote this post on the fly in under 20 minutes!).

Nicola’s piece addresses not only HOW to write, but how to write more quickly. Take a look and see what you might glean from her experience for yourself. (And enjoy her British spelling!)

Ramp up your writing speed

by Nicola Pittam

When asked:  “How do you write?” I invariably answer:  “One word at a time.”  (Stephen King)

That’s one of my favourite quotes about writing, from one of my favourite authors. You’d be surprised how many times a writer gets asked that same question over and over again. And while Mr. King’s answer might simply seem like common sense, it’s also completely true!

There is only one way to write – one word at a time, one word after another.

But sometimes it’s difficult to get that first word – or even 1000th word – down on the page, especially if you are on a deadline.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly 25 years and so I’m used to deadlines. In fact, I’ve become so used to it, I work better and quicker if I have a deadline looming in front of me.

But just like everyone else I procrastinate when it’s time to write. I’ll watch bad day time TV, make endless cups of tea, call family and friends to chat – anything but sit down in front of the computer. But if there’s a deadline and I know I have to deliver by a certain time, my brain kicks in and off I go.

I was working for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in the UK at the age of 21, so I had to learn fast. If a breaking news story came into the newsroom at 6pm, it had to be written, subbed and in the paper by 6.30pm as the presses started to roll at 7pm for the next day’s paper. And if you couldn’t do that, you were out the door. So I learnt very early on to write fast and be precise. To this day I can write a breaking news story in 15 minutes, or churn out a 4,000 word magazine feature in under two hours.

For me it’s all about discipline and I was lucky enough to learn that on a job that I loved but that required it.

But what do you do when you don’t have that discipline? Or you’re not used to writing that fast but have all these ideas that want to come tumbling out?

I admit there are times I still have problems writing a script because at the end of the day I’m the only one accountable for it – there’s no editor waiting on the end of the phone to yell at me (or even fire me), if it’s not delivered on time.

So here are some ways I get around this:

  • Set deadlines for yourself. They don’t have to big deadlines. Even little deadlines can help. Instead of thinking: “I HAVE to write 20 pages today”, set yourself smaller goals. You’re more likely to hit a deadline of 5 pages a day than 20. Then if you do more than 5 you’ll feel even more pleased with yourself.
  • Try to have daily deadlines. This way you get into a flow. If you’re writing daily, it will become second nature, you’ll get into a rhythm and your writing will get quicker. A great screenwriting teacher, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, recently had a class doing assignments which were not something we’d generally do every day. But he told us: “This is your new normal.” And that’s what you’ve got to learn to do – make writing faster your new normal!
  • Do as much pre-planning as possible before you even start writing. This will make it much easier (and quicker) to write if you have an idea what you are going to write. A lot of procrastination comes from not knowing what direction your story or script is going in. If you take the time to plot out your characters and story, the writing itself will flow much quicker.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines. Give yourself a little treat if you meet your own deadline. It can be anything from taking an hour out of writing to watch your favourite show, buying a new book or indulging in a piece of pie or cake. My favourite is to get a neck and shoulder massage at the end of each week for spending so many hours sitting at a computer!

But just remember, hitting any deadline is a major accomplishment. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you to get there. We’d all love to write a script a week but don’t beat yourself up when that doesn’t happen. All that matters is that you do as the great Stephen King does, and that’s to write one word a time. And if you do that, before long you’ll have a completed script or novel that you’ll be proud of.

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Nicola Pittam is an award winning author and former Fleet Street journalist. She has won awards for her news and features that have appeared in UK newspaper, The Sun, where she worked for 4 years, as well as several women’s real life magazines. She is the co-author of Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman – a biography of the Oscar winning actor, which won four awards in 2013 including “Best Biography” at the Indie Book Awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards. She has been living and working in Los Angeles for the past 17 years as a journalist but now spends most of her time writing screenplays as well as working on a new non-fiction book and documentary, a YA trilogy and a TV pilot called House of the Rising Sun.

You can check out the Bale bio at www.bale-biography.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChristianBaleBook.
 
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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

Overcome fear and uncertainty

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing

Sarah NewmanNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of our excellent Writer’s Circle coaches and screenwriter, Sarah Newman. I’ve been thrilled to have Sarah as a coach over the last year and a half, and her group participants absolutely adore her (as do I). She brings a compassionate, listening spirit to her coaching and she is an excellent role model with her strong writing work ethic. In her own writing, Sarah primarily works on TV pilots and features.

Today Sarah has written about several clever ways she and her group members have discovered to get themselves unstuck, past any fear or uncertainty, and stay in action with their writing.

Take a look and see what might work for you!

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing

by Sarah Newman

One of my favorite aspects of working as a coach with the Writer’s Circle is how my group participants and I learn so much from each other by sharing our writing processes and challenges in our online progress logs on the Writer’s Circle site. 

Through this work together, we’ve learned a great deal from each other about how to get going with our writing in spite of any  fear, doubt, or uncertainty we’re facing.

Here are seven of my top methods to keep the writing moving that we’ve embraced in my group:

1. Work outside the document

One of our favorite ways to overcome fear or uncertainty with a section of writing is by working on it “outside” of the main document.

When I use this technique, it might look like opening a new blank document (sometimes I label mine “scrap” to really take the pressure off) or putting pen to paper. I find this gives me a greater sense of freedom to try something out and to write more boldly.

When working on rewrites, I’ll sometimes take a scene I’ve written and paste it into a new blank document to experiment with combining it with another scene or to make changes and cuts. It feels less set in stone and safer, knowing the original version is there if I want to revert back to it.

One of my group participants put her own twist on this by doing what has come to be known in our group as a “literal cut and paste”, where she’ll print and cut out sections of her chapter and move them around to assess the flow and to determine where cuts or additions can be made.

2. Have a conversation with yourself on the page

Some of my participants and I find ourselves ruminating on our projects in our morning pages or keeping a project journal to record thoughts and reflections. Having a safe place to explore our writing can lead to important insights and breakthroughs.

We journal in response to questions about content, like:

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen to my protagonist at this point?
  • What would be the most interesting location for this scene?

Or we dialogue with ourselves about issues coming up for us around the writing itself, by answering questions like:

  • Why am I shying away from digging deeper here?
  • What initially drew me to this project?
  • What do I need in order to keep going?

It’s about having a conversation with yourself and writing out all possible answers, no matter how silly some may seem. We find that this process helps us get past our inner critic’s judgments and back into the flow of writing.

3. Remind yourself that no writing is wasted

We have a “no writing is wasted” motto in my group.

Whether we end up changing the material or cutting it completely, it still has value in moving us forward . . . even if it feels like it moved us backwards or sideways!

Trying something, anything, is often better than trying nothing at all and can get us going again with our writing. Mistakes are valuable. Those “wrong” turns often lead us to the “right” path.

4. Sit with the mystery

It may be uncomfortable at first as the cursor blinks tauntingly, but the process of writing itself often generates connections and ideas that will help us find our way. We don’t have to have all the answers up front.

I love when my group participants report that by sticking with it and giving themselves permission to just write, they were able to have a breakthrough.

Reframe your self-doubt and uncertainty as a call to adventure with possibilities to explore.

5. Walk it out

And then again, sometimes it can be helpful to know when to get up and take a break.

Going for a walk is a common practice in my group. My participants often report finding inspiration out in nature.

For myself, I find many ideas are born and problems solved while I wander the streets of New York City. Not to mention the added bonus of overhearing potential tidbits of dialogue. :)

6. Make friends with a timer

Solo writing sprints are part of many of our writing routines, in addition to the daily scheduled group sprints through the Writer’s Circle. With the help of our trusty timers we fight the good fight against procrastination and resistance. On days when it’s difficult to start, perhaps we’re distracted or perhaps we’re facing a particularly challenging piece of the writing, we’re able to coax ourselves to get going by setting that timer for a small, doable amount of time.

I find I’ve become trained so well now that once I hit that start button, I’m off and writing, and I often find myself resetting it for more time.

7. Trust the process

Recently I noted how it helps to trust the process even when I can’t necessarily see it at work. This is true for my group participants as well. If we continue to show up and chip away, the writing naturally unfolds. As much as we sometimes want to get more done and hurry up to finish, patience with ourselves and trusting the process helps us remain consistent and see things through to completion, even when fear or doubt wants to lead us astray.

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Sarah Newman ia produced screenwriter who writes original one-hour drama pilots, screenplays, and short film scripts. She studied dramatic writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and has worked various internships and jobs in the entertainment industry. When she’s not writing, reading, or watching story in all its glorious forms, you can find her on walking adventures around New York City and on Twitter at  @SarahAlexis4.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

Never too late to start writing

It’s never too late to start writing

Janis BramsNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of our wonderful Writer’s Circle members, Janis Brams.

Janis held a life-long dream of writing regularly and has made it happen now that she’s retired from her education career and her two daughters are grown.

One of the fascinating aspects about finally having the time to write when one retires is that having big blocks of time to write can actually be somewhat paralyzing. Janis uses the Writer’s Circle and worked with my Design Your Writing Life course along with other online writing classes to create structure for her writing time.

Read on to find out more about what Janis learned to make writing while retired work for her.

Retired and Writing

by Janis Brams

Although I’ve wanted to be a writer since submitting a story about a girl and her dog to my eighth grade teacher, my writing record has been spotty. The piece ended with the girl’s dog jumping from a craggy cliff, and I was especially pleased with the final sentence “she ceased to exist,” written vertically down the page.

Unfortunately, for chunks of time, writing fiction and personal nonfiction ceased to exist for me.

While college, jobs, children, and graduate school challenged my attempts to maintain a consistent writing practice, fear played a role as well. What to write about and whether I’d have time to complete a piece were concerns that grew inside my head. They rooted there, fed by other doubts like was I talented enough to hold a reader’s interest and was I brazen to assume I had something to say worth reading.

My internal editor lived a splendid life.

But every once in awhile, I cajoled myself into pulling out a journal or sitting at a keyboard to record what I was thinking. I observed. I experienced. I felt.

And the need to sculpt words so that I could share what I was living continued to grow.

While I managed to produce some writing, the call to do more mushroomed so that even if I wasn’t writing, I was thinking that I should. I craved blocks of time to glue the bits and pieces of my stories into meaningful wholes, but my other passion, teaching children, was an exhausting task. Depleted by the end of day, I was too tired to do my writing justice. Instead, I dreamed about a time when my essays and my stories would assume their rightful place. And then, I retired.

The gift and terror of time to write

I woke up one morning with a huge chunk of time spread out before me. I could write for long hours, produce multitudes of end products; writing was my new priority. I was terrified.

Instead, I exercised, reached out to friends, organized bills, poured over cooking magazines, produced lovely dinners, and then went to bed promising myself that tomorrow would be the day I dedicated to writing.

I realized I was wasting precious time, so I spoke to my daughter, Rebecca, who is also a writer. Thinking I might enjoy an online class, she gave me a link to explore. I registered for a workshop and was hooked. The class held me to a deadline and provided me with a structure that felt familiar: a lecture, a prompt, a submission, and response to a critique. For 10 weeks, the duration of the class, I was a writing dervish. I overcame resistance and wrote, made deadlines, and revised.

I took one class and then another, but as each ended, my censor returned and resistance flourished. After spending hours assembling a cabinet to house unfinished stories, I realized an important piece was missing from my writing life.

The missing piece

I hadn’t thought to separate process from craft until an email appeared in my inbox with the subject line: “Mom, read this”.

Aware that I was floundering, last December my daughter sent me a link to a four-day class that Jenna was teaching, called Design Your Writing Life. The class was in the form of a conference call. “Why not drop in and see what you think?” Rebecca asked. [Note from Jenna: This class is now available as a homestudy course and will be on sale next week.]

Since then, I’ve subscribed to Jenna’s online Writer’s Circle program. The Circle has helped me see the importance of building a writing habit in addition to honing content. My biggest epiphany has to do with managing time. I understand the need to write consistently even if, some days, I can only manage minutes rather than hours. I give myself permission to accept these shorter blocks but feel compelled to intersperse them with longer stretches at the keyboard.

So while completing my progress page on the Circle website one night, I coined the term “Intervention Intention”. When too many days pass with little time for writing, I intervene, rearranging obligations so that composing rises to the top. My intention is to carve out the hours I need to pursue a passion and make a story happen.

My writing life isn’t perfect. I still worry my words are not precise enough or crafted well enough, but combining classes, focused on craft, with the Circle, focused on process, has given me a frame to hang my drywall. I sit at my keyboard and pound the stories out. Good or bad, I get to tell them. I’m retired and I’m writing, finally living out the dream from my childhood.

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Janis Brams is a retired educator who formerly taught community college, middle school and elementary school for over 25 years in Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, and California. She now facilitates a small group of senior citizens writing memoirs as family legacies. She holds two graduate degrees, one in Education and one in Writing Composition. While she loves to teach writing, her fiercest passion has always been to write herself. She has published both fiction and personal essays in several small literary journals.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

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Making Writing Happen

Making Writing Happen

TommGilliesNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of my favorite screenwriter pals, Tomm Gillies. Tomm is a writer, director, and lighting designer with a more than full-time business that keeps him on the road a LOT, and a family he loves spending time with. Finding time to write isn't always easy for him, but he makes it happen.

Take a look and see what you can learn from how he does it.

Making Writing Happen

 by Tomm Gillies

Trying to kick-start a writing career when you already have a full-time day job or run your own business is like trying to run on two treadmills at the same time. As if that isn’t hard enough, the treadmills are probably running at different speeds. One (the full-time gig) may be chugging along nicely, whereas the writing treadmill is sputtering in fits and starts, or not moving at all.

So, how do you get that one going without allowing the other one to slow down too much or stop? And, perhaps more importantly, when can you transition from one to the other?

What happens when your writing career finally starts to blossom into a full-time gig?

When do you decide to leave the old day job for the new one, writing?

Like it or not, when writing becomes your career, it is your new day job.

Because, like it or not, when writing becomes your career, it is your new day job.

You still have to go to work. Every day.

But before you start to answer those questions, you need to write. And for that, you need time.

So, what’s the secret?

There isn’t one. At least it’s not a secret. All that stuff you’ve heard before? Turns out it’s mostly true.

But the one that rings truest? You have to love writing for it’s own sake.

You have to love the process, the craft, the assembling of letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs.

You have to love the idea that mere words can create an emotional response in someone you may never meet, the idea that mere words can inspire or destroy.

You have to love writing. You have to love writing. Oh, and one more thing: You have to love writing.

But you’re not reading this blog to hear that.

When you don't have time for writing

You already love writing. You want to write. You just feel as though you don’t have the time.

I’ll let you in on the real secret: You have the time. It’s there. You just need to locate it. And then you need to protect it. Protect it like Gollum protecting his “precious”.

As soon as you do that, you will discover more time for writing. You will start to suffer withdrawal when you haven’t written on a particular day or for a few days.

Sure, you’ll still have those moments when you stare at a blank page during your writing time with no words coming. That’s okay. Write about not being able to write.

Step away from the computer and grab a notebook or a journal. Write a To-Do List. Write a grocery list. Write a letter to your mother, your best friend from high school. Compose a Tweet - but not on Twitter. You do tweet, right? That’s writing.

Write something.

Don’t cheat the time just because you don’t know what to write in that particular moment. Even if you’re working on a particular story, novel, or script, if you’re stuck at that moment, write something else.

The point is to use your writing time to write. That’s what makes it a habit.

How I find time to write

I own my own successful business. We have two employees and I am one of them. I travel a lot -- 30,000+ miles a year and growing.

My best writing time? On the plane.

I’m stuck in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the air for 2+ hours. I put on my headphones, open up my laptop and start writing. In fact, I’m composing this post on a trip to Los Angeles.

Sometimes, I set up my laptop beforehand. I shut down any unnecessary programs. Where most people see travel delays as an inconvenience, I count it as more writing time.

It’s also helped me when I’m home. I create my own little airplane-like environment and write.

GoAwayI'mWritingFor Father’s Day one year, my wife and kids got me a coffee mug that says “Go Away. I’m Writing.” They know when I’m using that mug it’s writing time.

But in order to get to that juncture, I had to overcome some obstacles. I had to be honest with myself, first. I spent some time answering these kinds of  questions:

  • How committed am I to making writing my career?
  • How busy am I really? How much time do I spend doing “fake work” vs. “real work”?
  • How much time do I currently spend on social media or other distracting websites?
  • What are all of the things clamoring for my attention on a daily basis? (I made a list, and prioritized it into important, urgent, would be nice, distracting, unimportant.)
  • How many time blocks (as little as 5 minutes) do I have during a day when I could be writing?
  • And again, How committed am I to making writing my career?

Now it's your turn

Be brutally honest about how much time you spend not writing. Don’t beat yourself up, but be honest. Take your time. What are some things in your life that you see as obstacles that could be removed? Some are easy. Some only seem easy. Some are hard.

Rather than waiting for that “perfect” moment/place/inspiration/etc..., what can you do within your current situation to create time for writing?

In the end, I think you’ll be surprised how much time you do have.

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Tomm Gillies is a screenwriter/director who writes on airplanes, in coffee shops, in hotel rooms, and occasionally at home. You can follow him on Twitter: @AbstractChicken

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 tips to jumpstart your writing habit

11 tips to jumpstart your writing habit

RebeccaBramsNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of the many talented writers in my online Writer’s Circle program, Rebecca Brams. Rebecca knows first-hand about the many challenges of writing while being a mom to two young boys, but it doesn’t stop her from getting her writing done. She shares here some brilliant-yet-simple techniques she uses to jumpstart her writing on a regular basis, even as a busy parent.

As you read these tips, look for ideas you can use for yourself — and let us know in the comments which one you’ll be putting into action.

My personal favorite is #5. :)

 

11 Tips: How I Get (& Keep) Myself Writing

by Rebecca Brams

We all have days when sitting down to write sounds about as fun as scrubbing the toilet. When the Muse is ignoring my pleas and Resistance is strong as steel, I turn to these tips and tricks to get words on the page.

1. Write longhand and keep my hand moving

It’s classic advice for a reason. When I’m stuck, I break out the old-fashioned tools: paper and pen. I start by describing what’s around me: the room I’m in, the clothes I’m wearing, the way the clouds are moving out my window. I add in some other senses – the smell of the old coffee in my mug, the sound of the washing machine whirring – and presto, I’ve tricked myself into writing!

2. Use a timer

Before joining the Writer’s Circle with Jenna, I had mainly done timed writing when responding to prompts in writing groups, but now setting a timer is a critical part of my daily writing habit. I love using Freedom, an Internet-blocking software which temporarily disables my computer’s access to the Internet and blocks new emails from coming in. It keeps me away from online distractions while also giving me a clear “time’s up!” message right on my laptop screen.

3. Write before I’m awake

I’m not a morning person, but there’s something about 6:30 a.m. writing that allows me to sneak past that critical “editor” voice that can make each word a struggle. At night before I go to sleep, I set the scene: pen and notebook on the kitchen counter, splayed open to a fresh page. If my husband’s away, I prop my laptop against the wall by my bed, where it charges silently, waiting for morning when I pull it into bed for the indulgence of writing while still snug under the covers.

4. Bribe myself

On days when Resistance is mighty, I give myself a dark chocolate peanut butter cup, but only allow myself to eat it once I’m at my desk, I’ve set my timer, and the document is open. Some of my other favorite rewards are: a walk around the block, People magazine online, or a few minutes rocking in my hammock, thinking about how glad I am that the writing is done.

5. Suffer the consequences

Here’s the idea I keep in my back pocket for days when I feel powerless to stop avoiding my writing. I tell my husband, “Either I write today, or I have to spend those 15 minutes cleaning the toilet.” I’m pretty sure I know how that one will turn out, and it won’t be with a sparkling toilet.

6. Write in an unusual place

I write in my car, parked on a street where I’ve never before driven. I write in crowded cafes. I write in the yard under the Japanese maple. I write in the bathtub. But I do observe the cardinal rule: no laptops hovering over water.

7. Set a teeny tiny goal

10 minutes. 5 minutes. 2.3 minutes. When the timer goes off, I ask myself, “Can I keep going?” If the answer is yes, I set it for another tiny goal. I think in bite-sized pieces.

8. Write a numbered list

It could be a list of “Reasons I Can’t Write Today.” Or something supremely creative like “Things I Remember.” Eventually my timer will go off, or I’ll veer in some new, unexpected direction, perhaps even stumbling upon what I didn’t realize I was meaning to write about all along.

9. Use the phrase “What I really want to say is…”

Courtesy of writing teacher Laurie Wagner, this powerhouse phrase can make a piece of writing fizz and pop like Alka-Seltzer dropped into water.

10. Release the need to know where I’m headed

Sometimes I’m steaming along, words pouring out as fast as my fingers can type, and sometimes I hit dead stop, no idea of how to move forward. That’s when I remind myself that all I need to do is inch the story along. It doesn’t matter which current I tap into; I just need to move into the flow. Once I’m in motion, I can always change course.

11. Change my mindset

Instead of saying “I have to write now,” I tell myself: “Now I get to write.” What felt like suffering a moment ago might turn out to be my favorite part of the day.

 

diamonds2 Rebecca Brams is a novelist, blogger, grant writer and mama to two young boys in Berkeley, California. You can find Rebecca online at www.thismamawrites.com.

In her copious spare time, she likes Zumba, nature, and hot tubs.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

Ride the writing roller coaster 4

Riding the emotional ups and downs of writing

IsabelHoltremanNote from Jenna: This guest post from one of my screenwriting colleagues and best friends, Isabel Holtreman. Isabel is a talented writer and is one of my most trusted feedback sources, both for my writing itself and for emotional support around the challenges of writing. I’m thrilled she was willing to take the time to talk with us today about navigating the emotional ups and downs of writing, and how she does it.

Be sure and leave a comment at the end of the post and let us know what inspired you.

How to Ride the Emotional Roller Coaster of Being a Writer

by Isabel Holtreman

I’m in marketing mode. I’ve never really taken marketing seriously until now, but it’s that time — the time where you realize that you must push yourself out of the realm of amateur and finally go pro.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some emotions coming up around where I am in my writing career:

  • I miss working on story, something I can’t seem to do while I’m marketing. It engages a different part of my brain.
  • I feel like an imposter, like at any moment, someone will find out that I’m not a writer at all, but some big fake who’s trying to fool the world.
  • I’m elated when someone asks to read my work, but am devastated when a few days go by without a request.

I experience a similar thing when I’m in writing mode:

  • I feel like I should be marketing something, because if I don’t, I’ll never make any money as a writer which will negate my newly acquired professional status.
  • I feel like an imposter, like at any moment, someone will find out that I’m not a writer at all, but some big fake who’s trying to fool the world.
  • I’m elated when story is flowing and everything is clicking, then devastated when I get stuck or can’t find a way to solve a story problem.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I’m sure it does. Being a writer is hard work. And I’m not just talking about the work itself. It’s difficult to stay even, to function in society, to not allow ourselves to fall into the pit of despair, and keep ourselves from paralyzing.

So, how do we deal with this emotional roller coaster without driving ourselves or our loved ones insane?

And perhaps even more importantly, without giving up on the dream?

Well, once again, we have to be willing to hunker down and do the work. Whether you decide to do the work on paper as I do (or on a computer) and journal, or decide to talk to someone, the fact is, the emotions must be acknowledged, brought to the surface, and observed for all they really are: Feelings.

Feelings are not ultimate truths.

They are simply clues, little alarms that lead us to overcoming our fears, and it’s our job to allow the feeling to flow, jump into our logical minds and say “Oh. Wow. There’s that feeling again. Okay, it’s just a feeling,” then take a step, ANY STEP toward overcoming it and moving forward.

Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  • Cry. I know, I know. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s a quick way to get the feelings out. Set a timer and cry for 5 minutes, then wipe your eyes and write a sentence. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a journal or novel or script. The act of writing breeds more writing.
  • “It’s just a feeling, it’s not truth.” I repeat this phrase to myself a lot. It helps to help put feelings into perspective and understand that an emotion is just an emotion, a temporary, fleeting thing and that it doesn’t have to stop me.
  • Give yourself a break. There’s no use trying to power through if your emotions are overpowering you. For those minutes or hours when you’re feeling at your lowest, step away from the work and connect to your heart, your humanity. Playing with a child, going for a walk, kissing a spouse, getting a hug — all these things put our lives into perspective and help us to realize that writing is what we do and not who we are.
  • Journal. This has been the single most effective tool I’ve used for dealing with my emotions, period. Allow your feelings to flow on paper or on your computer for as long as you need, then ask yourself this question: “How can I turn this around?” With a little practice, you’ll find a ray of hope that will pull you out of your fear, anger or sorrow.

All of these tools do one very important thing: they teach us how to step back, observe, and process emotions while we’re still feeling them, which almost immediately reduces their power over us.

The roller coaster of emotions will always be part of the writer’s life, but with a little perspective and a few good tools, we can minimize the ups and downs, find a little peace, and get back to work.

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Isabel Holtreman is an optioned screenwriter and consultant with a master’s degree in screenwriting from Cal State.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

           

           

It's not failure - it's information

Learning to finish

Writer's Circle coach and writer Jill WinskiA note from Jenna: This guest post from the highly talented coach and writer, Jill Winski — whom I’m proud to have serving as a coach for my online Writer’s Circle coaching program — offers insights for writers who struggle to finish their writing projects.

Read on to find out about what Jill has learned from her own process and from participating in the Circle.

Learning to finish

by Jill Winski

For more than two and a half years, I’ve been a participant in Jenna’s Writer’s Circle, and I’ve coached a small group in the Writer’s Circle for almost that long.

In some ways, I now divide my life into the pre-Writer’s Circle and during-Writer’s Circle eras. That’s because, in the Writer’s Circle, I’ve learned how to finish a novel draft. Before the Writer’s Circle, I knew how to make it about two-thirds of the way through.

And then — I’d stop.

There’s this quote from Neil Gaiman that one of my group members shared recently:

Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

I don’t think this is always true for everything — some things are simply not worth finishing — but there is certainly a lot of truth there for me.

On finishing short stories

When I was in grad school, I learned to write — and finish — a short story. Because I carried my short stories to completion — even if they sucked — I learned a certain amount about the movement of a short story, about the promises set up in it, and about fulfilling those promises to the reader by the end. I wrote a good amount of short stories, and even had some of them published. I still have tons to learn about the art of short story writing, but, in finishing, I was able to let my own process truly sink in, let the story itself sink into my bones, and learn what could be cut away and what needed to emerge in the next draft.

On finishing novels

With novels, I never made it this far. When I joined the Writer’s Circle, I had two unfinished novel drafts. I had stopped writing them because I got lost.

I started writing the second novel because I believed I was bored with the first.

And the same thing happened.

I got lost.

I got stuck.

And I made the fact that I was lost and stuck mean that I was not a good writer. I didn’t decide this one day; it was sort of a “happening” over time, after grad school ended and I was no longer in as much contact with fellow writers.

I forgot — or maybe I never really understood — that all writers struggled. The longer I let my unfinished novels sit, the longer the drafts collected dust bunnies and cat hair in a pile next to my desk, the more sure I became that I had failed.

It’s not failure, it’s information

But one of my favorite mantras of the past couple of years is: “It’s not failure, it’s information”.

And that was where the Writer’s Circle came in for me. As part of logging in our daily progress, we answer a series of questions designed to bring awareness to our writing habit and process.

Awareness. For twenty years it’s been one of the most important themes in my life, but guess what? I never thought to apply it to my writing process.

I believed, for years, that writing just meant sitting down and pushing through even when it was hard.

And that worked. Until I got really, really stuck. And then it didn’t work anymore.

A novel is a vast thing, an unwieldy thing, a thorny thing. The opportunities to get lost, to go off the chosen path, are plentiful.

The more I logged in my daily progress in the Writer’s Circle and answered the questions, the more I became aware that my problem was this: I was afraid of being wrong. I was afraid of being mediocre. I was terrified of writing a shitty first draft. I just hadn’t known it before.

I actually believed I was bored

I was so afraid to know I was afraid that I’d actually believed I was bored.

It was one thing to write a shitty first draft of a short story; short stories were, by definition, short, and I could take a deep breath, jump in, and hope to come out on the other side in a couple of weeks.

But to write an entire draft of a novel and be, well, bad — for it to be far, far less than the vision of greatness I held in my head — seemed like too much.

Except I realized that’s exactly what I needed to do. And I only realized it by pausing enough to notice the thoughts I was having about my writing, about myself as a writer, and question them.

At the end of my second session in the Writer’s Circle, I finished my novel draft.

And a few months later, I went on to finish another.

I’ve seen this happen for the group members I coach in the Writer’s Circle, too. It’s incredibly exciting to see a fellow writer who’s been on a long journey reach a point of completion. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned while coaching in the Circle is that most of us have more days that feel like struggle than days where we feel “in the flow”.

And yet we’re all learning to finish, anyway.

My completed drafts do not match the vision I held in my head. But only in finishing did I actually see what was there, and only in finishing could I build the foundation for a better draft. I’m not saying we must always finish — but if we truly want to, we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves that gift.

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Jill Winski is a certified life coach who offers her clients support for the vulnerability that comes with creativity. She continues her adventures in the often-rocky terrain of fiction and nonfiction, and you can find her online at www.jillwinski.com.

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Thanks for reading!

Where are you with finishing? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

firecrackers in the sky - sunset

How to finally make it as a writer, part four (plus, an announcement)

Today we’re finishing our four-part series designed to get you on track for the writing career and life you want.

If you haven’t seen the earlier parts of this series, you can read through exercises on how to write more easily, how to overcome resistance, and how to quickly build self-confidence as a writer.

In today’s exercise, we’re going to tie it all together and get you moving towards “going pro” – whatever that specifically means for you.

Whether you want writing to be your full time career or you just want to consistently finish your own personal projects, this exercise will move you forward.

A quick announcement before the exercise

If you like what you’ve been seeing in these exercises, there’s even more in store for you inside Design Your Writing Life – my complete guide to custom-creating the writing life and writing career you’ve always wanted.

For the next few days (through Tuesday, May 13th), the Design Your Writing Life home-study course will be available at a special launch discount of 40% off – and you can find all the details about what’s inside right here.

Now, on to the exercise!

Exercise #4 – Write down your “next steps” for making your writing life a reality

You already have a vision in your head about what your “writing life” looks like – what kinds of events, activities, and environments will be present in your life when you’re working on and completing your creative works.

However, as long as it’s just a vision, it can’t become real. And what can so often hold you back is when that picture in your mind is just blurry enough that you don’t have a sense of how to create it.

After all, you can only hit a target you can see.

So today we’re going to sharpen your focus so you can clearly identify some of the next steps that have to happen to take your writing life from vision to reality.

Here’s what we’ll have you do:

  • First, think of the next creative project you want to complete and define its closest concrete milestone. If you already have a project in the works, what’s the next checkpoint you have to get to? Is it a completed outline, or a list of major characters, or just getting to the end of the next chapter? Is it hitting a particularly meaningful word count? We’re looking for the closest, most easily attainable thing you can check off the proverbial checklist.
  • Next, write down what it will take to reach that milestone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Maybe it’s to guesstimate how long the task will take. Maybe it’s to make a list of the steps remaining to reach that completion point. Maybe it’s creating a folder on your computer with a blank document for each character in your book, or a folder for each chapter so you can keep them organized and separate. Maybe it’s getting a tool like Dropbox to allow you to do your writing from multiple devices.
  • Finally, carve out time to reach your milestone by putting it on your calendar. It’s so easy to get distracted from writing – whether it’s by doing “research” on the internet, clicking around on inspirational blogs, or thinking about all the decisions you might have to make for future milestones that you aren’t in a position to act on today. But your next step is the milestone closest to you now. So be 100% clear on what it will take to get there, and put it on your calendar, even if you’re “just” blocking out 15 minute increments of time every day for the next week. Bit by bit, you WILL get there.

Don’t overcomplicate this – just think of your next milestone, the very simple things you’ll need to do to get there, and set those as the “next steps” you put onto your calendar.

Here’s why this works so well at making your writing dreams become your daily reality

Writing gets done – and done consistently – when you put one foot in front of the other and you have a concrete goal to work towards.

If you don’t have that “next” concrete goal, you’ll be pulled in a hundred different directions and you won’t make the forward progress that builds your writing life from the ground up.

Remember what we said in the other exercises – every time you start with a small step, it lets you fly in under the radar of resistance, and that small step grows organically until it becomes a larger and larger force.

Just taking those first small steps is what gets you taking larger and larger ones, and soon you’ll be writing more each day, writing more easily, and getting more of your writing projects done.

If you’ve enjoyed these exercises so far, take a look at what else you’ll find in Design Your Writing Life!

From now until Tuesday, May 13th, you can get Design Your Writing Life at a 40% discount by clicking here.

What you’ve seen in this series are just a small sample of the steps, planning exercises, and activities that will help you make the shift from “trying to write” to “becoming a writer.” There’s so much more on the inside, and I’d love you to see all the details while it’s available at this special savings.

Everything you need to know is here – and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the years (and what I’ve taught others over my career) with you today.

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How to finally make it as a writer (Part three!)

Today we’re continuing our four-part series designed to help you get your writing career moving, even if you’ve been stalled out or had a few setbacks along the way.

We’ve already talked about expanding your options for writing and a very simple way to overcome resistance, and now we’re going to move into boosting your confidence as a writer.

Do today’s exercise, and you will begin to experience the growing confidence in yourself that comes from writing consistently and being connected to safe people who see you take your writing seriously each day.

Why I’m taking you through these exercises now

I’m releasing a new product tomorrow – Design Your Writing Life – that will walk you through a series of steps, planning exercises and activities that will help you make the shift from “trying to write” to “becoming a writer.”

It will be available with a special launch discount starting tomorrow, and I wanted to share a few select parts of what I teach inside it so that you can get a taste of what the course is all about.

Your next exercise is below!

Exercise #3 – Use “Safe Accountability” to create momentum and trust in yourself

Accountability can sometimes be a scary thing to step into – the idea of keeping to a deadline as well as showing your work to others can be just intimidating enough to keep you from doing it. (And even if you’ve successfully navigated that hurdle, you remember how it felt!)

We’re going to make accountability easier today by baby-stepping into the safest possible method of making it happen, so you can feel more comfortable getting started.

There are two parts of writing that are intertwined – the practice and the craft. You get better at the craft through practice, but often it’s difficult to practice because getting the craft “right” when other people are watching can activate resistance.

So we’re just going to sneak in like we did yesterday and take a small step designed to fly under the radar of resistance and get you feeling good about yourself as a writer.

Here’s what we’ll have you do:

  • Pick the simplest form of daily accountability you can imagine and choose that as your starting point. If you’re following along from yesterday, that could be writing for five minutes in the morning. If you already have a semi-regular writing habit (like you sporadically write on your lunch one or two times a week), then let’s step it up by making it every day – even if it’s only five minutes of writing.
  • Choose someone who is safe and cares about you to report your practice time to each day. This could be a writing buddy, your partner, or anyone else that you trust to hold you accountable and celebrate your successes. You don’t have to send them your writing for critique – you’re just telling them that you followed through each day.
  • Contact them today and say you’d like to have them help you keep accountable.

This seems like a pretty small step – but as you saw yesterday, a consistent small step almost inevitably grows into a larger habit.

Just choose one person to report your consistent progress to. That’s all you have to do to start.

Here’s why this works so well to make your writing career develop faster

If someone has been a professional writer for years, when another person asks them what they do for a living, they’ll say “I’m a writer.”

Before you get to that point, it can be hard to give the same response. Somewhere inside you’ll either be thinking “I’d like to be a writer,” or “I’m trying to be a writer,” or the dreaded “I should be writing more but oh, I just don’t know why I’m not.”

As you go through this first baby step, just the simple daily accountability for your morning writing, you’ll be telling someone “I wrote today” every single day.

The act of communicating that verbally (or via email, if that’s how you do it) does a few very important things to your brain:

  • First, it reinforces your identity as someone who writes because you’re saying it every day to another person.
  • Second, it builds self-trust because after a short while you’ll realize you’re getting very good at following through (which makes it much easier to see your writing career as a reality instead of a dream). You’ll know, both subconsciously and consciously, that you can trust yourself to keep your promises.
  • Third, it helps you internalize your growth as a writer, because over time you’ll be telling your accountability partner that you wrote more each day. It doesn’t take long for 5 minutes to become 10, then 20, and more … and you’ll begin to see just how much you’re growing, faster than you could have expected.

This one simple exercise can get you on the path to being able to tell other people “I’m a writer” without a moment’s hesitation. Even simple accountability can make a bigger difference than you might think.

We cover more advanced accountability strategies in the Design Your Writing Life program, but every journey starts with a first step.

This is your chance to take that first step today. :)

Take 5 minutes now and do this exercise, and let me know how it goes!

Now is as good a time as any to give this exercise a try – just take 5 minutes now and get in touch with someone you can be accountable to. Remember, we’re flying under the radar of resistance here. All you’re doing is agreeing to say “I did it” each day.

(In reality, you’ll probably be telling your accountability partner things like “Wow, I can’t believe I ended up writing for 20 minutes” or “It feels so good to finally be writing every day”, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.)

Once you’re done, take a moment to tell me how you feel at the end of the exercise!

I look forward to cheering you on. :)

yes - notepad & pen

How to finally make it as a writer (Part two!)

Today we’re continuing our four-part series designed to help you get past the roadblocks and obstacles that hold you back from fully moving into the writing life you want.

(If you haven’t seen the first part, you can take a look at it here.)

My goal for you in this series is to help kick-start the process through a few proven exercises so that your professional writing career takes shape sooner rather than later.

Do these exercises, and you will experience positive results that will make becoming a professional writer more attainable for you.

Today’s exercise worked so well for one of the people in The Writer’s Circle, he was able to write 75,000 words in four months … after struggling with writing for years.

Why I’m taking you through these exercises now

I’m releasing a new product this week – Design Your Writing Life – that’s essentially a step-by-step blueprint for how to go from where you are now to the writing life you’ve always been looking forward to.

It will be available with a special launch discount on Thursday, May 8th, and I wanted to share a few select parts of what I teach inside it so that you can get a taste of what the course is all about.

Your next exercise is below!

Exercise #2 – Break resistance by tricking your brain

We cover a number of “writing myths” in Design Your Writing Life that are the common things that hold people back from developing a consistent writing habit, but one of the common threads in these myths is making the act of writing a bigger deal than it is – and giving your power away by thinking conditions must be ideal – either inside you or in the outside world – in order for you to be “able” to write.

Of course there are some circumstances in which writing is easier than in others – but by no means should they dictate your ability to write in the here and now. But the belief that now – any given now – isn’t the right time to get some writing done is a career killer.

In this exercise you’re going to have the chance to interrupt your normal patterns around writing and sneak in under the radar of any resistance to writing.

All you need to do is this:

  • Schedule 5 minutes in the morning to write, and don’t put any expectations on writing well. Then do it again each day.

That’s it. Just 5 minutes, preferably as close to first thing as you can, but if you need to integrate it with your first coffee of the day (or something similar), that can work, too. Just five minutes, at a time you won’t “forget.”

Scheduling it makes all the difference.

This is how Rikard Berguist managed to write 75,000 words in four months and changed his writing life forever. And you can do it, too.

Important Note: The more this idea seems like it won’t work for you, the more likely it is that it is exactly what will change things for you as a writer.

I’ll explain.

Here’s why this works so well to make writing easier for you

The act of taking just five minutes can help you side-step your resistance because your brain won’t quite take the exercise seriously. After all, it’s just five minutes, and it’s in the morning. As far as your brain is concerned, it will be over with soon enough.

It’s almost like it’s not a threat to any ingrained beliefs you have about writing being difficult. (It doesn’t hurt that you’re also not trying to do your “best” writing, so the pressure’s off.)

This does a few things for you:

  • One, it breaks your normal expectations around writing – instead of striving to “do it right”, you’re “just doing it.”
  • Two, it begins the process of normalization – your brain begins getting comfortable with the idea of writing being a planned part of your daily routine, like a coffee or a shower.
  • Three, it helps reinforce your identity as a writer, because it’s something you’re doing more often. Writing will start feeling more like something you “do” rather than something you “should be doing.”
  • Four, it can rapidly improve your creativity. David Boice, a well known researcher in the realm of academic writing, has found that writers who write on a daily basis are twice as likely to have frequent creative thoughts as writers who write when they “feel like it.”
  • Fifth, it can rapidly improve your skill as a writer. There is mounting evidence to show that “spaced practice” can lead to faster skill building than “massed practice” – meaning that the more little practice sessions you have, the more your brain can strengthen long-term memory associated with the writing process. So those 5 minute sessions each day will trigger and re-trigger the brain to get into “writing mode” more easily over time.  

The wonderful side effect of this exercise is that it doesn’t take long for those 5-minute writing bursts to get longer. Without resistance slowing you down, you’ll find yourself wanting to write for 10 minutes, then 15, and beyond. Rikard worked his way up to an hour a day “sneaking under the radar of resistance” and had this to say:

I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself "I am writing crap," and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn't all crap.

Four months later, he was typing the last words on a completed first draft.

Take 5 minutes now and do this exercise, and let me know how it goes!

Now is as good a time as any to give this exercise a try – just take 5 minutes now to break the ice and see what you can get written – and then decide when you’re going to do your daily 5 minutes from now on. Remember, you’re not going for your “best” writing in this space – we’re simply getting the habit in place.

Writing for 5 minutes won’t feel normal yet. Soon it will, though, and you’ll begin to feel your identity as a writer strengthen and solidify.

Once you’re done, take a moment to tell me how you feel at the end of the exercise! I look forward to cheering you on. :)

So go set your timer, and write!