Race to the finish

On Finishing (and Perfectionism!): A Review of Jon Acuff’s Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of DoneI’ve just finished reading Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done* by Jon Acuff. It’s a delightfully irreverent book packed with useful insights — sometimes counterintuitive — about how and why we stop ourselves from finishing (hint: perfectionism is the root cause).

It’s been a particularly fun read right now for three reasons.

First, I’ve been reading it alongside several of my Circle members and we’ve been discussing it on our online site. I have a feeling we’ll be doing this again. It’s a mini online book club. Yay!

Second, I’m just about to lead the goal setting call for the Deep Dive Writing Intensive I’m running (we start writing next week!) so I’m looking forward to incorporating some of Acuff’s principles into our goal setting work. And since the Deep Dive Writing Intensive is designed to help people finish (or make major progress in that direction), it’s particularly apropos.

Third, I know I’m a recovering perfectionist. Or at least a perfectionist who’s trying to recover. (The first step is admitting you have a problem!) So this book was useful on both professional and personal fronts.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

  1. The “day after perfect” is the make-or-break day. Acuff says the “day after perfect” often turns up as soon as day two of pursuing a goal. I see this happening with writers who put in a big burst of enthusiastic writing for their first day out (sometimes later), then crash and burn the next day by going into massive writing aversion and avoidance the next day… which can lead to despair and giving up. I much prefer to see writers pacing themselves for the long haul. Acuff makes the point that we have to focus on “moving forward imperfectly” and “trying again… today, tomorrow, or next week.” I’ve always been a fan of “starting over tomorrow,” whenever I get off track with my goals so I’m right there with him.
  2. There’s a difference between commitments and distractions. Acuff makes a useful distinction between the things we’re committed to doing, like our day jobs and our kids, as our commitments, and things like Netflix — and those side projects you turn to when it’s time to write — as distractions. See how simple that is? I found this useful for reinforcing what I do when I write out my Three Big Rocks list, which is to focus on the key things I want to accomplish for my goals that day. I don’t include my standing commitments (taking care of my kids and exercising, for example), because I think of them as “givens,” but prioritize the three major commitments I’m making for the day.
  3. You can look for your own sweet spot with rewards or penalties (or both) when it comes to goal setting. Acuff says, “make it fun if you want it done,” and recommends establishing a reward or a penalty for your goal. I’m more motivated by rewards than punishment, but his writing had me think more about deciding on really fun rewards, and deciding on them in advance. I’m particularly thinking about how I can do this on the daily and weekly scale (one example he gave was how author Sammy Rhoades would reward himself with a Friday afternoon movie for meeting his writing goals, which sounds right up my alley).
  4. Pay attention to where you “hide” from your goals. Acuff describes both “hiding places” — where we go to avoid our goals — and “noble obstacles” — the clever schemes we design to make it so we can’t possibly focus on our goals because we’re serving some higher purpose. I’ve seen so many writers over the years come up with the most fascinating and suddenly highly important non-writing or OTHER writing projects than they originally come into our programs with. This is really worth paying attention to and short-circuiting.
  5. Put your new idea at the finish line for your current one. If you tend to come up with a new idea that’s much more appealing than your current project the minute you start (in the coaching world, we call these Bright Shiny Objects), Acuff recommends making the new idea the project you “get to” work on when you finish your current one. With writing, I recommend what I call a “Project Queue” (tips on how to do this with writing projects are in my free guide, “How to Choose Your (Next) Book“). The core idea is to promise to work on the new idea next. In a sense it even becomes a reward for getting to the end of the current one. Yay!
  6. Aim a little lower with your goal setting. Acuff recommends cutting our goals in half, either by cutting the quantity or output in two, or by doubling the amount of time we give ourselves. This is because most of us are entirely unrealistic about how we set our goals. I’ve personally been setting fewer and fewer goals over the last few years, after seeing myself being unable to attain the multiple, too-fast-paced goals I was aiming for, and I can see right now from checking my 2018 goals list that I may have a bit more tweaking to do after reading Finish, especially after the hard start to the year I’ve had. 
  7. The “day before done” is another place many of us go astray. I’ve witnessed this in my own writing, suddenly becoming apathetic toward a screenplay, telling myself I’ve just lost interest in the story. Acuff identifies three primary fears triggered by a looming finish, including a fear of what happens next (Amazon reviews!), a fear it won’t be perfect, and a fear of “what now?” The key, he says, is addressing these fears with a combination of trusting yourself to figure it out and being open to seeing what happens.

More my favorites in this book are the “secret rules” we use to sabotage ourselves (“If I lose all this weight, then I’ll have to go dancing/be looked at/feel more vulnerable”), choosing what to “bomb” (where you’re strategically choosing to suck at something in order to prioritize your goal), using data to track your goals and “celebrate your imperfect progress,” and many more.

While there were times I wasn’t 100% sure if I thought Acuff was actually writing about resistance and not so much about perfectionism (which I consider to be a subcategory of resistance), I loved what he shared and he has stirred some useful thinking and insight for all of us who have read it. 

Highly recommended. 

* This is an Amazon affiliate link, which means Called to Write will earn a small commission if you purchase the book after clicking on this link, for which we are greatly appreciative!
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash
Working hard

Is It Time for a Big Burst of Progress on Your Book?

There are many stages of writing.

There are the practical stages — inspiration, idea, concept, development, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and proofing.

There are the emotional stages of a writing project — from eureka! to discouragement to resolve to despair to euphoria to apathy to completion. It’s an up and down journey sure to delight the most ardent theme park enthusiasts. Or not.

There are also a set of career stages in a writer’s life. We might experience them as a progression as we evolve from feeling the call to write to treating it the way a professional does, or we might move in and out of these states along the path to writerdom.

For example:

  • Wanting to write but not writing.
  • Writing occasionally, ephemerally, but not quite getting anywhere. 
  • Binge writing in a big burst of enthusiasm, to meet a deadline, or in a NaNoWriMo-fueled burst, but then crashing into writing aversion/burnout for a long period of time, maybe even months or years. 
  • Writing regularly and consistently, but maybe not as productively as you’d like to be, possibly struggling with creative blocks along the way.
  • Writing like a pro.

Before you hit the pro stage (and sometimes even then), these stages can be sometimes more fulfilling than others, depending on where you are in your writing career. 

For example, if you’ve been wanting to write forever, and you’re finally writing every day, even for just a few minutes day, that’s a huge win. On the other hand, if you’ve been plodding away at a draft, day in and day out, and feeling like you’re never getting anywhere, it might be time for a push with your writing.

I generally work with writers in my Called to Write Coaching Circle who want to go from not writing to writing. From writing sporadically and inconsistently, to writing daily. (Or as one of our writers put it, writers who want to go from whining to writing. LOVE that.) 

In the Deep Dive Writing Intensives I run, I work with writers who are ready for more. They might have the daily writing thing down, but want to put in a focused burst of work on their books or screenplays. This usually happens when they have a goal they’re trying to reach and want a boost of progress to get there. 

Here are some examples of times you might be ready for a big push with your book or script.  

Signs You Might Be Ready to Go for a Push with Your Writing

  • You’re willing and able to carve out the time and space in your life for an ultra-focused period of writing. This means being willing to clear your schedule of any and all extraneous commitments and otherwise scaling back where you can (stockpile your freezer now!) to make it easy on yourself. 
  • You have a story idea you want to develop or outline and want to (need to!) carve out some time to do it. Putting in a few weeks of intense attention can get you to the finally “ready to write pages” stage and feel incredibly satisfying. 
  • You’re writing, but you’re stuck in a rut or feeling complacent about your work and your progress. There’s nothing like doing a big push on your book or script to get you out of your comfort zone and operating at a higher level of productivity. You’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep writing once you get to the other side of a focused burst of writing so you don’t crash and burn afterward.
  • You’ve done all the prep work for a new project but you’re hesitating and holding back from diving into the actual writing. If you’re sitting on the edge of the pool, scared to even dip in a toe, now might be exactly the right time to take the plunge. It can be easier to face all the resistance in one go, especially if you find a way to write alongside other writers to help support you.
  • You’re in the middle of writing a book or a big rewrite and you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The dreaded middle of any stage of book is called the dreaded middle for many reasons, including that it’s just plain hard to get through. Remember — when you’re going through hell, keep going. This is a good time to put on a burst of speed, keep your head down, and keep working. 
  • You’re staring down a deadline and procrastinating or struggling to pace yourself and you want to avoid the binge-burnout cycle you’re setting yourself up for. Many writers (especially those dealing with second novel syndrome, I find) get stuck in procrastination when there’s a deadline coming up — not close enough to spur you into action, but not far away enough to totally ignore. This makes for a constant and uncomfortable low level of guilt and anxiety. Whether you’re working on a self-imposed deadline, a publisher’s deadline, or other submission deadline, using a focused, structured burst of writing to help pace yourself can be life and sanity saving, plus you’ll be far better positioned not to lose your writing habit on the other side. 
  • You’re making progress, kind of, but you’d really like to put some mileage on this thing and see your page count climb. Along the same lines as the “dreaded middle,” sometimes you just need to see somethinganything happening to feel some sense of progress and accomplishment (so helpful with these long form writing projects).
  • You need a safe space to write. If when you’re part of a critique group (or even just hard on yourself in your internal mental conversations), you may want a separate, critique-free writing “space” where you’re just committed to the process regardless of anything else happening. It can be both healing and relieving to “just write” and is particularly so when you’re writing with a group of like-minded writers who help you normalize the experience of writing.
  • You wish you could go on a retreat or disappear to a cabin in the woods but you can’t quite swing it with your budget (or your family, job, or other commitments). Finding a way to create a writing retreat for yourself from the comfort of your own home is a lovely alternative and can fulfill much of that desire in you to “get away and write.”
  • You know what you want to write but you’re having trouble overcoming resistance. That monster called resistance can be handled in a couple of ways. One is by sneaking past it in small increments of writing time, which is an excellent way to get started. The other is to jump in, full bore, and write like your life depends on it. The trick is having a structured support to help you keep going afterward. 

If You’re Ready to Go Big, Here’s How

If you’ve decided you’re ready to make a big focused burst of progress with your writing, while there are certainly options, like creating a self-led writing intensive for yourself or attending a writing retreat (if you can swing the travel, lodging, and retreat costs), I’m a fan of online writing intensives like my Deep Dive to help you focus and get the most bang of your buck. 

Here are some resources to get your started:

There are certainly times when a writing intensive is NOT the way to go — if you’re dealing with creative wounds for example, or having trouble figuring out what to work on. If you’re wondering if you’re ready for a big burst of writing progress, shoot me an email or ask me a question in the comments and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you. 

Featured image photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Getting Out of Writing Overwhelm and Into Action

Let’s talk about writing. And overwhelm.

First, a story. 

When I was a kid, my parents used to take us on high Sierra backpacking trips. They were hard. We’re talking about high-altitude, have to hit 10,000 feet before you get to the lake kind of hard. With backpacks. On super steep trails. In the blazing sun. I was also prone to altitude sickness, so there wasn’t a lot of incentive to go higher, other than the incredible beauty of the alpine lakes and the satisfaction we had once we reached our destination. 

Which was actually a hell of an incentive. 

Every summer my sister and I would slog up the steep trails, managing the weight of our packs on our sore shoulders, the blisters forming on our feet, the headaches creeping in, the tiredness, and the whininess that would sneak into our voices. My dad always brought up the rear, even though he was the fastest and strongest hiker. 

In every trip, there were always points along the way where I begged to stop. I’d despair that we’d ever get there. My dad was my coach at those times. Giving up wasn’t an option. He was always patient, calm, and quiet. He’d just wait with me until I was ready to get up and keep going. 

He’d say, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think about how far it is to the top. Just look at the trail right in front of you, and focus on getting to the next bend in the trail. Then the next, and the next.”

And bit by bit, we’d get there.

Overwhelm In Writing

As writers, we often hear the line from E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Usually this quote is used to describe the process of figuring out a story and how we find our way through it, bit by bit. But we can also use it to describe and understand the entire process of writing, from first draft, to rewrite(s), to publication, and to marketing, including dealing with any and all overwhelm at each of those stages. 

When we’re writing, the big gap between here (where you are right now) and there (where want to end up — done! finished! published!) can feel pretty darned overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that you might be wondering if you’re even capable of making it. 

Underlying Causes & Solutions for Addressing Overwhelm  

Let’s dig a little deeper into where you might be feeling overwhelmed, and then look at some solutions to help you find your way through.

6 Underlying Causes of  Writing Overwhelm

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, no matter what stage of writing you’re in, here’s what might really be going on:

  1. There’s so much left to do, and it really is overwhelming. Writing a book is a long haul project. So is a screenplay, when you consider the many drafts a script often goes through before it’s produceable and marketable. There’s a ton of work left to do, and it’s easy to feel disheartened when staring up the face of the enormous mountain you’re attempting to scale. (Hint: You’re looking at the mountain, not the trail.) 
  2. You’re scared to put yourself out there. Writing a book can trigger self-doubts, fears, procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance. When you’re conscious of it, you can feel overwhelmed by the enormity and responsibility of it all. When you’re less conscious of it, you can get stuck in writing overwhelm as a kind of “safe haven.” It can feel easier to go around in circles than to take the risk of fulfilling your big dream. 
  3. You’re doubting that you’re up to the challenge. Hand-in-hand with #1, above, you might not even feel sure you have what it takes to write at the level required to succeed. You might be losing confidence in yourself, your book, and your ability to write. If you’re in this place you may be so overwhelmed that you’re considering giving up on your book, or worse, giving up on writing altogether. This is the kind of overwhelm that comes from a crisis of confidence. 
  4. You’ve lost your way. Sometimes you can end up feeling lost, like you’re not sure how to solve the story problems you’re facing (or even to figure out what the problems truly are), or you’re overwhelmed with a sheer quantity of content and disorganization, and you can end up going around in circles, feeling paralyzed, dazed, and confused. The fear here is that you’ll never find your way.
  5. It feels like you’re running out of time. Many of us have this ticking clock inside our heads about when it’s okay and when it’s too late to “arrive” on the scene with our finished books. The fear here is that it’s too late for you, which creates a sense of overwhelm around trying to fit way too much into too little time.
  6. You’re feeling overwhelmed by life, too. We’re busy. All of us. Our culture, our world, and our lifestyles seem to be busier than ever and only getting worse. Finding time to write seems darned near impossible when you’re juggling a job, kids, friends, pets, family, spouses, and more. The fear here is that you don’t have the time and space in your life to actually pull off making time to write, which again leaves you feeling overwhelmed.

6 Solutions for Moving Past Overwhelm and Into Action

Here are six solutions to help you overcome the overwhelm and move into action with your writing.

  1. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, just like my dad taught me. The most basic antidote for overwhelm is to take the smallest possible steps, one by one, to move through it. This means making a plan for how you’ll approach your writing (or rewriting), and working on it in the smallest possible pieces until it’s done. In fact, the more resistance, fear, or doubt, you’re feeling, the smaller the chunk you’ll want to work on (even if you spend all day working on small pieces). If you keep your focus on the next step right in front of you, you can get through to the end.
  2. Get mad. Resistance is a smothering force. It paralyzes you and bogs you down, until you begin to feel hopeless and like you’ll never succeed. Anger, on the other hand, holds the powerful energy of action. When resistance gets you down, get mad. Use the energy of being a little (or a lot!) pissed off that resistance is trying to beat you to get fired up and get back to work. When I feel discouraged, my fighting spirit rises up in me and says, “No way! I’m not letting resistance win.”
  3. Use a map, aka, remember your Big Why. When you’re lost and overwhelmed, remind yourself of your Big Why. Think about (and write down, for next time) WHY you’re writing this book. What do you love about it? What are your deepest reasons for wanting to write this book? Reconnect with your passion and love and energy for the book. Pair that with the energy of anger to light a fire inside yourself.
  4. Get help for the climb. Sometimes, you need help to reach the top of the summit. This could look like working with a coach, joining a writing group, or partnering up with a buddy. Someone who will be patient, supportive, kind, and compassionate without giving up on you for a single second. 
  5. Make a push of progress on your book. A nifty trick for dealing with overwhelm is making a focused, concerted burst of progress on your story. Writing solidly, with focus, helps you regain your sense of identity and your confidence in yourself as a writer. This is what Tony Robbins calls “massive action.” And though I generally advocate for regular daily writing as the primary antidote for resistance, sometimes we need to take powerful action to restore our confidence, energy, and momentum. You can do your own focused writing intensive or join mine to help you make that happen.
  6. Remember your ultimate destination. Not only are you writing this book or screenplay right now, you’re also working to fulfill your overall writing career goals. This project, right now, is part of the map you’re using to get there. While this might sound like contradictory advice, holding the big view of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it can help with taking the small steps along the trail.

The reward?

Reaching that ultimate destination. Seeing the world you want to see, from the great heights you’ve earned, step by step.

 

1. Featured image by AJ Yorio on Unsplash
2. Unsplash

11 Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Draft

It’s mid-January. If you “won” NaNoWriMo, you’ll have 50,000 words of raw material for a new novel. If you didn’t make it to the 50k mark, you’ll still have pages to work with.

But now what?

Where do you start, in shaping your big block of marble into something with legs, something that works, something that’s marketable?

Although many writers, already know this, it’s worth stating: Under most circumstances, do not revise from the beginning to the end of your draft in order.

When you’re working with a first draft, you first have to assess what you have before you start revising. At this stage, editing, polishing, proofreading, and wordsmithing are premature, unless you’ve written a near perfect draft, which is unlikely at this stage.

Unless you’re a thoroughly seasoned writer (in which case you probably aren’t doing NaNo), if you revise chronologically, you’ll most likely find major structural and development issues in your story and end up cutting or substantively changing the work you’ve just spent hours editing, which can be heartbreaking and a big deterrent to getting to a truly final and finished product.

What you’ll want to do instead is craft a revision plan

Here are 11 tips to get you started.

11 Tips for Revising Your NaNoWriMo Draft

1. Think of your NaNo draft as an “intuitive draft.”

We’ve all seen and read the Hemingway quote, “The first draft of anything is sh*t,” and while that can help us overcome our perfectionism and get something down, I’ve come to see labeling our first passes as a “sh*tty first draft” or a “vomit draft” does a disservice to this valuable and important stage of work.

The term “intuitive draft” is thanks to one of my screenwriting mentors, Corey Mandell. I love his notion of seeing a first rough draft as a window into the souls of our characters and the feeling tone of the story. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but from it you gain valuable raw, fresh writing to guide your next steps.

Other names I like are “lightning draft” or “speed draft.” While this isn’t a hard and fast rule — you get to call it what you like, after all — I want to encourage you not to devalue your rough work but instead celebrate it as a valuable start.

2. And speaking of celebrating, did you?

And before you begin revising, celebrate! It’s important to acknowledge the work you’ve done. In the long-haul of writing a long form novel, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the work you have yet to do, and to dismiss or diminish or forget what you have already done.

I mean, dude (can I call you dude?), you just wrote 50,000 words! That’s not nothing! So celebrate and reward yourself for the good work you’ve done.

3. At the same time, keep “finishing” in perspective.

I can’t tell you how many first-time writers I’ve met who think their first draft is a finished book.

(Most non-writers think that’s how it works, and is probably the source of that endlessly annoying conversation that starts with something like, “Are you still working on your book?”)

But the truth is, unless you are a genius or meticulously plotted your draft from start to finish and wrote your draft in “pitch perfect authentic” form (another Corey term), this is first draft is essentially only that intuitive draft we were talking about, which means… the real work is about start.

4. Start by cataloging what you have.

One of my favorite and most beloved (if hard) steps from Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k book is the notion of “reverse-outlining” your draft, where you note the primary story event for each scene, along with any other key tidbits of information, like POV and word count.

The idea is to capture what happens in each scene in one brief sentence in a spreadsheet or document so you can easily see what you have, at a glance. It’s hard to grok what you’re working with in full length form, so creating a reverse outline will help you get a good overview.

Since I write in Scrivener, I like to use the synopsis area to write my brief one sentence story event summary for each scene. Then I switch over to outliner mode and export the outliner contents as a comma separated values file (CSV) and import it into my favorite spreadsheet software (Numbers for Mac) so I can work with it further there.

Recommended resource: 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron *

5. Then, do your macro story work, either again or now.

Now it’s time to do the macro story work. Take a step back and look at the story as a whole. What kind of story are you trying to tell? What genre is it? What values are at stake? Are you meeting the conventions and obligatory scenes for your genre? Who are your characters? What are they trying to get or do? What’s your premise line?

There are many tools you can use to answer these important macro questions. 

Over the last few years, I’ve become an ardent admirer of Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid. His take on understanding genre and how it influences audience expectations has been groundbreaking for me. 

And lest you think he’s prescribing dreaded formulaic writing, take another look. The brilliance of his work is that he clearly demonstrates what an audience will need to experience in order to feel satisfied by a story — but ALSO highlights the importance, and the difficulty, of a writer innovating on those conventions and scenes.

For example, if you’ve seen it, think about the “Lovers Break Up” scene in the movie Passengers. It’s a perfect love story scene, in the sense that one character discovers a betrayal by the other. But the writer innovates on that “typical” scene in a totally unique way with incredibly high stakes (life or death). 

This piece of work is about stepping back and thinking about what story you’re intending to tell and what the story needs to contain in order to work, in terms of story, plot, and character development. You can use The Story Grid and/or many of the other excellent tools available for helping you take that step back.

Recommended resources:

6. Review your desired story beats.

However you like to plot — or not, you pantser, you — now’s the time. Write out your major plot points, not necessarily based on what’s in your intuitive draft, but rather what you want them to be based on your macro story work.

I use a funny combination of plot points from working with ScreenwritingU.com, Chris Soth’s Mini Movie Method, and Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot approach to identify my major overarching plot points:

  • Opening
  • Inciting Incident
  • End of Act I, Lock In, Plot Point #1
  • First Pinch Point
  • Midpoint
  • Second Pinch Point
  • End of Act II, Cave Moment/All Is Lost, Plot Point #2
  • Crisis
  • Climax
  • Resolution

I ALSO use Shawn Coyne’s Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff method, with each of those broken down into what he calls the 5 commandments of Inciting Incident, Complication, Crisis, Climax, Resolution. Yes, this is redundant. And, it helps me cross-check and make sure I’m not only building the plot across the entire story, but within each act (and ultimately each scene as well).

7. Write out your Revision To Do list.

Using your macro map of what you want to create, compare it to what you have cataloged. Very quickly you’ll discover missing scenes and also where you’re already on the mark.

Use this process to create your Revision To Do list (another tidbit from Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k book) so you’re clear on the steps you’re going to take to revise.

At this stage, you’re still looking at the big stuff rather than the fine details of individual scenes.

For example, you’ll be identifying which scenes to cut, which scenes to add, what character or plot changes you’ll need to make, etc.

(Tip: Once I’m doing this work, in addition to saving a copy of my intuitive draft, I also I make a “compost” folder in Scrivener for scenes and raw material I cut so I can refer back to them easily retrieve them to pull back into my new draft. Alternatively you can use “snapshots” in Scrivener to help with this.)

8. Decide what you’ll tackle first.

Once you have your Revision To Do list, put it in order.

I recommend starting with the macro (biggest level) and then working your way down to the smaller stuff with your revision work.

If you’re restructuring the story, start there. You might begin by deleting all the scenes you don’t need any more (make a backup of the intuitive draft first) and insert placeholders for the new scenes, for example.

If you’re changing specific characters, devise a strategy for tracking and changing their development through the story. 

9. Plan a timeline for your revision, if you like.

Optionally, you may want to plan a timeline for your revision.

This is usually most relevant when you a) have a deadline by which you either have to or want to finish by, and b) when you actually know what your writing pace is.

If you were tracking your time during NaNoWriMo, you probably have a sense of how much time it took you each day to hit your 1,667 word count. And if you know you have approximately, say, 20,000 additional new words to write for new scenes, based on your revision plan, you’ll know approximately how much writing time you’ll need.

On the other hand, you won’t necessarily know how long it will take you to take each revision step, so you’ll want to give yourself time and space to figure that out as you go along. Be aware that you’ll be highly likely to stumble across various “black hole” sections in your work, as one of our Circle members calls them, where you’ll end up spending many times longer than you expected, sorting them out. This is normal. :) 

10. Work with the smallest chunks possible.

Now that you’ve got your Revision To Do list and your timeline, you have a plan.

But you may still have a case of the heebie-jeebies facing all that work.

The trick here is to pick out the small chunks possible to work on. 

Even the macro work can be broken into smaller actions, such as backing up the first draft (I make a duplicate of my entire draft in Scrivener and label it 1.0, then label the new draft my 1.1 or 2.0 draft, depending on where I feel like I am in the process), cutting unneeded scenes from the first draft, putting in placeholders for the new scenes. Those are each small steps that can be taken, one by one.

If those are too big, make them smaller, e.g. cutting unneeded scenes from first act, or first section of the first act, for example.

The idea here is to craft your overall plan, and then forget about it while you focus on these day-to-day small steps. I call this willful blindness, and it’s a lifesaver when dealing with a major revision. Sure, check in with the bigger plan from time to time to make sure you’re on track, but in general, keep your focus on taking the smaller steps each day.

11. Get support.

Facing a rewrite can be daunting. (It’s even harder when it’s your fifth or seventh major revision.) I highly recommend getting a support system in place for yourself.

This is part of what we do in the Circle. You can also work one-on-one with a coach, join a critique or writer’s group, or set up a buddy system where you’re supporting a fellow writer and vice versa.

The important thing to have in place, in my opinion, is not just the practical support for staying accountable for doing the work of your writing, but also for the emotional journey. There are a lot of ups and downs and dark nights of the soul with rewriting, and you’ll not want to be alone for those.  So do establish a support system for yourself. 

I wish you all the best with your revising!

Get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

Join the Called to Write Coaching Circle for the upcoming session starting on January 29th and save up to 32% depending on the package you choose. Registration closes Thursday, January 25th at Midnight Pacific Time.

Find out more and register here: http://justdothewriting.com

 

 

Make This Your Year to WriteMake This Your Year to Write

Jenna’s Visioning & Goal Setting Guidebook and Journal Prompts are now on sale!

Find out more and pick up your copy for only $17 here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/vision

 

* This is an affiliate link, which means Called to Write receives a small commission from any purchases you make using this link, and which we deeply appreciate.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Join us for a free New Year’s Day Writing Sprint

Some people believe how you spend the first day of the year influences how you will spend the rest of the year. Let’s start off the new year “write”!
 
Called to Write is hosting a free New Year’s day writing sprint. Our Writer’s Coaching Circle runs online writing sprints at 9 a.m. Pacific Time on weekdays and on the first day of the year, we’re inviting everyone to join us! This is a terrific way to start off the new year WRITING.
 

Author Insights: On Publishing Personal Essays with Janis Brams

It’s time for another installment of our “Author Insights” series. In this series, I’m introducing you to writers who’ve taken their writing all the way to the finish line of publication, and they share their “lessons learned” with you. There’s nothing quite like learning from a writer who has made to the other side.

Meet Janis Brams, personal essayist and author of The Event

I’m so happy to introduce you to Janis Brams. Janis has been a member of my online Called to Write Coaching Circle since the beginning of 2014, and is a personal essay writer. Over the years of working together through the Circle, I’ve been delighted to watch Janis develop a number of personal essays and pursue getting them published. While she’d had already had pieces published in an anthology and elsewhere, this was a big win for her for a number of reasons, including how unexpectedly satisfying it was for her to be published online.

I asked Janis to share her insights about her writing process and having this essay published. 

Janis Brams on Publishing Personal Essays

Janis Brams

Sometimes we wake up to find our lives racing down a path we haven’t chosen. In March 2014, I opened my eyes to discover Michael, my husband, sitting on our bed unable to speak. The challenges that ensued became the topic for a personal essay I wrote, called, “The Event: Two Perspectives.”

Through the process of writing, revising over time, and finally publishing the essay in July 2017, I learned a number of valuable lessons.

1. Allow time to walk away from emotionally charged writing before declaring it ready for others to see.

I began “The Event: Two Perspectives” soon after my husband suffered his stroke. In many ways, I think the writing process served as therapy, a way to work through my doubts and fears. Although I wrote a number of drafts before declaring the piece “ready-to-go,” I hadn’t allowed enough time to pass between our initial trauma and my decision to submit my essay for publication. After several rejections, I was discouraged and shelved my story until I felt better equipped to deal with such challenging subject matter.

2. Focus on the writing process and not how others might react when reading what you’ve written.

After a year passed, I revisited my essay. At the time, even the title was different, “Perimeters of Love.” I remember thinking the title didn’t work, and I’d included too many paragraphs explaining what I felt instead of showing readers. I also decided I’d provided unnecessary back-story, sharing information that didn’t contribute to the narrative.

I made revisions and then posted the new draft while participating in an online class. After receiving comments on the draft, I made more changes and continued to do so until I felt at peace with what I’d written. Still, I made no move to submit my new “final” draft; something seemed to be missing.

While workshopping my piece, I posted about my progress in the Circle and discussed my hesitancy to submit my latest effort. The members in my group and Jenna, during conference calls, supported my decision to sit with my revised draft longer.

At some point, I recognized that an important part of the story was missing, Michael’s perspective. After all, he’d been impacted most. If I was to share an authentic retelling, we both needed to be heard. Michael agreed to an interview, and I used what he shared to write the second part of my essay, his “Silent Monologue.”

3. Researching where to submit a piece takes a lot of time and emotional energy.

Having researched journals I thought were appropriate venues for this piece once, I was reluctant to initiate that process again. I was working on other stories and felt this was not a good time to move my focus from writing to submitting.

Someone in the Circle mentioned Writer’s Relief, a service that researches venue options for authors and even helps to polish query letters. I decided to pay for their expertise. While I experienced a few glitches, I found them to be responsive when I had questions and easy to work with. They read my essay, sent me a list of twenty-five journals they felt were a good fit along with names of editors, their submission requirements, and other pertinent information.

While I still had to send out my piece, I felt I was using my time wisely, targeting journals that might be better alternatives for my writing.

4. Navigating the acceptance/rejection process presents its own challenges.

After skimming submission guidelines for the journals suggested by Writer’s Relief, I found twenty-two to pursue. I earmarked several days to spend submitting and then waited to see what would happen.

The first seven responses were rejections, but two were what I call “good rejections.” Those journals took time to critique my piece and encouraged me to submit to them again. The editors explained, however, that they disagreed with my decision to include Michael’s perspective and would not be publishing this piece.

I began to question my vision. I shared my doubts with Jenna and my group members in the Circle. They reminded me that this story was mine and suggested that I give myself more time before making any changes. In the end, “The Event: Two Perspectives” found a home. I won’t ever forget how thrilled I was to read “Congratulations” in their email’s first line rather than “I’m sorry.”

Thinking back, next time I submit a story, I may prioritize the list of venues and then stagger my submissions. That way, I’ll have better control over where my work is published.

5. Publishing online was uniquely satisfying.

While I had published in print before, this was my first piece published online. Although having a magazine or journal to hold in my hand was exciting, I realized that more people read my online piece because it was more readily available. All a reader had to do was access the site, and my article appeared. Since my goal for a published piece was to reach as many readers as possible, the online venue was a great option.

6. The replies and comments made in response to my piece reaffirmed my feeling that others would find the topic compelling and that sharing our story was a worthwhile undertaking.

While not everybody who responded to The Event had the same reaction, they felt the need to share what they thought. Most said the topic was difficult for them but appreciated making the journey with Michael and me.

Overall, it was gratifying to hear from readers and have an exchange with them. I was amazed at how many old friends learned about my essay through social media and reached out to share their responses. It was a moving and validating experience because, finally, friends and family who knew I wrote had an opportunity to read something that was mine.

Read “The Event: Two Perspectives”

“The Event: Two Perspectives” is a personal essay written in the aftermath of Janis’s husband Michael’s stroke. The story centers on the first few hours of his “event,” from the time he realizes what is happening to the moment he is airlifted to a University hospital center. The piece is told in two perspectives, Janis’s in the first section, titled “The Storm,” and Michael’s in the second half, called “Silent Monologue.”
 

About Janis

Janis BramsJanis Brams has been published in the High Desert California Writers Club Anthology, The California Writers Club Literary Review, Plymouth Writers Group, and a community magazine entitled View.

Janis holds two master’s degrees, one in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and one in Writing Composition from CSU San Bernardino.

Janis is an educator, having taught students of all ages for over 25 years. Now retired, she enjoys running, yoga, hiking, travel, spending time with her grandkids, and cooking. She founded a book club in her community that has been meeting for over forty years.

Find Janis’s other work here:

* This is an affiliate link, which means Called to Write receives a small commission from any purchases you make using this link, and which we deeply appreciate.
Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part IV: Set Yourself Up for Success

Welcome back for the fourth (and final) post of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In my prior posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing, Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals, and Boosting Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive). Today I’m writing about setting yourself up for success.

Part IV: Setting Yourself Up for Success

When you’re aiming to set yourself up for success with an intensive writing effort, there are a number of things to keep in mind. I discussed some of these in the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), but they are worth reiterating in this context as well, along with some other keys to making your writing work.

  1. Have a Clear Writing Goal and Plan. We’ve already discussed this in prior posts in more detail, but having a crystal clear writing goal and a plan to meet it are a critical part of setting yourself up for success. You can’t “succeed” if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. This is one of those “so simple it seems obvious” things but you’d be amazed at how often we skip this step in our thinking and lives… and our writing.
  2. Manage Your Mindset & Expectations. You will also want manage your mindset when designing for success. This came up on our goal setting call yesterday for the Deep Dive. If we set goals, and don’t meet them, we worry we will then feel disappointed or feel we have “failed.” This can be a deterrent to setting goals in the first place. So you’ll want to be mindful of striking a balance between an inspiring goal that stretches you just outside your comfort zone and is achievable, but doesn’t scare the pants off you, make you want to stop before you even start, or fear feeling wretched if you don’t make it.
  3. Do Your Best Dance. When you embark on an endeavor like this, you will want to give it your very best shot so you can feel proud of yourself at the end, no matter what happens. Play full out and have fun, celebrate the ups and downs as being part of the process, and make sure to get a high-five at the end.
  4. Get Enough Sleep. When you’re a writer, sleep is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. One of the biggest things I work on with writers in my 1:1 coaching sessions is helping them set up a realistic writing schedule that includes getting enough sleep.

    This often means going to bed early enough in order to be able to write early in the morning, or get through a work day and then have the reserves to write in the evening. Sleep has a big impact on your decision making abilities and your fortitude in sticking with your plans, so when you mess with sleep, your resistance is likely to be higher and your commitment to your writing is one of the first things to falter. So make sure you get enough sleep. :) It’s one of the simplest things you can do to support your writing habit.

  5. Make Smart Choices and Eliminate Distractions. In order to free up time for writing (and getting enough sleep), you’ll need to make some super smart choices. You’ll probably have to stop staying up late, surfing the internet, playing Candy Crush, watching Netflix, reading your email, or whatever else you’re doing that eats time.

    You don’t have to stop doing these things, necessarily, but you can turn them into rewards for doing your writing. Just keep them corralled into an appropriate amount of time so you are putting your writing first and reserving the energy you need for writing. Oftentimes we do these things to “recharge” our energy, but it is worth checking in with yourself to see if they are actually recharging, especially past a certain amount of time spent.

  6. Take Care of Your Physical Body. When we write, we’re sitting for long periods of time. We have to take care of our bodies with stretching and exercise. I’m a fan of Pilates and yoga, myself, as well as eating lower carb, especially at lunch time, so I don’t zone out in the afternoons. I also make a point to drink plenty of water and other non-sugar beverages like tea and sparkling water. Think about what keeps you functioning optimally and be sure to put that in place alongside your writing time.
  7. Set Up a Support System and Create Accountability for Yourself. Embarking on a focused writing intensive is highly likely to trigger uncomfortable feelings. You’re taking a big step closer to reaching your overall goal of being a published writer or produced screenwriter, after all. That can trigger a cascade of doubts, fears of success and failure, and resistance. So set up a support system in advance of people you can turn to and lean on for help, if you feel yourself faltering.

    You can also create a system of accountability for yourself. This may be the same support system or it may be different. In my own case, I have outside supporters (friends and writing coaches) who are my support system, and my writing programs for accountability (the Deep Dive and the Circle). The primary distinction for me is that I tend to process challenging emotions with my supporters, while I rely the accountability for helping me stay on track and true to myself with my goals. The important consideration when setting up accountability is to have clearly named your goal and timeline so you feel that sense of internal responsibility to follow through.  

  8. Set Daily Goals to Support Your Overall Goals. While you’re working on meeting your larger writing goals, you’ll want to have broken them down into incremental daily goals too. Do this so you’ll know when you’re done for the day, and if you’re staying on track with meeting your larger goal. During the Deep Dive, we’ll be checking in every morning with our daily writing goals and our writing intentions for the day (see #9).
  9. Set an Intention for Your Writing. Setting yourself up for success includes being intentional about your writing practice, including thinking about the energy you want to bring to your writing each day. When I’m setting my daily writing goal, I like to think about the intention or energy I’ll focus on that day. I usually write it in capital letters somewhere, like PURPOSEFUL or FOCUSED. It helps to bring my attention to my intention when I do it that way.
  10. Reflect on Your Day, Each Day. At the end of the day, notice how it all went. What went well? Where did things go astray? Is there anything you can tweak or adjust for tomorrow? In writing, self-reflection is huge. It’s not about noticing “failures,” it’s about gathering information and learning and improving … and having fun with piecing together a puzzle that works. 
  11. Reward Yourself. Plan in advance how you’ll reward yourself at the end of your hard work, each day, each week, and at the end of your writing intensive. Is there a great treat you’ll reward yourself with? Something you wouldn’t normally give yourself? This might be just the right time to get it. :) 

Got questions?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, and Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive).

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part III: How to Design a Writing Intensive

Welcome back for the third part of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In last week’s posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing and Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals. Today I’m writing about boosting your progress. Next time I’ll talk about Setting Yourself Up for Success, so stay tuned for that posts, coming up soon.

Part III: Design a Writing Intensive

In my last post, I wrote about reverse engineering and revising your goals. The reason to assess your 2017 writing goals now is that we’re within spitting distance of the end of the calendar year, and therefore the “deadline” for meeting 2017 goals …before the clock strikes midnight. 

Even if you’ve decided to shift your goals forward into 2018 (I’ve done this with one of my writing goals), you may still want to do an extra “push” with your writing this year to boost your progress and move the ball down the field a little farther than you might get if you a) aren’t writing as much as you’d like to, b) are catching up after a summer writing hiatus or slow-down, c) still want to try to meet your original goal, or d) need a leg up with your motivation.

Doing a focused burst of writing — a short-term writing intensive — is like doing a runner’s wind sprint, where you alternate slower, steadier walking or slow running with more intense bursts of faster running. So doing a writing intensive is about temporarily picking up your pace, then downshifting back into your regular writing habit. (You have a regular writing habit, right? If you don’t, check out my Circle for help.)

A focused stretch of writing can also serve another purpose: It allows you to go deeper into your writing. It’s about putting the focus more intently on your writing. It’s not just about writing faster or more — but it’s also about a quality of experience. Almost like carving out an at-home, immersive writing retreat for yourself. 

In the Deep Dive writing intensive I’m running (starting next week), we’re creating this deeper experience by “clearing the decks” — making space for focused, daily writing at a more intense level by eliminating obstacles and distractions. One of the things I talked about during the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), is mentally making space for your writing, including thinking about what you’re reading, watching, and thinking about during your writing intensive. 

Set Up a Writing Intensive for Yourself

Here’s a simple strategy for creating a writing intensive for yourself:

  1. Give yourself a clear time period within which you’ll complete your intensive, whether it’s a day, weekend, week, or month.
  2. Clear the decks for your writing. Eliminate distractions, set up your life so you can focus on your writing.
  3. Get crystal clear on your writing goal for your intensive.
  4. Have a plan for how you’ll complete your writing goal (more on this below).
  5. Implement your writing plan, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, step-by-step, task-by-task.
  6. Have a reward in mind you’ll receive when you finish.

Have a Plan to Meet Your Writing Goal

When you’re aiming to write efficiently, wind sprint style, you’ll make more of your writing time if you go into it knowing exactly what you’re working on. Sometimes writing is unwieldy at best, but you can still go into it with a clear intention and plan. 

The type of plan you develop will depend on where you are with your current book or script.

Here are samples of plans you could create for your writing intensive. The idea with all these plans is to give you a clear list of tasks to work through, one by one, so you can stay focused and efficient during your intensive rather than feeling overwhelmed, spinning in circles, or getting lost along the way.

  1. Story Development Intensive. If you’re developing a new story, you can create a list of items you want to have answered before you start writing, so you can be crystal clear on your work plan (and so you’ll know when you’re done!). For example, you may want to have your plot points identified, your premise line written, your character profiles developed, and a scene-by-scene outline created, among other things. Here’s my “Must Have” list before writing pages.
  2. New Writing Intensive. If you’re ready to start writing pages, you’ll hopefully already have your own list of story development items complete and ready to go so you can just jump straight into writing pages. If you don’t yet have your story developed, you could go back to the Story Development Intensive, and make your writing intensive about doing that work, or perhaps you prefer to just go for the “pantser” approach and write an intuitive stream-of-consciousness draft. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach, and many writers swear by it. I would be remiss in not saying, though, that it can create one of the biggest challenges I see for writers who then have a potentially massive, disjointed draft they then have to face revising and editing.
  3. Organization Intensive. Perhaps you’re at a different stage of work — the organization stage. Many writers spend years drafting various versions and pieces of a manuscript and then find themselves overwhelmed with all the parts and sections. If you’re in this boat, you’ll want to make a plan for how you’ll address getting it organized. I recommend you start by cataloguing what you have and where it’s located, along with a single sentence summarizing each section. While you’re at it, you may want to develop a numbering or naming scheme for your digital and paper files. Once you know where everything is, and what it is, you can move into developing a plan for adding additional writing or moving into the revision stage if you have everything you need (writing additional scenes or chapters can be a natural part of a revision plan, after all). Organizing is a great thing to tackle in an intensive because it’s one of those onerous tasks often best handled in a big burst of work.
  4. Story Analysis Intensive. If you’re at the stage where you have a draft, but you’re not ready to begin revising because you know your story needs more in-depth work, you may want to check out Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know * as a process for analyzing your work. Tackling this level of work could potentially become the entirety of what you do for a writing intensive, depending on how much time you have set aside, or it could be the first stages of a revision intensive.
  5. Revision Intensive. If you’re revising, I strongly recommend having a revision plan in place before you begin. You could use a Story Grid plan, or use a different approach. I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s revision approach in her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love,* where she has you make a to-do list, a reverse outline, and a timeline for your story so you can more efficiently dip in and out of your story to make corrections and revisions. It’s also worth prioritizing your to-do list from largest to smallest changes, so you’re not undoing work if you suddenly cut a large swath of text.  
  6. Polishing Intensive. If you’re at the final stage, you can do a polishing intensive to spine and proofread your final draft. This may involve first doing a pass through the manuscript to make small changes throughout the text, then printing and proofreading the draft, then making the changes in the final version.

In my own case, I’m currently working on revising pages for the screenplay I’m working on. Since it’s a fairly major revision, the steps I’ve taken to get to this stage include:

  • Meeting with the producer I’m working with and getting his feedback and notes on the prior draft.
  • Summarizing our notes so I could see what needed to be changed and what would stay the same.
  • Reverse outlining the prior draft.
  • Reworking the GMC for the characters.
  • Reworking my Story Grid Foolscap for the overall story (and all of the many things that entails).
  • Reworking the plot points and handling the ripple-effect changes they created.
  • Creating a new scene-by-scene outline for the story, including a scene event, goal, motivation, and conflict for each scene. 
  • Collecting all the scenes from the prior draft that are rework-able and adding them into my new draft in Scrivener.
  • Starting to rewrite those existing scenes and write new scenes as I move through the script — and this is what I’ll be continuing to do before and during the Deep Dive.

Got questions? Comments?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond. :) 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, and Part IV, here: Setting Yourself Up For Success.

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts soon. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

* Amazon affiliate link

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part II: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals

Welcome back to the second part of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In Tuesday’s post I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing. Today I’m writing about reverse engineering and revising (if needed) your writing goals. Next up we’ll talk about Boosting Your Progress and Setting Yourself Up for Success so stay tuned for those posts, coming over the next several days.

Part II: Reverse-Engineer and Revise Your Writing Goals

The first thing you’ll want to do, when it comes to meeting your writing goals for 2017, is to remind yourself of what exactly your writing goals for this year are. Hopefully at or near the beginning of the year you sat down and wrote out your writing goals. Go find them and see what they say. For real. I’ll wait. :) 

If you’re already on track, great! 

If not, here’s where we come to the reverse engineering and revising part.

Often times goal setting involves a LOT of magical thinking, as I wrote about last time. At the beginning of the year, it’s easy to be romantic about what’s possible. Then unexpected things happen and it’s time now to get really realistic about what’s possible. So you have some choices to make.

First, think about whether you can still meet your writing goals as they stand.

There are now 78 working days left in this calendar year (including today)(69 for those of us with kids home for winter break). If you do the math on what you were intending to accomplish, is that realistic and doable?

For example, if you had intended to revise the remaining 60,000 words left in your 120,000 word book, that means revising about 800 words a day. That’s moderately reasonable, right? Of course there are variables, like the depth of revision you need to do, too, so you’ll have to mentally make accommodation for that.

On the other hand, if you were wanting to finish a draft of a brand new 80,000 word book, that means writing 1,025 words per day. Also fairly reasonable. 

This is great news, right?

But it also means getting pretty serious about meeting those daily goals. Like now, so you don’t end up binge writing and burning out or giving up in despair as December 31 rolls around. 

And, there are additional variables, like what you’re specifically working on, your writing pace, available time, if you want to write on weekends, or can’t write on weekdays.

For example, with revision, there are what I’ve come to call “black hole” chapters, thanks to one of my Circle members. These are the chapters where once you get into it, it’s not just a matter of light editing, but reworking the content in such a way that it requires scrapping it and rewriting it entirely and/or has a ripple effect throughout the entire book. So maybe you’ve just revised the 2,000 words in the chapter, but it took you five extra days to re-plot it and then rewrite it, and it also means that you now have more work to do throughout the whole book. Such is the nature of revision.

So realistically, let’s say this means you can really only revise the equivalent of 400 words per day, on average. That doubles the amount of time to complete the revision, putting you well into next year. Are you okay with that?

If yes, great!

If not, revise your goal to a new more accurate date. But then also create a daily writing plan that reflects this new daily goal of 400 words per day. 

(And just to be clear, I know “revising” 400 words per day is something of a misnomer, because sometimes we end up cutting 400 words and then we’re at zero! But I think you can combine both a time goal, e.g. 60 to 120 minutes per day of revising plus working through 400 existing words in your manuscript as a way of handling it.)

Second, if you can’t meet your original goal upon analysis, you have choices.

  1. As I mentioned above, you can revise your goal to a new target date next year.
  2. Or, you may want to revise your 2017 goals to reflect changes that have come up this year and let go of your original goals, and decide on new goals for this year that feel more doable, like getting to a specific milestone in your draft. For example, to the end of a specific section or chapter.
  3. Or, you can design a brief writing “push,” or intensive burst of writing, to move you closer to your goal more quickly, to help you pick up your pace and increase your chances of meeting your original goal. This is part of what we’re doing in the Deep Dive writing intensive. You can also do this on your own.
  4. Or, you may want to both revise your goal and do a push to meet it. It’s up to you!

Your choice will depend on a number of things.

  • Do you have a hard deadline you have to meet?
  • Will you be terribly disappointed if you don’t meet your original goal?
  • Is it worth it to you to make an extra push with your writing so you can meet your goal this year? 
  • Is doing a push possible for you right now? Is it worth the extra energy required?
  • Is your goal more complex than I’ve used in the examples above? For example, maybe you not only wanted to write the 80,000 word book but you also wanted to edit and self-publish it, which may not be realistic at this point.
  • Are you dealing with other life challenges you need to factor in? 
  • Has your writing situation changed, perhaps because of new writing agreements or contracts?

Third, once you’ve made a choice, revise your goal, if needed, and then map out a plan to help you meet it.

I like to use SMART goal setting, which I’ll be reviewing with my Deep Dive participants in our Goal Setting Call next Wednesday. Here’s the overview:

  • Specific (What are you working on?)
  • Measurable (How much are you aiming to accomplish in terms of words, time, or pages?)
  • Achievable (How and when will you do it? Is it doable?)
  • Resonant (Why are you doing it? Why now, and is it in alignment with the Big Why behind why you’re working on this project?)
  • Time Bound (By when will you accomplish this goal?)

And here’s my example:

  • Specific/What: Screenplay
  • Measurable/How much: 70 pages of new writing and rewriting, approximately 5 pages per day in the 14 days of the Deep Dive.
  • Achievable/How and when: Approximately 2 hours per day in the mornings, and yes, doable — I can usually write about 2.5 screenplay pages in an hour.
  • Resonant/Why: To submit to the producer I’m working with, Big Why: To tell a story I’m passionate about — the tale of a boy building a relationship with his father in a post-apocalyptic world.  
  • Time Bound/By when: By October 4th when we finish the Deep Dive. 

Doing this work, while sometimes a bit annoying :), helps you get realistic about what you can and want to accomplish and help boost your motivation and energy for achieving it.

Got questions?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. :) 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive), and Part IV, here: Setting Yourself Up For Success.

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

 

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part I: Clearing the Decks (and a Free TeleClass!)

It’s back-to-school time. For many of us, regardless of whether we have kids or are going to school ourselves, this means we’re both recovering from summertime and tuning into the back-to-school fall energy. Which is usually highly motivating and exciting. 

It also means we’ve hit that moment where the end of the year is in sight.

If you take the time to think about it, this is the ideal come-to-Jesus moment for meeting your writing goals for 2017 — far better now than to try to pull out all the stops on December 15th. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing done this summer (or year so far) as you’d intended. Maybe you did. If you’re on track, more power to you! If not, this is a great time to adjust your course.

Goal setting at the beginning of the year is often a magical, inspired effort. And by magical, I mean, magical thinking. Somehow, in the thick of the holidays and year’s end, it seems as if the year ahead will not be filled with… anything! We’ll miraculously have oodles of time. We declare that we’ll finally focus and achieve things we haven’t achieved before. And then January happens. Then February. And March. And suddenly it’s end of summer and we feel like we have whiplash looking back trying to figure out where the time has gone.

I know I was unexpectedly affected by illnesses for much of the winter and spring, various challenges with my parents’ health, as well as all of the political happenings. I didn’t have space built into my writing plans for any of those things. I haven’t stopped writing, but I certainly haven’t been as efficient as I’d intended. I’m okay with that. Life happens. But I also still want to make a solid stab at reaching my goals for 2017.

My Deep Dive writing intensive is a big part of this plan for me. I’m looking forward to making a big boost of progress on the sci-fi script I’m working on to help me jump start a broader push through the end of the year. I’m also looking ahead, knowing the holidays are coming, along with my birthday, and my older son’s birthday (10!), plus flu and cold season, so I’m aiming to take action while the energy is here. 

Here’s where I’m starting the process. I’m writing this “(You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals” series to help all of us bring awareness to the fact that the year end is a heck of a lot closer than we think. (There are 80 working days between today and the end of the year, and that doesn’t factor in winter break vacations for those of us with kids.)

Today, we’ll talk about Clearing the Decks to help you meet your writing goals.

In the next three posts we’ll cover Revising Your Goals, Boosting Your Progress, and Setting Yourself Up For Success

Part I: Clear the Decks for Your Writing

Clearing the decks for writing is a fascinating topic because it can be such a slippery slope — I don’t want anyone to decide they have to KonMari* their entire home before they can write — so it’s worth being mindful about how you approach this.

At the same time, when I’m looking at doing a two week stint of intensely focused writing, I know I’m going to have to make some extra space in my life to accommodate that. So I want to look to see, are there places in my life I can streamline, clean up, delegate, and clear out to make more room for my writing (and for me!)?

This is also a great time review any schedule creep that’s occurred — in other words, have I taken on any extra commitments that I perhaps should postpone or eliminate? Have I back-slid on scheduling my writing time or my resolve to meet it? 

I recently led a free teleclass to go over all this in detail. (It was be recorded so you can still listen to the recording.) If you’d like to listen, click here to join my mailing list and get the recording details.

Here’s a preview of some of what we’ll be talking about — I’ll be sharing tips about each of these as well:

  1. Logistically: What adjustments do you need to make to your schedule to make space for your writing? What events, guests, responsibilities, and commitments do you have coming up that you’ll either want to reschedule or decide how to accommodate around your writing? 
  2. Physically: What do you need to do to make your physical space more conducive to writing, if anything? Is there clutter? Are there distractions in your line of sight? How can you take great care of your physical needs with healthy food, snacks, beverages, sleep, and exercise? 
  3. Mentally: How will you reward yourself for writing? Are there any open loops you need to close or resolve so you can focus? How will you handle new writing ideas that may come up during your writing time? How will you handle negative self-thoughts if they come up?
  4. Emotionally: How will you handle emotional challenges that may arise around your writing? How will you handle non-writing emotional challenges? What support systems can you put in place?
  5. Digitally: How can you minimize or eliminate digital distractions so you can focus on your writing?
  6. Financially: What bill paying and other financial tasks can you handle now or automate so you can prioritize your writing? 
  7. Relationally: How can you guide your family, partners, friends, and colleagues to respect your writing time? 
  8. Spiritually: How can you spiritually prepare to make the most of your writing time? What intentions and positive visions are you holding for yourself as you write?


Click here to get the free Clear the Decks teleclass recording.

 

And check out Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive), and Part IV, here: Setting Yourself Up For Success.

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

* The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash