5 Tips for Making the Most of Summer Writing

It’s that time of year again… summer!

The days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, kids and teachers are out for the summer, and vacation season is here. There are so many reasons to put down your pen and turn off your computer and go outside… which I highly recommend.

All work and no play isn’t good for a writer’s soul, after all. 

And, at the same time, you’ll want to keep writing so you don’t lose your writing momentum or end up finishing summer feeling disappointed about where you are in your draft.

Here are five tips for making the most of your summer writing, while still enjoying the play time you need and deserve.

#1. Remember Why You Love Writing

While it’s highly useful to treat your writing with as much care and attention as you would a professional job… when we’re in the middle of this expansive summer energy, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we’re also doing this because we LOVE it.

This helps create a more natural fit between the part of us that wants to have delicious summer adventures and the romantic side of our writing dreams. To that end, even while you’re putting your head down to write, play with matching your summer energy to your writing energy. You might light candles while you work, write in a café, or take your notebook to the beach. This is a great time of year to indulge your most vivid writing life dreams and make it fun.

#2. Be Aware of Magical Thinking

Over the last couple of weeks as I’ve developed our summer plans, I’ve found myself imagining doing a big chunk of writing on one of our vacations… And doing a big chunk of studying on one of our vacations… And maybe writing some promotional copy on one of our vacations…. and all of these on the SAME vacation. Talk about magical thinking! Even if I actually wanted to write and/or work during a trip (I don’t), I certainly can’t accomplish all of those things and have the time I want to have with my family. Sure, I could probably finagle an early morning writing session before they awaken, but I want my vacation for vacationing. 

Similarly, it’s easy to imagine that you’ll have so much extra time during the summer that you’ll be able to make wild progress on your work. I think this might be a holdover from when we were all in elementary school and summers seem to last forever and we have nothing to do… just the way we imagine that a new year will suddenly have so much more free time than we had in the last one. But we don’t. Even if you’re a teacher with the summer “off,” your days will quickly fill with all the things you’ve put off doing during the school year unless you’re mindful about it.

Instead, be realistic about what you can actually accomplish over the course of a summer. See how many days you have to write, and schedule them accordingly with your summer writing goals.

#3. Give Yourself Time to Play

We’re way more likely to do our work when we’re also giving ourselves time to play, rest, indulge, and enjoy. And since summer naturally lends itself to those things, it helps to set up a nicely balanced bargain between the two.

I find that writing as early as possible during the day allows me to have guilt-free down time and playtime in the afternoons, just as I find that when I’m writing when I’m home, I feel good about enjoying my vacations fully while I’m away instead of feeling guilty that I “should” be doing more.

Work hard, play hard, is an adage that fits the bill here… but you have to actually deliver on the play time to make this work.

#4. Plan for Reentry 

Taking time off from writing — generally anything more than 1 to 2 days off — tends to create a bumpy “reentry” back into it. So if you go away for a long weekend or a vacation, think about how you’ll reboot yourself with your writing when you get back.

In my Circle, we advise our writers to “go back to the beginning” of working in small increments of writing time if resistance kicks in when it’s time to pick the writing back up. A little accountability goes a long way here too (we offer this in the Circle if you need help).

So if you return from time away and find yourself struggling to get back into your book (or script), try writing for just 5 to 15 minutes to jump start yourself again. You can increase the time over the coming days as rapidly as feels doable to you until you’re back to your normal routine.

Use this guideline: The more resistance, the smaller the amount of writing time. 

#5. Have Fun, and Be Ready for Anything

Summer can be an “all bets are off” season. Between kids at home, weather variations, vacations, out of town guests, extra summer projects, and our own impulses to celebrate the summer, a lot can get in the way of writing.

The more you can be ready to roll with it — to have fun with it even, like you’re playing a “I wonder how much writing I can pull off this summer” game — the easier it is.

I find that a lot of this is about your mental attitude — if you’re expecting your summer to be just like the rest of the year, you’re more likely to get thrown off track. On the other hand, if you take an attitude that things are going to be more up in the air,  you’ll be more ready to take the writing time when it comes and just run with it. You’ll also be more likely to have contingency plans ready to go if something comes up, like having a portable writing kit, a flexible schedule, or a backup writing time slot later in the day if your morning writing gets interrupted. 

Have fun, writers, and happy summer!

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When to Write and When to Call It a Day

I’ve been sick too much this year, and thought it worth revisiting one of my favorite articles from 2013 on “when to write and when to call it a day.” Here’s an updated version for you:

During a live coaching call for my Circle, a writer once asked about how to know when to push through and write if you’re not feeling well versus how to know when to focus on regaining your well-being.

In my opinion, the answer depends a bit on the circumstances, so let’s look at some specific scenarios.

1. You’ve just come down with a wicked cold or flu.

Assuming you have a solid, regular habit in place, when you get really sick or you’re just those early stages of wretchedness, it’s okay to take a few days off from writing, knowing that you’ll get back to it as quickly as you can.

When I’m feverish, wiped out, or worse, I know the most important thing I can do for my body is to rest and heal.

I have found myself writing even while sick at times — because I felt truly drawn to work on my piece — but in this case my focus is very much about listening to my body.

This is very much like being an athlete, and knowing whether or if to train when you’re sick or injured, and when to take a day off.

I also trust myself enough deep down, after months of regular writing, to know that I’ll re-establish my habit as soon as I am able, usually within 2 to 3 days. The longer you’re away from your habit, the harder it is to get going again, so it will behoove you to pay attention to starting again quickly, even if you start small, such as in 15 minutes a day.

2. You’re going through a rough patch in your life, you’re generally tired or run down, maybe you’re not sleeping very well, or maybe you’re mildly sick.

On the other hand, if the chips are down and you’re having a rough time in your life, maybe you aren’t sleeping well, or maybe you’re getting better from that wicked cold or flu, I’m inclined to recommend that you simply ease up on your writing time a bit, but still keep writing. When I’ve gone through particularly difficult phases in my personal life, I’ve made a point NOT to stop writing, but to carry on at my “rock bottom minimum” level of writing.

As a writer, it’s worth knowing what that minimal level of involvement is with your work for you — the amount of writing that will keep you engaged and connected to the work. For me, it’s a minimum of 15 minutes of writing a day, even if it’s morning pages just to keep writing flowing, though ideally it’s on my main project. For another writer, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It varies between individuals, but the point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

I gained tremendous confidence and strength from seeing myself commit to and show up for doing the work every day, no matter what.

In concert with easing back to your minimum, when you’re going through a phase like this, make a point to ramp up your self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. But do stay connected to the work.

3. You’re in a bad mood or someone said something terrible to you and your confidence is shaken.

A common refrain among writers — particularly those of us who are more sensitive and easily affected by other people and experiences — is “I’m just not in the right mood to write today.” This can particularly come up if you’ve lost confidence because of something someone said about your writing or if you’ve been hooked by the Comparison Monster (“Everyone else is doing so much better at this than I am!”), or even if you’re just in a crummy mood.

Hear this now: As one of my Circle coaches once said, “There’s a difference between self-care and mood.”

Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here, right now reading this, if writing was easy to do.

As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

Don’t let a bad mood or a rough day become an excuse not to write.

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing, and if anything, I think we need to err on the side of writing more regularly and consistently than not.

As Brian Johnson says (via Jack Canfield), “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” So hang in there, do the work, and make it easier on yourself. (A side note: A weekdays-only practice at 100% works.)

You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised that your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood.

In fact, you may find — as many of our Circle members do — that your mood may well shift when you write anyway, and if even if it doesn’t, you’ll still have demonstrated your commitment to yourself, which is deeply affirming and happiness-building.

(See also my post called “You Can Change Your Life in a Split Second.”)

4. You’re going through a painful period of loss, grief, or personal anguish.

At another end of the spectrum is experiencing an extreme loss — like a death of a loved one. When my grandmother died in 2012, I felt as though I was in another world — approaching the veil of life and death on some level — and I found it very difficult to write fiction in yet an entirely different world. So I choose to take a few days off from “real” writing, though I did do a tiny bit of tinkering with my script one day.

On the other hand, Steven Pressfield recommends writing even during times of “personal anguish” in his excellent post of the same title.

He says, “I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not.”

My experience is that those few brief days of being between worlds while in grief are the only spans of time in which I have felt truly unable to write, and then, just as I’ve said above, I still get back to writing as quickly as possible.

5. You need to refill your creative well.

All this said, I am a firm believer in taking big “put my feet up” days off. I love to pick out a day on my calendar when I can feel the need building up, that I block off “just for me.” I take my son to school, and then proceed to do whatever I feel like doing, which usually involves some combination of a fantastic herbal or decaf beverage, a movie in bed, a nap, maybe a meal at a favorite restaurant. It might also involve going shopping at a beloved and inspiring store, like an art store or museum shop. Whatever it is that feels inspiring and uplifting.

On these days, I fully, completely enjoy my Not Writing time, and I know I’m replenishing and rebuilding to dive back in the next day.

Your Turn

The bottom line, for me, is that each one of us needs to experiment, listen to our own bodies and inner selves, and find what works best for us. And, like I said, given the massive opportunities for resistance, fear, avoidance, procrastination, and self-doubt, my strong recommendation is to find a way to stick to your work as regularly and consistently as possible. What do you think? What works for you? Leave me a note in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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This article was originally published in January 2013 and has now been republished with revisions.

 

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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This Writer’s Life: A San Franciscan Middle Grade Novelist Breaks Down the Work Into Manageable Chunks

Today we’re continuing my “This Writer’s Life” series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives. If you’re just joining us, I encourage you to also check out the pieces about Rebecca, Frani, and Rick.

Today we’re joined by Foenix Ryder, a writer who found her home in Middle Grade fiction.

Meet Foenix Ryder: A San Franciscan Film Freelancer and Middle Grade Novelist

I’ve known Foenix for almost two years now. It’s been such treat to have her participating in the Circle. She’s the kind of writer whose enthusiasm, energy, and positivity is always present, even when the challenges of writing rear up. I love her determination and passion for her writing, and I’m thrilled to be helping her get her words out into the world.

Not only do we work together in the Circle, but I also have the pleasure of coaching Foenix around building her writer’s platform, something I’ll be offering in 2017 to other writers as well. I asked Foenix to tell us more about her writing and what she’s learned over the last several years — including how to break down the overwhelming tasks of a major writing project.

foenix-ryderWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your writing process?

I love Middle Grade and Young Adult stories whether they’re action, adventure, fantasy, coming of age or anything else in those genres. Naturally, that’s what I’m drawn to write: Stories where kids and teens can get immersed and relate — and hopefully be inspired and encouraged when they read. 

Right now I’m on the verge of starting the third draft of my second novel. After struggling for a few weeks with a major element in my story, I realized I needed to pause to study the conventions and expectations of fantasy stories so I can further develop the world I’ve created and the rules within it.

In some ways it feels like I’m “taking a vacation” from my story and avoiding the work. But I’m reminding myself that I am and always will be developing as a writer. The stepping away to learn more about my genre and craft will only empower me to tell the best story I can. And that’s what we are all here to do.

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

Oh wow… it’s changed immensely! Before the Circle, over the course of six years, I wrote and revised my first novel. It actually still needs a major overhaul, but it was written in bits and pieces, from different places in the story, and most days it felt like I was struggling just to get words on the page.

Since joining the circle in March 2015, where I was instantly welcomed into a warm community of other writers, my practice has become almost daily. Writing my second novel while in the Circle, I feel like I finally have a rhythm. I create a daily goal, sit down and write, and then check in on the Circle site. I feel grounded and supported by my group every single day, which helped me write the first draft of my second novel in 7 months!

That’s not to say there haven’t been moments when I struggled, but now I have a space with other writers where I can voice my challenges and get encouragement. That helps keep the excitement going when things are great or get it going again when things are difficult.

I also love going to the daily writing sprints where I can jump online, say briefly what I’ll be working on, and completely focus on what I’m working on for one hour. The sprints have created a foundation for me to begin each day while also giving me a moment to think about what I would like to accomplish before diving into the writing.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer ?

I have learned so much over the past seven years I’ve been writing. For instance, I’ve learned that I do my best writing in the morning, and ideally write from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.

I’ve also learned to create a timeline/calendar for myself at the beginning of each draft, section, or when I’m starting something new to help me stay on track. It helps me see how much time I need to accomplish my goal and what I need to get done each day. I have also learned to let go of worrying if someone is going to like my stories or that I don’t write like other writers that I admire. I can only tell my stories as best as I can. And it is my duty to write these stories.

And something huge I am just starting to take in is that I have a tendency to see a project in its enormity and can get overwhelmed thinking I need to get it all done TODAY! But Jenna has helped me see the impossibility of that and instead break things down into much smaller chunks in order to achieve something in a realistic way. This has taken so much stress off of me while helping me accomplish small tasks that add up to a larger piece of the storytelling puzzle.

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

I have a unique life as a freelancer in the film industry where I sometimes have 12-hour plus days for a few weeks and then I have a chunk of time off. When I’m off, I have time to dive into my writing and be fully present. So when I’m not immersed in “work work” I typically write four hours a day, Monday through Friday. I find it’s the perfect amount of time for me — anything past 4 hours, I just start to fizzle out.

I write in an artist’s studio in the Mission in San Francisco. It’s a private room I share with another artist inside a building where all types of artists have spaces. My half of the room is like a small apartment with a cozy couch, a soft blanket, some china lanterns, and a cool pirate ship kite I recently bought on the beach in Bali.

In order to get into my writing “dreamspace,” I must be curled up into a ball, legs pulled to my chest, body hunched over, blanket around me, with my headphones on playing the constant rumble and downpour of “Thunderstorms.” This allows me to tune everything out except the adventure movie I see inside my head while writing by hand as fast as I possibly can.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

A successful writing day is one where I have either gotten through the section I wanted to get through, have worked out some kind of problem in my story, or where I wrote so fast, I felt energy flowing through me, writing while the story just poured from me. Those days, I walk away feeling vibrant and excited and truly feel like “I want to live that adventure!”

What’s next for you with your writing?

I’m planning to finish my novel mid-2017 and submit my manuscript to agents. Between drafts, I’ve been writing a short story which I’ll revise a few more times and submit to magazines for publication. I feel writing short stories is valuable for me in two ways: First, I get new ideas often and want to get them out into the world so this gives me an outlet for writing something in a shorter timeframe, and second, getting a few short stories published will help me build a brand by getting my stories in front of people who would enjoy reading them.

Also! I’m working regularly with Jenna to create my website and writing platform, building my writing brand around my pen name, Foenix Ryder. Having a pen name helps me maintain the energy I feel when writing my stories.

Circle Profile

foenix-ryder

Name: Foenix Ryder
Roles: Novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, film industry freelancer
Location: San Francisco, California
Genre: Middle Grade & Young Adult Fantasy
Current writing goal: 1) Finish 3rd draft of my current novel by February 2017, 2) Build my writer platform including developing and launching my website by January 2017.
Biggest writing challenge: Working myself out of the stressful mind-numbing boxes of what I “don’t know” about my story.
Biggest writing ah-ha: When it was pointed out to me that I write Middle Grade fiction, it helped me understand my writing better and also see that there is a place for the stories I love to tell and that people of all ages can enjoy them.
Go-to writing platform: Writing by hand, Scrivener
Favorite writing spot: My super cozy writing studio that has a comfy couch and a warm softy blanket.

Bio: Foenix Ryder is a Middle Grade and Young Adult storyteller based in San Francisco, California who tells fantastical stories and lives brave adventures. Foenix’s stories explore diversity, confidence, and self-discovery while taking readers on an action-packed ride. 

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

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

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

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

 

Mountain Sunrise

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

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

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

Meet Rikard Bergquist: A Swedish CIO and Historical Thriller Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

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

Where do you typically write?

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

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

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

What’s next for you with your writing?

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

Circle Profile

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

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

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

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

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

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

 

Laguna Madre by eutrophication&hypoxia

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

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

Meet Frani Bradley: Psychotherapist and Action-Adventure Novelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

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

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

Where do you typically write?

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

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you with your writing?

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

Circle Profile

frani-bradley

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

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

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

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

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Meet Rebecca Brams: Mama, Grant Writer, & Novelist

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

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

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

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

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

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

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

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

What’s next for you with your writing?

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

Circle Profile

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

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

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

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

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

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

 

How 5 Minutes of Daily Writing Can Change Your Life

Writers who tend to join the Called to Write Coaching Circle — and get the most out of it — often have both a deep call to write (whether they’re doing it consistently or not) and a specific project they want to work on, perhaps one half-completed, languishing on a shelf for a couple of years. And when they find out about the Circle, they’re eager to move past the dreaming or stuck stage into action.

This is the story of a man who has done just that.

Rikard-BergquistWhen he joined the Circle all the way from Sweden, Rikard Bergquist had been working on his novel intermittently, struggling to find enough time to write and to move past the outlining and preparation stage into writing actual New Words. And he had a little two-year-old daughter at the time too! (She’s three now.)

After being in the Circle for a session or two, continuing to write intermittently, and listening to me (harp on about :) ) advocate for early morning writing and small writing sessions as a powerful way to jump-start a writing habit, one of our other members “threw down the gauntlet” and challenged him to try writing for 5 minutes every day and logging in every day on the site to report about how it went for him. He took her up on the challenge. It changed his life.

In less than four months, after building from 5 minutes a day to a solid writing habit of 60 minutes a day, he knocked out 75,000 words and completed his first draft. He’s still with us in the Circle now, working on revisions. He is one of our most dedicated and consistent members, showing up to write and log in on the site even while traveling — he even met me for coffee in Berkeley here the other day to talk shop while on a trip to the U.S. from Sweden. It was great fun. :)

I asked “Rick” (as we affectionately call him in the Circle) to talk to us today about his experience with finishing his novel, how he got there, and what’s he’s learned about his writing process along the way. You may be surprised to find some ideas and inspiration you can adopt for yourself.

1. Rick, first, welcome and thanks for being here. Let’s start off by having you tell about your recent major milestone — finishing the first draft of your first novel. What was that like for you?

It was one of the most empowering and surprising experiences I’ve had. Empowering because finally this dream of a novel I’ve had for a couple of years was becoming a reality. I escaped the terror of the first draft and actually produced 75,000 words. Instead of laboring and trying to make early parts of the story perfect, writing and rewriting, outlining and rearranging the order of scenes, as well as reading the latest book on craft and thinking I finally got it, I did the work and now have a substantial number of written pages to show for it.

It was surprising because I did it by writing for about an hour every morning during four months — I never thought an hour a day would amount to anything. I surprised myself weekly when I saw what I had accomplished with just an hour every morning. I surrendered to the process, allowing myself to write badly, knowing that it was only the first stage in a big adventure. Overcoming that editor inside of me, who kept telling me it was crap, was a big victory. And my first draft is the result. Now I know that first drafts aren’t supposed to be outstanding perfect novels, they’re just supposed to be written.

2. Can you give us a soundbite about what the story is about and about who you are?

The story is set in the 1570s of Stockholm, Sweden. In a power struggle for the crown our hero supports a new queen for the throne, who turns out to be a murderer, poisoning her competition. When his secret love interest is surprisingly accused and imprisoned for the murder, without any hope of pardon, our hero has to choose between his career or saving her. And what price will he pay for the choice he makes?

I work in the financial industry, for a private equity company, with business development. It’s hands-on management in selected individual companies in a wide range of industries. Writing is for me a creative outlet and a possibility to follow a totally different path.

3. What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the  Circle?

Consistent daily work is key to my process. Being consistent means that I stay in touch with my writing, even though I might be working and doing other things during the day. The story evolves and develops in my subconscious, waiting to be served up during the next writing session. Setting goals and being accountable within the Circle, giving and receiving feedback on each others’ processes — in short, knowing that my efforts are noticed by others is a big motivator for me.

Focusing on the process rather than the craft, is a very important difference from other writing groups I’ve participated in. For me, this group is about focusing on getting the writing done, every day. What you write, how you write, and when you write is up to you. But do it every day. The accountability and support of the Circle is key to making that happen.

4. What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed?

My biggest challenge was finding time to write. I kept telling myself I needed chunks of at least 3-4 hours of undisturbed concentrated time to get anything done. I used to laugh at friends telling me how someone they knew had finished a novel by coming in 15 minutes early to the office and using that time to write. “It just isn’t possible,” I used to say, but now I know better. I kept on trying to find my big chunks of time, getting them here and there. It was a constant struggle. Looking back, I feel like I wasted a lot of time thinking about how to find time to write, but never doing the actual writing, and instead ending up feeling frustrated and lost. I knew I wanted to write, but why didn’t I just do it? I wrestled a lot with that question. With the help of the Circle I established a habit of rising early and writing for an hour every morning. Consistently.

5. When you first joined the Circle in May 2012, what was your writing habit like and how did it evolve? Were there any key moments where you shifted your habit? Was there a particular trigger or did it build over time for you?

At first my writing consisted of sporadic big chunks of time, where I spent the first part of each writing session reconnecting with my story and the latter part coming up with some new tweaks to my outline, synopsis, and characters. I always felt happy and satisfied afterwards, but not continuing to work on it over time always made me question my earlier work when I got back to it. And I was never moving into writing actual words, paragraphs, and chapters of the book, just staying at the outline stage.

There were two key moments for me — One: I followed the advice from you, Jenna, and fellow members of the Circle to adjust my target amount of writing time downward until I found a suitable amount that I could do consistently every day. For me that was five minutes. How amazed and surprised I was of the power of those five minutes. It changed my world — I connected on a deep level with my story and gradually increased the five minutes to sixty minutes per day. At first outlining scenes and then actually writing the first draft.

And this is where my second key moment occurred — Two: I could not get myself writing. I stalled. I reworked. I was stuck. Again following advice from the Circle I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself “I am writing crap,” and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn’t all crap.

6. What advice do you have for other writers?

The only way to do it, is to do it. Complete the journey from the first page to the last page. If you can’t do this, it’s game over. Because without the first draft, you have nothing. You need a lot of faith to do it, faith in your unproven ability to write a novel. But give yourself permission to fail, to write crap, to make mistakes, to forget your outline and synopsis and before you know it, you will have your first draft.

7. What’s next for the novel and for your writing?

Right now I am revising the draft. Aiming at having a first rewrite done in a couple of months. There are times when I feel like giving up, but I now know that that’s only part of the writing life. It’s a constant flow of ups and downs, you just have to trust the process and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finishing this first draft, I will turn it into my second and then my third, or as many as I need to finally hold an amazing novel in my hands.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Have faith, never give up, and know that in the end you’ll succeed. Once you’re in the habit of writing, trust the process to bring you to the finish line. If you feel down and lost during the journey, just tread water and wait for the next creative wave to come. It always does, have faith.

Thanks, Rikard!

Your turn

Join me in congratulating Rick on his big accomplishment and help cheer him on for his revisions! Leave a note for him in the comments. Feel free to ask questions too. Tell us what you think about writing for 5 minutes a day.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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