sleeping over laptop

Writing through exhaustion, sickness, and grief . . . or not?

It's been a rough couple of months. My mother-in-law passed away at the end of January. I've managed to have two colds since then (yes, I know it's only February 20th), and the second one has been a doozy. I wrote through the first cold. I wrote through her passing. It felt good to write. It became my solace, my place to turn to myself and remember who I am, even in the face of grief and exhaustion. I even finished the rough draft of a new spec script in the midst of all this. But by the second cold (all whilst taking care of a now 9 month old baby), I was pretty fried and quite simply too sick to do much more than a very low rock bottom minimum. 

As I've navigated the last 10 days in particular, I've found myself focusing on getting well and doing some minimal amounts of tinkering and research to stay in touch with various projects. And now that I'm emerging (finally!) from this Cold From Hell, I'm facing the need to reboot my own writing habit a bit. I'll make a point to write about that next week. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this article (revised and reprinted from 2013) about making the choice about whether or not to write when you're sick, have hit a rough patch in your life, have shaken confidence, are experiencing a loss or grief, or perhaps are suffering from a depleted creative well.

Enjoy!

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During a live coaching call for my online small group coaching program for writers, one of our participants asked about how to know when to push through and write if you're not feeling well, and how to know when to focus on regaining your well-being.

In my opinion, the answer depends a bit on the circumstances, so let's look at some specific scenarios.

1. You've just come down with a wicked cold or flu.

Assuming you have a solid, regular habit in place, when you get really sick or you're just those early stages of wretchedness, I think it's okay to take a few days off from writing, knowing that you'll get back to it as quickly as you can.

When I'm feverish, wiped out, or worse, I know the most important thing I can do for my body is to rest and heal.

I have found myself writing even while sick at times -- because I felt truly drawn to work on my piece and it was nagging at me not to -- but my focus is on listening to my body.

This is very much like being an athlete, and knowing whether or if to train when you're sick or injured, and when to take a day off.

I also trust myself enough deep down, after months of regular writing, to know that I'll re-establish my habit as soon as I am able, usually within 2 to 3 days. The longer you're away from your habit, the harder it is to get going again, so it will behoove you to pay attention to writing again as soon as possible, starting out small, even just 15 minutes a day, and building back up to your full pre-illness writing glory over a few days time.

2. You're going through a rough patch in your life, you're generally tired or run down, maybe you're not sleeping very well, or maybe you're mildly sick.

On the other hand, if the chips are down and you're having a rough time in your life, maybe you aren't sleeping well, or maybe you're getting better from that wicked cold or flu, I'm inclined to recommend that you simply scale back your writing time to get through it. I've been through many challenging personal experiences over the last several years as a writer, and I find that it's much easier to keep writing at a rock bottom minimum level than it is to stop writing altogether (this is because it gets harder and harder to restart, the longer the not-writing goes on, as I mentioned above).

As a writer, it's worth knowing what your minimal level of writing is -- how much will keep you engaged and connected to the work? For me, it's 15 minutes a day -- that's my rock bottom. For someone else, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. The point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

Along with aiming for your minimum, when you're going through a phase like this, make sure you increase your levels of self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. It'll benefit your writing in the long term.

3. You're in a bad mood or someone said something terrible to you and your confidence is shaken.

A common refrain among writers is, "I'm not in the right mood to write." This can come up for all sorts of reasons, like having a bad night's sleep or a bad day at work. It can also be a bit sneaky, and turn up when you've lost confidence because of something someone said about your writing or if you've been hooked by the Comparison Monster ("Everyone else is doing better at this than I am!").

And what happens is that we start feeling like we need to take time off to rest or to get ourselves feeling better before we write.

But hear this now: Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write. 

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing already, we simply cannot allow our moods to be added to that list.

You may even be surprised to find that when you write on a daily or near-daily basis, your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood. Oftentimes writers find that their best writing and most productive days occur when they did not want to write. And besides, writing will often change your mood for the better anyway.

4. You're going through a painful period of loss, grief, or "personal anguish".

At another end of the spectrum is experiencing an extreme loss -- like a death of a loved one. When my grandmother died in 2012, I felt as though I was in another world -- nearer to the veil between life and death -- and I found it difficult to write fiction in yet an entirely different world. So I choose to take a few days off from "real" writing, though I did do a tiny bit of tinkering with my script one day.

On the other hand, Steven Pressfield recommends writing even during times of "personal anguish" in his excellent post of the same title:

"I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not."

My experience is that those few brief days of being between worlds while in grief are the only spans of time in which I have felt truly unable to write, and then, just as I've said above, I still get back to writing as quickly as possible. I also believe it's perfectly appropriate -- important even -- to allow ourselves time to grieve and be with whatever emotions are coming up. When my mother-in-law died recently, writing was my solace, as I mentioned. I also found great comfort in being involved with the writing of her obituary and the letter to our extended family. 

5. You need to refill your creative well.

All this said, I AM a firm believer in taking big "put my feet up" days off. I love to pick out a day on my calendar when I can feel the need building up, that I block off "just for me." In my pre-baby days, I would take my older son to school, and then do whatever I felt like doing, usually some combination of a buying a fantastic decaf beverage, watching a movie in bed, taking a nap, and maybe going out for a meal at a favorite restaurant. Now, with a little baby in the house, my days off are even a little more home-centric, but still involve similar indulgences (a movie while he naps, something yummy delivered for lunch, and a long bath.)

On these days, I fully, completely enjoy my not-writing time, and I know I'm replenishing and rebuilding to dive back in the next day.

Your turn

The bottom line, for me, is that each one of us needs to experiment, listen to our own bodies and inner selves, and find what works best for us. And, like I said, given the massive opportunities for resistance, fear, avoidance, procrastination, and self-doubt, my strong recommendation is to find a way to stick to your work as regularly and consistently as possible. What do you think? What works for you? Let us know in the comments.

Experiment for yourself

Join the Writer's CircleIf you're a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer's Circle, which starts on March 2. It's like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn't, and enjoy working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

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The real reason you don’t have time to write

Today I'm reprinting a revised version of a favorite article that appeared on the blog in January 2012. It's just as relevant today as it was then. Enjoy!

One of the most common excuses I hear from people who say they want to write but aren't doing it is that they don't have enough time.

If you're attached to that excuse, you might not want to keep reading. :)

I see frequent articles on the web about "how to find time to write" -- and I've even written one of them myself for my ebook (it's good -- you can check it out here). But despite the plethora of advice out there about how to find the time, many aspiring writers are still not getting their butts in their seats and their fingers on the keys. And I know it's NOT because they haven't read the right "find the time" article yet.

So what's happening instead?

What you're telling yourself instead of writing

If you're wanting to write, but not doing it, you're probably telling yourself something along these lines:

I'm too busy -- I have too much on my plate already.

Even though I really want to, I just don't have enough time to write.

I have to have a big block of time to write, and that's impossible given my schedule.

I'm already exhausted, I can't add one more thing.

You might even be telling yourself you have more important things to do. You've got an endless to-do list, right? And obligations and commitments that are Really Important.

You might be waiting for a whole day off or a Big Block of Writing Time where you can finally sit down and focus on your writing, but when that time comes, you remember that the laundry really needs to get done or that you promised Jane you'd go with her to that party and you don't have anything to wear so you have to go shopping and while you're out you remember that you forgot to... Well, you get the picture.

You might also be thinking you need to get farther along in your career and save some money (or get the right writing room or the right computer) before you can devote yourself to your writing career. 

But none of these are the real reasons you aren't writing.

Let me tell you what is true

The real reason you are not writing is because you are scared.

You are scared that you don't know how to write, or what to write about.

You are scared that your writing won't be good enough, original enough, or that maybe someone else has already said it better.

You are afraid that your new book concept isn't going to hold up or that you'll lose interest part way through.

You are scared to do the hard work of writing, and overwhelmed by the thought of such a big project.

You aren't sure where to start or what to write about.

You are afraid to do a new kind of writing or venture into new territory, that you won't be able to do it justice.

You're scared you might hurt people if you write your truth. Or disappoint them.

This thing about time is just a story

You can go on telling yourself the story that you don't have time to write if you want to, but we both know it isn't true.

If writing means as much to you as you say it does, you must learn to overcome your fear so you can make it happen.

Stop looking for TIME and start looking for COURAGE. 

(If you want help check out my Writer's Circle.)

You can do it. I believe in you.

Jenna

chocolate

When you aren’t rewarding yourself for writing

When it comes to rewarding ourselves for writing, I see many writers being stingy about it.

Please don't be stingy! 

In my online small group coaching program for writers -- the Writer's Circle -- we have a question on our daily progress report that says, "How will you acknowledge or celebrate what you’ve accomplished today?" And every day we fill our answers into this little box:

rewards

We do this to bring attention to the importance of the practice of rewarding ourselves for writing.

But what fascinates me is how often we collectively avoid or sidestep this question.

Even I find often myself answering with something that I was already planning to do, which isn't exactly a true reward. Sure, it's a nice thing I'm doing for myself at the end of the day, but it isn't actually tied to the writing. (On the other hand, as a still relatively sleep deprived new mom, when I write "Go to bed" in that little box, I'm usually THRILLED to be making that my reward, and it really does feel like one.) 

But are we doing ourselves any favors by avoiding rewarding ourselves for writing or not creating special rewards just for the writing?

I don't think so.

Why we might not reward ourselves for writing

Here are some reasons why we might not reward -- or want to reward -- ourselves for writing.

1. Not rewarding ourselves can be a form of self-punishment. 

Some writers feel that they "don't deserve" a reward because they haven't reached their goal for the day, even if they did actually show up and write.

Or sometimes writers are writing but feel they aren't working on the "right" project, so they punish themselves by not rewarding, acknowledging, or celebrating the writing they did do.

Some writers use the lack of a reward as a way of being hard on themselves.

Here's why this is a bad idea: Self-punishment (of any kind) sets up a negative association with our writing. When we are constantly hard on ourselves for not writing enough, writing the right thing, or not meeting our (sometimes unrealistic!) goals, we create disincentives associated with our writing. Rewards, on the other hand, create incentives to write. And considering that showing up to write and sticking with it can be a herculean task on many, many days, disincentives are the last things we need.

2. It feels hard to think of something to reward yourself with.

Sometimes it's just hard to come up with something as a reward, so it's easy to phone it in by picking something you were already planning to do or giving up.

On the other hand, if that something you were already planning to do is what you would normally be procrastinating with (TV, Facebook, games, etc), that's not such a bad idea. Sometimes a little delayed gratification IS a great reward. But it's not a great choice if you aren't intentional about it, meaning that you decide BEFORE you write that your treat at the end will be a little Facebook surfing time.

What worries me about not coming up with rewards: I suspect that an inability to come up with an idea for a reward is tied to that feeling that we don't deserve one. I also think it devalues the act of writing. While some might say that we shouldn't need rewards for doing what we were put here to do, I disagree. Our big dreams -- as much as we WANT them -- are often shunted to the side for other less meaningful pastimes and obligations. So when we actually do the work of overcoming the massive amounts of inertia and resistance to actually write, it's worth rewarding. 

3. Rewarding feels like another thing to do.

When we are busy -- in writing and in life -- creating space for a reward for ourselves can feel like just one more thing on a very long list of To Do's. Who wants to do that? It might even feel like an interruption of one's flow in the day or in life to stop and acknowledge or celebrate what we've accomplished. 

I know writers who are so frantic to keep up with even their own self-imposed deadlines that they cannot imagine stopping to celebrate what they've done.

Here's why we might want to rethink this: Positive experiences create positive associations with writing, much as rewards can be incentives. Plus, I don't know about you, but there is always more work to do, and a dearth of pleasurable moments. Why not make the effort to create more moments of delight in our lives, and why not associate them with our writing?

4. It feels like we never accomplish enough to celebrate or reward anything.

Writers always have more writing to do. The next project, the next deadline, the next ambition. When you have an endless laundry list of writing and tasks and To Do's, it feels like you have never ever done enough. And why would you reward yourself for being so behind? 

But here's the hidden cost of never being satisfied with what you done: Writing without rewards will suck the life and joy out of your writing eventually. You might be able to keep pushing through for months, years even. But your creative outputs deserve to be balanced with delicious inputs. Your hard work deserves acknowledgement. Don't let a day go by without celebrating the fact that you are making your dream happen, word by word. (And definitely do NOT miss celebrating the big milestones either. Finish a draft? Give yourself something really special, even if it's just a day off to enjoy the sunshine.)

5. Writing feels like its own reward.

Often writers feel like writing is its own reward. And sometimes it really is. Sometimes at the end of a long day, writing is what we do to relax and reward ourselves for working our day jobs or taking care of the kids. So it can feel silly or extraneous to reward yourself for writing when it already feels like a treat. 

Here's the issue I see with this: When we write as the reward, it can make it harder to do the writing on days when we "don't feel like it" or we are "too tired". Having a separate reward makes it easier to show up and do the writing no matter what, because we don't want to tie our writing to a being "in the right mood".

Change your anti-reward habit with these strategies

Here are some thoughts about how you can change up your pattern with rewards.

First, have a chat with yourself about what you are actually accomplishing and whether it is worth of a reward. If you stop to think about it, aren't you overcoming resistance every day to write? Wading through distractions, procrastination, fears, and doubts just to show up to the page? Isn't that worthy of acknowledgment?

Then, be intentional with your writing rewards. You might tie them directly to your writing, like giving yourself treats that are writing related (a writing book, a special pen, a class), or looking for ways you can be self-nourishing and creative-well filling. One of my Writer's Circle coaches, Terri Fedonczak, choses rewards that are related to one of the five senses, like having tea under a cozy blanket, sitting outside near the water or in the sunshine, taking a few minutes to snuggle her dogs, or burning incense in her writing corner.

If you want to be an über-rewarder, pre-select your reward before you even begin writing for the day, or plan the reward the evening before along with your writing for the next day. Sometimes our yesterday selves are kinder and wiser than our today selves. You can pre-select rewards for your daily writing and rewards for hitting your writing milestones, like your meeting your weekly goals and completing major drafts. You might even want to make a list of your favorite treats NOW and have it to pick from when you sit down to write. 

(Check out this article for more on rewards, and also a list of reward ideas.)

Last, make an effort to reward yourself as quickly as possible when you complete your writing, even within a few minutes of finishing. As my favorite writer, Joss Whedon, says, "I have a reward system. I am the monkey with the pellet and it’s so bad that I write almost everything in restaurants or cafés [so] that when I have an idea, I go and get chocolate." The interviewer from the article says, "He doesn’t wait to flesh out the idea and then reward himself, he rewards himself simply for having the idea." How's THAT for an über-rewarder?

Let's have some fun

Tell us your favorite ways to reward yourself for writing in the comments. It'd be great to get a list of ideas going we can share here on the website.  

 

 

You may also be interested in:

seven-top

Your top “7’s” writing posts from 2014 (your favorite one is no surprise!)

Apparently I think in sevens a lot, at least when it comes to writing about writing. 

As I was reviewing the most-read posts of 2014, apparently sevens were appealing to you, too. 

These "7's" posts were among the most popular last year, counting down to your favorite (and there's no surprise to me there about why that one was the favorite -- it's something we all deal with!)

So, in reverse order, our lucky sevens:

7 steps to recovering from creative burnout

reclinerWhen you get burned out, it's hard to do anything, let alone be creative. In this article, I outline seven steps you can take to go from creative burnout to creative recovery, so you can bring back the joy you feel when you create. This is an important skill to master because sometimes -- even when we're doing our very best to keep the creative well filled and do our writing at a sustainable pace -- resistance, deadlines, life, and fate conspire to the point where we're scrambling to finish a project under a big time crunch, binge-write, and exhaust ourselves as a result (sometimes doing so for days, weeks, even months on end). And once we've hit that bottom of the creative barrel, writing anything sounds entirely miserable. Read this article to find out how to bring yourself back into creative balance.

7 ways to recommit to your writing

writing wordle 3Sometimes as writers we get into a good writing practice but still manage to become complacent about actually FINISHING projects and moving on to the next one, rather just making small amounts of progress or endlessly rewriting and editing. When that happens, it's time to recommit, and raise the bar of our own expectations. In this article, I discuss seven ways to stop phoning it in and require more of yourself as a writer. Read this article to find out how to to recommit to your own writing

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing 

Overcome fear and uncertaintyIn this terrific guest post, Writer's Circle coach and produced screenwriter Sarah Newman talks about how to stay in action and keep moving forward with our writing even when fear and uncertainty rear their ugly heads. She shares a list of seven great ways to get unstuck and keep writing that I'm sure you will find both handy and inspiring. Read her article and discover how to get into action with your writing.

My 7 part series, "Make 2015 your year to write"

reflectionOur most recent "7's" post was my seven-part series, called "Make 2015 Your Year to Write". If you missed it, it's not too late to work with the writing prompts in the series that will help you design and create goals and resolutions for your writing year (2015 or otherwise!) so that they are well-aligned with what you want in the big picture. That way you can make sure you're working grounded in the reality of where you are right now as a writer and where you want to end up. 

7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

ticking clocksThis article ties in neatly with the article on recommitting, because self-created deadlines can be a powerfully motivating when it comes to hunkering down and doing the work. In this piece I talk about seven strategies you can use to make your inner deadlines actually mean something. Hint: It often involves turning those "inner" deadlines into outer ones. Read more about mastering your self-created deadlines here. (And see if you can guess which one is my favorite!) 

And your favorite "7" post: 7 ways to beat procrastination 

If the goal is too big, make it smallerThis article was your favorite "7" post, and it's one of mine too. And it's no surprise. Procrastination is one of the biggest things we struggle with as writers. In the piece I talk about the most common reasons for procrastination and seven ways to beat it, including some things you may not have thought of, like setting super small micro goals, telling others about what you're doing to create accountability for yourself, and knowing when to STOP writing. Check it out here and bust your own procrastination habit while you're at it

Enjoy, writers!

I hope your 2015 is off to a great start.

Happy writing.

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Make 2015 your year to write, Part seven (and last day for 2014 rates!)

It's that time, writers -- we've come to the last installment of our Make 2015 Your Year to Write series. I hope you've found it both practical and inspiring.

Today, in many ways, is the most important one of the series, so kudos to you for sticking with me thus far.

Over the last six days, we've looked at where you've been with your writing life, what your challenges are, what you want from your writing life, and what you need and want in both the big picture and the coming year, it's time to talk about how to make it all happen.

And remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach for one more day! Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you.  

Let's go for part seven!!

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Make your writing happen

You've done an amazing piece of work this week. You know what your goals are. You know what you want from your writing career and your writing life. You know what your trouble spots are.

Now what?

This, my fine writing friends, this is where the rubber hits the road.

It's all well and good to name your goals, but you've got to have a plan to make them happen.

Let's talk about how you can do that.

How to meet your writing goals in 2015

Luckily we've avoided having you create pie-in-the-sky goals with our work together. And we've made sure they are actually in alignment with the big picture of what you want.

But even so, there's still so much working against you that you have to have several key ingredients in place to help you overcome the resistance, fear, doubt, and procrastination that will rear up repeatedly like that monster you only thought you killed at the end of Act Two.

Here are some of the most powerful means you can have at your disposal to help you keep on writing even in the face of such horrors. 

  • A life decision to actually write. If you are going to be a writer, if you're really serious about it, you need to make up your mind right now that you will write no matter what. No more being a dilettante. No more waffling. No more excuses. No more dreaming without doing.
  • A bone fide, for real, no B.S., daily writing habit. Wanting to write is grand. ACTUALLY writing is grander. When you write daily or near daily, you will BE a writer. Getting there is not so easy. There are so many things that get in the way, as we've seen. Doubts, excuses, fear, resistance, perfectionism, LIFE. It's tough. And most of us think that we just need to resolve to write, or be more disciplined, or schedule it. But those things aren't enough by themselves. What you really need is a habit. A solid daily writing habit that means that even if everything goes sideways on you, you'll still be thinking, "Okay, wow, I still gotta write today, when am I gonna do that?", followed by quickly moving mountains to make it so. You want a writing habit that is so immutable that there's never even a question of IF you are going to write, only rarely a question of WHEN, and in fact it's something you just DO, like brushing your teeth or putting clothes on before you go outside. Something you wouldn't even think of NOT doing.
  • An inner knowing on when to "call it" on craft training. Yes, sometimes we need a little more training to do our best work. But I also know far too many writers who just endlessly take classes. We also have to be writing. Don't be one of those writers who keeps getting more and more training instead of facing the blank page. Sure, a class here and there. But don't keep going back to college for another degree instead of doing the work.
  • A writing schedule. Putting writing on your calendar is a huge step toward making your writing happen. It's an acknowledgment of the fact that you'll have to make choices to write, choices that will mean giving up other things, and being okay with that. It's a visual reminder that you're committed to writing, and carving out time to do so. Keep in mind, however, that a schedule is only a tool. You still have to show up and do the writing.
  • Massive amounts of accountability. When you're serious about writing, you'll want to have accountability in place to help you make it happen. Unless you are enormously and entirely self-motivated and never go astray from your path, you need accountability -- as much of as needed for you to stay 100% on track on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. My small group coaching program, the Writer's Circle, includes a daily accountability system for writers. Other kinds of accountability include writer's groups, mentors, deadlines, accountability parties, and writing buddies. Again, put as much of it in place as you need to write with a sense of purpose and intent. And then add a little more for good measure.
  • Support to get back on track if or when you fall off course. Writing is a lonely business. Get support for the dark days. We ALL face them, including me. Surround yourself with positive, supportive writers who will help you through the painful critiques, the negative reviews, and the days when you can't write a note to your kids about cleaning their rooms let alone face your novel.
  • Compassionate self-understanding. Writing is a tough gig. There will be days when you hate it. There will also be days that you LOVE it. But on the bad days, your inner critic is going to bat sh*t crazy on you and you cannot allow yourself to fall for it. It's a critically important skill to learn to combat your inner critic and keep on writing. This is something we do daily in the Writer's Circle.
  • Clear specific goals and projects. We've done a lot of work around goals this week, so I'm not going to add a lot here except to say this: Don't try to work on multiple projects at once unless you are a pro. If you're a newer writer, working on multiple projects at once is usually a death knell for all of them. Oftentimes writers will hop between projects when one gets too hard, but then struggle with discouragement over the lack of progress on any of them. My advice? Pick one and stick with it until it's done, even if it's hard and even if you hate it temporarily, at least to the point of a major milestone. If you finish a solid draft and move on to a new project to let the first one breathe, fine. But don't "layer" projects unless you are 100% capable of navigating between and finishing them.
  • A milestone plan for each and every project. I mentioned this yesterday too. Create a timeline for each writing project so you know where all the major milestones are and you know what you have to do to complete them. Don't just strike off in an "I'm just going to write every day" vague way. Know what you're trying to accomplish on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis so you can hit that yearly goal without binge-writing at the end or giving up in apathy and frustration part way through the year.

Hold these in mind as we go on to today's writing prompts:

1. What will you do to making your writing goals happen in 2015?

Think about what you will do to meet your writing goals. Be as specific as you can.

From Ginger, a Writer's Circle member:

"2015 for me is really about prolificacy. I’ve spent a lot of years sitting around plotting and planning and organizing and envisioning and figuring and sorting and assessing and weighing. That’s lovely and all, but there’s a point at which you must say to yourself, 'Well done. Now get to work.'

"For me, 2015 is going to be about multiple times a day writing, about learning to write in suboptimal circumstances, and finding creative ways around predictable blocks. Yes, I prefer to write in longer chunks – not necessarily hours at a stretch, which is too much for me, but more than 30 minutes. I would also prefer to live at Disney World. So this year I’m going to embrace small chunks. Five minutes here, 300 words there."

From my notebook:

"No more classes. Since I want to focus on my own writing and on my precious time with our new son, I need to keep the extracurricular activities to a minimum. This means having a clear plan and timeline for each of my projects, and a quiet, contained schedule within which to meet the necessary milestones. 2015 for me feels like a time to hunker down and focus on what's most important to me, rather than trying to do it all."

 

2. What actions will you take?

Then give some thought to any specific actions you need to take.

From Ginger:

"I haven’t completely decided yet – that’s part of what the Writer's Circle is for – but part of it is going to be about checklists. Little reminders. Maybe a timer on my phone saying 'write for three minutes' or 'write 100 words'.

"I suppose the biggest action I will take – and this is truly revolutionary for me – is trying different things. I will take small steps, rather than planning big steps."

From my notebook:

"I'm going to create a clear schedule laid out in a format I can easily follow and adjust -- on a large wall calendar. And I'll keep reminding myself not to sign up for any more classes until 2016. :)"

 

3. What kind of support will you put in place?

Now think about what kind of support (and accountability) you need to make it happen.

If you're the kind of writer who starts out with the best intentions but then falls short of her goals, you'll want to give careful thought to this question. Oftentimes quality accountability and support are the critical variables that make the difference between "dreamed of" and "DONE".

From Helen, a Writer's Circle member:

"I plan to continue with the Writer's Circle until I finish the dissertation. The support is helping to propel my movement forward, and to counteract the negative criticism that I get in my regular life. I plan to ignore and/or mitigate the negative feedback, and to absorb more of the supportive and positive encouragement."

From Ginger:

"The Writer's Circle is really helpful for this because before, I would sort of flounder around saying, 'I don’t know how to solve this.' I would spend all my time thinking about the problem and precious little looking for a solution. When you look up 'Reinventing The Wheel' in the dictionary, you'll see my face. But the Writer's Circle helps because I know that all I have to do is mention the problem in passing and I’m going to have a half dozen people who have already solved this problem giving me support. So that’s helpful. So I guess what I need to do this year is actually use the support. Sometimes I feel like one of those people who doesn’t go to Weight Watchers until they’ve lost weight, or doesn’t call a cleaning lady because their house isn’t clean.

"I guess this year is about using the support structure, even if my writing is feeling fat and dirty."

 

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part seven: Make it happen

Here are your writing prompts for today. If you're inspired to do so, please share your responses in the comments section on the blog (and feel free to leave questions for me too, if you have them). Otherwise you can take them to your journal, talk them over with your writing colleagues, or just contemplate them when you can. 

  • What will you do to making your writing goals happen in 2015?
  • What actions will you take?
  • What kind of support will you put in place?

Thank you so much for writing along with me this week, and may 2015 be filled with joyous writing and many blessings.

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Reminder: Last day for 2014 rates

Join the Writer's CircleBefore you head off to your journal, I have an important reminder about my Writer's Circle small group coaching program.

We're extending our 2014 rates through Midnight Pacific Time TONIGHT so you can lock in the subscription rate you select and save 30 to 50%, depending on the subscription package you choose.

The Writer's Circle small group coaching program will help you show up, get your butt in the chair, write, and see your projects all the way through to FINISHED.

The next session starts this coming Monday, January 5. It's the perfect time to build the professional writing habit you really need to meet your writing goals for 2015 and make this your writing year to remember.

Registration closes TONIGHT, Friday, January 2nd at Midnight Pacific Time.

Find out more and register online at www.JustDoTheWriting.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make 2015 your year to write, Part six (plus, an important reminder!)

Happy New Year's Day, writers! And welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series. 

We're deep into it now -- and closing in on the end of our seven-part series! You've done so much work so far, first by reflecting on your writing life so far, then in part two looking at your writing patterns and challenges, and in part three tapping into what you want for your writing life. We went on in part four to explore how to close the gap between where you are right now and where you want to end up, and in part five, we looked at your big picture vision for your writing career as a whole. 

Now that we've built that solid foundation, it's time to look at what you want to achieve in 2015.

Even if you've already set your goals for the year, I'm going to invite you to use this process to help you refine them.

A quick note to those of you just joining us: It's perfectly okay to dive in now. The writing prompts for each piece are simple and only take a few minutes each, though you could certainly do more if you felt inspired. I imagine you sitting today, in a quiet moment, writing in your journal (or here on the blog if you're inspired to share) and contemplating your writing and your writing life for 2015.

Remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'll be your coach. Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. 

Let's jump in to part six.

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Set goals for your writing year

Let's talk about the difference between goals and resolutions. 

  • goal as something that we want to achieve -- it has a specific desired result.
  • resolution as a decision to do or not to do something. That resolution may also produce a result, but it may also be about a way of being or thinking as well. Resolutions can also encompass the how of our means of getting to our desired results or goals.

Both goals and resolutions are worth setting.

However.

also believe it is important to set real, attainable goals and resolutions rather than creating unrealistic scenarios that are impossible to achieve. 

The reason for this is that when you make promises to yourself that you can't keep, you break trust with yourself. And when you can't trust yourself, it's hard to make anything happen or believe in your abilities when the going gets tough. And it will.

I'm seeing writers all over Facebook right now posting unrealistic goals. And honestly, it makes me feel a bit sad.

I'd much rather see you set a goal you KNOW you can accomplish than aim for something that just makes you feel bad and deters you from trying again.

That is NOT a good way to accomplish ANYTHING.

Let's look at how to set effective goals and resolutions, and then you'll work on your own with the writing prompts for today.

How to set goals

As you're working through this part of the process, make a point to keep in mind everything you've learned this week about your progress, process, challenges, changes, and visions as you set your goals and resolutions. Make sure they match up well. It's a good time to review your answers to the writing prompts from the prior days in the series so you can integrate them into your planning.

For instance, if you know you have an intense year coming up, keep your goals simple. Or if you know you have a hard time actually showing up to do the work, make your goals small enough that they don't overwhelm you. Or if you've been holding back from what you know you're truly capable of, see if you can raise the bar a little higher.

Here are the links again, for ease of reference:

SMART goals 

When it comes to goal setting, I'm a fan of setting SMART goals. Lots of people roll their eyes at the method, but don't worry, you don't have go all googly-eyed over it. Just use it as a quick check to make sure that your goal actually makes sense. It doesn't have to be fancier than that.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Resonant, and Time-Bound. 

  • Specific means that you are clear about what you are working on.
  • Measurable means that it is measurable in some way, whether through a number of minutes, words, or pages. 
  • Attainable means that you can reasonably accomplish it.
  • Resonant means that it feels like the right thing to be working on.
  • Time-Bound means that there is a clear ending deadline for its completion.

Here's an example:

Finish my current sci-fi screenplay by January 31.

  • Specific: Yes - my current sci-fi screenplay
  • Measurable: Yes - about 90 pages for the rough draft 
  • Attainable: Yes - if I write 2-3 pages a day for 31 days, I'll finish on that schedule. And since I have about 60 minutes to write each day, and I can write about 2-3 pages in an hour (sometimes more), that will be attainable.
  • Resonant: Yes - it's the project I'm most interested in working on and finishing next.
  • Time-Bound: Yes - the end of January

These kinds of SMART goals are useful because they help you get and stay clear about the What, How Much, and By When that are so helpful for keeping on track.

Here are a few more examples of SMART goals:

  • Write two new screenplays by December 31.
  • Write a new novel by December 31.
  • Outline my new novel by January 31.
  • Publish an ebook by April 15.
  • Revise and publish my two draft novels by December 31.

Other tips about setting goals

  • Be as specific as you can. Know what project you're going to work on if possible. Get specific about the numbers you're talking about, like numbers of pages and words for the project in its entirety. 
  • Reverse engineer your projects and compare them to the available time you have to write to make sure they are attainable. Use those word and page counts, compare them to your writing speed and writing time, and make a projection about how long your project will take. That way you can check the Attainable variable in your SMART goal.
  • Make a timeline for your project. While you're at it, lay out a timeline for your project so you know when you need to hit key milestones along the way, like chapters, mini-movies, act breaks, specific drafts, and submissions.
  • Plan in some padding or cushions for life to happen. It will. Allow yourself some flexibility. This doesn't have to mean days off (though it can, I'm not a "don't break the chain" tyrant) but it might mean having some leeway in what you're aiming for.

How to set resolutions

And let's talk about resolutions now.

As I've said, resolutions are often about decisions and hows, and can be incredibly useful when it comes to making bigger picture changes.

For example, you might make a resolution like this:

  • I will write every day.
  • I will treat my writing like a professional commitment.
  • I will schedule my writing and show up for it consistently.

A word about word and page count resolutions

You may notice that I'm not including examples like:

  • Write one page a day.
  • Write 1000 words a day.

There's nothing wrong with these kinds of resolutions, per se.

What's great is that they are reasonable and attainable resolutions for most of us.

But.

One of the big reasons we don't focus ONLY on word or page counts in the Writer's Circle is that they may not fit with the current stage of a project we are working on.

Word counts and page counts are terrific for writing Actual New Words. But when it comes to all of the other -- and many -- tasks associated with writing, it's a measuring stick that falls short.

Think about it.

When you're outlining, revising, editing, or polishing how do you measure word counts or page counts?

  • When we are revising and editing, we often cut words and even pages at a time.
  • Outlining isn't necessarily a word-laden process but an important tool for writing within a solid structure.
  • Editing and polishing certainly don't do much for word or page counts either.

And aren't these all valid and critically important parts of the writing process? 

When you set a goal or resolution that's focused on meeting a specific word count or page count each day, it implicitly negates ALL THE OTHER WORK you are doing or have to do and can leave you feeling like you haven't met your commitment or that you have to scramble around writing new words or pages when that has nothing to do with the stage of the project you're working on.

Not good.

What I recommend instead of word or page count only goals are time-based or time-and-count goals or resolutions, like this:

  • 30 minutes a day
  • One page per day or 30 minutes of revising, outlining, editing, polishing
  • 2000 words per day or 10 pages of editing or 60 minutes of revising, outlining, editing, polishing

The numbers themselves aren't important here, but the principle of adaptability is.

As long as you use this method within the context of a Time-Bound SMART goal, you can stay handily on track with your progress, rather than feeling discouraged for not meeting a goal every day that doesn't actually match with where you are in your process.

The bottom line? When you set resolutions that point to the hows, match them up with the specific stages of your writing projects so you stay inspired to keep on writing.

Onward to today's writing prompts!

1. Where do you want to be at the end of 2015? What would you like to have finished and accomplished in your writing life? 

When you're answering these two questions, go with your gut.

You can use the tips I've shared here about goal setting or just wax poetic for a few minutes. (We'll get really specific about the HOW of all this tomorrow, anyway.)

I found myself writing out "I wants" as I worked with these last night.

From my notebook:

I want to focus on my own writing at my own pace.

I want to publish a simple writing habit ebook by the end of the year.

I want to write two new scripts by the end of the year.

 

2. How will that feel?

To help yourself anchor in the goal, think about how it will feel when you achieve it.

Here are responses from some of our Writer's Circle members:

From Wendy, a Writer's Circle member:

"By the end of '15, I'd like to have The Endless Runway published - it needs editing; The Lost Witches established, and I hope I'll have gained marketing experience. I will also write more books, the possibilities are endless! I'll feel as if I've moved into a place I've always wanted to be."

From Tracee, a Writer's Circle coach:

"At the end of 2015, I plan to have written three more screenplays, including the rewrite drafts. My goal through the year will be to stay very organized and committed to my writing, keeping my writing time sacred and respecting that time as one of the most important things in my life. I think, along with feeling proud of myself for getting that much done, I will also feel like the professional I have become. It will be empowering to know that I can treat writing as more than just a hobby."

From another Writer's Circle member:

"I want to have my novel Skein completed and in the query stage, hopefully on the verge of being accepted. I’d like to also have my first novel of the Cherubim series on its way to completion. It will be scary. It will be terrifying. And I want to feel like I MUST do it anyway."

From Helen, a Writer's Circle member:

"My goal for 2015 is to finish my dissertation and doctoral program.  I intend to continue my research by writing articles for scholarly journals.  Eventually, I plan to be a Subject Matter Expert in my areas of interest."

From Sonya, a Writer's Circle member:

"At the end of 2015, I will have published my first eBookHealthy You. I will feel awesome because I will be making a difference in someone else’s life and shared what I have learned along the way."

From Jo, a Writer's Circle member:

"I want to continue to be gain validation about my writing from myself and not look outward for it. 

"I don’t like reading works that are safe and predictable, so why would I want to write them? So I will dive back into the novel that I started last year and really go for what I want it to be, mine the complexities of feelings and characters no matter how difficult and write the kind of book I want to read, trusting that others will feel the same way.

"I will care less about being 'a best seller' and more about being finished and out there for whomever is looking for my voice.

"Truly claim the phrase 'I am a writer.'

"I will be proud of myself. I will know that I set a goal and met it and that I did the best I could. And I will know that by acknowledging that I am a writer, I am acknowledging what I am and have always been in my deepest, most authentic core. As I was contemplating the answers to some of these questions, I felt a deep vibration inside – like my soul humming. Writing is what I am meant to do, it is what I need to do, it is what the universe needs me to do. Honouring writing in my own voice, I now know will have far-reaching and profound impact on my soul. It occurred to me that I could make all my fantasies come true through writing – creating characters, plots, resolving conflicts."

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part six: Goals & Resolutions

Now it's your turn! Here are your writing prompts for today. If you're inspired to do so, please share your responses in the comments section on the blog (and feel free to leave questions for me too, if you have them).

Or, you can take them to your journal, talk them over with your writing colleagues, or just contemplate them when you can. You're welcome to share any insights and Aha's in the comments too.

  • Where do you want to be at the end of the year? What would you like to have finished and accomplished in your writing life?
  • How will that feel?

And don't miss tomorrow's post -- the most important one in the series -- about how to make this all actually HAPPEN.

 

An important reminder

Join the Writer's CircleBefore you head off to your journal, I have an important reminder about my Writer's Circle small group coaching program.

Our rates are increasing in 2015, but we're extending our 2014 rates for just a few more days so you can take advantage of them for the session that starts on Monday, January 5 AND lock them in for as long as you keep your subscription current, active, and continuous. When you enroll now, you'll guarantee yourself the 2014 rate and save 30 to 50%, depending on the subscription package you choose.

The Writer's Circle program is designed to help you show up, put your butt in your seat, WRITE, and see your projects all the way through to FINISHED. 

The next session starts this coming Monday. It's the perfect time to create the support you really need to meet your writing goals for 2015 and make this your writing year to remember.

Registration closes on Friday, TOMORROW, January 2nd at Midnight Pacific Time.

Find out more and register online at www.JustDoTheWriting.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make 2015 your year to write (Part five!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series! We're closing in on the end -- both of our seven-part series, and also of 2014. The end is near! ... which makes this the perfect time to venture into the real reason we're all here: setting goals and resolutions for 2015 that are real and attainable.

But first, two things:

One: In case you're just joining us, let's review what we've been exploring this week together. We started by reflecting on our writing lives so far, then looked at challenges and insights, then began tapping in to what we want for our writing lives, and then explored how to close the gap between where we are right now and where we want to end up.

Two: Before we get into specifics for 2015, we're going to first look at the big picture of your writing career (and writing life!) as a whole. Tomorrow will be the big day for 2015 goal setting and resolutions. More about why we do it this way in a few minutes.

In the meantime, remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach this week. Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. And if you're wondering, it's perfectly okay to join in on this process at any time. We're glad to have you.

Now for part five!

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Tune into your vision for your writing career and life

Although we did some initial exploring in part three for what you want your writing life to be like, feel like, and look like, and looked at how we can start to close the gap between then and now in part four, today we're going to consider the trajectory you want for your big picture writing career and life. 

The importance of having a long-term vision

Before we go into it, though, let's talk about WHY we want to do this visioning thang. It's important to start with a long-term vision BEFORE setting goals for 2015, because we want to make sure that your short-term goals are in alignment with those long-term goals.

In other words, if you're setting goals for 2015 that have nothing to do with where you want to end up, you can end up in an entirely different place than you intended to go. That may sound entirely obvious, but I can't tell you how many writers I've worked with who set goals that take them to the wrong place, often because of what they think they should be doing or because someone else wants something for them that isn't necessarily a match with what the writer wants for themselves. 

So it's worth it to be clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it before you start identifying specific goals. 

First we'll discuss the common places writers get stuck with visioning and how to use a vision.

Then we'll explore our two writing prompts for today.

Common places writers get stuck with visioning

Sometimes visioning can get sticky. It sounds like a big fancy thing to do, and in a way it is, but it's also a lot simpler than we tend to make it. And we're all wired a little differently, so the kind of visioning that works well for Josephine Writer down the street may not work so well for you.

Here are the typical ways I see writers getting stuck with visioning. If you see yourself in any of these, try my suggested tweaks to course correct.

For instance:

  • Some writers get hung up on trying to be too specific, e.g. "I'll have written 27 books by 2019!" Being specific can be clarifying and useful, but it can also feel like all the creative juice gets sucked out of it when it's just about fulfilling a numbers game. If this is an issue for you, just be a little more broad with how you approach it, e.g. "I'll have books lining my shelves with my name on the byline." 
  • Sometimes going into visioning work can feel discouraging because it feels so far off in the distance and so big that we'll never get there. If you find yourself having trouble with this, invite yourself to hold it lightly, like a game or one possible future. And if it feels too heavy, give yourself permission to tweak and change it until it feels fun and inspiring. That's really the point, after all! We're going for fun, inspiring, and directing.
  • Another important pitfall to be aware of is that it can be easy to fall into fulfilling other people's visions for you if you're not careful. Sometimes our mentors, agents, managers, parents, families, friends, colleagues, spouses, and kids can have ideas about what we should be doing that may or may not ring true for us as individuals. And if you start forcing yourself to follow someone else's goals, you'll be likely to find yourself feeling lost instead. This isn't to say that our trusted experts and colleagues should always be ignored, but rather to make sure that we are checking in with our own internal guidance about what we truly want. A good way to check for this is to keep an ear tuned in to the word "should". If you catch yourself saying that, chances are your vision needs some adjusting to be more in line with YOU and your reality.
  • Along the same lines, we can get equally hooked by what outside measures of success are supposed to look like. In other words, you might think you "have to" self-publish, or traditionally publish, or break in by a certain date, or make a certain amount of money. It's important to both remember that we each have our own paths to take, and also that we can define success on our own terms. So as you vision, think not about what you are supposed to have, be, or do, but rather what feels most exciting and meaningful to you. Don't just focus on making lots of money if you don't know what you want to do with it, for instance. This isn't a race. It's about creating meaningful, quality lives for ourselves, and that can span a wide range.
  • Don't worry overly if you can't get super clear and have great detail about your vision. Some writers say, "I just don't see anything specific." If you find that to be an issue, you can go for flashes of a vision like we did in part three, or even try to tune in to a felt-sense that tells you a bit about where you'd like to be. There's no right and wrong with visioning. Just go with what comes to you, and feel free to make it a combo-deal of your mental ideas and thoughts plus the images you see. As long as it's coming from you, it's all good.

How to use a vision

It's also important to know HOW to use a vision. It's not a hard and fast tool, nor does it have to adhere to a specific timeline.

Instead, hold a vision lightly, as a guiding tool, and know and trust that you can evolve and change it as you go -- because after all, things change, and LIFE changes.

That said, we can still use a vision as a powerful step in moving toward what we want.

The key is to get clear on the vision and then focus on taking the first steps.

As you take your first steps, your next "first" steps will become clearer.

It's worth checking on a regular basis about where you are on the path -- Are you moving in your intended direction? Falling off course? Is there anything that you want to change or adjust?

Then you can make adjustments -- or not! -- depending on what's emerging for you in terms of your own clarity about it.

To summarize:

  • Hold it lightly.
  • Take the first step.
  • Check to make sure that the next "first" steps are in alignment with the big picture vision.
  • Refine and adjust the big picture vision as needed.
  • Take the next "first" steps.
  • And so on.

So now let's look at our inquiries for today's exercise: 

1. What’s your overall vision for your writing career?

We'll begin with thinking -- your ideas and thoughts about what you want.

While you're working with this inquiry, you want to consider things like:

  • What kind of writing career and life do you want to have? Are you picturing writing in a quiet, remote place with lots of independence and freedom? Or working in the hustle-bustle of a big city? Or collaborating for long full days in a writer's room in Hollywood, staffing a TV show? Do you feel excited by the idea of high-intensity, fast-paced work, late nights, and deadlines? Are you more in the "I just want to write in a quiet place by myself" camp?
  • And along those lines, is what you're currently headed toward or holding in mind a good match for your temperament? Sometimes writers are focused on a specific kind of writing career that doesn't fit well with their temperament, like someone who might prefer the collaborative environment of screenwriting but is instead currently focused on novel writing, or vice versa. 
  • Is writing the core of your career, or is it part of your platform? Some writers are also speakers, teachers, bloggers, or coaches. Writing can be a PART of the big picture but it doesn't have to be all of it.
  • Are you envisioning your writing as your sole source of income or does your income come from a mix of sources? Think about what that might look like and feel like. Sure, it may be something you transition to over time, but making a living from your writing as your only source of income is a very different thing than having multiple streams of income. And it might also be interesting to think about the types of writing you're considering as well.
  • By when do you hope to have "arrived"? Do you have a timeline in mind? Is there anything you know will be in place when you have the career you want to have?
  • How will you know you have "arrived"? Are there any outside measurable or observable criteria? Any inner guidelines that will help you "know"?

From my notebook:

"I'm most interested in a having mixed and varied writing career. I'd like to publish novels and write the screenplays based on them. I'd also like to write about writing, since I love the personal insights we can all gain around our writing processes (and tantrums, LOL). As much as I like collaboration, I know I'm going to want to have time alone to write as well. As far as income goes, I'd be delighted to have the majority of my income coming from my writing, but I'm hard-pressed to imagine giving up ALL of the coaching work I do too, since it's so much fun. I'm willing to have that be something that gets determined in a supply/demand kind of way."

 

2. What do you intend to accomplish as a writer? 

Do you have a specific idea in mind about the breadth or depth of your work?

Any ideas about how your work will manifest?

This might include things like:

  • Genre
  • Medium/format
  • Quantity
  • Distribution
  • Sales (or not!)
  • ...and more!

From my notebook:

"I want to be known for a groundbreaking sci-fi series that gets adapted into movies for the big screen. I'll happily write other books and screenplays along the way, and I know they'll be primarily in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. In my heart of hearts, I'd also happily have more than one series. But I still imagine there being one core series that I am known for. My own Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Wouldn't that be fun?"

 

3. What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

A great tool for exploring the first two questions are to also see what images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments.

For instance, do you see a row of your published books lining the shelves in your favorite local bookstore? Posters of your movie plastered all over town? Your published articles in your favorite periodicals?

Perhaps you see yourself as the renowned expert in a specific field of study.

What comes to mind for you?

From Ginger, one of our Writer's Circle members:

"For the longest time, I had an image in my head of shelves and shelves of books in the bookstore, like a Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele. Not necessarily romance, but tons and tons and tons of books. I never really put too much thought into it, it was just a picture that I had. I always wanted to write a LOT of books -- like, a crazy lot.

"Then the other day I was in Chapters and I saw it -- you know in the sections where it’s like, 'Fiction A-D' or 'Spirituality' or 'War'? There was one of those huge signs, just like those ones, and it said 'James Patterson.'

"He got a sign as big as 'Lifestyle' or 'Magazines'.

"And I said, 'That. That’s what I want.'

"Of course, it’s a different world now, and by the time I’m publishing, and considering what I’m publishing, there probably won’t be a bookstore, and there won’t be a sign. Digital world and all that. But I want it to be reasonable for there to be a sign, even if the whole world goes digital. I want to be worth a sign."

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part five: Vision

Now you get to play with the writing prompts for today.

If you're inspired to do so, please share your responses in the comments section on the blog -- or your insights after writing about them in your journal, talking them over with other writers or a trusted friend, or letting them swirl through your consciousness. Feel free to leave questions for me too, if you have them.

  • What do you intend to accomplish as a writer?
  • What’s your overall vision for your writing career?
  • What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

And don't miss tomorrow's installment, where we'll get specific about goal setting for 2015!

Hold on to yer keyboards, writers, here we go. :)

 

 

 

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Make 2015 your year to write (Part four!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series. 

If you're just joining us, here's what we've been up to: In our we began with part one, on reflecting on your writing life so far, then in part two looked at your patterns, challenges, and insights, and in part three began tapping in to what you want for your writing life.

Today in part four, we'll look at how to close the gap between where you are right now and where you want to end up so you can start making real plans for how to get there.

Remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach this week! Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. (And if you're joining us "late" in this process, not to worry, just jump in, the water's fine. :) )

On to part four!

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Examine the gap in your writing life

Whenever we have a goal we want to meet or a place we want to end up, there is a certain amount of distance between now and then, or here and there. 

Since we spent some time looking at where you want to GO in our part three work, now we can take a clearer look at what's currently in the way of you getting there.

For instance, you might be bumping into a whole variety of obstacles like:

  • Being too busy or not having enough time to write
  • Having too many other obligations with work and family
  • Dealing with the kinds of creative or life challenges we talked about in part two
  • Trying to "find" time to write instead of making it happen
  • Getting caught up in other people's needs or drama

But you might also be need to make changes about the way you are approaching your writing life.

You might right now be:

  • Not setting strong boundaries to protect your writing time
  • Not making writing one of your topmost priorities (It really needs to be in the top 3 to 5 to become a reality.)
  • Thinking about your writing in a negative way
  • Creating fantasies about what you need to write instead of just writing
  • Constantly debating about "IF" you are going to write each day instead of being clear about "WHEN"

When we look closely at these we can see that some of these are things we need to remove from our writing lives, while others might be things that we can add. Both would have a positive result in our ability to write more, or consistently.

So think about what you've learned from the last few days of exploration and then answer these questions: 

1. What do you want to remove from your writing life?

When you think about things you might want to remove from your writing life to make it flow more easily, what comes to mind? 

For instance, you might notice that you feel ready to let go of:

  • Extra obligations that have outworn their welcome, like the volunteer job that's not fulfilling anymore, or social commitments you don't feel nurtured by
  • Limiting beliefs about your ability to write
  • Outdated relationships with people who don't hold your writing in high esteem
  • Excuses and stories about why you can't write
  • Unprofessional writing relationships and groups
  • Writing projects that have outworn their welcome
  • Bad writing habits like perfectionism or binge-writing

2. What do you want to add to your writing life?

On the other hand, sometimes the gap can be closed when you start adding things in to your writing life, like:

  • A regular, daily writing practice
  • Boundaries that teach people to respect your writing time
  • Urgency and deadlines so you feel motivated to write daily and to finish projects consistently
  • A writing schedule, as in, on an actual calendar with actual times where you will show up and write
  • Accountability and support from people who know how much writing means to you and help you show up and actually do it
  • A writing community of friends who believe in you and support you to make it happen, day in and day out
  • A special place to write in your home, your office, or elsewhere
  • Making a life decision to treat your writing professionally
  • The proper tools and training

Again, there are no right answers here, only what fits best for you. Take some time with the writing prompts today to see what no longer fits for you and what might be a welcome change.

Here are some responses from my Writer's Circle members:

From Helen, a Writer's Circle member:

"This year, I added what I wanted to add: A positive, loving, caring support group that positively encourages my progress. This is your Writer's Circle coaching group, Jenna. What I wish to remove is the negativity that comes from my current academic environment. Constant negative criticism and nagging do little to motivate me; on the contrary, they usually block my creativity and desire to write."

From Sonya, another Writer's Circle member:

"I’ve spent the last year in Jenna’s coaching and writing circle. I chose to do it after listening to her four-session course, 'Design Your Writing Life'. It inspired me to get my writing act together, so to speak. I had been writing sporadically for my own blog, without a real purpose other than to share information and practical advice. I wanted to get more consistent about writing and find a more sustainable writing habit.

"Over the year, I have written a lot more, and a lot more consistently but it has still been what I call sporadic. I’d like to remove this sporadic behavior from my life. I’d like to get into an even more consistent, regular writing habit. I’d like to add writing time that is sacred. I have not been holding writing time sacred. I have been running it over with a Mack truck on a regular basis. That needs to stop. I need to be more consistent and sit down and write, every day, no matter what. No matter for how long.

"I have this unrealistic picture in the back of my mind of having a tiny house in my back yard and having it totally devoted to my own creativity (really, a room of one’s own), for writing, music, quilting, sewing, scrapbooking, photography. It’s about a $10K investment to do this through a friend’s company who makes them. I don’t have an extra $10K lying around to use for this purpose so I currently tend to sit at the kitchen table or on the couch to write. I know I should find a writing space in my home and write in that spot consistently. But to date, I haven’t been able to get comfortable in any space to write consistently. 

"I also don’t like to write when others are around so I tend to do other things when I have my kids (every other week). All of these things feel like excuses, one after another. I need to stop making excuses and just do the writing.

"I guess what it comes down to is that I want to remove excuses from my (writing) life and add an attitude of 'write anyway' to my life."

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part four: Close the gap

Now it's your turn. Here are your writing prompts for today. You can write about then in your journal, discuss them with your writing buddies, or just mull them over when you have a quiet moment. Then if you're inspired to do so, please share your responses and/or insights in the comments section on the blog. Free to leave questions for me too, if you have them.

  • What do you want to remove from your writing life?
  • What do you want to add to your writing life?

And don't miss tomorrow's installment, where we'll tune into the vision for your longer term writing career. It'll be fun and inspiring! See you then. :)

 

 

 

 

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Make 2015 your year to write, Part three (plus a quick announcement!)

Welcome back to part three of our Make 2015 Your Year to Write series. 

In case you're just joining us or need a refresher, in our first installment we began with reflecting on your writing life so far. Then we continued in part two by looking at the patterns and challenges you've faced this year, what you've learned, and what you might like to have done differently. 

Today in part three we'll carry on by delving into where you want your writing life to be headed -- and we'll be doing some visioning work for that, which ought to be fun. :)

Remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach this week! Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. (And if you've joined us a little late in the process so far, not to worry, just come on in and start following the prompts. If you want to go back to "catch up", I'd suggest just picking one or two prompts from each of those days to start with. In other words, you have my permission to skip a few to catch up. :) )

Now let's look at our part three work.

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Tap into what you want for your writing life

We want to look now at what you want for your writing life. What it will be like. And how it feels to be a writer in your ideal writing life.

We're going to put reality to the side for the moment (don't worry, we'll come back to it!) and explore what it is that you really want as a writer.

We'll do this by working with three simple writing prompts today.  

1. What do you want your writing life to BE like?

What comes to mind for you when you think about what you want your writing life to be like

For instance, you might think about things like:

  • Where you are writing -- what kind of space you're in
  • How much you write
  • Who you write with (if anyone)
  • Who you are writing for (yourself, a particular audience, etc.)
  • What you are writing (genre, length, medium)
  • How often and regularly you write
  • What tools you use to write
  • What skills you use to write
  • How the people around you treat your writing

Helen, a Writer's Circle member, shares:

"I would prefer to have more flexibility with my work schedule so that I can write first thing in the morning. After a long day at a non-writing job, I am typically too exhausted to immediately jump into a creative mode and start writing. I see a need to build more writing sessions into my hectic schedule."

From my notebook:

"When I put aside my current reality, what I'd like is to have more uninterrupted time to write and to work. I've gotten good at writing in shorter sprints, but with a little baby in the house, I can't quite call my time my own. It's a reality I'm gladly willing to accept for now, but I'm also aware that as he grows, my dream writing life will be self-directed so I can follow my own patterns and rhythms more easily again. I imagine focusing more and more on fiction as well, writing scripts and novels, predominantly sci-fi with a little fantasy thrown in. I also love the idea of self-publishing and building my own small empire of writing projects."

 

2. What do you want your writing life to FEEL like?

Now tune in a bit to how you would most like to feel about your writing life.

There can be a wide range here. As one of my colleagues says, "There are no rules governing your inner landscape."

Here are some possibilities to jump-start you:

  • calm
  • centered
  • excited
  • well-connected
  • free
  • independent
  • collaborative
  • creative
  • inspired
  • grounded
  • taken care of 

From my notebook:

"In my ideal world, I want my writing life to feel calm, unrushed, and self-directed. I'd feel a sense of quiet alertness, an excitement brewing under the surface that carries me forward each day."

 

3. What images flash into your mind when you picture yourself writing the way you’d most like it to be?

And now last, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and see if there are any images that flash into your mind when you picture yourself in your ideal writing life.

What do you see? 

Maybe you will envision yourself heading out to work in a special writing cabin at the edge of your property. Or writing at the beach in longhand. Or seeing yourself cashing checks from your writing sales! You might see yourself in meetings with producers in Hollywood. Or working in a room filled with other writers for a TV show. Or maybe just quietly writing a novel on your own in a café.

There are no rights or wrongs here.

One of our Writer's Circle members shares:

"I would like my life to look like I am making a living from my writing, not writing for a living, not writing for heart like I am now. I picture myself on a balcony during a sunset writing with my fountain pens in a beautiful wire-bound book. I can see myself with a wall of multicolored story, slivers of notes pasted on the wall in a way that makes sense to me as I wind them into the tapestry. I see myself going on readings for and with amazing, generous fans, who challenge me to be my best without violating my boundaries. I can feel myself growing lush with worlds, the ideas bumping around my skull sprouting into full experiences for readers."

From my notebook:

"In the long term, the image that flashes into my mind is seeing myself writing at a big, quiet desk in an old house with acres of land around it. Or by the beach, in a little cabin. QUIET and NATURE are obviously keys here for me. :)  In the short term, visions of writing in cafés pop into view, or writing in nature. I get the sense that more flexibility or portability with my writing is what I'm looking for."

Again, there no right or wrong answers here, just whatever comes up for you. 

Close your eyes, see what comes, and jot your answers down in your journal or in the comments.

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pen coffeeYour writing prompts for Part three: Writing life

Here are your writing prompts for part three, in one place so you can easily cut-and-paste.

Take them to your journal, chat about them with your writing pals, or just contemplate them when you can (or answer them in the comments if you feel inspired). 

Once you've answered the prompts, we'd love to have you share your insights, thoughts, or questions in the comments section.

  • What do you want your writing life to BE like?
  • What do you want your writing life to FEEL like?
  • What images flash into your mind when you picture yourself writing the way you’d most like it to be?

And be sure to come back for tomorrow's post, where we'll take a look at the gap between where you are right now and where you want to end up so you can start making real plans for how to get there.

 

A quick announcement

We're now accepting registrations for the next session of my Writer's Circle small group coaching program, which starts on Monday, January 5th. It's a powerful program that offers critique-free and guilt-free coaching, support, and accountability for writers who want to consistently finish all their writing projects -- all year long.

It's the perfect support to hit the ground running in 2015, and it's a great time to enroll and lock-in our current 2014 rates, which will be increasing after the coming session gets started. 

Registration closes on Friday, January 2nd at Midnight Pacific Time.

Find out more and register online at www.JustDoTheWriting.com.

 

 

 

 

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Make 2015 your year to write (Part two!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series, where we're continuing with our writing prompts and process to help you set real, attainable writing goals and resolutions for 2015.

To catch up, in our first installment we began with reflecting on your writing life so far. Today we'll continue that work by looking at the patterns and challenges you've faced this year, including more writing prompts for you to explore.

Remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I'm your coach this week! Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I'll be sure to address or answer them for you. (And if you start the process "late", not to worry, just come on in and join us.)

Let's dive in to part two of our process, starting with looking at patterns and challenges, then moving into what we've learned and what we might like to do differently in the future.

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Notice the writing patterns and challenges you’ve faced this year -- and what you've learned as a result

As writers, we're likely to have a collection of patterns that we fall into. We're also likely -- because we are living, breathing human beings :) -- to face a number of challenges over the course of a year. When we take an objective, information-gathering look at the impacts our patterns and challenges have on our writing, we can learn a great deal about what's working and what's not -- and what we want to do differently next year. 

We'll look at each of these in turn, starting first with patterns.

1. What writing patterns have you noticed?

When you think back over the year as a whole, this is a great opportunity to observe the larger patterns of your writing habit and process. There may be both supportive and unsupportive patterns that you notice. 

For example, here are some supportive patterns you might have experienced:

  • Writing every day or near-daily throughout the year.
  • Easily getting back on track with your writing habit if you get thrown off by things like travel or illness.
  • Finding your way successfully (even if it's hard) through your own creative process without getting bogged down or stopped overly long at any point along the way.
  • Regularly and consistently finishing your writing projects and/or hitting your major writing milestones.
  • Treating your writing like a professional responsibility by prioritizing it and showing up for it and yourself.

Here are some examples less supportive patterns you might have noticed:

  • Tending to procrastinate or get sucked into meaningless distractions before writing every day (or not writing at all!).
  • Not writing regularly, or binge-writing only when there's a deadline looming.
  • Falling into perfectionism and refusing to move forward with a project until you know exactly what you're doing (a big one for me).
  • Changing your mind about which project you're going to work on so much so that you find yourself making little progress on anything. We call this "project hopping" in the Writer's Circle.
  • Falling out of the habit of writing and struggling to get back on track -- or avoiding it altogether.
  • Overthinking instead of turning to the page and just doing the writing.
  • Constantly looking for outside answers from experts, classes, and others rather than relying on yourself.

IMPORTANT: There's no judgement here. This is about observing what has worked for you and what has not, so that you can begin to make changes as you move forward into 2015.

From Sonya, a Writer's Circle member:

"I have noticed a couple of patterns related to my writing this year. First, I tend to procrastinate in a major way when writing involves disclosing anything that might make me the least little bit vulnerable or sharing something remotely emotional. I also procrastinate with work writing when I don’t feel like an expert in the subject or I might not come across as knowing what the heck I am talking about. Which is ironic because with most legal writing that I read these days, it is simplistic and not well thought out. I guess I don’t want to be lumped in with that type of writing and I want to be respected and thought well of professionally."

 

2. What challenges have you faced?

As writers, we face a wide range of challenges every day. We can call these the "usual suspects". But over the course of the year -- a lifetime even -- the challenges become broader and deeper, and have a life-scale impact. As we review what we've done this year and the things that have come up along the way, it's worth being cognizant of the challenges we've tackled along with our writing, so we can be more compassionate with our own self-assessment.

Let's look at some examples of the kinds of challenges you might have faced on this year.

The usual suspects.

First, the usual suspects. These are the "garden variety" challenges we face as writers, like resistance, procrastination, and perfectionism. I call them garden variety types not to diminish them but because of how commonplace they are -- we face them Every Single Day.

Here's a quick list of some of the "favorites":

  • resistance
  • procrastination
  • fear
  • doubt
  • insecurity
  • apathy
  • confusion
  • perfectionism

And this is what we have to overcome every day just to get to the page.

Creative challenges.

Beyond those usual suspects, then larger creative challenges come into play.

For example, receiving difficult feedback can be a huge challenge to work through. (And sometimes so can positive feedback!) Managing multiple projects with multiple deadlines can overwhelm us. Having trouble choosing projects can be another. Even dealing with our own standard playbook of personal bugaboos fits into this group of creative challenges.

Sometimes we're also recovering from creative wounds from our past -- or present -- that impact our writing. They tend to drive those usual suspects from a deeper place, as the underlying reasons for them.

Life challenges.

And then there's the big picture. Writing is part of life. It doesn't exist outside of life in some kind of vacuum. This is something that's eminently clear to me as someone who coaches writers over the long term through our Writer's Circle.

In our small coaching groups, our writers go through many major life events over the course of a year.

Family members die.

Babies are born.

Beloved animal companions and pets pass on.

People get cancer and go through treatment.

Weddings are held.

Major illnesses come up.

From my notebook:

"My biggest life challenge this year was having a baby. I knew it would be a huge change, and it was. I found myself feeling a bit lost in my own reality at times. But it was gratifying to see that I could find my way through such a major life upheaval and come back to my writing in a strong way."

From Sonya:

"I have transitioned jobs form a full time job, commuting to San Francisco to being a consultant with work and clients but not full time. It has thrown me off of any routine or time constraints and I haven’t fully adjusted to this change in schedule and priorities. I need to get into a better routine for writing. I did maintain a daily fitness routine and now I need to figure out a daily writing routine that I can sustain and stick to. I probably need to brainstorm ideas on this topic with someone or on a coaching call. I’m obviously not solving it on my own. That’s what coaches and support groups are for – to help us solve things that we can’t solve on our own."

All these things affect us. And they can take a real toll when it comes to our writing life. It's not always easy to just roll with these punches and come back up in full fighting form. Sometimes we need time to bounce back and recover. And sometimes we need lots of support.

 

3. What were the biggest things you learned about your writing this year?

Once you've given some thought to the patterns and challenges you've faced, think about what you can learn from them that will inform your writing life to come. You can also think about what you've learned from your own writing process. 

For instance, you may realize you need to build in more padding in your writing planning and scheduling to account for the ups and downs. Or have heart-to-heart talks with your loved ones about respecting your writing time. 

Or perhaps you may be noticing that you are capable of a lot more than you thought you were, but need to give thought to protecting yourself from creative burnout.

The answers will be different for each of us.

From Wendy, a Writer's Circle member:

"I've learned that consistently showing up and being a writer rather than trying to be a writer works."

From Jo, a Writer's Circle member:

"I realized and finally acknowledged how vital writing is to me and has been since from childhood. And realizing that the deep gnaw inside has been the result of ignoring and undervaluing writing. If I had continued to do that, I know it would be the great regret I would have while sitting on the rocking chair on the front porch of the old folks’ home drooling into my chin hairs.

"I am tired of trying to find the “right” way to write or express myself. That path leads to too much discomfort and anxiety to bring to something that is so vital to who I am and what I want to accomplish in the world. It is an exhausting way to approach a creative life. So I am learning to stop turning on myself. I am gradually getting better letting go of the “right” way and working on finding “my” way to write.

"I also learned to protect my writing from those in my life who refuse to respect it and how vital it is to me. My creativity is an inner event and I need to nurture it by keeping it safe from negative influences. When my writing is ready, I will trust in my abilities and in the process and let it go to find it’s way in the world and it’s meaning in the minds, eyes and hearts of readers. Until then I will only share with those who can respect the creative life."

From Helen, a Writer's Circle member:

"For me, writer's block is usually the case of not having an organized work environment and/or a calm/organized mind.  When my writing table is clear, and my mind is clear after meditation, then I feel ready to attack the task at hand."

 

4. Is there anything you regret or wished you might have done differently?

While I don't want to bog you down in regrets, it is worth taking time to notice and acknowledge anything you wish you had done differently.

The reason to do this is so that you can be more clear about what you might like to change or work on as you go forward.

Wendy says:

"My biggest regret is the self-doubts that have slowed my progress."

Jo notes:

"I regret not honouring my writing more myself. I did this by avoiding it often, by feeling that it was trivial or “airy-fairy” or self-indulgent."

Sonya says:

"I wish I had written more consistently this year. Even though I have the writing sprints on my calendar every day, I tend to ignore them if there is the slightest bit of interference. I need to keep to the sprints and use that hour to write. Or I need to set aside an hour a day to write – no matter what. I don’t think I’ll find one consistent time each day (like 8 am every day) but I do think I can plan my writing time on Sundays the way I plan my exercise time for the coming week."

 

5. What might you do differently in the coming year to address those things? Is there anything to forgive yourself for?

Having given thought to all these patterns, challenges, and insights, what might you like to do differently in the coming year? Is there anything you're holding on to a judgement about that you can let go of and forgive yourself for?

From my notebook:

"I need to remember everything I've been through this year when I look back and wish I had done more. I can forgive myself for being human and not just being a writing machine. I can remind myself that I'm here to live a rich life AND be a writer who produces regularly.

"In terms of next year, to combat my perfectionist's tendencies, I need to stay on top of noticing when I get stuck in overthinking or believing I need to look outward for solutions, and instead just keep turning back to the page, again, again, and again to write my way through my stuck places. I need to keep the focus on getting the words on the page and solving problems later."

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Writing prompts for part two: Challenges & Insights

pen coffeeHere are your writing prompts for part two, assembled in one place for your writerly convenience.

Take them to your journal, talk them over with your writing colleagues, or just contemplate them when you can (or answer them in the comments if you feel inspired). 

Once you've answered the prompts, share your insights, thoughts, or questions in the comments section.

  • What writing patterns have you noticed?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • What were the biggest things you learned about your writing this year?
  • Is there anything you regret or wished you might have done differently?
  • What might you do differently in the coming year to address those things? Is there anything to forgive yourself for?

And be sure to come back for tomorrow's exercise, where we'll start tapping into where you want your writing life to be headed.

"See" you tomorrow!