Free Teleclass: Keeping Your Creative Energy Vibrant for Optimal Writing Productivity

The third class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and the recording is now available! We had some technical line challenges so I rerecorded the call and the fresh, much better quality recording is now available. It’s super exciting to see our list of registered participants continue to grow — we’re up to almost 120 now.

In case you’ve missed the first three classes, you can still sign up for the four-part series (we’re continuing tomorrow with Part IV on Tuesday, March 24 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time). The important thing to know is that each class stands on its own, so it’s perfectly okay to jump in at any point in the series.

You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register and you’ll also get the call-in information for the next class. 

Here’s what we’ve covered in the classes so far:

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

  • Defining what being productive means.
  • 3 writing productivity principles.
  • 5 time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
  • 7 writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.

Part II: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It

  • Defining perfectionism and 5 thoughts about the role perfectionism plays in our writing lives.
  • The Anti-Creativity Cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis and a laundry list of ways it shows up.
  • Other creative blocks and obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, and more.
  • 15 solutions and antidotes for the Anti-Creativity Cycle and other creative blocks.

Part III: Keeping Your Creative Energy Vibrant for Optimal Writing Productivity

  • The trick to managing the emotional ups and downs of a long-form writing project
  • Simple but important ways to take care of your physical body AND your creative mind
  • 3 energy boosting strategies
  • 3 nifty techniques to balance and recharge your energy
  • 5 creative recovery skills for whenever (or if ever!) you get off track.

Each of the first two recordings are 60 minutes each and include 15 minutes of Q&A time at the end of the classes. The recording for the third class does not include the Q&A time since it’s a do-over recording.

TOMORROW, Thursday, March 24, for Part IV, we’ll be covering Setting Motivating Writing Goals and Intentions, plus I’m adding a bonus section on managing distractions.

Join us!

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And don’t miss our New Member Special!

New Member Special 

Free Class: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It

The second class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and we had a terrific time! With over 110 writers now signed up for the program, I’ve loved getting to work with the writers who’ve been able to be there live so far and I know more will be listening to the recordings.

In case you’ve missed the first two classes, you can still sign up for the four-part series (we’re continuing next week with Part III on Tuesday, March 22 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time).

You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register and you’ll also get the call-in information for the next class. 

Here’s what we covered in the first two classes:

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

  • Defining what being productive means.
  • 3 writing productivity principles.
  • 5 time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
  • 7 writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.

Part II: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It

  • Defining perfectionism and 5 thoughts about the role perfectionism plays in our writing lives.
  • The Anti-Creativity Cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis and a laundry list of ways it shows up.
  • Other creative blocks and obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, and more.
  • 15 solutions and antidotes for the Anti-Creativity Cycle and other creative blocks.

Both recordings are 60 minutes each and include 15 minutes of Q&A time at the end of the classes.

Next Tuesday, March 22, for Part III, we’ll be covering Energy Strategies and Softer Skills to Keep you Operating at Peak Performance, and Recovery Skills for Whenever (or If Ever!) You Need Them.

Join us!

 

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Free Class: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

The first class in my free series, Master Your Creative Productivity, was great fun last night. With almost 100 writers signed up for the program, it was terrific to get on the line and share these tips about how to write more productively.

In case you missed the live call, you can still sign up for the four-part series (we’re continuing tomorrow, Thursday, March 17 at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time). You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register and you’ll also get the call-in information for the next class. 

Here’s what we talked about in the first class, “Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively:”

  • Defining what being productive means.
  • Three writing productivity principles.
  • Five time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
  • Seven writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.

Tomorrow, for Part 2, we’ll be covering the Anti-Creativity Cycle and how to break out of it, as well as covering other obstacles to productivity that trip us up.

Join us!

 

[otw_shortcode_button href=”http://programs.calledtowrite.com/creative-productivity/” size=”large” bgcolor=”#006666″ icon_type=”general foundicon-right-arrow” icon_position=”left” shape=”square” text_color=”#ffffff”]Register for the Series & Get the Recordings Here[/otw_shortcode_button]

 

 

Free Teleclass Series: Master Your Creative Productivity

Registration is now open for my free four-part Master Your Creative Productivity teleclass series that starts on Tuesday, March 15.

In the class series we’ll cover:

  • Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively
  • The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It
  • Energy Strategies and “Softer” Skills to Keep You Operating at Peak Performance
  • Recovery Skills For Whenever (If Ever) You Get Off Track
  • How to Set Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions
  • … and much more 

Find out more and register here: http://programs.calledtowrite.com/creative-productivity

I’m looking forward to “seeing” you in the class series.

Jenna

 

Find Your Three Big Rocks

I mentioned in a recent post that I’ve written “in the past” about choosing your “three big rocks” for the year. Turns out “the past” was 2007 (!), so I thought it was worth sharing again. 

I believe this idea has tremendous validity in our overly busy world.

Turns out, when we focus our efforts on the important things we want to accomplish and create with our lives, we are more productive and we are happier.

The Three Big Rocks concept has been spread by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

I’ve heard it told a number of different ways. Here’s an abridged version:

A time management expert places a large wide-mouthed jar on the table, and then puts several large rocks carefully into the jar. When the jar is packed to the top, he asks, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone watching says, “Yes.”

He says, “Really?” He adds pebbles into the jar and the group watches as they work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he asks again, “Is this jar full?”

By this time, the group is skeptical. “Maybe not,” they say.

“Good!” he answers. He adds sand to the jar and it fills in the spaces left between the rocks and the pebbles.

Once more, he asks, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” they shout.

Once again, he says, “Good!”

Then he takes a pitcher of water and pours it in until the jar is full to the brim.

He then looks at the group and asks, “What do you think is the point of this Illustration?”

One eager beaver raises her hand and says, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit more things in.”

“No,” the speaker replies, “that’s not my point. The Truth is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all.”

We have to pick out what our “Big Rocks”, organize our priorities around those, and only then look at what else we want to add into the remaining interstitial spaces of our lives.

No more of this “I have to take care of [8 million small things] before I can put my attention on my writing.” Trust me, it doesn’t work. Where you put your attention is what you get more of. 

I’ve learned to put my focus on only three big rocks for any given day, and for the year as a whole as well. 

Writing, of course, is always one of my big rocks. I manage to get MOST of the little things done as well. And the rest of them? Well, they aren’t usually that important.

For this year, my three big rocks are my kids, my writing, and my business.

For today, my three big rocks are working on this blog post, working on my script, and writing two testimonials for my beloved coaches.

What are yours?

Powerful questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the three most important things I want to accomplish today?
  • What are the three big things I want to create or accomplish this year?
  • What truly matters to me in terms of how I spend my time?
  • How well are my choices matching up with what matters most to me?

You might also like this article I wrote for ScriptMag on the subject of being too busy to write.

 

Happy writing!

 

 

Enjoy Your Writing, Enjoy Your Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, enjoyment, appreciation, and gratitude lately.

As someone who tends to be prone to seeing “what’s wrong with this picture”, it isn’t particularly easy for me to remember to see the positives in my life and enjoy them. I habitually look for the next thing to fix and improve upon. Then throw in some sleep deprivation and a fussy toddler, and the trip down the rabbit hole into the darkness and negativity can be a short one. ;)

However, I’ve been making some subtle shifts in this department that are adding up to be rather huge.

I’ve never been a fan of gratitude lists or journals. I mean, they SOUND like a great idea, and I BELIEVE in the idea of being grateful, but when I’m stuck in feeling overwhelmed, negative, or down about my life, it feels impossible to get into that space of gratitude and appreciation.

But what’s oh-so-cool right now is that I’m noticing that by making these simple shifts in the way I’m approaching my life and what I’m doing, gratitude and appreciation have become by-products of my experience. I love that!

This all started when I decided to participate in Dr. Jessica Michaelson‘s online journaling program about minimizing online distractions. Just freeing myself from my small but pernicious online addictions has created a huge sense of relief and space in my life.

Then I went on and joined her Finding What You Didn’t Lose program, which I’m also loving. 

Here’s what we’re doing, on a very simple level, that I’m finding so very helpful.

  1. Setting an intention for how we want to approach the day ahead in a way that’s connected to what’s most important to us (like being present or being adventuresome).
  2. Getting clear on the three main things we’re aiming to do in a given day (I’ve written in the past about “three big rocks” for the year — this is about picking them for the day!).
  3. Noticing where we can build in connection, use our natural talents, and find sensory pleasure in our days.

This is all based in research about happiness,* which shows that we need to experience connection, meaning, pleasure, flow, and accomplishment in order to feel happy in our lives. 

How to translate this into enjoying your writing

One of the biggest challenges in long-form writing (a novel, book, screenplay, for instance) is that it can feel endless, like we’ll never reach the finish line of “done”. Living immersed in that context can be disheartening at times and downright discouraging at others.

To keep ourselves feeling fresh — and happy — we need to stay connected to several things, like:

  1. WHY we’re doing it. When we’re clear about how important writing is to us and believe it is our calling, we stay connected to its meaning in our lives. Some days writing is hard, some days it’s fun and easy. But in the big picture, we care deeply about it, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. We can even go a little more deeply into the Big Why behind our writing. Perhaps we have a message or vision to share, or we’re hoping to shape, change, and influence people’s lives. When we give thought to our Why, it’s easier to keep on writing.
  2. Small, short term goals. If a long-form writing project, with all its requisite rewrites, is a long-term deal, we need to make sure we create a short term feeling of accomplishment for ourselves right now in addition to our big picture aims. This is easy to do when you set attainable, daily goals. When you start the day with a plan, like “today I’m going to write (one new scene, 350 words, for 15 minutes, etc.)” then you KNOW when you have done it, or not. And when you keep the goal attainable, so you KNOW you can do it, it’s easier to push through any resistance and make it happen. Then you’ll get the satisfied feeling of accomplishment that’s so important for your sense of happiness. As a bonus for this, doing the writing early in the day will only make the rest of what you get done that day a bonus. :)
  3. Other writers and other people. Hang out with other writers who 1) get what it’s really like to write day in and day out, and 2) have generally positive and supportive attitudes about writing. (My Called to Write Coaching Circle is a positive, supportive place for writers, for example.) Be mindful about hanging out in groups of writers who will only tell you how hard it is to break in. Instead, look for people who are finding ways to write and ways into the business that work for them, their lifestyles, and their temperaments. ALSO spend time with non-writers too: Your loved ones, family, and friends. Life is rich, and our writing is richer when we are connected to it.
  4. The rest of life. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As writers, we tend to be hunched over desks and computers more than average. We need to get out and enjoy the world and take care of our bodies too. Turns out that sensory pleasure happens mostly in the real world, so give yourself some gifts in this regard. I’ve been savoring the simple things, like walks in the beautiful weather, delicious tea, snuggling with my littlest one while he goes to sleep and with my eldest one while I read to him at night, taking Pilates classes, and blowing bubbles for the kids in the sunshine.
  5. Our writing itself. Writing, by nature, can produce the wonderful state of flow that’s part of the recipe for happiness. When we’re writing, we’re in the flow of using our innate talents. So if you’re having trouble getting past the natural resistance that comes up around doing the writing, get support to get into the flow. A working writer is a happy writer.

Here are some power questions to help you put what I’ve written about today into practice:

  • What’s important to you about your writing?
  • What short term writing goal can you set and achieve today?
  • How can you connect with other writers today?
  • What can you do to experience pleasure in the real world today in your life?
  • What support do you need, if any, to get into the flow of your writing today?

Use these questions to make simple shifts and enjoy your writing (more!), and your life. You deserve it.

 

What to do when you come up empty

naomi dunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post by Naomi Dunford, my friend and business consultant who runs IttyBiz.com.

Although she’s writing from the perspective of business writing or blogging, her wonderful ideas for how to cope with “coming up empty” are useful for writers of all sorts.

Take a look and see what resonates as useful for you.

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Today, I completely ran out of things to say.

I wrote the introductions for my next seven newsletters.

I found quotes for the next month.

I wrote 53 emails, planned a trip, and took two sales calls.

And I called my mother.

I should note here that I’m writing this on a Saturday.

I’m sure it comes as a surprise to nobody, but at some point in this process, I completely ran out of things to say.

And poor you! You are sitting there, breathlessly waiting for your next instalment of the IttyBiz daily and I am dry. I got nothing.

Hmm.

It’s weird when this happens. You’re on this crazy roll, getting an absolutely stupid amount of stuff done, and you’re getting accustomed to the momentum. It’s like shopping in a crazy busy mall. You get into a flow of bam! bam! bam! Dodge, charge, pivot, go, turn, and then…

Silence. Motionlessness.

It’s like all of a sudden the people are gone and the stores are shut and you’re not entirely sure what you’re supposed to do now.

What you are supposed to do now

When you are experiencing temporary burnout, you must do something that is not work.

That something should be, at minimum, comparable in time and attention level as a chunk of work. If you would be working for two hours, you should take at least two hours away. If you would be working on something mentally engrossing, you should do something equally engrossing.

This seems obvious to those around you, and yet completely counterintuitive to you. You think that you should stay busy, stay occupied, get something useful done. You think that you should try harder, or get a coffee, or stare at your computer screen for a while in case that solves the problem.

Nope. This is one of those few situations where the majority is actually right.

All your idiot friends who tell you that you need to take a little break, step away from the computer for a while? Those ones who just don’t get it?

Yeah, unfortunately, it’s you who doesn’t get it. (Please bear in mind here that when I say “you”, I mean “me”.)

Time for some practical examples!

If you were going to work on outlining your next project, and it was going to be mentally taxing, you need something that will not only utilize a completely separate area of your brain, but something that will actively restore you. A movie, perhaps. A run, maybe, as long as you’re not the type who thinks while you’re running.

If you were catching up on your emails and it wasn’t going to be taxing, you can just do something dumb and brainless. Candy Crush: Soda Saga is a nice choice here, but if you’re stuck on a level, you’ll only get five minutes. But the movie option still works. I routinely TiVo Jeopardy! for situations like this one.

If you’re doing something that’s making you numb, like taxes, you’re going to need something energizing. Some kind of personal treat would be a good idea, ideally something that gets you far away from the source of the problem. Drop in on a yoga class or get an ice cream. Bonus science points if you go somewhere you don’t normally go – it activates the novelty parts of your brain and makes you more alert for a good while afterwards.

Some tips for taking a break:

1. One thing that I find really helpful here is setting a little intention before you take your big break. I say something like, “OK, I’m going to go watch Legally Blonde so I can give my brain a chance to fully restore. That way I can come back rejuvenated and ready to kick some ass.”

I avoided doing this for a long time because I thought it was cheesy. Then I tried it and it worked. Then I tried it again and it worked again. Once the third time succeeded, I had to admit that it was a good strategy for me. I value science over ego, and if it works, it works.

2. If you hate the task, you may want to admit it to yourself. I don’t hate this task, I love it, but there are plenty I don’t love. When I was recording launch multipliers in month 11 of BIG LAUNCH, after I’d already done it once before but my computer wiped the files? Yeah, those are the kind of situations made for “Oh my God I ****ing hate my ****ing job and I ****ing hate this ****ing product and I swear I am moving to Costa Rica tomorrow.”

Sometimes, saying exactly how you feel is remarkably cathartic.

3. On the other hand, if it’s just standard issue fatigue, try to put a positive frame around your break. This is not the end of the world. You’re in a line of work that drains your resources. Being periodically drained is hardly a state of emergency. Sitting around saying you’re soooooo drained and soooooo tired and juuuuuust caaaaaaan’t work is not helpful.

Pretend you work for a moving company. Those guys are tired at the end of the day, and they probably can’t lift one more thing. You know what they do? They drink some beer, watch some baseball, and put their feet up. They do not put in an emergency call to their life coach, claiming existential catastrophe.

Sit down, enjoy your Strictly Ballroom, and smile. Your rejuvenating, not injured.

4. Plan for it. If you’re in a periodically draining line of work, this is going to happen. It might be a good idea to have a plan and some supplies on hand so you can immediately shift gears when you’re feeling the signs.

People with diabetes plan for crashes. Parents of preschoolers plan for crashes. Don’t get superstitious about this.

The more you plan for a crash, the faster you can recharge, and the faster you can get back on your feet.

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Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out Naomi’s other guest post here about writer’s block. 

 

 

3 antidotes for an otherwise “perfect” process

I was raised in a family where there’s a right way and a wrong way, and great woe to the one who chose the wrong way. It was my early training program in perfectionism.

I learned to figure out what the right way was, and always do that. It was safer that way. And easier.

But it wasn’t very creative. And it certainly didn’t foster much in the way of independent thinking.

Over the years I’ve gotten better and better about doing things — including writing — even when I can do them far less than perfectly. I’ve learned to be willing to make mistakes, to try things, to “ship” before I’m ready, to create tons of accountability for myself so I can push through where I used to get stuck in the past, and to live more on my own creative edge.

So imagine my surprise in discovering that my own perfectionism was alive and well — raging even — this year.

It’s an evil thing, perfectionism. So sweet at times. We’ll talk about “a perfect day” with a sigh — and we mean it, it was lovely and delicious and wonderful, everything felt just right. But how do we go from that to the paralyzed inaction of perfectionism when we can’t figure out the exact right thing to write?

The insidious nature of perfectionism

For the record, perfectionism is defined as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” It means having such impossibly high standards that nothing can ever measure up.

Ever.

Including ourselves.

And it mucks up many aspects of our lives, including our relationships, finances, parenting, self-care, health habits, and especially our creativity. It rips holes in our self-esteem and our productivity if we let it.

Let’s talk about how perfectionism works in a creative process:

  • Perfectionism triggers procrastination. If we don’t know the answer in a creative project, we often stop and wait until we can figure it out (or bang our heads against the wall trying to solve it before proceeding). If it doesn’t feel right it must therefore be wrong, but what could the right answer be? This can trigger a kind of obsessive procrastination that sometimes looks productive, but isn’t — researching, discussing, debating, thinking about — instead of writing.
  • Perfectionism feels safer. If I can’t get it done perfectly, then I won’t do it at all. It’s a very black and white, fixed mindset that doesn’t allow for learning, growth, or much creativity. (Creativity is MESSY!)
  • Perfectionism leads to paralysis. If we procrastinate long enough, waiting for the right answers, we can stumble into a lasting paralysis. I don’t know what to do, I can’t do anything. I’m blocked! I can’t figure out which way to go. I better stay right here.
  • Perfectionism keeps us from getting feedback. Perfectionists are often extremely reluctant to share our work with anyone or ask for feedback on it. We are terrified of finding out it’s not good enough, not done yet, and will require more work. More work that we can hardly bear to do because it’s so painstaking. What if they hate my writing? What if I’m not as good as I should be and they can tell? What if they find out that I am an impostor? Ironically, perfectionists often reject the feedback they receive as well, usually as “not good enough”. 
  • Perfectionism keeps us from finishing. There’s nothing like not finishing to guarantee that no one will notice that the work is less than perfect. It’s much, much “safer” not to finish. It’s not living up to what I imagined it would be. It just feels wrong. I’m stuck. I can’t finish. I’ll never finish. There’s no point. But not finishing creates self-doubt and its own kind of paralysis: I must not love writing enough. I’m not a real writer. 
  • Perfectionism is an escape hatch. This is a tricky one that Corey Mandell talks about. We sometimes use perfectionism to let us off the hook. We create situations where we “don’t have enough time” to get it done perfectly so we phone it in, require less of ourselves, or rush to do it all at the last minute. So when we turn in less-than-our-best work, we have an excuse for why we couldn’t live up to our own impossibly high standards. 

Three antidotes for perfectionism

I’ve recently experienced a perfect storm of three different antidotes for perfectionism that came together in a powerful way.

Antidote #1: Think of perfectionism as just one of many ways to write

One of my mentors, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, has been talking about perfectionism in the Master Screenwriting Certificate program I’m taking. I’ve been hearing him talk about it for months, but honestly? I kept telling myself that I knew better than to fall for my own perfectionism and that I wasn’t falling for it, because I was still writing.

But I was also writing more slowly than I wanted to be writing, and I was finding that I was struggling to “figure out” a lot of my story. The answers weren’t coming easily, and I kept finding myself in rabbit hole after rabbit hole of confusion and overthinking.

When Hal described perfectionism as “just one of many processes” we can use as writers, I started seeing it in a new way. 

He says we have many methods to choose from when we write, and perfectionism is an excellent tool for our final, polished draft. But it is not a good tool for getting our first drafts written.

He got me thinking about how I was going about my writing process: I was going along, completing the assignments he had given us, and any time I hit a place I was confused, I would stop, and try to figure it out. Sounds pretty normal, right? But what I wasn’t noticing were all the arguments I was having with myself while I was doing that, like:

  • You have to get this right or people will think you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • You should have gotten a science degree if you were serious about writing sci-fi.
  • It won’t be real sci-fi, it’ll just be a crummy space opera. (For the record I love space operas.)
  • You need to do a ton more research.
  • You’ve got to know exactly how this world works or it’ll never make sense and the whole script will fall apart.

But after listening to Hal on the subject of perfectionism, I realized that what I was doing was trying to protect myself from failure and rejection by trying to get it done perfectly. But by doing so, I was also stopping myself from moving ahead and was falling further and further behind in class, which is not in alignment with what I actually want.

And something fell into place for me. Finally landed.

Hal has been telling us from the start of the program to give ourselves permission to write crap (I tell people this too, for goodness sakes!) and that if we don’t know the answer to something, to either leave it blank or put down a guess and just move on. I made a vow to myself to do exactly that. To work with my outline and my writing process in a more experimental, exploratory way — a different way to write — while I’m working through this first draft.

Antidote #2: “Anything other than writing must come after writing.”

Around the same time I was listening to Hal, I was also reading Chuck Wendig‘s latest ebook, 30 Days In the Word Mines, and stumbled onto this little gem about productivity.

“It’s very easy to do a lot of things and feel productive but, at the end, not be productive. This includes:

  • editing as you go
  • research
  • world building
  • networking/social media
  • marketing (before the book is done)
  • talking about writing
  • reading about writing

That’s not to say these are universally unproductive or unnecessary — but really, when you’re working on a first draft, your best and strongest foot forward is: Write. Nothing else. Produce words. Jam words into sentences. Cram sentences into paragraphs. Paragraphs into chapters. Chapters into stories. Anything other than writing must come after writing.” 

What if my “solutions” for my perfectionism-driven fears were manifesting as these kinds of sidetracks? What if instead I just focused on getting it down, rather than figuring it out, as Julia Cameron says?

I made another vow. No more editing. No more researching. No more looking up words in the dictionary. 

Just doing the writing.

Antidote #3: You’re not allowed to hate it until it’s done.

I also found myself having an illuminating inner conversation last Monday morning.

After my first two vows, I’d been happily outlining on Sunday night, moving along, Getting It Done. 

But then when I woke up on the next day, I found myself thinking, “I hate this script.”

(I believe it is highly significant that I was having these thoughts while not working on the project. I find that I get into more trouble with my work when I’m not working on it than when I’m actually putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard.)

My negative thought-stream went on for a few minutes but then I caught myself, realizing that it was NOT helping me. 

So instead I decided, “I am not allowed to hate this script until it is finished. Then I can decide what I think of it. And only then.”

After all, even the Pixar folks know you don’t really know what you have until something is finished… and then you rewrite!

What if it’s TRULY okay not to know the answers?

When this all connected, I realized that I could drastically pick up the pace of my writing if I really, truly, honestly just gave myself permission to NOT KNOW THE ANSWERS. To go with my best ideas, trust myself that I would fix it later if it didn’t work, and to move on.

I found myself blazing through my outline as a result, leaving question marks, blank spots, and DKs where I was stuck. (DK = Don’t Know, which is easily searchable in a draft since “DK” is an unlikely letter combination.) And I also — to my surprise and delight — started coming up with new ideas and solutions for issues I’d been trying to solve in my head rather than through the process of writing.

Since then I’ve wrapped up my outline and starting writing pages for the script, and it’s going faster than I’ve written in a long time.

It’s filled with notes and flaws and details to come.

And that’s totally okay. 

Because the biggest win in this small segment of my writing journey is that I’m LOVING the process of writing again. And that’s worth more to me than just about anything.

 

What’s your perfectionism recovery story? Let us know in the comments!

 

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?

Recommitment.

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.

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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.

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Thanks for reading!

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Image © Shira gal aka miss pupik, “Writer’s block“. Imaged modified only by cropping.