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How to Craft a Writing Plan + a Downloadable Worksheet

While you might think you don’t need a writing plan, you’d be surprised how many writers I work with who get partway into their process and realize they don’t know what they’re doing and get lost. This tends to lead to a lot of painful self-berating and self-doubt. But why? Many of us come to writing without training, and even if we’re trained in the craft, we aren’t necessarily trained in the practice of writing.

This will help. 

Mapping out a step-by-step plan can eliminate a lot of headaches. Not all of them. There are always surprises. We also want to leave lots of room for the Muse to inspire and guide us — and there are unexpected challenges along the road.

So this isn’t about getting locked into a rigid framework and then getting frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Instead it’s about getting clear on what we’re working on and how and when we’re doing it, so we can find the thread again when we get lost in Daedalus’ Labyrinth. 

One of the things we’ll be doing for my upcoming Deep Dive Writing Intensive is putting together a writing plan. Here’s how you can create one for yourself, whether you’re joining us or not (and make sure you pick up my free downloadable worksheet at the end of this post). 

Here’s how to develop a writing plan for your book or script: 

1. Assess what stage of writing you’re in.

Are you at the beginning? Doing story or character development? Drafting a first draft? Or revising your 7th draft? Being clear what stage of writing you’re in will allow you to craft a successful plan, because each stage requires a different kind of writing, mindset, and/or approach.

2. Establish your next milestone goal.

While you can attempt to make a writing plan for the entirety of the writing process for a book or script, it’s more effective to plan and work in smaller increments. For example, you might be aiming to complete an intuitive/lightning draft, or your story development work or outlining. Pick a target you can break down into smaller chunks. This step flows naturally from first identifying what stage you’re in, because you’ll usually be aiming to complete that stage or the next one.

3. Identify the steps you’ll take or tasks you’ll need to complete to hit your milestone.

If you’re writing a first draft, for example, you can estimate the number of scenes you’ll be writing, and approximately how many words or pages you think each scene will be, to generate an estimated word or page count.

(Useful approximate rules of thumb are 2,000 words for a chapter, with 250 words per page, double-spaced, and you can look up the general word counts for your genre to get a sense of where you’re heading, e.g. approximately 80,000 words for an adult novel. The number of scenes per chapter can vary. Screenwriting is different, with about 15 pages until each major turning point in the story, and usually between 90 and 115 pages for a spec script.)

Other examples:

  • For story development, you might make a list of the issues you want to have solved and other meta story items you want to have pinned down. (Here’s My “Must Have” List Before I Start Writing Pages.)
  • For character development, you might use a character profile template and a list of characters you want to flesh out. (Here’s my Character Profile Template.)
  • For a revision, you might first reverse-outline what you have, then assess what needs to change, and then develop a new scene outline. 

4. Set a completion target date or deadline.

If you’re not working toward an external deadline (e.g. a publisher’s or producer’s deadline), you’ll want to set either a deadline or target for hitting your milestone goal. If I don’t have a hard deadline, I still like to have a target I’m aiming for to give myself something to work toward, even if I’m also allowing myself some wiggle room. 

Give thought to why and how you’re establishing your deadline to help with staying motivated. For example, I want to revise my sci-fi script (again) during the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive, so my current goal is to finalize my list of revision changes before we start writing on September 20th. 

Another way to do it is to look ahead in your calendar for “natural” deadlines. For example, you might have a big life event coming up that you’d like to have this stage of work completed by, or a big work project on the horizon coming up that you’d like to be free to focus on. The idea is to give yourself a reason to stay in action.

5. Be clear on what “done” or “completed” actually means.

I’ve made the mistake of targeting “finishing” my current draft but I wasn’t 100% clear on what that meant, in my own mind. Did done mean, I’d written all the way through the end of the draft? Did it mean I’d done that plus a read-through and a polish and was ready to submit to beta-readers for feedback? Did it mean that I was ready to submit to my producer? Being clear helps you know what you’re actually trying to accomplish.

6. Estimate your writing pace.

If you’re a newer writer, this is a little harder to do. And even if you’re an established writer, sometimes certain sections just take longer. But taking a stab at estimating how long something will take you helps you craft your writing plan. How many words or pages do you usually write in an hour? How long does it typically take you to revise pages? How long to develop a character?

In my experience the heavy lifting usually comes in the story development stage, whether I’m writing a new draft or revising, so I allow a lot of time for either story development or assessing what I have and how I’m going to take it to the next level. 

7. Gauge your available time.

Look at at your calendar, and then your completion timeline.

How much time do you realistically have between now and then? How many actual writing hours can you set aside, allowing for life, sleep, eating, other work, family, exercise, and anything else you’re doing or committed to doing? (And is there anything you can eliminate or reschedule, while you’re at it?

8. Check the math.

Now check, does the math work? Do your pace, your deadline, your available time, and your writing plan actually work

For example, if you want to write 10,000 words, you have 60 minutes a day available every day for 2 weeks, and you write 500 words in an hour, you won’t quite make it. You’ll only get to 7,000 words in that amount of time, so you’ll need to adjust. 

Or if you’re targeting 5,000 words in 60 minutes a day, every day for two weeks, and you typically crank out 800 words per hour, you’ll have left an overly generous allowance. Also a place to adjust.

9. Adjust as needed.

Once you do the math, you can tweak the variables as needed until you have something that works.

Extend or retract your deadline, increase or reduce the time in your schedule, or adjust your goal to make it work.

10. Write down your plan and schedule it.

Once you have a workable plan, write it down. Writing really can become a labyrinth, and it’s surprising how easy it is to get off track or lose your way. Having your plan in writing will help you stay the course. 

Make sure you schedule your writing time on your calendar too. 

11. Leave space for life and divine intervention.

Even while you’re crafting this plan, make sure you’re mentally allowing for life to happen and divine intervention to occur. It’s far better to set yourself an easier set of tasks and succeed even if something goes wrong or is unexpectedly slower or harder, than it is to lock yourself in and be disappointed or be hard on yourself if something goes awry. This is about having (and learning) resilience as a writer.

Or you may be inspired by the Muse and something will end up being easier or different than you expected. Or you’ll discover that the Muse won’t allow you to write the “easy” version and you’ll be doing something harder. That’s all about trusting yourself, her, and the process.

Make room for yourself, life, and the Muse, and you’ll be good to go.

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

Download Your Writing Plan Worksheet Here

Click here to download your Writing Plan Worksheet to help you craft a plan for your writing or get a jump on prepping for the Deep Dive if you’re joining us. 

 

Interested in possibly joining us for the next Deep Dive?

Find out more and register here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part II, with Guest Expert Marina Darlow of Systems Meet Humanity

Today I’m pleased to welcome back Marina Darlow of the Systems Meet Humanity podcast as a guest expert for the second part of her two-part series, 4 Steps for Making Stuff Actually Happen.

(If you missed it, my interview with Marina on her podcast aired last week. You can check out our interview on the podcast here: http://vision-framework.com/podcast/jenna-avery.)

Marina is a systems expert who focuses on helping people be more productive by putting workable, human systems into place. I invited her to write about how to help us make our work actually happen. 

Enjoy!

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part II

by Marina Darlow

Hello again, Marina here, thanks to Jenna’s gracious invitation.

Have you chosen to do something exciting since we saw each other last? Maybe a task you’ve been avoiding for a year, looking at you accusingly from the to-do list? Have you started it already?

Good.

Today, in the second part of our series, we’ll see how to keep at a task, and then to finish it, completely and unquestionably. We’ll also touch upon a rarely-mentioned and hugely time-hogging matter — the transition from one task to another.

Part II: Staying On Task and Completing It

As a refresher, there are four stages to each task:

  1. Choosing – deciding which task to start NOW.
  2. Starting – starting is often the hardest thing to do.
  3. Staying on Task – keeping focus and fending off distractions.
  4. Finishing – knowing where you draw the line in the sand and consider something finished.

In Part I, we discussed Choosing and Starting. Today we’ll be covering Staying on Task and Finishing.

Ready? 

Let’s start with Stage 3, staying on task.

Stage 3. Staying on Task, and Fending Off Distractions

My mind runs at such a fast pace I get so far ahead before one task is finished. I am thinking about the 2nd and 3rd things on my task list way before task 1 is complete, or get deathly bored and skip to something more engaging.”

This is a quote from a client. Can you relate?

How do you stay on task?

Keeping your mind from racing ahead of you and instead staying on task ultimately comes down to how you handle three key variables:

  • Managing your environment,
  • Matching the right task to your available energy levels, and
  • Choosing the right level of stimulation for you.

1. Manage Your Environment. The key idea is to have your environment be as distraction-free as possible. Close the door. Put on headphones. Clean your table. Leave only a handful of tabs open. Hang your personal list of rules for creative tasks somewhere you can always see it.

Important: Don’t make it too sterile. Who wants to work in the OR? Unless you’re a surgeon, of course.

2. Match Your Tasks to Your Energy Levels. Brain-dead? Don’t try to write your next masterpiece. Do admin stuff instead. Find your most productive times of day, and schedule demanding tasks then, whenever possible.

In most cases you already know when you’re at your best: morning, afternoon, or evening.

3. Choose Your Stimulation Levels. This one is tricky and usually achieved through some trial and error. However – there are some guidelines. The “mind-racing” often happens in one of the following scenarios:

  • You’re doing something mundane, or only mildly demanding, and kind of boring.
  • You have a lot on your plate and you haven’t made a very clear list of priorities.

If you’re doing something that doesn’t require all your mental faculties, you’re using the spare brainpower to think about unrelated tasks. Naturally, you start feeling stressed, bored, disengaged, and probably resentful. Time to strategically multi-task.

For example:

  • Listen to a podcast while folding laundry instead of worrying about doing the dishes.
  • Fill out forms while choosing a design (or a venue) for your presentation.
  • Fidget with your favorite spinner while taking meeting minutes.
    It often helps if you have a “lead” and a “supporting” activity. It also helps when activity A is more cerebral and activity B is more physical.

If your mind is racing in a handful of directions, and you feel all of them are equally stressful, time to take a pause, and get back to your plan. Look – what should you be focusing on NOW? This week? Today? Give yourself permission to worry about the later stuff… later.

Stage 4. Finishing Tasks

The key here is to know when the task is finished. How do you know? You define the criteria at the outset.

Some things are easier than others. Clean the office! When is the office considered officially clean? When there’s no more boxes left, just a table, a chair and a laptop.

When is the chapter finished? Hmmm…

When you have said all you planned to say? Sure, but how do you know? Outlines help. Deadlines help too. Sometimes, when you’ve worked on it for 3 hours, after the initial “good enough” version is ready is where you draw the line in the sand.

The important part is to decide ahead of time when you’d consider your task DONE.

Bonus: The Art of Transition

Now that you know how to finish, let’s task about how to transition from one task to another or return to a task after an interruption. “Transition” is a fancy name for making this shift.

Here’s what happens, most often at a subconscious level:

  • You become detached from a task.
  • You experience a drop in your energy.
  • You then re-attach to a new task.

This process requires your brain to get back to higher energy and focus levels, consuming surprisingly huge amounts of time and effort.

Transitions tend to be harder for visionary creatives.

  • It’s harder to start, because of the all-or-nothing perception.
  • It’s harder to stop, because you’ve either been hyper-focusing, or you’re lost in the details.
  • Your emotions – anger, confusion, frustration – cause an unpleasant drain on your mental resources. (That’s actually true for everyone, creative or not.)

So how can we make transitions easier?

Three elements: awareness, planning, and ritual.

  • Awareness. Allow time and energy for transitions to occur. For example, schedule at least 15 minutes between meetings. Give yourself permission to get up from your desk and walk around the office after you’ve finished a tricky piece of code, and before you start the next one. Stretch and sit there for a moment after writing a proposal, and before you make your next call.
  • Plan for transitions. Have a well-defined plan ahead of time. A plan makes it easier to both detach and re-attach, because you know what’s coming next. Anxiety levels go down, and you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what’s next. We talked about this in Part I, around the process of choosing a task.
  • Design “transition rituals.” A ritual can be absolutely anything, as long as it is short and easy. The meaning of the ritual comes from you. But it helps if a ritual is connected to tasks at hand.

    For example: a ritual to transition from research to writing can look like this:

    1. Bookmark the browser tabs you’ll need later.
    2. Close all research-related tabs.
    3. Get up and jump 3 times.
    4. Open a Google Doc.
    5. Click Tools->Voice Typing.
    6. Start with 30 seconds on talking gibberish into the mic.

A ritual anchors us, helping us along on the path from the detachment from one task, through energy drop we experience, and into attachment or re-attachment.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of transitions:

  1. From task A to task B.
  2. From task A back to task A after someone interrupted you.
  3. From task A back to task A after you’ve interrupted yourself.

You may design one transition ritual to rule them all, or you may come up with a different ritual for each type. Or you may want a ritual for each key activity you’re doing – a ritual for transitioning into writing, a ritual for doing house chores, a ritual for getting back on track after someone has interrupted you, and so on.

The rituals you develop will ideally become habits, because when an action is a habit it saves you tons of decision-making energy, or in other words, activation energy.

To Recap

Execution is rarely effortless (otherwise me and a host of my productivity-geeky colleagues would be forced into another line of work). But a strategic approach to your workload at each of the four phases (choosing, starting, staying, and finishing a task) makes the shiny “getting things done” goal tangibly more achievable.

Choosing a task becomes way easier if you follow a plan, broken down into bite-size chunks.

Reducing activation energy really helps to start anything, however daunting – remember the 20 second rule?

A fitting environment coupled with the right stimulation levels keeps us on task and fends off pesky distractions. Finally, (no pun intended) setting criteria for “what’s considered DONE” at the outset is absolutely essential to, well, finishing.

What about the twilight zone between the tasks? Developing quick and easy rituals for mastering transitions will make a huge difference in your ability to make things happen.

Combine these tools and you’re unstoppable.

About Marina

Marina Darlow is a systems expert and a productivity geek. She sees her job as helping impact-driven entrepreneurs get 10-20 more productive hours a week, stop leaking money, and prevent stress-fueled breakdowns.

An engineer by training, Marina came to a realization a couple years ago: working for a conglomerate was not as inspiring as she wants her life work to be. Her quest for inspiration brought her to found Vision Framework, a company that builds small, purpose-driven businesses from the inside, helping entrepreneurs run their companies with ease by putting effective, easy-to-use, and fun (yep!) systems in place.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
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How to Write Morning Pages In 3 Easy Steps (and 5 Inspiring Reasons You’ll Want To!)

Morning pages are something I mention fairly often here at Called to Write, but haven’t ever defined. Many writers are unfamiliar with the concept.

Morning pages are a writing tool created by Julia Cameron and described in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity*.

The core idea is to write three long-hand, stream of consciousness pages every day, first thing in the morning upon awakening, no matter what, even if you only write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over again. 

If you have a comment or question about writing morning pages, make sure you leave a comment by Friday, March 10th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time because one lucky commenter will receive a copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way, as my gift. (And if you already have the book, I’ll send it to someone you want to share it with!)

How to Write Morning Pages in 3 Easy Steps

Here are three easy steps to help you get started writing morning pages:

Step 1: Get yourself a notebook to write in (and put it somewhere you’ll find it quickly and easily in the morning).

I like something with half-size sheets so that it doesn’t take me all day to fill the pages. My favorite is this steno notebook*, because I love the paper weight and the size of the pages. I prefer using something a little more disposable like this than a fancy journal since I don’t want to feel attached to them. Though I’ve kept all of my many notebooks so far, I expect to eventually have a bonfire with them and I don’t want gorgeous leather-bound books energetically stopping me from letting go. I keep my notebook with my favorite pen tucked into my nightstand for easy retrieval upon awakening.

Step 2: Write three pages — about ANYTHING — when you wake up.

I love to write morning pages before I do anything else other than make a quick trip to the bathroom and put in my contact lenses. Then I hop back in bed and write. My pages tend to take me about 20 minutes. Some writers prefer to get up and make coffee or tea, and sit in a cozy spot to write their pages. If you’re tempted to stop short of three pages, I highly recommend pushing through. There’s so much insight that happens once you get deeper in (usually about the 2.5 page mark) — don’t miss it. Don’t worry about what you’re writing — just write whatever is swirling around in your brain, even if it’s boring, whiny, ridiculous, or pointless. It doesn’t matter.

Step 3: Repeat the next day… and don’t look back. 

Write the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Morning pages are one of those tools for life that are worth holding onto. Especially in the early days of writing morning pages, don’t re-read your pages. Julia Cameron even recommends stapling the pages together when you first start so you aren’t tempted to go back. Just put the words on the page, and move on. It’s a tool, not a record.

5 Reasons You’ll Want to Write Morning Pages

Some pretty amazing and miraculous things start happening once you’ve been writing morning pages for a while. Here are five reasons you’ll want to make them part of your regular writing routine:

1. Morning Pages Lead to Creative Recovery

Morning pages are a powerful tool for creative recovery. Many writers and artists experience creative burnout at some point and struggle to regain their creative footing and orientation. Writing morning pages helps us find our way back to our creative selves.

Morning pages also are a way to “rest” on the page — a way to keep the words flowing even if you’re feeling blocked with writing your book or what to write next, and can be a “bridge” to keep you writing between finishing a draft and tackling your next revision when you don’t want to lose your writing habit and momentum.

Writing pages this way also helps free us from perfectionism. Since we’re writing without editing or for publication or even for sentence structure, it gives us great practice at letting the words flow freely without judgement or internal censorship.

2. Morning Pages Prepare Your Mind for Creative Insight and Discovery

Writing morning pages will help you clear away any angst, fear, worry, and doubt — in any area of your life. Morning pages are not journal pages — you aren’t (necessarily) going to be recording your life experiences through your morning pages. Instead, use them to purge the voices of negativity that hold you back. Get them out onto the page and out of your head, so you can move to your writing with a lighter heart and fresher spirit. So go ahead and vent and complain. Get it all out and leave it behind you.

What’s so cool about this is that it helps you quiet your mind. And a quieter mind is one better prepared for creative insight and discovery. 

3. Morning Pages Foster Self-Trust and Honesty

Morning pages require honesty. Writing every day about what bothers you and what’s going on has a way of surfacing truths for your attention and recognition. You just can’t get away with complaining about the same thing over and over again without feeling called to make a change. You’ll notice what’s working and what’s not working in your life. And as you listen to yourself, you’ll build trust with yourself and your inner wisdom because you’ll be noticing over and over again where your inner voice is giving you information about what’s going on — and you’ll see the evidence of it.

4. Morning Pages Are an Antidote to Self-Forgetting 

Morning pages are a powerful antidote to self-forgetting. When you write morning pages, you’ll reconnect with yourself. In my experience, it can be challenging to “come back to yourself,” especially in a world where busyness and materialism abound (and especially as a sensitive, intuitive, introverted writer). All the noise around us can make us feel lost and disconnected from ourselves, and morning pages bring us back to who we are.

A writer who knows herself is better able to deliver her highest quality work.

5. Morning Pages Are a Pathway to Self-Acceptance

Once you’ve stepped into this place of consciousness, it’s hard to go back. Fundamentally, morning pages give you permission to be who you are. They are a pathway to a radical form of self-acceptance. By being true to yourself and fully expressing all of yourself without judgment, you honor the truth of who you are.

Personally, I have found morning pages invaluable, from plain-old venting to accessing powerful insights. I use my pages to whine, moan, and complain. I unload my greatest fears and my deepest desires. And I ask for guidance from my inner self. It’s an incredible way to clear your mind and listen to your heart.

Answers to Common Questions About Morning Pages

  • Do I have to write morning pages in the morning? Yes. :) Though you get to make your own rules for yourself, and of course no one can tell you there’s anything you HAVE to do with your writing. At the same time, this is such an incredible writing tool it’s worth experimenting with as prescribed.  
  • Do I have to write morning pages long-hand? Julia Cameron (and I) both recommend writing morning pages long-hand. There’s something incredibly transformative about writing your pages out by hand. And… there’s a pretty nifty site called 750words.com as an option for writing pages online. You could certainly use ByWord or Scrivener as well (two of my favorite writing tools).
  • What’s the different between morning pages and journaling? The main difference between morning pages and journaling is that morning pages are about ANYTHING. It’s about clearing out, writing stream of consciousness style, about whatever is circling your brain. Journaling can be the same, of course, but it tends to more “about” something, such as recording your day, or exploring a particular issue. And while that happens sometimes in morning pages, it’s just as often as not complaining about errands we have to run or other things we’re processing. 
  • If your writing time is limited, is it better to just focus on your book than on doing morning pages? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve made the choice for the last couple of years since baby #2 to focus on my primary writing projects rather than doing pages because time (and sleep!) has been at such a premium. And… I’ve dearly missed them. I’ve gone to doing a morning journal check-in lately instead, but I’m going back to morning pages too.
  • Can I share my pages with other people? I don’t recommend sharing your morning pages with anyone else, ever. Part of the magic and what’s makes them so powerful is that they are completely private and sacred. We can’t fully reveal ourselves on the page when we’re holding back for fear of what someone else might think. So keep them just for you, and protect yourself that way. This is great practice for learning to more fully reveal yourself when writing stories and books as well.
  • Can I write evening pages instead? If you want to, though really, they ARE quite different animals. You might find that you want to do both. My colleague Jill Winski just wrote a post about writing evening pages in addition to her morning pages. Similarly, The Ultimate Writer’s Toolkit includes a set of morning and evening journal prompts, but focused on writing only. The Circle also somewhat fulfills the end of day writing “check-in” role that evening pages can play, but again, only around that day’s writing. My take: write morning pages to write morning pages, and use your other tools to fulfill their unique purpose rather than making substitutions.

Do you write morning pages? Do you have other questions about writing morning pages? Tell me in the comments by Friday, March 10th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time … and one lucky commenter will receive a copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way, as my gift. (And if you already have the book, I’ll send it to someone you want to share it with! I’ll send the ebook version if our winner is overseas.)

I’ll happily answer questions you have about writing morning pages here on the blog, too.

 

* Affiliate link

 

How to Access Your Own Deepest Writing Wisdom

As writers, we’re often either besieged by advice about our writing careers and writing projects or actively seeking out feedback on our writing or our career trajectories. Rare is the writer who never does so. And yet, when we give it the chance, our deepest writing wisdom comes from within. This isn’t to say that feedback, mentoring, and coaching isn’t also valuable, but at the end of every long writing day or hard writing decision, the person we have to answer to is ourselves. I’ve worked with mentors who don’t understand this, or care, and I’ve worked with mentors who do. The difference can be astonishing.

I began this year with an intention to focus on Deep Work. (I’ve since read the book by that name, which I’ll write about in the near future.) I’ve devoted the early part of this year to clearing the decks so I can go deeper and deeper into my writing over the course of 2017. In doing so, I had the opportunity to once again test the Writer’s Guided Visualization I developed for the Ultimate Writer’s Toolkit.

Our Most Profound Source of Guidance Comes From Within

The visualization is based on my early work as a coach, when I created my first Embrace Your Essential Self coaching program. I designed the processes and visualizations in that program to help people access their own deepest wisdom and get in touch with the essence of who they are. Last year I had the privilege of walking a client through that process again, something I don’t “regularly” do these days, but which I found bringing both of us to the point of tears again and again — the type of tears that spring into your eyes because you’re in the presence of that which is profound, wise, and greater than yourself. I was reminded why I loved that early work of mine so very much, and even why I was called to coaching in the first place: Helping people touch the power of who we truly are and how we are called to be in the world is an incredible honor.

I created the Writer’s Guided Visualization from that foundation.

When I used the visualization again myself last week, it brought home to me that my mind is often filled with chattering voices, ideas, opinions, fears, doubts, and self-sabotaging impulses that are hard to hear through or filter out. Before I listened to the 10 minute track, I scribbled down a few questions about my own writing trajectory, including:

  • What’s the next best writing project for me to tackle?
  • What will move me closest to the path I want to be on?

The answers I received, as I quieted my mind and listened to the wisdom my inner Writer Self had to share with me, were simple in some ways, and profound in others. Isn’t that often the truth with inner wisdom? It brings that sense of peaceful, quiet knowing to us. 

Because my Writer Self knew about my intention to go deep, she knew just what to say about where my deep work lies. I’ve been continuing the conversation with her since our last meeting, as I fall asleep each evening.

Two Powerful Methods to Access Your Inner Writing Wisdom

If you want to experiment with this yourself, here are two ways you access your own inner writing wisdom.

  1. Guided Visualization or Meditation. Visualization, or meditation, if you prefer the term, is my favorite method for helping myself and my clients access our inner wisdom. You can do this on your own, or I can walk you through it in the Writer’s Guided Visualization in the Toolkit. Start by jotting down your questions, then relax your mind and body with a simple progressive relaxation, and then have a brief conversation with your future Writer Self in a cozy place, with time and space to listen for the answers. When you’re done listening, open your eyes, and write down the insights you received. My experience with this technique is that it is a profound source of wisdom, reassurance, and calming. Our higher, wiser Writer Selves know what’s what, and they’re ready to share it with us.
  2. Journaling. Alternatively, you could use a similar technique with journaling. In this case, you would use your morning pages or journal to dialogue with your future Writer Self (much as you might do with a character in your novel) and converse with her/him about the questions you have. Ideally you’ll shift yourself into something of a relaxed state first, either by taking deep breaths, closing your eyes, meditating, or otherwise changing your mental state into a more open, receptive place. Some writers also find that writing the responses with their non-dominant hand helps access more of their subconscious mind and deeper insight. 

The key to either approach is to not censor anything that comes from your inner self and just letting the answers flow with as little mental interference from your conscious mind as possible. I know for myself, with my strong mind that likes to run the show, I have to consciously quiet it with the relaxation techniques of the visualization or another meditation method in order to cut through the chatter and opinions my conscious mind likes to toss into the ring.

The beauty of tuning to your inner voice is not only that you can gain valuable insight for your writing projects, process, career, and life, but also that by listening regularly to what your deeper self has to say, you strengthen your access to your inner wisdom and your sense of what’s right for you and your stories.

Your writing will only become stronger through this knowing of yourself.

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Writing Is My Protest

As a highly-sensitive, introverted writer, I’ve been working on finding the best ways for me to engage with what’s happening here in the United States and rippling across the world. I’ve not historically been much of a political activist, but I’m finding that I want to be more active and informed than I have in the past. 

And while I am taking action and staying informed (and refining how I take in information so I don’t feel overwhelmed, depressed, or overly distracted), what’s coming to me most clearly right now is that writing is my protest.

Here’s why.

  1. Artists are activists by being catalysts for change. One of my favorite artist archetypes (from a sci-fi story, of course) is Khendron, the jester from The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. Khendron’s very reason for being, as designed by the city’s creators, is to provoke and inspire thought, desire, and action in the minds of the periodically born “uniques” — people also purposefully designed by the creators to bring about change in an otherwise stagnant world-system. Like Khendron, we catalyze others into action with our observations of the world, expressed through our art and writing. We are critical players in our culture — influencers — bringing forth the truths we see in the world, and inspiring others to think and take action for positive change.
  2. Stories heal. We write, read, watch, and experience writing in all its forms for so many reasons. One key reason is recovery and healing: Stories help us escape and rejuvenate so we can do the work we were put here to do. And beyond pure escapism (highly valuable in stressful times), both stories and non-fiction books also help us heal misconceptions about ourselves and our world and change how we interact with everyone around us as a result. By way of a small example, I loved watching the movie About Time, for a new perspective on making the most of every moment we have. In a sense, this kind of healing and nurturing is a form of protest, because it strengthens us to carry on doing our work as artists, gives us energy to take action and stand up for what we believe in, and provides sanctuaries and safe havens for our readers to retreat to. We take care of the people on the front lines — and ourselves — when we write.
  3. Stories teach us who we are and what we’re capable of. In stories we can “try on” scenarios and find out what we might do in similar situations. Some fictional stories are allegorical, and show us ways we might navigate morally questionable situations. One of my favorite movies of all time is District 9, an incredible allegory for apartheid that offers an up-close and personal perspective on what it would feel like, from the inside-out, to be part of a racially shunned and segregated group. When we write fictionally and metaphorically about what’s happening in the world, we help each other understand what’s going on from other viewpoints. This allows to us to examine what actions we want to take in the real world as we mentally and emotionally journey through a story world, and feel empathy for people in situations we might not have firsthand experience with. One of the reasons for my passion for sci-fi is the incredible ability it offers to show us our own world through a more objective and yet also more personal lens. As writers, therefore, we protest when we write stories to show each other what’s really going on. We can do that figuratively, or literally (see #4, next). 
  4. Writing educates. Beyond storytelling, writers have power to factually educate us about the world. We’ve seen writing and news that has been ill-used for the purpose of garnering higher ratings. We also see incredible levels of bias that are misleading and confusing. But we’re also seeing journalists striving to operate at higher levels of integrity and consciousness, who will help us collectively understand what’s happening right now in our world, possibly changing minds and hearts. Education is one of the most powerful ways to influence people to make new choices.
  5. Joy can be a form of rebellion,” as Chuck Wendig wrote in a post recently called “Why Persist As a Writer In Times of Such Heinous F*ckery?” (Note that he labels his site as NSFW — “not safe for work” — he swears a lot so if that bothers you, avoid it.) That particular phrase, “Joy can be a form of rebellion,” stood out to me. Because when we refuse to be brought down by fear and persist in loving our lives, that is a form of protest. This notion helps me be strong in my resolve to stay connected to what matters most to me in my life — my writing and my family — no matter what’s happening around me.
  6. Writing helps us find meaning, even in the presence of suffering, fear, or doubt. I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, who was able to find meaning in his life experience, even while held in Holocaust concentration camps where he lost his parents, wife, and brother. “The meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.” As a writer, the act of writing is an integral part of how I find and create meaning in my life. Although I have at times despaired over the many potential disasters that appear to be in the making and struggled to find the energy to write, I feel a sense of determination not to allow the discord, pain, and distraction in the world to take something so meaningful away from me. I won’t be stopped as a writer.
  7. Writing helps us remember who we are. When we lose our sense of selves, we become powerless. If we are writers, we must write, if only to preserve our sense of selfhood and identity. Writing becomes an act of self-preservation, which in turns becomes an act of protest, because it helps us stay in touch with our power. And when we are powerful, we can act, write, and inspire.

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

 

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

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

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

Start Your Day With an Intention For Your Writing

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

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

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

Complete Your Day By Checking In About How It Went

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

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

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

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

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

Be Intentional With Your Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #1: Create a Plan

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

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

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

Tip#2: Track Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #3: Keep Your Head Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Magic of Creating a Writer’s Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic Happens When You Make a Writer’s Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

7 Easy Ways to Sneak In Writing Time Over the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Remember… You Are a Writer

It’s been an intense week. 

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

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

A calling.

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

A tremendous gift, writing is.

It has the power to open minds and hearts.

To express deeper truths.

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

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

To heal us individually as writers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep writing.

With love,
Jenna