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

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

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

Part IV: Setting Yourself Up for Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got questions?

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

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

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

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

 

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part III: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive)

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

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

Part III: Boost Your Writing Progress — Or, Design a Writing Intensive

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

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

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

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

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

Set Up a Writing Intensive for Yourself

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

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

Have a Plan to Meet Your Writing Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got questions? Comments?

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

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

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

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

 

* Amazon affiliate link

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

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

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

Part II: Reverse-Engineer and Revise Your Writing Goals

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

If you’re already on track, great! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is great news, right?

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

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

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

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

If yes, great!

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

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

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

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

Your choice will depend on a number of things.

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

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

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

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

And here’s my example:

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

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

Got questions?

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

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

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: Clear the Decks for Your Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

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

 

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

 

Systems and Focus and Goals, Oh My! … Plus the 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

I recently read a blog post by James Clear that suggested we forget about setting goals and focus on systems instead. I appreciated his points about how goal-focused thinking can get us into trouble because it can: 1) keep us dissatisfied with the present moment, 2) cause trouble with long-term progress, and 3) create a sense of control we might not actually have. I agree with all of those points.

But I disliked the implication that therefore goals should be forgotten. Like anything else, they are one possible tool to help us create outcomes that we want, and like any other tool, they need to be used wisely. At the end of the article he even says, “None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

So despite the fact that it seems that James and I are in agreement about the value of both goals and systems, since there’s usually a lot of debate around this time of year about whether or not goals or resolutions are “right,” I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned from working with hundreds of writers on goal-setting and creating systems to help them reach those goals (writing habits).

The truth is that goals and systems can work hand-in-hand quite beautifully. Here are eight thoughts about goals, systems, focus, and finishing:

  1. There’s no one right way to do anything. We each have to find what works for us individually. My way of setting goals might not work for you. Your way might not work for me. You don’t even have to set goals if you don’t want to. But what I’ve seen is that when we focus on something specific (a goal) and pursue it, we are much more likely to achieve the outcome we’re looking for than by hoping it will happen. 
  2. Systems, habits, and routines alone can get us somewhere, but we can get lost along the way when we use them without an intended outcome. I love, love, love systems. And systems in and of themselves are brilliant solutions for consistently problematic issues, like dishes stacking up in the sink and feeling overwhelmed by them (run the dishwasher every night without fail), or laundry taking up writing time or becoming a magnet for resistance (schedule a time for laundry outside your writing schedule and stick to it), or putting off paying your bills (create a routine for how and when you write checks).

    But if you’re attempting to use a system, routine, or habit to achieve a long-term outcome, like writing a book, you actually have to have an outcome in mind in order to reach it, aka a “goal.” You can’t just write every day and hope it will happen (though it may eventually, assuming you keep working on the same thing without fail, which perhaps sounds obvious but can be a big assumption in the world of project-hopping writerly types). I’ve seen too many writers get lost in the weeds of writing without writing toward an end, and lose track of what they set out to do in the first place. Even James actually had an outcome in mind for the system he was using (writing and publishing blog posts twice a week).

  3. Goals help us focus our efforts. Honestly, there is so much going on in our lives, that unless we are super clear about what we are trying to accomplish, it’s easy to get pulled off track. That writing habit can become a pat on the head (“See, I did my writing today!”) unless it is focused. Pick something to finish. Finish it. Pick something else. Finish that. Repeat. Setting a goal keeps your eye on the prize.
  4. Goals set in a vacuum won’t get us very far either. Having stated the importance of goals, I see many writers creating unrealistic goals (“A page a day!” … but what happens when you’re in revisions, are you still going to write a page a day in addition to revising?) or using magical thinking to neglect the reality of their daily lives and ending up frustrated at year’s end because they don’t achieve their goals. Or even worse, they set goals to match what other people are doing, whether or not that’s achievable in their lives (“My friends are all writing six scripts a year, so I should be able to do that too, right? Never mind that they don’t have kids or that their spouses are independently wealthy.”). We have to set goals that work within the context of our lives, even when we’re setting stretch goals for ourselves. 
  5. Goals without systems are likely to fail. Goals and systems work hand-in-hand. Want to finish a book, a good one? You can’t write it without a writing routine or practice. You have to put in the time, show up, and do the work. It won’t happen on its own, and it probably won’t happen well if you’re binge-writing it at the last possible minute. (And even if it does, the cost on your health, well-being, and future writing energy may be higher than you like.)
  6. Use systems and milestones to counteract flagging motivation on long-range goals. When we set very long-term goals (such as year-long goals), they can feel so far away that we have a hard time staying motivated and engaged with them. Having a writing system helps us manage that sense of disconnection from our distant goals, particularly when we combine it with milestone goals. A system helps us keep writing — it’s a practice we’re accustomed to engaging in every day — so we can’t help moving the project forward, as long as we don’t stray to another. We can also hugely benefit from setting shorter term goals (one to three-month goals) that are completion milestones along the way to the finish line. That ultimate finish line can feel really far away, so we can give ourselves something to work the system with in the meantime.
  7. Taking stock periodically helps maintain momentum. Post your goals where you can see them, check in with them on a regular basis, and take stock of what you’ve accomplished so far (add up ALL THE THINGS, even if they seem small) to help you see your progress and stay motivated to continue.
  8. Progress without a finished product isn’t particularly satisfying. Yes, as writers we have to be in love with the process and the practice of writing. Yes, we may never be published or produced. There are no guarantees. Yes, yes, yes. But we can still take our books and scripts to their completion points to the best of our abilities and ship them out into the world, and move on to the next project. We can use goals to focus our efforts so we get to the finish line. Working a system and being productive without focusing on an outcome or a finish line can become an endless loop that doesn’t feel satisfying otherwise. We have to have both.

The 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

From what I’ve seen, there are three necessary ingredients to finishing a book or a script:

  1. A specific writing project to work on. Preferably just one long-form project. I rarely see writers completing more than one project at a time successfully. Maybe the true pros can do it. Maybe. My recommendation: Pick one project at a time. And finish it. Then do the next one.
  2. A writing system. You can also call this a writing habit, practice, or routine. It means showing up daily or near daily to write. This is what we do in my Circle.
  3. A goal for completion. Yes, set a goal. I’m a fan of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resonant, Time-Bound) because they help us double-check to make sure we’re being specific enough about the who, what, where, why, and how. Set a goal for when you’ll complete your book or script, and while you’re at it, map out the timeline too. 

So put those systems and goals to work, and make your writing happen. I’ll be right there with you.

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In other news, Make 2017 Your Year To Write is available in the shop and on sale through January 31. Check it out here: http://programs.calledtowrite.com/2017-vision.

 

 

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

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

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

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

Tip #1: Create a Plan

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

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

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

Tip#2: Track Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #3: Keep Your Head Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Magic of Creating a Writer’s Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

And making time to write requires being intentional. Writing doesn’t “just happen.”

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

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

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

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

The Magic Happens When You Make a Writer’s Schedule

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

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

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

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Why I Don’t Recommend Cramming 15 Minutes of Writing In While You’re Waiting In Line or For Appointments

There’s this idea floating around that the way to find time to write is to cram writing time into every square inch of your life. Just write while you’re waiting for your dentist appointment! Just write while you’re standing in line at the grocery store!

I don’t think that’s sound advice.

The thing is, we already lead crazy, busy lives. Most of us have plates filled to overflowing as it stands, and cramming writing into every tiny pocket of time feels like it will be the thing that finally breaks the dam.

Writing like a maniac looks like a recipe for burnout and stress to me, rather than a graceful fulfilling of one’s true calling. I don’t know where we got this idea that productivity and just doing more are the same thing. Many proponents of the just find 15-minutes method of writing seem to have bought into this idea.

Having said that, I do advocate writing in 15-minute (or smaller) blocks of time in the following circumstances:

  1. When that’s all the time you actually, truly have to write. Look, I’m a writer, a mom, and a business owner, I get it. There really is only so much time to go around. It’s okay with me if you say, I have to write, this is what I have, so I’m going to make the most of it. But, and this is important: Ideally, you’ll do it in a scheduled, planned part of your day, not as something you race to cram in during a stolen moment somewhere. I wrote a script in 15-minute increments of time, and I’ve got two writers in my Called to Write Coaching Circle who recently finished projects in 15-minute chunks: one mom who wrote her first novel and the other a coach who wrote her parenting book. It’s a perfectly valid way to write!
  2. When you’re building a writing habit. When you’re first setting out to build a writing habit, it pays to start small. Most of us with big dreams to write have commensurately-sized fears that stop us in our tracks and have us come up with all kinds of excuses not to write. Writing in small increments of time helps us sneak past the fear, kick the excuses to the curb, and get our butts in our writing chairs. There’s nothing that says you have STICK WITH 15-minute increments of writing time in the long term, it’s perfectly fine to build up to more once you’ve increased your tolerance for writing (in other words, once the blue meanies stop screaming quite so loudly in your head). Having said that, again, see #1. If that’s what you’ve got, work it, baby.
  3. When you’re re-building a writing habit. If you’ve fallen off the writing wagon, for whatever reason (travel, illness, loss, etc.), you can reboot yourself with a 15-minute writing sprint. If I ever find myself off track with my writing, I usually say something to myself like, “I can at least write for just 15 minutes.” And then I set my timer, and I’m off. Note that I usually don’t write past the 15-minute mark on a reboot day but just use that to get myself into motion again. I’ll often write longer the next day and build back up from there. (The reason not to go past the goal is that you end on a high note and in a positive place for the next day.)
  4. When you actually feel like writing while you’re waiting for something. Rather than feeling like you “should” be writing at every moment, notice when you want to be writing. Lately, as a tired mom of a now 23-month-old toddler, sitting and staring at nothing while waiting in the doctor’s office is a luxury I’m reluctant to give up for just about anything. But pre-baby #2, I happily wrote while hanging out waiting for appointments because I wanted to. In other words, do it if you want to, not because you “should.”

Your writing is your biggest dream. Treat that dream with reverence.

Rather than squeezing writing into the interstices of your life, take a look at its importance to you and give it a proper place in your day. This might mean taking a good hard look at the way you’re prioritizing your time and what you’re choosing to do with it instead of writing, and it might mean getting creative about how you’re scheduling yourself, but I’d much rather see you having moments to breathe AND moments to write.

Let me know what you think.

Coming Up

Coaching CircleThe May session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, April 25th and the last day to register and join us is Thursday, April 21 by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

  

fittingwritingintoyourlifeI’m leading a one-week intensive called “Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter” at Screenwriter’s University starting on April 28th and running for 7 days. It’s a three-part online recorded video presentation from me and plus online discussions, interaction, and support from me. Find out more and register here. *

 

 

* This is an affiliate link, which means I’ll earn an extra commission in addition to my teacher’s pay, if you register through me.

 

 

Free teleclass: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

The fourth and final class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and the recording is now available! 

If you missed the series, you can still sign up to get the recordings, which will only be available for another week, through Friday, April 8. You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register.

Here’s what we’ve covered in the class series:

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.

Part IV: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

  • 5 ways to set yourself up for success with your goals in advance.
  • Smart goal setting that works.
  • Reverse engineering your writing timelines.
  • The power of a plan for revisions.
  • Using intentions to supercharge your writing sessions.
  • How to set motivating rewards and celebrations.
  • BONUS: Managing distractions.

I’ve been getting terrific feedback from the writers who have participated and I’d love to have you take advantage of this opportunity too. You’ll find that the series is packed with practical tools and strategies you can put into place right away to help you boost your productivity as a writer.

 

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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