Mountain Sunrise

This Writer’s Life: A Swedish CIO Writes His Historical Thriller at Dawn

For your Christmas reading pleasure, today we're continuing my "This Writer's Life" series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives.

Hopefully the holiday fervor has died down for you now, if you celebrate Christmas, and you'll have a few quiet minutes to read about this inspiring writer, Rick, a Swedish businessman and historical thriller writer who recently completed a major novel revision ... in the dawn hours. 

Meet Rikard Bergquist: A Swedish CIO and Historical Thriller Writer

Rikard, whom we fondly call "Rick," has been with the Circle since 2012. Rick is a constant with our group -- always writing, never giving up, even through the ups and downs of a major novel revision. He's just finished his 8th revision and is getting ready to submit his novel to agents after getting some final feedback from his story coach.

You may remember Rick from an earlier guest post when he finished the first draft of his novel after jump-starting his writing habit with five minutes of daily writing. When he joined us he lived in Sweden, but has now moved to Reno, Nevada, where he is working as the CIO of a Swedish startup, raising his family, and writing.

To say that I am gratified by and proud of his achievement is an understatement. Having written alongside Rick for these last four years has been a true gift. It's so easy when we see people reaching major milestones like this and to compare ourselves to them. But when we are right there with them in the trenches, seeing all the challenges, the highs, and the lows, it's just a giant celebration for all of us to see him being ready to start submitting his completed manuscript to agents.

Rikard-BergquistWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

When I write it’s mainly fiction but I also do business plans, research grants and business presentations. However, when I refer to writing it is my creative endeavors that I think of. Right now I’m putting the final touches to an historical thriller set in Sweden in the 16th century I’ve been working on for the last five years. I used Storyfix, The Story Grid, and the services of a professional reader in my revision process.

How has your writing practice changed since you joined the Circle?

The Circle taught me about the importance of process and how you can trust that process even when you don’t know where you are or where you’re going with your writing. Keep on writing and roll with resistance. Nearing the finishing of my manuscript I’ve been close to calling it quits a couple of times, but the Circle has gently nudged me forward and pulled me back in. This last year it’s been my happy place when I’ve struggled with the writing. I also feel that Jenna has a set of very hands-on tools to enable me to see through the despair for what it is, handle my resistance, and keep me on track.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

Writing is a lonely business and I need my efforts to be seen. Even if not one single person reads my novel, I need someone to share the ups and downs of getting it done with. The Circle provides just that perfect environment of learning about yourself in likeminded company. I’ve learned that writing for just five minutes in a day, isn’t so much about the progress that day, as it is about overcoming the resistance. That is the real achievement and that positive feeling feeds on itself until you’re suddenly writing two hours a day. That’s magic.

Where do you typically write?

I have several places I write in. I feel most comfortable in the places where I can feel undisturbed. I need to be able to shut the world out and go inside of myself. That can be in a café, at my desk a couple of hours before everyone arrives at work, or in the study at home when it’s empty. For some reason I tend to go to busy cafés, where I can look up now and then, and remember that there’s another world waiting for me out there when I’m done.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

I like to start early, early -- preferably in the dark -- and write through dawn. Get my hours in before the rest of the world wakes up. Spending the first hours of the day on writing, gives my a sense of accomplishment and I can hit the rest of the day with a smile on my face. I feel like I’ve put what’s most important to me first.

What's next for you with your writing?

I’m currently outlining part two in my historical trilogy and I hope to have a first draft ready in six months. The big challenge will be going back to first draft mode, after being in the finishing touches phase for the last year. It won’t be long before I miss having a full chapter to revise instead of a empty page to fill. I hope the Circle is ready to roll with my ups and downs once again. (We are, Rick!)

Circle Profile

Rikard-BergquistName: Rikard Bergquist
Roles: Writer, CIO in the healthcare industry, father of two girls, skier, hiker.
Location: Reno, Nevada
Genre: Historical thrillers
Current writing goal: Finish first draft of second book in a trilogy before July 2017
Biggest writing challenge: Not falling into a chasm of despair by looking at how far I am from my goal
Biggest writing ah-ha: Stay connected every day with your writing, even for five minutes, this will keep your subconscious in gear to write your story for you.
Go-to writing platform: Scrivener, Word
Favorite writing spot: Early morning, with a coffee, at a back table in a café

Bio: Rikard Bergquist is a historical fiction novelist from Sweden living in Reno, Nevada, who writes in the mornings and works as CIO for a healthcare start-up in the day. He loves the outdoor life and snow of the Sierra, where he fills his creative well skiing and hiking together with his wife and two girls.

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It's the perfect time to join us -- our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year "write"!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and join the Circle here.

 

Laguna Madre by eutrophication&hypoxia

This Writer’s Life: A Texas Psychotherapist Revamps Her Life to Write

Today we're continuing my "This Writer's Life" series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives. Next up is Frani, an action-adventure novelist who joined the Circle in June of 2015.

Meet Frani Bradley: Psychotherapist and Action-Adventure Novelist

Frani is a psychotherapist who lives in Texas, and has impressed me with her dedication to her writing in the time I've known her. She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to her writing, getting out of her own way, and honing her craft, and she recently undertook a massive life redesign in order to make more time for her writing.

I invited Frani to tell us more about her writing project and how she has created more space by overhauling her life, work, and even her living situation (including a Great Dane!).

frani-bradleyWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

I am working on the second in an action-adventure novel series.

Right now I'm waiting for beta readers to finish reading my first novel and entering it into writing contests.

Soon I'll be studying the feedback they give me, and begin the work of incorporating what I want to use.

How has your writing practice changed since you joined the Circle?

I never had a consistent writing habit before I joined the Circle. Before joining the Circle, I had a consistent daily habit of guilt and regret about not writing. Now, most days I feel very good about keeping my daily habit of writing.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I often wondered if I just liked the idea of writing and would never really finish anything, but in the Circle I learned that I am a writer, someone capable of finishing a novel. I owe this to the support of the Circle. Completing my first novel is the manifestation of a dream I've held since I was five years old. I told my grandmother a story, and she wrote it down. It was about a witch who rode a hula hoop rather than a broom. My grandmother said, "Francie, you are a wonderful story teller. Someday you will write a book." She was right.

There are so many levels of happiness and contentment that I have now, seeing my novel in hard copy ready for beta readers. I'm convinced this would never have happened without our group and you, Jenna. So you have literally allowed a life long dream come true. Thank you!

Where do you typically write?

I usually write at my desk at home. Now and then, at a coffee shop with a friend. I also work with my editor online. We collaborate across the internet in real time and over the phone when we're working together on the novel.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

A successful writing day for me looks like putting in at least two hours of writing time on the suggestions beta readers have made on my first novel, working on my second novel, and studying a book on the craft of writing or doing research. I feel good when I spend at least two hours involved in something writing related.

How have you shifted your life to make more space for writing?

I'm right in the messy middle of changing my life. Over the last three months, working toward the goal of creating more time and mental energy for writing, I have made an effort to streamline my life. In doing so, temporarily I hope, I've created more chaos and extra time and energy drains. Things are winding down now, so I'm beginning to get my sense of humor back about all that has happened. Also, a glimmer of hope has returned, that it's not been madness to try this. I am beginning to see that my writing life could be as I envisioned it in the New Year. 

I started by closing my office, where I have had a psychotherapy private practice for nearly twenty years. I opened a home office on October 1st. Moving the furniture, changing my address with managed care companies, deciding suddenly I needed to go paperless, adjusting clients to a new meeting space, and all the many boring details of change have snowballed to create extra work. Meanwhile, my home office needed a new driveway and several other changes to create a good space at home for seeing clients.

I also rented the larger home on my two-acre property to new renters and found myself embroiled in figuring out how to successfully house their large Great Dane in a way that worked for all of us (especially me, at night!).

So needless to say, it's been a bigger project than I'd envisioned. :)

It is December, and seems like much longer than three months since I began the journey of making my life simpler. That sentence really did make me laugh. I am feeling excited right now about how I see things shaping up. My doubts and regrets about starting this are disappearing, and I'm seeing a new writing life forming in 2017. Maybe it's true that "change is messy." It's sure been true for me. In the same moment, I hear the saying, "no guts, no glory" and get happy butterflies.

I'm feeling something wonderful out there with my writing waiting for me to step into it. I can't wait!

What's next for you with your writing?

I plan to continue working on suggestions from beta readers for my first novel, entering it in writing contests, and working on my second novel.

Circle Profile

frani-bradley

Name: Frani Bradley
Roles: Psychotherapist, Novelist
Location: Corpus Christi, Texas
Genre: Action Adventure
Current writing goal: 1) Incorporate the suggestions of five beta readers into my 1st novel by April 15th and submit to contests, 2) Complete Outline of 2nd novel by January 31st, 3) Complete first draft of 2nd novel by June 1st.
Biggest writing challenge: Keeping boundaries and commitments in regards to writing time
Biggest writing ah-ha: Two people I trust to give honest feedback have read my novel and enjoyed it as a good read. My ah-ha is that I have a novel that two people have enjoyed. It's enough to keep me going a long, long time.
Go-to writing platform: The cloud version of Pages for collaborating with my editor.
Favorite writing spot: In my living room, looking out over an inlet of the Laguna Madre, in the company of my dog and the large water birds in the distance.

Bio: Frani Bradley is an action-adventure novelist based in Texas who writes alongside running her home-based psychotherapy practice. She's a passionate animal lover and has dedicated herself to bringing the spirit of adventure, respect for animals, and spiritual inspiration to her stories. 

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It's the perfect time to join us -- our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year "write"!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and join the Circle here.

 

Laguna Madre featured image by eutrophication&hypoxia and used under a creative commons license.

 

 

This Writer’s Life: A Berkeley Mama Writes a Historical Fiction Trilogy in 15 to 60 Minutes a Day

It's December, the end of the year. In a continuation of my goal to help you Start 2017 Off Write, I thought you might like to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and get a look inside their writing lives. We'll kick off this series with Rebecca Brams, a local Berkeley writer and longtime Circle member.

Meet Rebecca Brams: Mama, Grant Writer, & Novelist

Rebecca is a Berkeley mom of two boys (we have both of those in common!) and she's writing a novel alongside parenting and the grant writing work she does. She has been a Circle member for three years. I invited Rebecca to tell us more about her writing and her writing life. 

rebecca-bramsWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

I do several different types of writing, including grant writing for non-profit clients, personal essay, short fiction and blog. I mainly use the Writer’s Circle for my novel work -- I’m writing a trilogy of historical fiction novels set during the Inca Empire, in what is today Peru. Since I joined the Writer’s Circle three years ago, I’ve written a draft of the first book in the trilogy and put it through a story analysis process including reverse outlining and mapping. I used two story analysis methodologies: Save the Cat and The Story Grid. I'm now partway through revising the novel. (If you’re curious about the novel trilogy, you can learn more about it in an essay Rebecca published here.)

How has your writing practice changed since you've been in the Circle?

I've become much more productive and stay on track more easily. I’ve been part of different kinds of writing communities over the years, including when I got my MFA degree, and I’ve found different types of value in each experience. The Circle is unique because of the daily check-in and because of the focus on process, not content. I know that if I get stuck, my coach will offer me a different perspective, and I often use the coaching calls to help me work through issues that come up. Being in the Circle makes me feel like I’m part of a writing community that’s “got my back” and will help get me back on track when I become overwhelmed or lose focus.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I've learned to trust the ebb and flow of the creative process. Recording my progress on a daily basis (and seeing my fellow Circle members do the same) has shown me that I can have a fabulous writing day, followed by a humdrum day, and then get back into the flow again in my next writing session. Now when I have a tough day or hit one of those “stuck” spells, I worry less because I’ve realized it’s a normal part of the creative process.

Also: This is life. This is it. Every day we create it with our choices. Every day we choose to write even though urgent things are calling us, we honor our creativity, the Muse, and the unique voices that can only speak through us. Every day we choose to be gentle with ourselves, we create a life of compassion and peace. These two elements can feel in opposition to each other, but perhaps allowing for the coexistence of opposing forces is necessary for a rich artistic life.

How much do you write and where do you typically write?

I try to write early in the day, usually right after I drop my kids off at school, before lots of other to-dos pop up. That probably happens three to five days per week, depending on whether there are school holidays, my husband's work travel schedule, or if I have a lot of client work. I usually work at home, but sometimes I mix it up by going to a café. About once a week, I go to an in-person writing group.

When I’m at home, I often work at my secretary desk in my bedroom, but when I’m deep into line-edit revisions, I find I work better sitting in bed or on the sofa -- it gets me more into the mindset of a reader. When I’m strapped for time and trying to get in a sliver of writing, I will sometimes even write in my car. My coach has called me a “time-stealing ninja” for the different ways I’ve managed to slide writing into a busy schedule over the years.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

It used to be that 15 minutes a day was all I tried for. Now my minute goals range a lot more depending on what else is happening in my life. I’d love to work for an hour a day or more, but there are so many different elements in my life that it really depends. Locking myself into a rigid schedule tends to lead to stress and guilt. I try for consistency and keeping up momentum more than getting the same amount of time in every day. And I do writing retreats -- often solo weekend retreats -- to immerse myself and get in big chunks of time.

What's next for you with your writing?

My big writing goal for 2017 is to finish the second draft of the first book by the beginning of the summer when my kids get off school. It’ll be a stretch, but I'm going to give it my best shot with the help of the Circle.

Circle Profile

rebecca-bramsName: Rebecca Brams
Roles: Grant writer, novelist, blogger, essayist, mother of two boys
Location: Berkeley, California
Genre: Historical fiction
Current writing goal: Finish second draft of novel by June 2017
Biggest writing challenge: Juggling priorities, the unpredictability of young children
Biggest writing ah-ha: Starting is almost always the hardest part.
Go-to writing platform: Scrivener
Favorite writing spot: In bed!

Bio: Rebecca Brams is a writer and mother to two young boys in Berkeley, California. She grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and has traveled extensively in Latin America. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of California. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Carve Magazine, Literary Mama, Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and on blogs, including her own, www.thismamawrites.com.

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It's the perfect time to join us -- our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year "write"!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and register here.

 

Writing With Intention: The Power of Journaling About Your Writing Process

Journaling is an incredibly powerful way to create structure for your writing practice. When you use journaling to bookend your writing practice each day, you become much more intentional about your writing and your ability to learn from what works and what doesn't.

Here are some simple techniques you can use to amplify your writing practice with journaling.

Start Your Day With an Intention For Your Writing

A powerful way to focus your writing day is to start with an intention. I've used this technique in the past, but when I worked with Jessica Michaelson in her Look Up program, I loved how she had us check in twice a day, starting with identifying a core value we wanted to focus on each day in a morning check-in. With her blessing, I've incorporated this idea into the morning and evening prompts in my Writer's Insight Journal (one of the tools in my Ultimate Writer's Toolkit).

The core idea is to identify and name the energy and intention you want to bring to your writing for the day. This simple act brings focus and clarity to your writing, and can be used as a tool to adjust if you get off course.

For example, if your intention is to write with JOY for the day, but you find yourself in angst instead, you can ease up on the throttle and find ways to bring a more joyful, playful energy to your work. On the other hand, if your writing intention is FOCUSED EFFICIENCY and you find yourself in distraction-mode, simply reminding yourself of your intention can be a way to get back on track with your writing.

Complete Your Day By Checking In About How It Went

Similarly, at the end of each day, you can "complete" your writing day by assessing your writing progress and process. What was accomplished, what wasn't. What went well, what didn't. What adjustments you want to make going forward. 

It's the power of self-observation we rely on in my Called to Write Coaching Circle. Simply by observing and noticing what we go through each day as writers -- without judgment, mind you -- we gain incredible insights into ourselves, where we get stuck, where we go off track, and how we might need to adjust our writing process.

So many of us judge ourselves for not writing, or not writing enough, but as writers, our true power lies not in judgment, but in our ability to think creatively. And when we bring our creative minds to troubleshooting the challenges we face as writers, rather than beating ourselves up over them, magic happens. 

This is how we notice ourselves getting trapped by the lure of internet distractions. Or catch ourselves in the throes of perfectionism or paralysis. Or notice that we're using our workaholism to avoid our writing, or that we're procrastinating with sudden obsessive house cleaning. Or cotton on to the fact that the reason we're not writing is that we're just not getting enough sleep and our willpower is too depleted.

I'm not a fan of the word mindfulness in general because it somehow implies a level of perfection and studiousness I find stressful. But intentional works for me.

Be Intentional With Your Writing

Success in writing doesn't happen by accident. That's a theme that's emerged as I've been writing this series. Writing happens when we are intentional about how we use our time, our days, our minds, our focus, and our creativity. And one of the most brilliant ways we writers can tap into that intentionality is through our own greatest skill, writing. Our journals become the containers for our greatest insights when we take the time to compassionately self-observe and learn from what's working and what isn't, and where we can go from there.

So if you find yourself floundering with your writing at all, carve out a few minutes each morning to set an intention for the day, and a few minutes at the end of the day to assess how it went. Sure, you can do this mentally. But since you're a writer, you know the power words hold. Write it down if you can. And if you need help with making more of a space to use this tool, stay tuned for the release of my Writer's Insight Journal in my Writer's Toolkit this week to help you make it happen.  

How do you learn from your own writing process? Tell me about it in the comments.

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3 Tips for Staying Energized When Writing a Book (or Script!)

One of the biggest challenges I've seen for writers working on long-form writing projects (like books and scripts) is losing heart along the way, mostly because we get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work left to do.

It's not easy to keep our energy mustered toward completion when we've got pages and pages more to write... or harder, pages and pages left to revise (and potentially additional revisions left to go).

Here are three tips designed to help you keep your spirits up as you battle the forces of writing resistance:

Tip #1: Create a Plan

For every stage of your writing, make a plan for it. A plan for the outline, a plan for the first draft, a plan for the revision. For example, if you're writing the first draft, identify the milestones you're aiming to hit, like scenes from an outline or turning points from a beat sheet. Create a timeline for those milestones so you know if you're on track, and if you need to make any adjustments as you're moving through the project.

Even if you're a total pantser, you can still make some estimates for word counts, major turning points, or numbers of chapters.

Make your milestones big enough to be inspiring but not so big that they're overwhelming. I love to use 15-page chunks of a script as a milestone, usually the number of pages between each major script turning point because I know approximately how long it takes me to write or revise a section of that length. (You can see me putting a simple form of this in action here.)

Tip#2: Track Your Work

Once you have your plan and start implementing it, make a point to track your work so you can see how your plan is progressing. I like to use spreadsheets for tracking my writing (there's one in my Ultimate Writer's Toolkit if you want a jump-start with your own tracking).

The core idea is this: Track your time and your word or page counts so you can SEE the progress happening. It's one of the best antidotes I know for project overwhelm. There's nothing quite like seeing your counts climb and knowing you're making progress to help you focus on the progress you are making, as opposed to the work you have yet to do. And this is one of the biggest challenges we face as writers.

We tend to be an intuitive, conceptual bunch (at least the crowd I hang out with) so we can easily see the final, finished product in our minds' eyes -- and then despair when we see how far it is from here to there. But when we learn to use baby steps, and track those steps, we shift our focus from what's yet not done to what is already done, and it's an incredible relief.

Another amazing benefit of tracking your work is being able to see how long each stage and type of work typically takes you, and then you can project approximately how long it'll take to hit each milestone. Such as, how long it takes you to write 15 script pages or 2,000 words in your novel. Or much writing you can do in 60 minutes. Or how long it typically takes you to outline. Knowing your own innate pacing is a big confidence booster, and helps you build trust with yourself as a writer and believe in your ability to complete a project. Knowledge is power.

Plus, when you track your work you'll have the evidence you need to help you stay on track with your writer's schedule. If you've set aside 60 minutes a day for writing, and see every day you're adding 750 words to your manuscript, you'll be more motivated to keep your next writing appointment with yourself because you know in your bones those minutes count.

Tip #3: Keep Your Head Down

And at the same time, let tracking your work be enough of the big picture. Learn to keep your head down and focused on the work at hand rather than on the overall timeline.

Here's what I mean by "keep your head down." Once upon a time, I worked as an intern doing digital 3-D modeling (I made digital houses for virtual architectural walkthroughs and elephants for an animated dictionary, super fun). After I went back to grad school, my boss told me about someone they'd hired. "She keeps her head down," he said.

I wondered what he meant, and he explained that she focused well on doing the work that was in front of her, without looking up and around, chatting, or getting distracted. It clicked for me. And I find that the more I "keep my head down," once I've established the plan for my work, and just do said work, the better off I am.

As a general rule, the time to question and design the plan is not in the middle of implementing the plan, unless something has gone horribly wrong and a course correction is required. But if things are moving forward and no major trains have gone off the rails, stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other and logging the time and tackling the items on the writing to do list.

It's when we stop and question that we flounder. I've seen more than a few writers dropping in and out of the game for reasons like this, and it's just not worth it. The only way out is through. Don't spin your wheels asking "Why is it taking so long?"Just do the work. 

Plan the Work and Work the Plan -- And Track It!

So if you're looking for ways to keep your energy up while writing your epic book or script, remember: Plan the work and work the plan -- and track it along the way. You'll be amazed at how motivating it is to see your body of work building and building over time.

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The Magic of Creating a Writer’s Schedule

Many people think writing is something that happens when we're inspired -- struck by a lightning bolt of ideas, if you will. That when we're inspired we just naturally "find" time to write.

And in a perfect world, that'd be true. (And in a perfect world we'd all have mentors and patrons supporting us to fulfill our creative callings!)

The truth is though, most of us are busy with day jobs, families, and other commitments in addition to our writing, so we have to take a different approach.

Creating Your Writer's Schedule Is About Intentionally Making Time to Write

We don't find time to write. We make time to write.

And making time to write requires being intentional. Writing doesn't "just happen."

When a writer comes to me with a book or script to finish, first I find out about their deadline, and whether it's a self-created deadline or an industry deadline. Then I ask about when they have time write.

Sometimes they have answers, sometimes they don't. Usually it's in the form of some general notions about when they could write or how and when they are already writing (if they are), which is a terrific place to start.

From there I ask a lot of questions about their ideal writing times, other habits, routines, and obligations and we co-create a weekly Target Writing Schedule. We use a weekly schedule because it's a repeatable model writers can carry forward with them throughout the whole year, adjusting as needed when major schedule changes or variations occur. (My Ultimate Writer's Toolkit includes a simple step-by-step process to walk you through creating your personal Ideal Writing Schedule and Target Writing Schedule.)

We call it a target schedule because we know that sometimes life goes awry and we don't hit our targets, but this way we know what to do when that happens -- just flow back into the plan the next day or at the first available opportunity. It's like having a regular work schedule. You get sick and miss a day, and then go right back to work when you get better.

The Magic Happens When You Make a Writer's Schedule

So much magic happens when you make your writer's schedule:

  • You become more intentional about writing, and more aware of any choices you make that stop you from writing.
  • You make writing a priority in your life, and validate that priority as you put it into action.
  • You have an easier time keeping writing appointments with yourself when they're planned into your day.
  • You raise the bar on the professionalism you're bringing to your writing. There's a chasm between hoping to write and scheduling writing, and putting it on your calendar helps you bridge that gap. It's about turning pro.
  • You become far more likely to protect your writing time from scheduling other meetings or events during those time slots.
  • You create a container for your writing, so when you have a project you want to complete, you know just how and when you'll do it.
  • You become much more likely to stay on track with finishing your project without getting burnt out, or ending up in binge-writing mode struggling to meet a deadline at the last minute. 
  • You know when and how to reboot yourself if you get off track one day -- you go back to the schedule the next day.

If you're looking ahead to writing seriously in 2017, start by setting up your writer's schedule, so you'll be ready to hit the ground running when the clock turns. 

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7 Easy Ways to Sneak In Writing Time Over the Holidays (and Why It’s Worth It)

It's the holiday season, and the crunch is on! We're busy with everything. Shopping, holiday parties, family gatherings, end of year deadlines, kids off school, and more. That makes it a prime time of year for our writing habits slip by the wayside, but I'm here to help with seven easy ways you can sneak writing in, even in the midst of the chaos.

7 Easy Ways to Sneak In Writing Time Over the Holidays

When you're looking for easy ways to get more writing in, try these ideas:

  1. Write early. You've probably heard me talk about the virtues of early morning writing before. During the holidays, early morning writing will save you. You can write before your kids get up and your spouse leaves for work, even when the kids are off school for Winter Break. You can hide out in the guest bedroom at your aunt's house and write in bed -- no one will even know you are awake! You can write before you tackle other projects or head out shopping. Whatever else you have on your plate for the day, when you write first, your heart and spirit will be lighter, knowing you've met your most important commitment to yourself first. 
  2. Set a special holiday daily target. When you're writing during a busy season like this one, you'll want to tweak your daily writing goals. Maybe you're someone who has oodles of time off over the holidays, and you can set higher goals, but if you're like the rest of us with day jobs and kids and a plethora of social commitments, now's the time to figure out your daily holiday writing targets. They're probably lurking somewhere between what I call your "rock bottom minimum" (the absolute minimum amount of writing you want to accomplish on a given day) and your optimal amount of writing during a busy time. Here's what I mean: Normally I aim to write for about 60 minutes a day, more when I'm stretching for a big goal. My rock bottom minimum is 15 minutes a day. So my holiday target is 30 minutes per day. 
  3. Scan your day for potential pockets of writing time. When you get up in the morning, if you're not going to write first thing, mentally scan your timetable for the day to see if you can spot little pockets of writing time. Maybe you can go early to that dentist appointment and write in the waiting room. Or write a bit in the car on your mobile device while your spouse is driving to the holiday party. Or take a writing time-out at a café while you're out shopping for holiday gifts. While I'm not usually one for cramming writing into every available moment of my life, intentionally identifying and using one writing window in a day can be a beautiful way to make space for writing.
  4. Streamline your other activities. My holiday life has gotten so much easier since I do most of my shopping online these days. I shop in batches on Amazon, which saves me an enormous amount of emotional wear and tear and saves my energy for writing. I also carefully balance the number of events we attend over the holidays and try to keep the number manageable (I have a threshold of one social gathering per weekend if I can keep it that way and I make exceptions only with careful forethought). When you purposefully design for sanity, it's much easier to then make time to write, also.
  5. Write light. There's a tremendous advantage to writing regularly, which is quite simply that it makes it easier to keep going... and that's what gets us to the finish line with our books and scripts. But sometimes, keeping your head in a script or novel is just too hard when there's so much crazy going on. In that case, you may want to try lighter writing -- journaling, morning pages, brainstorming, writing outside your project (freewriting within the story but outside the primary document for it). This way, you're keeping the words flowing onto the page and holding the space you have in your life for writing, but also making it easier on yourself.
  6. Write late. If you aim to write in the morning but don't, or just don't want to, considering writing in the evening just before bed. You can even sneak off to bed early when you're staying with your relatives, or go to that office party early and duck out well before last call to make some time for writing. Think of it as your own secret time, just for you. You feed your soul's calling when you write, and there couldn't be a better gift to give yourself for the holidays.
  7. Have fun! The holidays can be delightful, but they can also be quite stressful. Emotions get stirred up; there's more pressure to perform and feel a certain way, look a certain way, etc. So giving yourself a pet project might just be the ticket for some extra writing inspiration and energy, or bringing the spirit of play to your work can help you make a point to enjoy it. You can even make a game out of creating writing time for yourself. Make it feel like you are getting away with something, and you will be. :)

Here's Why It's Worth It To Sneak In the Writing Time Now

When you write now, you'll position yourself well to take advantage of that big burst of writing energy you're going to have come January 1st. You know it's coming, right? Remember, a body in motion has a tendency to stay in motion, so writing now helps you write later. (Whereas not writing now means it's harder to write later -- the body at rest tends to stay at rest... It's all about inertia, baby!)

The good news is that it doesn't have to be hard to write even during this busy season. Use these tips to make writing easy through the holidays so you can jump in with both feet when January 1st rolls around. 

Got other holiday writing tips? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

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Remember… You Are a Writer

It's been an intense week. 

Regardless of your political affiliation, here in the U.S. and worldwide we've been through the wringer and come out changed. We're all going through a lot right now. There's much to process, contemplate, and recover from.

In the midst of all this, the important thing is to remember who we are. That we each have a purpose to fulfill.

A calling.

If you're hanging out with me in this little corner of the Universe, you're called to write. To create with words, pen on page, fingers on keyboard.

A tremendous gift, writing is.

It has the power to open minds and hearts.

To express deeper truths.

To shine lights into the recesses of our humanity and unearth hidden gems and wounds.

To heal, inspire, strengthen, catalyze, and change.

To heal us individually as writers.

And even though it may be tempting to turn away from your writing right now, please don't.

If not for others, for yourself. Because writing will remind you who you are, and what you were put here to do.

When my mother in law died in 2015, I clung to my writing as if it would save my life. It was my constant in a sea of pain and turmoil.

If you find yourself in that place now, as I do, let writing be the raft that carries you to shore.

I know that not everyone is hurting right now. It is likely that some among us are happy with this week's outcomes. And that is your right. 

But let us keep the focus on the larger vision. Our writing. Our truths. The messages we each have to share with the world. Because that's why we're here.

Keep writing.

With love,
Jenna

My “Must Have” List Before Writing Pages

In a recent post I wrote about what "counts" as writing. I promised to share some of the story development steps I take before I'm willing to begin writing actual new pages; hence this post. This is a work in progress for me; I'm constantly working to hone and improve my writing skills, so I'm sure it will continue to evolve as I evolve as a writer.

Here's what I currently like to have before starting to write, in approximate order:

  • Goals, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) for Main Characters: The goals, motivation, and conflict for each of my primary characters so I stay in touch with what they're doing, why they're doing it, and what gets in their way over the course of the story. (This link will take you a more detailed article about GMC.)
  • Character Profiles: I write character profiles for my primary and secondary characters detailing their personality traits, flaws, character arcs, and more. (This link takes you to the same place as the one above, where you can also download a free character profile template that includes GMC.)
  • Logline: A twenty-five word summary of the story, including its best hook.
  • Premise Line: A longer summary of the story, using Jeff Lyons's method for mapping the core structural story elements to a premise line template.
  • Theme and Message: What's this story about? This is one of those things I'm usually guessing at when I first start —it often doesn't become clear until I've written one or more drafts, but I like to take a stab at it before I begin. More on this in the future.
  • Internal and External Content Genres: I like to use Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid* to get clear on the external and internal content genres of the story to help me make sure I'm staying in touch with the theme and intent of the story I'm aiming to tell.
  • Key Story Values: I also like Shawn's approach to identifying the key values at play in the story (as indicated by the content genres) and make sure (to the extent of my current abilities!) that I also understand their gradations along the spectrum from positive to opposite/contrary to negative/contradictory to the negation of the negation that I'll be exploring over the course of the story.
  • Primary Plot Points: I detail my primary plot points, using a cobbled-together version of the many variations I've learned over the years. These tie in well with the mini-movie method I use (developed by Chris Soth) and help break a story down into smaller chunks.
    • 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
  • Plot Backstory: I like to write out a summary in prose of what's happened leading up to the story. Who was doing what before we enter this story world's timeline? 
  • Scene by Scene Outline: I also like to have a scene by scene outline before I start writing scenes. I identify their location (with a slugline, since I'm writing scripts), the essence of what happens in the scene, and several other elements. I use a scene template that I'll share with you at some point.
  • Treatment/Synopsis (Optional): I may also write a treatment or synopsis for the story, knowing it will likely change as I write the actual story, just to give myself a little more guidance about what happens. Usually I'll do this before a scene outline.
  • Query Letter (Optional): Sometimes I'll even take a stab at writing a query letter for the project to help me identify the hooks for the story and what to focus on building strongly.
  • Timeline or other organizing structural tools (Optional, if the story demands it): If needed, I'll create a timeline for the project (particularly valuable for time travel stories!) or create other project specific organizational systems if the story requires it. This is one of those gut-level things for me.

Once I have all these pieces of the puzzle assembled, that's when I'll feel more confident about starting pages. Sure, some may change, but it gives me a road map and greatly streamlines the writing process for me. I'm also finding that I'm asking myself to stay longer and go deeper with each element, in order to feel more solid about it before diving in. 

What do you like to have before you start writing pages, if anything? Or are you more of a pantser when it comes to writing pages? I'd love to hear about your approach in the comments.

* Affiliate link

 

Save the Dates for the Two-Week Writing Intensive: Project Deep Dive

Coming up this month: The Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive! 

*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***

If you've been wanting to really focus on a writing project in a deep and concentrated way for a short burst of time, this is the program for you.

With your input I've been pulling together a collection of terrific support tools for you so you can make massive progress on your writing project in a short period of time, whether it's a book, novel, script, short story collection, or anything else your heart has been longing to have more time to write.

This is also a great opportunity to prep for NaNoWriMo so you can make the most of the month of November if you're planning to participate.

I'll be posting a registration page later this week, but in the meantime, here are the important dates for the intensive so you can mark your calendar if you're planning to join in the fun:

  • Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive: Starts Friday, October 14 and runs through Friday, October 28 (fifteen days in total).
  • Live Calls (all will be recorded & email questions may be submitted if you cannot attend the live session):
    • Free Clear the Decks Call on Monday, October 10, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time (this call will be open to all the members of my community and people interested in the intensive, so if you're not on my mailing list, now's the time -- see the sign up form in the upper right on my blog page.)
    • Project Deep Dive Kick Off Call on Thursday, October 13, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
    • Weekly Coaching Calls:
      • Monday, October 17, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
      • Monday, October 24, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
  • Weekly Ask the Coach Live Chats (in a chat room):
    • Friday, October 14, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
    • Friday, October 21, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
    • Friday, October 28, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
  • DAILY 60-Minute Writing Sprints at 9 a.m. Pacific Time including weekends, starting Friday, October 14 and running daily through Friday, October 28.

Special Circle member pricing will be available. 

Your commitment: You'll to commit to writing for a minimum of one hour per day, ideally between 90 minutes and 2 hours per day (more if you like). You'll accrue that time on only ONE writing project, and you'll do super-short check-ins twice a day on our site (we'll be using a different platform than the one we use for the Circle... I'll be announcing those details on the registration page) and briefly support and cheer on your fellow Deep Divees.

My commitment: To write furiously alongside you and support you relentlessly along the way. I'll coach you through the challenges and the ups and downs. I'll provide structure, containers for your writing, coaching for when you struggle, and accountability to help you see it through.

Stay tuned for more details and registration information this week!

If you have burning questions, feel free to post them the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them for you, if not here, then certainly on the registration page.

*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***

Join my mailing list and get my free Writing Tools Guide!
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