3 ways to change conver

3 ways to change your inner conversation about writing

As I mentioned in a recent post, as writers --particularly undertaking big writing projects like a book, novel, screenplay, or even NaNoWriMo! -- we need to be mindful about our self-talk and keep it as encouraging and self-supportive as possible. 

This is because one of our main tasks (aside from doing the actual writing) is preventing the freaked out voices of fear, self-doubt, and even a little panic (!!!) at times, from stopping us. Those voices may be loud, scary, and intimidating, but it doesn't mean they are right. As writers, we have to learn not to take them seriously and how to kick them to the curb so we can keep doing what we were put here to do.

1. Use the power of yet

I read a powerful post the other day called, “The Power of Yet”.

The core idea is to add the word “yet” to a negative thought.

Like this:

  • You might catch yourself saying, “I don’t know how to solve this plot problem.”
  • You can quickly add “yet”, to make it, “I don’t know how to solve this plot problem yet.”

Isn’t that interesting?

It takes a defeated “fixed” perspective and cranks it sideways to make room for possibility. And I'm a firm believer in the power of our subconscious minds to help us solve unsolved problems. A "yet" sets the stage for room to solve, grow, learn, discover. You may not know how yet :), but you will!

I love the power of this simple mindset strategy to change how you’re approaching your writing life.

  • "I’m not good at plotting."
  • "I’m not good at plotting yet."

Or

  • "I don’t write characters very well."
  • "I don’t write characters very well yet."

It’s an “I’m still learning” stake in the ground against the forces of darkness and negativity.

I love it!

2. See fear and doubt as familiar visitors you know how to handle

We all have a particular conversation that comes up when we're feeling the doubt and facing the fear head on. It sounds different for each person, though there are common threads.

You might hear things like:

  • "You're not good enough."
  • "This is too hard."
  • "You're unoriginal."
  • "I'm bored with this."
  • "I'm not cut out to handle this."
  • "You're doing it wrong."

The thing is, most of these comments come whizzing through our brains at lightning speed and kick us in the gut before we even know what happened. 

And then we're feeling bad, not believing in ourselves and our work, and pretty soon we're not writing for the day or even blocked. It's like, BAM, day over.

How to change it up

The way to change this whole pattern is to NOTICE it.

Notice what your particular conversation is.

Write it down. 

That's right. Put it on paper in black and white so you can really see it.

You might notice that's not even true!

You might also notice that you've been hearing those same thoughts over and over and over again.

No surprise there. It's your familiar visitor, one you've seen before (and one you will see again).

Why this even happens at all

Here's why this happens: When we take on a big dream through the auspices of a Big Damn Writing Project, the fearful, amygdala-driven part of our brains FREAKS OUT. "What? She's going to put herself out there like that? Is she crazy? We'll be ridiculed and exposed again, just like that time in second grade!! Oh no!!" And then the inner critic kicks into high gear, damage-control mode. "WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP", go the sirens. "RED ALERT! ALL SYSTEMS ON LOCKDOWN!"

That's what's going on behind those mean, horrible things you're saying to yourself. 

They are cleverly, evilly, insidiously designed to SHUT YOU DOWN so you don't "get hurt".

But big surprise, inner critic, you actually WANT to do this project. :)

So your job is to say, "Oh, hold on, I see that you're equating this project with that painful experience in high school when you had to speak in front of the entire class and everyone laughed at you in a way that felt like you were going to melt into a giant puddle of liquid shame-goo, but this isn't the same thing. I'm a grown up now, and I actually want to do this project. So I'm going to take care of you, and me, and I promise we'll be okay. We can do this thing."

3. Reframe your negative messages

One of the most powerful things we do on a daily basis in the Writer's Circle is to use our online journaling system to reframe the negative messages that show up each day.

The first step is to note what the negative message is.

For example: "I'm not fast enough."

The second step is to take a look at that message in all its black and white glory and ask yourself, "How can I reframe that with a more positive perspective?" You might even want to pretend your best friend came to you saying that about herself. What would you say to her?

It might be something like, "I'm writing as fast as I'm capable of right now, and I'll only get faster over time."

Isn't that a bit kinder?

You might even try "yet" here, though I'd probably change it to something like, "I'm not as fast as I want to be yet."

What's your inner conversation like?

Here's an invitation for you. If you're feeling brave, tell us a self-directed negative thought you're holding about yourself as a writer by posting it in the comments. Then see how you might be able to reframe it or add the word "yet" to change it. If you need help, just say so and I'll be your coach for the day.

And don't miss our Writer's Circle special for new writers in honor of NaNoWriMo for our session that starts on Monday. (No, you don't have to participate in NaNo to use the coupon!)

NaNoWriMo Writer's Circle special

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11 tips to jumpstart your writing habit

11 tips to jumpstart your writing habit

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

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

My personal favorite is #5. :)

 

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

by Rebecca Brams

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

1. Write longhand and keep my hand moving

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

2. Use a timer

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

3. Write before I’m awake

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

4. Bribe myself

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

5. Suffer the consequences

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

6. Write in an unusual place

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

7. Set a teeny tiny goal

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

8. Write a numbered list

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

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

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

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

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

11. Change my mindset

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

 

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

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

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Thanks for reading!

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

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

antique wooden wagon

Getting back on the writing wagon

Between being pregnant and having the flu shortly after my Design Your Writing Life class series and the holiday whirlwind, I found myself flat out not writing for much of January. As someone who pretty much always writes six days per week (with the exception of vacations), I was surprised that I actually couldn't write.

The flu this year is a particularly bad one, and I was in bed for two weeks straight, between fever, exhaustion, and a "bonus" sinus infection and massive headaches. And since my immune system is busy doing other things (like not attacking the baby), it's taken me an extra long time to get better, let alone "get back on the writing wagon". (And even longer to get back to blogging, which I've been missing.)

Here's the thing.

Even once you have a solid writing habit established, major life disruptions CAN come along and throw you off your game. And when that happens, what can you do about it? Resistance is a tricky, stealthy operator, and it can concoct all sorts of bizarre reasons and excuses not to start writing again.

So how do you tell the difference between being too tired to write and being "too tired" to write?

What I tell the writers in my Writer's Circle is this: The only person that can ever really know the answer to that is you.

And interestingly for me, that answer has been, "Yes."

In other words -- BOTH. I've been truly exhausted and unable to do much of anything other than feed myself, take care of my son, keep my business running, and do the minimum amount of work to keep participating in the classes I'm taking. But I have ALSO had days where I've been in a resistance pickle over not wanting to write -- not wanting to face the challenge, being afraid I won't be able to do the work "properly" (perfectionism alert!), and otherwise just avoiding the writing. Plus my regular writing routine (and schedule) have been disrupted by my desperate need for sleep and rest at weird hours. So it's all been tangled up together into one confusing lump of writing, exhaustion, angst, resistance, and not writing.

These kinds of situations can result from all sorts of things, like suddenly having a crushing deadline at work, losing a loved one, a relationship ending, losing a job, other major illnesses, pregnancy, birth, long vacations, etc. Major life transitions can wreak havoc with our regular patterns and we're suddenly back to square one -- having lost our writing habit and feeling resistance to getting back on track.

Getting back on track

So let's talk strategy -- how to get back on board:

1. Step One: Acknowledge what's going on.

Pay attention to the realities of the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs that are coming up for you. Also notice what's coming up on the writing front in terms of resistance. Are you avoiding it? Does it feel scary? There's no need for judgment here, just compassionate observation.

Acknowledging what's going on will help you make new choices about how to best support yourself through it.

2. Step Two: Coax yourself through the resistance.

If you've gotten off the writing track, there WILL be resistance. It's normal, it's nothing to worry about, and it can be hard to overcome. So coax yourself through it.

At times like this, I tell myself, "How about writing for just 15 minutes? I bet you can do just a little bit." And then once I get the ball rolling, I feel the tremendous sense of relief, accomplishment, and positive energy that I need to keep my writing habit going over time. (Actually writing instead of resisting is anxiety relieving. For more about why, see this article here.)

3. Step Three: Make an "ease back into it" plan.

One of the principles we use in the Writer's Circle is goal refinement. Start with what you think is an attainable writing goal for yourself, given all of the above in steps one and two. Then test it. If you achieve it, great! Do it again the next day. But if you find yourself NOT able to hit your target, make it smaller. Keep making the goal smaller until you KNOW you can and will do it. You can -- and will -- build back up to more writing time later on.

My choice was to start very simply, with morning pages. Once I had the minimum amount of energy I needed to actually get up more or less on time, I made a commitment to spend my first 20 waking minutes (approximately) writing in my notebook, stream of consciousness. It was a wonderful way to ease myself back into writing regularly.

4. Step Four: Begin building back up to your regular writing routine.

Then, over time, begin building your writing habit, schedule, and routine back up to where it was before you got off track. It's okay to make downward adjustments here too. For instance, if you were writing for two hours a day, but now you've been ill or had a major loss that you're dealing with, you may find that aiming that high just doesn't work anymore, at least not in the short term. So perhaps you'll aim for one hour now, and work up to it incrementally.

Before I got sick, I was writing between three to four hours a day. Over the last few weeks I've been hitting more like one consistently. I've also found that my normal six days a week schedule just isn't working for me, and I'm needing to cut it down to five days a week. Starting this week, I'm working on ramping back up to two hours a day. And I'm being extra gentle with myself about it. Aiming for it, but not self-flagellating if I don't make it.

5. Step Five: If you can, get support.

Having people around you who believe in you and support your writing is a powerful tool to get back on track as well. I'm so grateful to have my Writer's Circle group members cheering me on, each and every day, helping me observe my writing choices and keep my writing top-of-mind, even when the going gets tough. I also have my screenwriting pals to commiserate and celebrate with in equal measure. It helps to have people who "get it" -- how hard it is, how much joy it brings, and how much it means to us. So surround yourself with people who can help you keep the dream in focus, even when you've lost your way.

Thanks for reading!

I always love to hear what you think in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

Writing support from the Writer's Circle

If you're a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer's Circle, which starts soon! You'll be surrounded by other writers who are serious about making their writing happen over the short term and the long haul. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

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tug-of-war

How to tell if you are a writer, or not

I've seen a number of debates and blog posts and flow charts on the internet over the last few months about how to tell if you are a "real" writer or not. This is something people struggle a lot with when it comes to their creative identity.

The bottom line of these conversations is this: Writers write. If you're a writer, you're writing. And, if you're paid to write, you're a professional writer.

As a general rule, I agree with these notions.

However!

And this is a big however: I believe these ideas are doing a grave disservice to people who WANT to write but haven't found their way to it yet. And to the writers who have written -- but for whatever the reason -- aren't writing right now.

It's pretty discouraging.

As a coach, I hate to see discouragement happening out there in the world.

I hate to think of all the people NOT writing right now because they've bought into this notion that since they're not writing YET, they must not be writers -- at least not in the core sense of who they are and who they can become.

Even one of my writing idols, Joss Whedon, practically undid me when he said, "You either have to write or you shouldn't be writing." Since I wasn't writing "enough" at the time, I thought, "Wait, does this mean I'm not a writer? Or that I can't be a writer?"

So there are all these intense messages out there in the world telling you that you're not a writer if you're not writing. And okay, again, I see the point.

But, what if:

  • You have a massive amount of fear and resistance about writing, even though you've always dreamed about writing, and you don't know how to deal with it.
  • You're stuck with your project and you don't know where to go next.
  • You're blocked, you can't pick a project to focus on, or you're paralyzed by performance anxiety or perfectionism.
  • You've just suffered a major loss of a loved one or gone through a horrific breakup and you're in the throes of grief, and you can't find your way back to the page.
  • You're caught up in the myths about writing (like not having enough time or money so you think you can't write).
  • You haven't yet built your writing habit skills, and you're writing irregularly or inconsistently at best.
  • You've bought into the belief that you have to be naturally talented to be a writer so you aren't even giving yourself a chance.
  • You believe you need more training or skills before you can write.

In my opinion, you are still a writer -- at your core -- even under these conditions. Yes, a writer who needs support, discipline, and structure to help get back on track. But still a writer. It means you are a writer who needs a jump start, or maybe a little coaxing to come out of your cocoon and into the world.

The thing is, if you're called to write, you must write. And if you're buying into this story, "I guess I'm not a writer because I'm not writing", you will NEVER write. That's not okay with me. I believe that our souls speak to us about what we are meant to be doing -- they know WHO WE ARE at a deep level. And so even if you haven't CLAIMED that dream yet, it's still yours for the taking.

So let's help you claim that dream and start writing. It's your soul calling to you, after all.

Thanks for reading!

I always love to hear what you think in the comments.

A quick heads up that if you want a jump start to get you writing, I'd love to help. My Writing Reboot sessions are just the ticket. But don't get one now because they'll be in my annual birthday sale this weekend at a ridiculous savings.

Or, you might also be interested in my Writer's Circle to you help build a regular habit and get the support of other writers to keep on writing. The last day to register is tomorrow, Wednesday, November 27. We'd love to have you join us.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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chair

Get your ‘But’ in the seat and write

One of my all time favorite quotes about writing comes from Steven Pressfield, author of what has become my bible for writing, The War of Art*. In it, he says:

"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance."

As a writing habit and motivation coach, I work with writers all over the world who face and tackle this resistance every single day as they struggle to sit down to write. Very often that resistance takes the form of the word "But".

  • But I don't have enough time.
  • But I don't have enough training.
  • But I don't know what to write.
  • But I'm not inspired.
  • But I'm not a good enough writer.
  • But I'm not in the right mood.
  • But I need to take care of all these other tasks first.
  • But I'm not making enough money yet to justify taking time to write.
  • But I don't have a laptop.
  • But I'm tired, I didn't get enough sleep last night.
  • But I'm too busy.
  • But my day job takes up too much of my time.
  • But I don't have a private space.
  • But my kids will interrupt me.
  • But my mom might call and need me.
  • But I'm bored with this project.
  • But I can't decide which project to start with.
  • But I'm stuck.
  • But I have writer's block.
  • But if I was a real writer, it would come easily to me.
  • But I have to deal with this crisis/emergency/major life issue first.

Guess what?

All these Buts are just stories. They are coming up for a deeper reason.

The deeper reason is fear.

Fear is what truly stops us from writing. The Buts are just the surface level rationalizations for fear. They are convenient excuses to keep your butt out of your chair and doing other things so you don't have to face the discomfort of taking on your dream.

Pressfield also says:

"Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work."

It turns out that actually DOING the writing is fairly easy. Most of the writers I work with find that once they are actually putting words on the page, they forget about the inner struggle and just do the work. In the Writer's Circle we run five weekly group writing sprints to help our writers overcome the resistance to sitting down to write (and to curtail the sense of isolation). My other favorite trick is to write first thing in the morning with a timer running. Pushing the start button gives me a "GO" that gets me into gear even when the Buts are loud and pernicious.

The thing to notice here is that fear is a beacon. It guides you exactly where you need to and even want to go, though you may not be aware of that wanting yet. The thing is, if it wasn't a big, big dream, you wouldn't be afraid of it.

No, I'm not talking here about naturally protective fear that keeps you safe from lions, tigers, and bears -- that's GOOD fear -- I'm talking about the kind of fear that's a holdover from when you were a kid, the kind that's trying to keep you safe from any kind of personal humiliation or risk. This is also the kind of fear that's keeping you "safe" from achieving your dreams.

I didn't quite mean for this to become an ode to Steven Pressfield, but he has so much genius on this subject I can't help sharing a few more of my favorite quotes from him about fear:

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."

And:

"Figure out what scares you the most and do that first."

So it's time.

It's time to stop listening to the Buts, the fears, the doubts, and the rationalizations. It's time to site down and do the work, to coax yourself through the fear with lots of support and promises of rewards, to feed your own well of creative inspiration so you feel consistently nourished and ready to write, and to learn whatever you need to learn so you feel equipped to do the writing. But above all else, it's time to write.

Build the habit to overcome your own resistance

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer struggling to overcome your writing resistance, join the next session of our Writer’s Circle. We’ll help you build a regular, consistent habit of writing so the battle to overcome resistance each day gets easier. Plus, you’ll have a great community of support, working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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terri-banner

It’s never too late to finish your book now

TerriMany people have unfinished writing projects that linger for years, but it's never too late to finish your book. And the time to get restarted might just be now.

I reached out to Terri Fedonczak, a long time Writer's Circle member, to talk to us about her experience finishing a long-time writing project after 15 years of dreaming and what that's been like for her. Terri has been such a great participant and gotten so much out of the Writer's Circle that I recently invited her to join us as a coach for one of our coaching groups on the site.

Read on to find out about Terri's extremely inspiring project for parents (I've seen a preview and it's terrific!) and how she conquered her writer's isolation and resistance with the help of the Circle and saw her book all the way through to done.

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Terri, welcome and thanks for being here. First, let's talk about your accomplishment -- finishing your parenting book! What was that like for you?

Thanks for having me, Jenna! When I finished my first draft, it was the culmination of a dream I have had for fifteen years. I remember telling my niece about how I wanted to write a parenting book and discussing topics with her; this was in 1996. When I actually finished my first draft, I thought there would be angels singing . . . not so much! What I didn’t realize was the time involved in the editing process -- there's always more!

How long had you been working on the book prior to joining the Circle?

I spent fifteen years working on the first draft, but I had been jotting down ideas in my journal for ten years before that. In the ensuing years, I wrote little snippets in journals and spoke ideas into my portable tape recorder.

You actually finished a rough draft of the book after you first joined the Circle in 2011, is that right?

Yes, my first session of the Writer’s Circle was spent culling all the bits and recordings into a little 60 page book.

Then what happened that led you to completing this new draft?

I interviewed three different editors, and picked Darla Bruno. She read through my first draft and suggested that the book wanted to be more. I hadn’t put my life into the book or any coaching tools. So, I took the challenge and spent the next year or so rewriting it. The completed book is 214 pages, and it’s everything I envisioned back in 1996!

What can you tell us about yourself and about the focus of the book?

I'm the mother of four daughters: three biological and one bonus girl that came to live with us in 2010. I'm a breast cancer survivor; I mention it, because it changed the course of my life. I left my fifteen-year commercial real estate practice to become a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, writer, and speaker. Breast cancer changed my priorities completely; the threat of losing my life awakened me to the importance of living my right life.

The title of the book is Field Guide to Plugged-in Parenting, Even if You Were Raised by Wolves. It answers the question of how to be a good parent if you have no role models -- you know you don't want to replay your childhood, but you are lost as to an alternative. It's a compilation of all the parenting and coaching tools I have used successfully with my kids, with some humor thrown in to lighten the load. I walk you through a process to create your own parenting plan, so that your kids will be starting with an infinitely better foundation, thereby ending the wolf-baby cycle forever. Wolf babies is a term I coined to describe those of us who were raised by wolves and suffer from lack-based thinking as a result.

How did you find out about the Circle and what inspired you to join us?

Jill Winski was in my life coach training class, and she put out an ad for the Circle on our Facebook page. I saw it and knew that I needed help with making my book a reality. It felt like divine guidance . . . and it was.

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I’ve learned that there is no magic pill, place, or instrument that delivers a quality product. All it takes is complete honesty, utter vulnerability, and a daily practice of showing up to the page . . . no big whoop!

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed? What's different now about your writing habit?

I think the biggest challenge I faced was the feeling that I was all alone in my desire to write a book. I knew I had an important message, I just didn’t understand how to deliver it. With the Circle for support and accountability, my biggest challenge now is the acceptance that I am a writer. It’s not a fluke or a pipe-dream; I wrote a book, ipso facto, I’m a writer! The biggest difference in my writing habit is that I’m no longer plagued with resistance, so I write every day. Some days it’s just 20 minutes of morning pages in my journal, and some days it’s three hours working on a blog post or outline for the new book . . . but I write every day.

What advice do you have for other writers?

First of all, join the Writer’s Circle! It’s the best way to incorporate writing into your daily life. Secondly, write every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes in your journal. While your logical mind is busy watching your hand move across the paper, the most delightful tidbits will rise up from your creative mind. When one pops up that excites you, expand it . . . like you're telling your favorite friend a story. You don’t need anything other than a pen, paper, and a bit of quiet time to awaken your creative side . . . and then you’re off to the races!

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m developing a program that I will be delivering to incoming 9th grade girls called, “Field Guide to the Wilds of High School.” I developed the program while on safari in Africa (jeesh, that sounds so hoity-toity), and it’s based on the power of the pride. I watched the way the lionesses took care of the pride, and how their raw feminine power ran their world. It reminded me of what’s missing in Girl World. So I’m taking the program into schools this summer, and then I will turn the results into a book for teens and a corresponding book for parents on how to survive high school.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I believe that everyone has a creative person living within them, and that creative energy can turn drudgery into joy. Find some way to nurture your creative side, and your life will blossom in endless and unexpected ways…or at least that’s what happened to me.

About Terri

Terri2Terri Fedonczak has 22 years of parenting experience and is a certified life coach, specializing in parent and teen coaching. After 16 years as a commercial real estate agent, a bout with breast cancer transformed Terri’s life in 2010, making her realize that time with her four girls and patient husband was a much better deal than money and status. It was time to put her mission into action. She left sales and embarked on a journey of spreading the message of girl power for good. When Terri is not writing books, speaking, coaching, or blogging, you can find her paddle boarding on the sparkling waters of Boggy Bayou, knitting to the consternation of her children, who are buried in scarves and hats, or dancing in her kitchen to Motown.

You can follow Terri online at http://alifeinbalance.com and on Facebook here. Look for Terri's Field Guide to be published in January 2014!

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> Saturday, October 26th and Sunday, October 27th. Come to Berkeley for a live two-day workshop on "Rapid Story Development: 7 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller" co-hosted by the Writer's Circle and Jeff Lyons of Storygeeks. Learn a story development method that transcends standard structure paradigms using the Enneagram. Register here: http://RapidStoryDevelopment.com.

~> Thursday, October 31, 4 p.m. Pacific Time -- I'll be a guest speaker for the Group Coaching MegaSummit, hosted by one of my mentors, Gina Hiatt. (The whole summit runs from Monday, October 28th to Friday, November 1st.) I'll be talking about how my Writer's Circle works as a group coaching model and my past experiences doing group coaching. http://tinyurl.com/GCSJA*

~> Thursday, October 31st, Last day to register for the Writer's Circle. Register by October 31st for the next session of my Writer's Circle (starts November 4th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

~> Friday, November 8, 10 to 11:30 a.m., an in-person workshop in Berkeley at Mothership HackerMoms. "Design Your Writing Life as a Mom." I'll share some parent-specific strategies for finding time to write. All writers, including mothers and fathers, are welcome to attend this workshop. https://www.eventbrite.com/event/8604565487.

 

What I'm Up To

~> Writing. Daily writing on various projects. Primarily LUMINAL, a supernatural thriller based on a true story. Follow the project on Facebook here, and on Twitter here (and be sure to let them know I sent you. :) ).

~> Learning. Continuing to study with Corey Mandell and ScreenwritingU.

~> Reading. Still reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success* by Carol Dweck.

 

Thanks for reading.

* Affiliate link

 

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Ask Jenna: How can I stay more focused on my writing?

I received some great questions from one of our Writer’s Circle members the other day about staying focused on writing, and she gave me permission to answer them here.
 

The Question

First, here’s her question:
[I’d love some] tips for getting more focused when I’m writing. Several factors are at play, I’m sure, but probably the biggest ones are:
 
1. Internet Addiction. It’s a bad habit, but I am constantly checking for new email messages. Need to shut off the interwebz while I’m working, but I find that even if I do that I still find other ways to distract myself (getting up for water, making lists of other things I need to do, etc.)
 
2. Resistance. The usual. It’s easy to be excited and loose with my ideas when I’m not facing the keyboard, but as soon as I say it’s time to work I freeze up, get distracted.
 
Any tricks for combating these issues?
 
I feel like it’s just a matter of discipline, but even knowing that I still haven’t been able to make better habits. And, even more frustrating, it’s only when I’m working on my own projects — the things I should be MOST excited to have time for. If I’m writing for someone else (with a deadline, for money) then it’s not a problem because it’s just a task to cross off my list, so I do it.”

The Answer

Here’s my answer:
 
First, great questions, thank you. Second, here are some thoughts to get you started with this shifting all this:
 
  • For the internet: Experiment with being super ruthless about the rules (for now) about what you’re allowed to do or not. For example, turn off the internet connection while writing, close the email program, maybe even try the app Freedom to block access to all internet related stuff for a specific chunk of time.
  • Pay attention to all the things you distract yourself with and figure out a system for them so they can’t distract you. This is what I call “You-proofing your writing” (more on this in a future article). Don’t see these “distractions” as failures, but as parts of the puzzle to refine. Examples:
  1. If you typically find yourself getting up for water in the middle of a writing session, design a new routine to get a glass of water before you sit down to write. I keep a bottle of water next to all my writing spaces so can I refill my glass easily.
  2. For to do lists, consider a 5 minute purge of everything on your mind before you start working. Or keep a pad of paper close at hand so you can quickly jot things down and then get back to writing. I like to use the app “Things” to track my ideas and to dos, so I pop into that program and put things on the list if they nag at me while I’m writing. Yes, it’s better not to break concentration. But if it’s keeping me from focusing because I’m afraid I’ll forget it, it’s worth it to me to take a moment to get it down.
  3. Other distractions might include taking phone calls (turn off the phone if you can or have caller ID so you can see if it’s your kid’s school calling), having a messy desk (dump everything in a box!), people dropping by (put a sign on the door that says “Do Not Disturb”), etc. Think about the possibilities, notice when they come up, and see what you can do to anticipate them.
  • Be mindful of the distractions on an emotional level. For example, if email is your downfall, think about why you’re called to it. Are you looking for something in particular? I find that when I’m feeling vulnerable, I’m more likely to turn to email as if I can find solace there. It doesn’t work, and it’s worth seeing that I have an unfulfilled need so I can seek fulfillment for it elsewhere in its proper place. Or notice that you want to get up and get water right when you’re reaching a hard part of the project. How can you support yourself through that moment rather than turning away from it?
  • Understand your resistance: On a similar note, we “freeze up” because we get into flight/fight/freeze mode when tackle our own projects because our projects MATTER to us on a deep level. Being AWARE that distractions and things like finding it easier to work on other people’s projects are all part of the normal fears that come up about writing can make it easier to stick with it and navigate it, using things like:
  1. Setting super small goals so you can more easily talk yourself into doing them, e.g. 15 minutes. Then stick to it. You can increase the time the next day and beyond, but the idea is to create the habit around a strengthened comfort level first. So it might be slower at first but it will pay off over time. It’s a bit like building muscles up over time.
  2. Using a timer to help keep you focused for the duration of your writing session goal. I find I’m much less likely to get up or do other things while I have a timer running. It might seem silly or weird but it’s worth experimenting with.
  3. Talking or coaxing yourself through it. When you notice yourself getting distracted or feeling stuck, tell yourself, “Okay, this is just fear coming up. I know how to do this. It’s just putting one word on the page after the other, and I can even change it later if I don’t like what comes out. Just one word after the other.” Or something like that. Acknowledging the fear really helps. Discipline doesn’t help here as much as self-compassion does.

Your turn

Do you have a question? Submit through my contact form here and I’ll do my best to answer you on the blog.

Also, what do you notice about your typical distraction patterns? Post them in the comments and I’ll toss out some system strategies for you too!

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

Ask Jenna: Isn’t reading a “real” book more important than writing my own?

I received an intriguing question from a reader the other day and asked for his permission to share my response on my blog. Who knows, “Ask Jenna” may become a “thing”! If you have a question you’d like to ask for the blog, feel free to submit it to my team via our contact form and I’ll put it into the hopper.

Here goes:

Ask Jenna: Isn’t reading a “real” book more important than writing my own?

Hi Jenna,

I just bought and watched your “10 Practical Tips for More Consistent, Productive Writing,” and since I was way too late to pose a question, I’ll ask it now.

In response to the question about what interferes with my writing, my first thought was, “Reading!”

Writers need to read; I know that.

But I love reading; I usually have 5 or 6 books going at once because I can’t wait to finish one before I start another. My list grows faster than I can keep up with it.

But it also interferes with my writing. It always seems to me that a “real” book is more important, more worth my time, than my own work-in-progress which may never appear outside my critique group.

How do I overcome THIS negative thought?

~ Michael

diamonds2

Dear Michael,

That’s a great question — and you’ve also raised a good point. Writers do benefit tremendously from reading (I have a big stack of books I’m reading through myself!) — it’s a critical part of learning about writing. But so is actually putting words on the page and struggling through the process of laboring over our own work.

Part of what I hear in your question is the notion that other people’s writing has more value than your own. Why is that? Yes, as a society we have agreed that published works are generally more of an accomplishment than unpublished works, and yet we’ve all heard tales of languishing but high caliber projects that one day get discovered.

But even underneath that, I suspect, lurks a deeper truth or deeper fear. And it reads to me like a combination of fear and self-doubt. The self-doubt is more obvious, “What if my project never lives up to the quality of this one?” and “What if this is never published, i.e. what’s the point of even working on it when there’s no guarantee of it appearing outside my critique group?”

When we ask ourselves questions like this, our subconscious minds love to get busy answering them and providing evidence that they are likely to come true. “See, there’s someone else’s project, it’s so much better than mine. And there’s another one,” and so on. Or in the case of the second question, it’s, “That’s right, I’ll never get anywhere. I heard that so-and-so never got their book published after years of working on it.”

We have to learn to ask better questions.

Here’s the thing. If we want better answers, we have to learn to ask better questions, like “How can I raise the bar on this project to get to the level of quality I want to see?” Or, “I wonder how I can increase the chances of this book being published?”

Then we start getting new, better answers and evidence.

We have to believe in our own value.

Just because you haven’t yet published a book doesn’t mean you don’t have something of value to say. In fact, your readers are waiting for your work and on some level, they’re suffering for the lack of it right now. It may take a while for you to clear the greasy sludge out of the writing gears and get going, but that’s all part of the process and completely normal.

I have a strong belief that if you’re called to write, you have something to say that’s important to get out there, even if you aren’t 100% clear on what it is yet. And it’s important to note that figuring it out happens through the writing of it, not the other way around.

We have to remember the practice of writing has intrinsic value.

Writing, as a practice, not an only an outcome, has its own intrinsic value. Writing teaches us how to write. Writing teaches how to live. Struggling to make it through the mid-point of a project, pressing on to the bitter end, seeing it through to completion — these are life skills that have lasting value. Through writing we learn that we do have what it takes to finish a project. We learn to trust ourselves. We find our voices and make them stronger, and clearer. We learn how far we’re willing to go into the depths of our work and what we can bring out of it. And we learn to go deeper, even when we’re afraid.

We have to learn to write through the fear.

And yes, let’s talk about the fear. Because underneath most reasons for why we can’t write is fear. Whether it looks like indecision about picking a project, boredom just when we get to the end, confusion when we struggle through the midpoint, or other books to read that are so much more enticing, usually what’s going on is that deep down, we are afraid to commit, afraid we’ll get it “wrong”, and afraid to face the demons and doubts that will come up along the way.

Writing is a tricky business. Our inner critics will do everything and anything they can to sabotage us at every step of the game — start to finish, beginning to end, and everywhere in between.

The answer?

Don’t listen.

It doesn’t matter what it’s saying, that voice of fear, but if it’s stopping you from writing, say, “Thank you for sharing” and get back to doing the work.

Let’s not stop here.

Because I always like to tackle the deeper underlying stuff AND integrate it with real, practical, take-action steps, here is something very simple and practical you can do to honor your love for reading and use it to help you get your writing done too:

  1. Designate a time for writing and a time for reading. Writing first, then reading.
  2. Make reading your reward for doing the writing.
  3. Rinse and repeat: Do it again the next day.

Your turn

What does this spark for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

Thanks for reading.
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

 

 

Paper shades

The biggest summer writing stumbling block

This week I taught a class called “Get Ready For Summer Writing” with an eye toward looking ahead to the summer and getting a writing plan in place to deal with the various obstacles and opportunities that arise around the summer time, like the kids being home, schedules changing, more traveling and vacations coming, and dealing with weather changes like it being unbearably hot (or suffering through the summer fog here in the Bay Area!).

(If you missed the live class, you can check out the recording by signing up here.)

We walked through a planning exercise to give some thought to where we want to be at the end of the summer and how we’re going to get there in terms of words or pages per day over the specific duration of the summer.

I also shared some tips, tricks, and strategies to keep writing during the summer, deal with the challenges, AND have the summer fun we’re all longing for.

The biggest stumbling block

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when it comes to summer writing (or writing at any time, for that matter) is taking an all-or-nothing approach. Many people think that if they want to travel or be outside or take care of kids or even deal with major life transitions, that means they can’t write.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The key is being willing to adjust your writing goals to match to your circumstances, not give up writing altogether.

Binge versus balance

While I know that some writers have a tendency to binge-write (and some people even advocate for it!), I remain highly skeptical of its sustainability in the long term, particularly for more sensitive types. I put in an extra effort a few weeks ago to get my script to my mentor in anticipation of submitting to a contest today (gulp) and even that extra effort set me back a bit.

It’s all a system of checks and balances, and while there are people who will tell you that balance is a myth, to that I say, are they highly sensitive or introverted types who need careful energy management? And are they finding themselves settling into long term burnout? I’ve talked with more than a few writers who feel burned by their own efforts, have started to feel like they hate writing, and even question why they’re doing it in the first place. Why wouldn’t they, when they’ve committed (consciously or unconsciously) to a program of writing aversion therapy?

Try small doses of daily writing instead

Instead, I like to see people writing in a long term sustainable pattern, including taking regular days off (I’m not a fan of “don’t break the chain“). It’s easier to maintain in the long haul, and helps keep your momentum and ideas flowing.

So if you’re looking ahead to the summer and asking yourself how you’ll get your writing done AND do the other things you’ve got your eye on, give some thought to a highly achievable small increment of writing you can commit to on a small scale. Even five to fifteen minutes a day will keep you in touch with your project and keep you moving forward. I’ve seen more than a few writers in my Writer’s Circle move to completion with projects again and again, using just small increments of time and showing up regularly to do the work.

You can do it too.

Your turn

What’s your biggest summer writing stumbling block? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

If you want more on this subject, make sure you check out my free teleclass recording, “Get Ready For Summer Writing“.

You may also be interested in my article on “Thinking ahead to summer writing“.

Join the Writer’s Circle

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’d like to experiment with writing in small increments of time, get a solid writing habit in place, and stay on track with your writing this summer, join the Writer’s Circle. The next session starts soon! Go here to register and find out more: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Mother's Hand Feeding Food to a Young Girl (13-14) Who Is Making a Face

Fighting writing resistance

One of the greatest bugaboos of writers (and creatives of all sorts) is resistance.

Ah, resistance.

Resistance is that unseen force that repels us from writing (or eating our vegetables or doing other good things we know will move us forward in our lives). We’ve talked about resistance here before, including why we procrastinate, especially about the stuff that really matters.

In my Writer’s Circle group we often talk about the ways to face and battle resistance — it’s something that must be overcome pretty much every day, in order to sit down to write. (Or floss. Or exercise. Or take your vitamins. Or keep your resolutions.)

One of the very best antidotes to resistance is creating a solid writing habit. (Just like a habit of going to the gym makes is so much easier to keep going.) Once you’ve got the habit in place, you stop thinking about it, and you just do the work.

But resistance is tricky!

One of our Writer’s Circle writers mentioned the insidious nature of resistance, and how sneaky it is. I was instantly reminded of a story that illustrates resistance all too well and posted it on our forums for our participants. I thought you might like to see it too.

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In one of my favorite fantasy books, Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (part of his excellent series, The Tales of Alvin Maker), there’s a scene that I think describes how resistance operates very well. Keep in mind that it operates in a positive way in this story, at least from the protagonist’s point of view, but from the antagonist’s point of view, it thwarts him to no end.

Here’s the scene:

Alvin is a young boy with innate magic abilities, a force for good in the world, and a natural “Maker” — someone with a knack or talent for making things. Reverend Thrower, the local preacher deeply opposed to the folk magic Alvin practices in his community, has been instructed to kill Alvin by the “Unmaker.” When Alvin is injured, Thrower is asked to perform a surgery on Alvin’s leg, and Thrower sees his chance. He goes into the room where Alvin is resting to do the surgery with a knife and bone saw, with the intent to kill Alvin with the tools.

But when he gets into the room, he realizes that he’s left the tools outside the room. So he goes to get them. And then goes back into the room. And realizes that he’s left the knife and saw outside. Again. And then it happens again, even with other people trying to go and bring the tools into the room. Somehow this force of resistance simply will not allow Thrower, the knife, and the saw to be simultaneously in the room in Alvin’s presence. And it keeps happening, endlessly, until somehow Reverend Thrower finds himself a half-mile away from the house, walking away from it.

diamonds2

Now again, I realize, this is a positive kind of resistance, because it’s a benevolent force protecting Alvin’s life from Thrower.

But at the same time, I have always been mesmerized by the notion of this man who is so determined to do something, but an unseen force acts against him repeatedly, despite the strength of his intention and will.

This is how I see resistance to writing. An unseen force that will do whatever it can, trick us however it may, into “staying out of the room” or not sitting down to write, as if somehow butts in seats and fingers on keyboards are mutually repellant forces.

Vigilance is required.

The force of resistance must be met anew every single day.

This is why I keep writing every day, pretty much, and doing it early, because it’s SO MUCH EASIER than having to think about it and wrestle my way through the mountain of resistance and procrastination and guilt and shame that comes up when I wait to do it later in the day.

Everyone I talk to about how I get up to write early thinks I’m so disciplined and determined, and it’s true in some ways, I am.

But — think what you will — to me it feels like I am taking the easy way out. I know that sounds crazy. But I feel it inside me, that writing early, having that regular habit, actually makes it easier to keep doing it than it is to stop, and so much of the daily struggle over when I will write or will I write or how long am I waiting to write, etc., it’s just gone.

Gone.

Your turn

I’d love to hear from you. How does resistance show up for you? What are your best tricks to sneak past it?

Build the habit to overcome your own resistance

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer struggling to overcome your writing resistance, join the next session of our Writer’s Circle. We’ll help you build a regular, consistent habit of writing so the battle to overcome resistance each day gets easier. Plus, you’ll have a great community of support, working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Warmly,

 Jenna