7 ways to recommit to your writing

Writing consistently, regularly, and honestly is a challenge.

But it’s a challenge worth meeting.

And when it comes to delivering on that task, it turns out that discipline is an over-rated solution when it comes to writing. Having a writing system and habit is what gets it done, day in and day out. But even when you have a writing habit in place, you still have to constantly refine it, improve it, and raise the bar when you get complacent. 

Because there are times in our writing lives when we can become complacent. We can hit rough patches and take breaks. We can lose momentum or get our writing disrupted by travel or work or kids or LIFE. We can lose confidence in our projects and our ability to write. We can get knocked on our asses by feedback that takes weeks to recover from. And we can also fall into writing without purpose or intention, particularly when we don’t have specific deadlines or milestones we’re trying to hit. 

The problem is that this kind of complacency will suck the vibrancy out of you, your writing, and your writing life. You might appear to be productive, as one of my Writer’s Circle members said this week, but really, you’re asleep with your eyes open and you know it. And it doesn’t feel good. 

The solution?


When you find yourself in this place, it’s time to recommit to yourself as a writer. To your writing. To your writing life.

It’s about shifting back into a higher gear. Treating your writing like the life’s calling it is. Making it a priority. Making it happen.

7 ways to recommit to your writing

When you find yourself phoning it in or going through the motions, here’s what you can do to change it up and get back on track with what you were put here to do:

  1. Write like your life depends on it. You’re here to write, right? So do that. Take your writing seriously. Move mountains if necessary to make it happen, even if you’re hitting only your barest minimum “rock bottom goal” for the day. It counts, and it makes a big difference to your psyche when you honor your commitment to yourself this way.
  2. Up your game. Check in with yourself about how you’re feeling about your writing. You might be feeling lulled into a sense of complacency. You might be feeling good about your writing and what you’re accomplishing. But if you have a nagging sense that it’s time to require more of yourself, do that. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to help you make that happen. Look for deadlines or create them. Get accountability into place for yourself. Do what you’re saying you’re going to do. Create a sense of alertness, urgency, or briskness for yourself about your writing so you remember why you are here and make it happen.
  3. If today you can’t write, couldn’t bring yourself to write, don’t want to write, hate writing, or something else happened that stopped you from writing, TELL SOMEONE SAFE. This is a little bit like falling off the wagon if you are a recovering alcoholic. You’ve got to talk to your sponsor ASAP. Get to your people as fast as you can and get help getting back on track. Tell them/us your worst, darkest thoughts about writing. We can take it. We’ve probably had those same thoughts too. The thing is, we ALL have obstacles to writing. They run the gamut from perfectionism to distraction to limiting beliefs to creative confusion and apathy. Our collective work as writers is to systematically unearth and remove these obstacles one by one so they no longer stop us from doing what we were put here to do. (This is a big focus of what we do in the Writer’s Circle, and what’s particularly brilliant about the system is that seeing other writers remove obstacles helps us do so too.)
  4. Stay out of comparison. Everyone is on their own path when it comes to writing. Someone else will be writing more than you, someone else will be writing less. Someone will be more successful than you are right now and someone will be less so. IT DOESN’T MATTER. We are all on our own writing journeys. What matters is that you are meeting your own goals and working on your writing habit and writing career based on where you are and where you want to go. So you if you see someone writing for 4 (even 8 or 10!) hours a day and someone else aiming to write for 5 minutes a day, don’t worry about it. Just keep your eyes on your own paper and what you are doing for yourself. It’s all good. Just keep writing.
  5. Plan ahead. If you’re writing for 5 of 7 days per week or taking holidays off or whatever it is that you are doing — decide ahead of time. Don’t have the conversation about “IF” you are writing today. Know that you’re writing or not writing that day and act accordingly. Have the conversation about “WHEN” you will be writing. It’ll be much easier that way.
  6. Be as clear as possible about what you’re working on. This whole writing thing is a LOT easier if you have one specific project you’re working on and keep working on until it’s done. Particularly if you’re in writing habit building mode, you may find it easier to focus on simpler writing, like doing morning pages or responding to journal prompts to get started. But ultimately, being crystal clear about your project choice will give you direction, momentum, and purpose. Working on multiple projects at once (aka project stacking or layering) is an advanced skill, in my opinion. So save that for later if you’re working on strengthening your writing habit right now.
  7. Just do the writing. We called our group the “Just Do The Writing Accountability Circle” in the past. The reason we say “just do the writing” is that it really is the right solution in most cases. Thinking about writing, talking about writing, avoiding writing, and otherwise dithering about writing usually doesn’t fix whatever the problem is, whereas writing usually does. I say usually, because sometimes there are creative wounds that need healing, and sometimes we need to write about the writing to find out what’s going on with the work, but interestingly the way through both those things is still writing. So just do the writing and you’ll be in good shape. :) (And if you need help with a creative wound, I’m here to help.) 

Where are you with your writing right now? Is it getting to be time to step it up a notch? Are you phoning it in? What on this list inspires you most to make a change?

Tell us in the comments so we can celebrate with you and help you keep your word to yourself.

What you need to hear when you have writer’s block

naomidunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post from my friend, writer, and favorite business consultant, Naomi Dunford.

Naomi is an incredibly inspiring writer, and she also happens to be the only business consultant I ever recommend.

Her powerful piece had me in tears. I only wish I’d known what she was going through!



Write Like It Never Happened

There was a week in the summer of 2010 when I had two life-changing conversations. In both of these conversations, each had with different people, and for different reasons, and ostensibly on different topics, the people I was speaking with suggested that perhaps lil ol’ me would be more successful and make more money and be more awesome if I acted, well, more like them.

They didn’t say it like that, of course. People don’t. When well-meaning people want to give advice, they tend to simply paint a picture, and it’s only if you look at that picture from a certain angle that you realize they have painted a picture of themselves.

Up until that time, I was following the very specific content marketing strategy of write when you are possessed of the urge to say something and publish it soon after. That resulted in between four and five blog posts a week most weeks, and sometimes there would be a week or so in which I had nothing to say, during which I didn’t write anything.

The people I spoke with thought that I should be more strategic.

They thought I should write blog posts that were designed to link to other blog posts, or to products, or services. They thought I should custom create blog posts purpose built to give opportunities for search engine traffic, “link bait”, and virality on social media.

This is good advice, actually. It’s certainly the advice I give when people ask me how to be more strategic with their content marketing. It’s the advice I give when people come to me asking for help. It’s the advice I give when people are starting from nothing and want to create something “the right way” from the start.

Like I said, it’s good advice. It just wasn’t great advice for me.

See, I wasn’t looking to get more strategic with my blog posts. I wasn’t looking to “optimize” or “take it to the next level” or “play a bigger game”. I had always found blogging to be one of the most rewarding activities I could possibly imagine. It was fun, and it made me smarter, and it helped me think, and it helped me grow.

Doing it my way got me into the Technorati Top 1000, meaning that, for a time, this was among the 1000 highest traffic blogs on the internet. (That honor, in tandem with two crisp American dollar bills, will get you a tall Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but still. It was good to know that I was good at something.)

What was it Toby Keith said? “A sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”?

These conversations came out of the blue. They came from colleagues I admire. They came while we were supposed to be talking about something else, something nice. And the shock of them, the surprise of them, the “yes, that little blog you have is nice and all, but perhaps you should be a tad, I don’t know, manlier? ” condescension of them, well, I folded. I figured these guys must be right. Anything I had attained must have been in spite of myself, and if I wanted to go anywhere in life, I’d better start acting like a grown-up.

Unsurprisingly, when I went to the keyboard, I didn’t know what to write. When the only dictate is “whatever you do, don’t act like yourself”, it’s tough to figure it out. And I stayed that way for four years.

In the meantime, I have written. I’ve written for work – the classes and the emails and the sales copy. Over two million words, actually. But nearly none of them have been mine, and nearly all of them have been a struggle.

Sure, sometimes I would catch a groove and forget to obsess. Sometimes I would be on a deadline and didn’t have time to dwell. Sometimes I would drink wine and get angry and write what I damn well felt like, mentally hating the two of them the whole time.

But most of the time, what I had once loved, I’d grown to hate.

Which brings us to this summer.

This summer, I had two more conversations, one with a student, and one with a colleague.

The student emailed me to ask if she could write a certain kind of content in her newsletter. In her PS she said she hoped I’d say it was okay, because “that kind of thing would be a blast to write.” And I wrote back and said, “Go ahead. If it would be a blast to write, it will be a blast to read.”

(Hmmm. Physician, heal thyself?)

And then I talked to a colleague. I said I didn’t know what to put on my blog, and I hadn’t for years. We talked for a long time. He asked questions. I explained the problem. He thought for a while, and then he likened the whole thing to cupcakes.

cupcake-atmHe said, “Remember that cupcake we got out of the ATM in Beverly Hills? Remember how it was perfect?”

“Even if it wasn’t perfect, I still would have liked it. If it had been a little less moist, or it had been carrot cake instead of red velvet, or if it had less icing or, hell, no icing. When someone presents you with a cupcake, and it’s even a little bit good, your answer is not ‘Gee, I wish it was different.’ Your answer is ‘Sweet! A cupcake!’ You’ll even take a brownie, or a cookie, or a brownie with icing, or a cookie with brownie-flavored icing. You don’t care. You’re just happy you got a cupcake.”

“Maybe it’s the same with your blog. Maybe you don’t have to be a certain way. Maybe you can just make cupcakes.”

And so I tried. I tried to write even though I’d had writers’ block for four years. I tried to write myself up some cupcakes.

It was awkward. It was wooden. It was tentative and hesitant and SO not the same as it used to be. It felt like touching a lover after a four-year dry spell full of nasty silences and not very casual disregard. But I did it. And here we are.

Between four years ago and now, other well-meaning people have tried to give me advice on how to beat my writers’ block. It’s become a bit of a joke in the classes I teach. People come onto our Q&A calls and ask how my book is going, and we all laugh.

The advice people give about writers’ block can generally be paraphrased – or quoted verbatim – as “just write”.

I would ask what I should write, and they would say just write. I would ask how to start, and they would say just write. I would say I don’t know how, and they would say just write.

They were correct, of course. That’s exactly what I should have done. But their advice never held, it never stuck, because, well, I don’t know why. I wanted it to work. I just needed more, I guess.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m stupid.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m weird.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t because I’m loud and I’m brash and I swear too much. I can’t because those big, strong men I admire and respect told me I was doing it wrong.

And I suppose what I would have wanted was for somebody to take me by the shoulders and say this:

“Write like it never happened.”

“Don’t let them get you. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them take the vitality and the fire and the sparkle that is you and sanitize it into a beiged-down version.

“Don’t change just because it makes other people feel safer. Don’t let them tell you that you would be perfect if you just weren’t so… you. Don’t let them take you away from everybody else who likes you just the way you are.

“I know it will be hard, and I know it won’t be the same, and I know you’ll doubt your every word for a while, but it will get better.

“Do you remember when you were little, and you swore you would never let anyone break you down, no matter how hard they tried? That small person inside of you is counting on you to make all her dreams come true. That small person said that one day, she would write and people would read, and that mess of a childhood would be transformed into something better. Nobody can make it okay for that small person but you.

“Write like it was ten years ago and nobody had told you that you couldn’t do it. Write like it was possible. Write like you had hope, and write like you had dreams, and write like there are millions of people out there waiting to hear what only you can say.

“Write like you did before it ever occurred to you that there might be anyone who wanted you to be different.

“Outrun it. Outrun the feeling that they might be right. Outrun it, outwrite it, and drown it with voices of love and support and admiration and high fives.

“Listen to your children who believe you can do everything and that Mummy is the wisest, strongest, prettiest person in the whole world. Put your trust in the ones who know you and love you and never want you to change. Write and write and write and write and write, no matter what, write.

“It. Will. Get. Better.”

I think that’s what I would have wanted to hear.

So just in case that’s what you want to hear, and you need somebody to say that to you, I’ll say it to you now:

Write like it never happened.


Naomi Dunford‘s first piece of published writing was a review of Coneheads for the local paper. She was 12. Her greatest writing related achievement is getting 104% on an essay about “The Fatal Flaw In King Lear”, a play which she has heard is very moving. She writes Morning Pages about once a year.

She is a business consultant, writer, and blogger who started her company, IttyBiz, in 2006 and has been featured in numerous books you probably own but have not read. Read (not much) more here.


Thanks for reading!

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

Image © Shira gal aka miss pupik, “Writer’s block“. Imaged modified only by cropping.
If the goal is too big, make it smaller

7 ways to beat procrastination

Ugh. Procrastination.

We’re all familiar with that simultaneous desire to write and the repulsion from writing that leads us into the nether realm of procrastination. We’re doing something else — ANYTHING else — and it can range from feeling like we’re doing something vitally important to just plain old digging our heels in and resisting.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we need to “warm up” first before we can write, with a little email, Facebook, or even a treat of some kind.

Or we decide we simply cannot tolerate the state of our physical space for a single minute longer — how many offices, bathrooms, and kitchens have seen the plus side of procrastination on a day when writing feels oh-so-hard to do?

Other things come up too, right? All those urgent deadlines, other people’s problems, our kids’ needs, that bit of online research you just can’t wait to do (you know, that one that snowballs into two hours of online nothingness — and yes, I speak from experience), or even bigger things, like that college degree you suddenly have to have.

Understanding procrastination

There are a few of key things to understand about procrastination:

1. It’s (usually) driven by fear. There’s some kind of fear coming up that’s stopping you from writing. You may not be clear on what it is, but trust me, it’s there. Fears of success, failure, commitment, overwhelm, rejection, praise, inability to deliver, etc. are most likely to come up. (When it’s not fear-driven, there’s usually something significant going on, like healing from a traumatic creative wound or recovering from creative burnout, but I would call that a block, a subject for a future post.)

2. Not taking action on your writing will keep you in a low grade state of anxiety, guilt, and shame. I say “low” but it can skyrocket into a full-on painful squirming-in-shame. So even if you’re pretending you are just watching your favorite TV show for a little treat before you get started and that it will help you relax into writing — check in with yourself — are you really, truly, in your heart-of-heart’s feeling relaxed? Or are you twitching with unrest and discomfort inside?

3. It’s a lot easier to fix than you think it is. There are some days when it simply isn’t possible to sit down and power through tons of writing. That’s okay. There are days when you can’t face your draft. That’s okay. But you CAN write, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

And ultimately, making small moves will help you beat procrastination in the big picture.

Beating procrastination

Here are seven ways you can beat procrastination and get back in the writing saddle:

1. Have a short but honest talk with yourself about what’s really going on. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it’s worth acknowledging in the privacy of your own mind, “Yes, I’m procrastinating, and it feels crummy. I’m going to do something about it.”

2. Tell someone what you’re doing. Find an accountability partner, a writing buddy, or a writing group (like my online Writer’s Circle) that will help you commit to doing the writing and seeing it through. It helps tremendously to say to another person (even if it’s your spouse or best friend!), “I’m going to write today no matter what.”

3. Make a deal with yourself to write ANYTHING for 15 minutes. I don’t care if you write morning pages, a list of all the reasons you hate writing, or actually work on your current writing project. Just get out a piece of paper or open your Scrivener file or Word document (I’m a Pages girl myself), and put words on the page, even if they are crap. (Using a timer for your 15 minutes is a special bonus tip – it’s like pressing the “GO” button. Try it!)

4. If 15 minutes feels like too much, make it smaller. The goal should be small enough that you find yourself saying, “Well, heck, I can at least do THAT much.” So if 15 minutes sounds daunting, do five. Or write ONE sentence (I’m not kidding). The key here is to get yourself into action WRITING. Period.

5. If you’ve racked up a lot of frequent procrastinator miles, STOP when you meet your goal. There are a LOT of writers I talk to who commit to write for 15 minutes, do it, and then find it so easy they keep on going. That’s great, if you’re just jump-starting yourself after a day or two away. But if you’ve been in the writing desert and the words have been few and far between, when you meet your writing goal for the day, stop and celebrate. Don’t break trust with yourself and keep on writing — you’ll only set yourself up for a bigger challenge tomorrow when you feel like you have to “do better” and suddenly have too daunting a goal to face. 

6. Reward yourself for writing. One of my favorite writers, writer-director Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy, The Avengers), rewards himself just for having an idea. Don’t be stingy here. Writing each day is the equivalent of beating back the forces of darkness. You deserve to whoop it up a little once you pull it off. Give yourself a piece of chocolate, a stretch in the sunshine, or even those things you’d normally be procrastinating with. Remember the email, Facebook, and favorite TV shows? Make those your cool downs instead of your warm ups and you’ll be good to go.

7. Do it again tomorrow! You’ve beaten procrastination today, great work!! Now, when you wake up tomorrow, use these tools to make a shorter path to writing. It’ll feel great. Then once you get on a roll, start building up to more over time.

Thanks for reading!

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





There’s no right time to write

Join the Writer's CircleWe often trick ourselves into thinking there’s a “right” time to write. We plan special writing days. We dream of far-off futures where we’ll have plenty of time to write. But there really isn’t a “right” time — there’s only now. Join the next Writer’s Circle session (new sessions start every 28 days) and get help to beat procrastination and write every day.

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

Writing even when overwhelmed

As writers and creatives with a certain sensitivity to life, we can get easily overwhelmed, which can be paralyzing, deeply uncomfortable, and hard to break free from.

Let’s talk about why that happens and what we can do about it.

There are a few different ways overwhelm happens, and they inform us about how to handle the overwhelm, so it’s useful to look at what’s gotten us overwhelmed in the first place.

1. We get overwhelmed by the size of a project.

When we’re taking on a big project (like writing a novel, for instance), if we look at the entirety of the thing, it can be overwhelming just to contemplate, let alone begin it. I’m reminded of the joke about how to eat an elephant. If we look at the whole thing, it feels impossible. But when we think about taking “one bite at a time”, we can begin to see how to start going about it.


  • Break it down into component parts. For example, with a writing project, we can start with brainstorming, or an outline. Then we can tackle one scene at a time.
  • Make a list of everything you’ll want to do — then put it away. Focus on one thing at a time and stop thinking about the big picture, or you’ll make yourself crazy.
  • Look at working in small increments of time, as small as 5 to 15 minutes a day. It’s quite surprising what we can accomplish in these little chunks. I wrote my screenplay Rift in 15 to 30 minute increments, and it was thrilling to see the page count creeping up, day after day.

2. We get plain old overstimulated.

If you fall on the highly sensitive side of the spectrum, you’re more sensitive to stimulation of any kind, and have a lower threshold for stimulation than the rest of the population. This means that you’re more likely to get overwhelmed earlier than your peers, which can feel a little crazy making when everyone else seems to be able to handle it just fine, thank you very much. But overwhelm from overstimulation is just as paralyzing as the other types.


  • Remove yourself from the source of the stimulation.
  • Give yourself time to recover.
  • Have a repertoire of soothing practices to get grounded, balanced, and present again.
  • Notice that writing will often help you feel more grounded, balanced, and present again.
  • Plan ahead to keep stimulation at a manageable level in the future and build in recovery time.

3. We get overwhelmed by life.

Then there’s the “garden variety” overwhelm we experience in our busy world. There’s always more to do, more to take on, more to handle. Someone always needs something, there’s a project that’s due, our kids are sick, you name it.

And it can be easy to let something like a writing habit or a passion project fall to the wayside in the midst of all that. But the cost is far higher than you might expect. It turns out that feeding the passion we feel and fulfilling the commitment to our deeper selves is critical fuel we need to actually handle the overwhelm. Even at a time when “one more thing” feels like way too much, putting ourselves first — just like we put our oxygen masks on first — is key to staying grounded and sane when the going gets tough.


As far as solutions go, it depends.

First ask yourself, is this an ongoing pattern in my life? If so, the answer is to look closely at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, to see if there is anything you can let go of, delegate, or defer. Be willing to keep your passion project at the top of the list, and let go of other obligations. Your first obligation is to yourself. Choose wisely.

On the other hand, if you’re experiencing an unusual period of intense work, simply “contract” your expectations on your project to an attainable level. For example, write for 15 minutes instead of an hour, or pick out the tiniest piece of your project to focus on.

  • Be willing to look at what you might need to let go of.
  • Contract your project expectations to a reasonable, attainable level.
  • Remember the value and importance of feeding your soul’s passion.
  • Build up to more over time.

4. We get overwhelmed by major life stresses and events.

Beyond the “ordinary” level of overwhelm we feel in our day to day lives comes the extraordinary kind of stress and overwhelm we can feel when a major life event dominates our experience, like a parent being hospitalized, a major relationship upheaval, the death of a loved one, or personal surgeries or health issues.

During times like these, pretty much everything drops off the radar that isn’t “critical path” to handling the major life event. In my opinion, that’s okay, especially during the true crisis times. But once things start to settle down into a “new normal”, see if you can find your way to doing the contracted version of your project I mentioned under number 2, above.


  • Give yourself time and space to deal with the major event.
  • Return to the project as soon as you reasonably can, at a minimal level of engagement.
  • Build up to more over time.

5. We get overwhelmed because we’re burnt out.

When we are creatively (and energetically) burned out, we can get overwhelmed by the simplest things. Keeping the house clean, dealing with paperwork, and handling the basics of daily living can make us want to crawl back into bed and hide.

Usually this happens for a couple of reasons, including dealing with the ongoing high level of expectations we have in our culture about what we should be able to do in any given day (see #2, above), and dealing with major life events (see #3, above), but it can also include the creative backlash that comes from pushing ourselves to the point of burnout.

In other words, if we’re working crazy hours to meet a deadline, we become exhausted when it’s done, and no surprise there either. But few of us allow ourselves to take time off when that happens.


  • Plan to take at least one solid day off after a big push, maybe a few more.
  • If you’re creatively burnt out, give some thought to how you’ll refill your creative well with interesting and inspiring ideas as you recover. My favorites: museums, art stores, toy stores, TED talks.
  • If you’re energetically burnt out (which usually goes hand-in-hand with creative burnout), seriously ramp up your self care for a while. You’ve just taxed yourself and you need time to bounce back.
  • Keep the writing going by doing morning pages during this time, or if you already have a next project to work on, put in the minimum amount of time on it and then take the rest of the day to renew. But do it first, so you can fully enjoy the time without the low level of stress and anxiety that procrastination creates.
  • Transition yourself to a regular writing habit so you won’t have to work so intensely in a big burst all at the end (if you need help with this the Writer’s Circle may be just the ticket for you.)

Your turn

What works for you? How do you deal with overwhelm? We’d love to hear from you in the comments on the blog.



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Fighting writing resistance

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

Ah, resistance.

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

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

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

But resistance is tricky!

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


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

Here’s the scene:

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

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


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

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

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

Vigilance is required.

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

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

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

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


Your turn

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

Build the habit to overcome your own resistance

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




Why we procrastinate, especially about the stuff that really matters

I had a lovely chat with a friend recently about applying to a school program she’s interested in. She confessed that even though she very much wanted to attend the school, she hadn’t yet completed the application.


That familiar friend: Procrastination.

Why do we procrastinate about things that are important to us?

Why is that when it comes time to do the hard work, whether it’s taking action on our businesses, filing important paperwork, writing that longed for novel or script, or making time for our art, we stall?

I mean, sure, it’s hard, but we’ve also said how important it is to us. We’ve spent money on classes, books, training, and support. We’ve written it into our schedules. It’s clearly a priority for us, right?

So why so much talk and not so much action?

It’s the size of the dream that matters.

I’ll say that again: It’s the size of the dream that matters.

The more important something is to you, the more fear, procrastination, and resistance you experience. In fact, the level of fear you feel seems to be directly proportional to the size of the dream.

Perhaps even a little bigger, just for good measure.

“The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.”


~ Robert Maurer, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way


The problem: We’re wired to shut down in the face of fear.

The fact that our brains are wired to shut down in the face of fear is what creates the entire conundrum in the first place.

As Robert Maurer describes in One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, when our brains go into fight-or-flight mode, our frontal cortex — our thinking, rational brain — is automatically shut off so that we can respond appropriately and quickly to the threat at hand. This is a natural response to fear. Unfortunately, our mid-brains, home to the amygdala that governs the fight-or-flight response, can’t differentiate between the fear that comes up when we’re confronted with a tiger or when we’re contemplating completing the next great opus.

And so suddenly your thinking, rational and creative brain is completely turned off . . . which when you’re attempting to create and design new business ideas or a screenplay, isn’t so helpful.

The good news

The good news is that when you can learn to expect the fear to show up, you can normalize it and make it okay. Then it’s easier to be compassionate with yourself and coax yourself through the tasks at hand.

I’ve learned to recognize my own resistance routine and treat it like a familiar visitor I know how to handle.

I tell myself, “It’s okay, I know you’re scared, you can do this anyway.” And I do (as my Called to Write members can attest).

It helps that I make a point to tackle things in small pieces, just the way Maurer recommends: “Small, easily achievable goals — such as picking up and storing just one paper clip on a chronically messy desk — let you tiptoe right past the amygdala, keeping it asleep and unable to set off alarm bells.”

This is why, even on really tough days, you’ll still find me writing at least 15 minutes a day on my screenplay, six days a week, no matter what.

The really good news?

The more work you do in small steps, the more your brain gets rewired with new neural pathways and new habits, making resistance so much easier to overcome.

Your turn

What’s your experience with procrastination? How do you deal with it? Have you experimented with small steps at all? You know I love to hear from you in the comments.



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The end of the world as we know it

I’ve been writing a lot about staying on course and listening to our own inner guidance about what we’re passionate about and called to take action on. Today’s post ventures a little father afield into a broader context I’m noticing for so many people right now: radically changing circumstances. Enjoy.

I’ve been interested in the idea of the world “ending” in 2012. Curious, waiting to see what will really happen, and anticipating something along the lines of Y2K.

In other words, not much.

My sense has always been that if December 2012 truly is the “end of the world,” that it would more likely be “The end of the world as we know it,” meaning that things will change radically and significantly as we pass through the final months of 2012… perhaps even being so lucky as to emerge into a new state of higher consciousness as some of the spiritual leaders suggest due to some kind of major world-wide changes or events. 

That seems like a good thing. I’m down with it.

As I’ve observed this year unfolding however, I’ve been caught off guard by the way this massive change is playing out. I’d expected to see it on global scale, but instead (at least so far) I’m seeing big shifts on a very personal scale.

So many people around me are experiencing sudden, sweeping change. Their loved ones are dying or being diagnosed with major illnesses. Relationships are crumbling apart and unexpected truths are being revealed. So much is happening and so many people are affected and in crisis. Even people who seem “immune” because their lives appear fairly stable are getting unexpected phone calls that send their lives spiraling in entirely new directions.

It has happened for me too: Over the last 2 months, my personal life has been changed in an entirely unexpected way. I believe it will ultimately be all to the good — and — it’s been darn hard going through it.

It feels like the world is being adjusted — everything that doesn’t support us is being changed or let go of — in a radical, unalterable way.

I think I’m seeing “the end of the world as we know it” unfolding before my very eyes.

My world has certainly been irrevocably changed.

So has my best friend’s life. So has my cousin’s, my sister’s, and my friend’s life. So many changes are happening every day and everywhere.

Surprisingly, I feel 100 times stronger than I ever have before.

My resolve to keep writing no matter what has been astounding, and gratifying.

My sense of commitment to myself has been deeply reaffirmed.

It isn’t easy.

There are hard days and easier days.

But I have this sense that we’ll ALL get to the other side of this challenging time stronger, more connected, and more whole.

What do you think?

You know I love to hear from you in the comments on the blog.




Coming Attractions

~> October 25th. Register by October 25th for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts October 29th). Looking to feel passionate again about your writing? You must write to get there: http://JustDoTheWriting.com


What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.*

~> Sacred writing time. My schedule is in flux right now but I’m still writing.

~> Reading: Eragon with my son. Loving Homeland, it’s amazing.


* Affiliate link




When you lose heart

There’s a lot you want to do.

It’s important to you, or you wouldn’t be doing it.

In fact, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe you had something worth sharing with the world, even if you aren’t 100% clear on all the details yet.

My experience of being a creative, an entrepreneur, and a sensitive soul is a bit like navigating through a misty swamp. There are days and times when I catch clear glimpses of exactly where I want to go, and other days when I’m deep in the swirling fog and I can’t see my way through it.

Sometimes, I flounder on those days and lose my way.

Other times, I soldier on anyway.

Either way, it’s not easy.

If you’ve lost heart, try one of these:

  • Reach out to people who remember who you are, even when you can’t. A good chat with a mentor or best friend is a soothing balm at times like these.
  • Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. There IS a reason — a core message, idea, or purpose you care deeply about.
  • Find it within yourself to do your best, even when your best on that particular day is just showing up.
  • Do something different — get a new perspective, expose yourself to new ideas, or watch or read something inspiring.
  • Remind yourself that what you’re doing takes courage, it’s normal to falter now and again, and carry on doing the work anyway, trusting that you’ll get to the other side one way or the other.

Once you’ve made it through the morass to the other side, see if there’s something you can set up to help remind yourself quickly and easily about why you do what you do. A beloved client and I were just talking about Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” talk and devised a way for her to post her why, how, and what in front of her as she does her work. She’s going to post it on a bulletin board to help remind herself of what she’s about.

Tell me what you think

What do you do to get back on track if you lose heart? Share your thoughts.




Coming Attractions

~> August 30th. Register by August 30 for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts September 3rd). For serious writers and for writers who want to get serious about their writing. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

~> September 6th. Last day to register for the next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group happening on October 4th. These groups always sell out (only 3 spots remaining) so if you want to discover your life purpose through the remarkably accurate tool of hand analysis, sign up here now: http://LifePurposeBreakthrough.com


What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Working on my script, Progeny, with screenwriter Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.*

~> September 18 to 22nd. Heading to Hollywood for a ScreenwritingU* event to meet with producers and agents then staying on for the InkTip Pitch Summit.

~> Sacred writing time. Early mornings and Fridays.

~> Reading: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. Watching Weeds and Newsroom.


* Affiliate link

Failure, Zombies, Systems, and Steven Pressfield

I was emailing with a beloved client this week who was concerned about setting herself up for failure by taking on something she might not be ready for.

I said, “It’s not about failing or not failing, it’s about learning what works for you and what doesn’t, and refining until it does.”

She made a great choice to take a midway step toward the thing she was considering. 

In the meantime, our conversation got me thinking about failure and our relationship to it.

The Payoff of Incapacity

Then today I started reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. (If you haven’t read his stuff, don’t wait. He’s amazing.) He says:

“There’s a difference between failing (which is a natural and normal part of life) and being addicted to failure. When we’re addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we are secretly relieved.”

He argues that when you remain addicted to failure you allow yourself to indulge in the “payoff of incapacity.” And what’s the payoff there? Leaving your talents “unexplored, untried, and unrealized.”

And doesn’t that make sense?

Let’s face it, fulfilling your dreams is wickedly terrifying. What if you do fail? What if you can’t rise to the challenge?

It’s safer not to try. Easier to stay addicted to failure.

But you don’t really want to be a zombie, right?

To me, the risk of not trying is much more costly.

Our culture is filled with shadow people — speaking of zombies, these are the real walking dead — never pursuing their hopes and dreams, selling out for the American dream and not living their own.

We pay with our souls when we don’t do our Work.

Edison Knew Better

In various online sources, the numbers differ about exactly how many times Thomas Edison failed when he attempted to make a light bulb, but there is agreement on one thing: He made so many attempts that most of us would have given up long before he did. LONG before.

His take on the situation was to say that he had not failed, but rather proven that all those other methods did not work.

Design Better Experiments

Which takes me back to my client and the principle I shared with her.

When we choose to see our “failures” as failed experiments, we can design new ones, and see what works better.

Create Better Systems

For example, I have been terrible about filing for years. On Monday it dawned on me that I simply need a better system and that I haven’t completely finished designing that system. I’ve worked on it, it’s better, but it isn’t done. That’s all. It’s not that I’m a bad person or even bad at filing, it’s that I don’t have a workable system yet.

Look at What’s Not Working

As another example, at one point I had a bad system for paying my team too. They would email me their invoices and I would procrastinate about paying them. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was that it seemed overwhelming. Sometimes I’d even be worried the invoices would be too high. I’d have to force myself to download and open their invoices, figure out how much I owed them, write the checks, address the envelopes, get them in the mail, etc. I’d do it, but it felt like pulling teeth. I was often late.

Needless to say, no one was very happy about it, so we came up with a new system.

My team members now put their invoice numbers and amounts due in the subject lines of their email messages to me. At a glance, I know exactly how much I owe them. We also made an agreement that I’d pay them no later than 2 days after I receive their invoices. And they all send them on a specific day every other week. I also have sheet of pre-printed address labels for each of them ready to go.

Now, when the time comes, I just whip out my checkbook, write out the checks, drop them in the self-sealing envelopes, decorate them with the address labels and stamps and voilà. Done.

Something I used to dread has become simple and doable, just because I took the time to create a system for it.

This Works for the Big Stuff too

When it comes to the big stuff, your Work, this works too.

For example, if you want to build your business, but you’re not taking steps each day to do that, look at what’s getting in the way and what you’re doing instead.

If you want to write but you think you don’t have the time, look — really, truly LOOK — at what you’re doing with with your time.

If you want to put yourself out there for speaking gigs, getting more clients, doing more art, or going on more auditions, look at what you’re doing, or not doing, to make that happen.

Then create a system to help you overcome the roadblocks you’re unwittingly putting in your own way.

Bottom Line

The beauty of taking time to really LOOK at where your systems are breaking down — at where you are “failing” — is that it can make a huge difference in your sense of accomplishment and belief in yourself. Which is so worth the investment.

Your turn

Share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.



10 tips to get unstuck and write more now

Note: This is a continuation of last week’s blog post: What to do when you want to write but you’re not writing: 6 steps to get back on track. If you want to receive my special Writer’s Series of articles in your inbox, make sure you sign up for my Free Writing Tips series (see the graphic in the sidebar).

Writing regularly is easier than it looks. Like I said recently, discipline isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. My personal goal is to make NOT writing a whole lot harder than it is to write. It’s working! So far I’ve finished a feature length script, 3 shorts, a short story, and countless articles and blog posts. You can do it too.

Here are 10 tips for getting unstuck and making writing regularly a whole lot easier:

Tip #1: Brainstorm.

If you’re good and truly stuck on a specific part of your project, first try brainstorming. It’ll let your mind relax and give you a chance to “try on” ideas rather than feeling like you have to come up with the “right” one.

Then, if you’re staying stuck, check to see if you need more information — research, a class, training, a mentor, etc. It’s OKAY to get help. Really!

Tip #2: Be in community.

Writing can be a dismally lonely business at times. Sure, when you’re on fire and things are rolling, you’re fine. But what about when you hit the skids and you feel that desperate sense of isolation or feel like you’re the only one facing the fear and self-doubt? Every single writer in my Writer’s Circle talks about the same challenges and issues. It’s heartening to know you are not alone.

Tip #3: Never look at a blank page.

If a blank page feels overwhelming to you, don’t use one. Start with questions, a structure, an outline, anything.

When I start a script I first outline the major story beats by numbering and listing them on the page, then I break them down into smaller beats. By the time I paste that into my screenwriting software, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’m headed. And I never stare at an empty page wondering what to put onto it.

Tip #4: Keep the “parts” on the table for as long as possible.

Perfectionists that we are, we are often too quick to make creative decisions and rule ideas out — often before we’ve really explored them. Give your ideas their due, and “keep the parts on the table,” as Accidental Genius author Todd Henry says, “for as long as possible.” This means that you don’t throw ANYTHING out too soon.

Tip #5: Give yourself permission to write crap.

Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Why would you EVER hold yourself to a higher standard than him?

I’ve been seeing a guy practicing his clarinet in a car in the parking lot lately. I love that he is doing whatever he has to do to give himself permission to be bad at something while he finds his footing.

You deserve that too.

Tip #6: Ratchet back the over-achieving.

Yes, I know it’ll take a long time to write a book in 15 minute increments (though it CAN be done — I wrote 25 pages of a script that way and Terri Fedonczak — below — finished the first draft of her parenting book that way).

I know you think  you need to write for at least (1 hour, 4 hours, 8 hours) a day. Trust me when I tell you that when you’re getting back on the writing horse, that’s the surest way to shoot yourself in the foot. You can write more once you’ve got the habit firmly in place.

Start small, and start now.

Tip #7: Keep your head down.

Stop thinking of the bigger project. Keep your head down and just take it one step at a time.

As you repeat these steps, you can work up to more writing as it feels appropriate. When I started writing my last script, all I could bring myself to do was 15 minutes per day. Now I’m writing more. You’ll work up to it. Just take it one word at a time for now.

Tip #8: Deal with the fear.

Underneath resistance to writing is fear. It’s okay. Of course it’s scary. Fear is common when we face things like failure, success, the unknown, and putting our abilities to the test. You can get help with it or work with it on your own, but at the end of the day, your biggest job is getting out of your own way.

Tip #9: Avoid burnout.

It’s much more important that you write regularly and consistently in small, short bursts than it is to write in long blocks of time. Give yourself a break and pace yourself. Being a serious writer means being in it for the long haul.

Tip #10: Write early in the morning.

All those writers who have been getting up at the crack of dawn have got it wired. Writing early, before your rational brain fully kicks in and wants to do all those “important things” that keep you from writing, is so much easier than trying to wrangle it into your day later on. I’m not even a morning person and I love it.

The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts on Monday, June 11th, and the last day to register is THIS Thursday, June 7th by Midnight Eastern Time. If you are a serious writer who isn’t writing — or a writer who wants to get more serious about your work — my Writer’s Circle system will help you finish your projects. Come join us! Your group and your coach are ready to welcome you.

Find out more at www.JustDoTheWriting.com

“I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time.”

“I’ve had this book brewing in me for 15 years. I never thought I could finish it…it seemed too big. After joining the Writer’s Circle, I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time. The Writer’s Circle system is so effective, that I have used the basic principles in other areas of my life to great success. It is so satisfying to finally turn my dream into reality.”

~ Terri Fedonczak, Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, www.aLifeInBalance.com

Started her parenting book 10 years ago and finished it in 3 sessions of the Writer’s Circle, 15 minutes at a time.