How to finally make it as a writer (Part one!)

Today we’re kicking off a four-part series designed to help you break through some of the obstacles that hold you back from writing consistently, finishing writing projects, and (finally!) getting them to market.

Over the next few days, I’ll take you through a few simple exercises that will make it easier for you to write, help you get more written every day, build your confidence as a writer and accelerate your professional growth.

Sounds like a tall order! But if you do these simple exercises you will be able to feel the difference in how you approach your writing, and crossing the “finish line” to becoming a professional writer will be easier to do than ever.

Why I’m taking you through these exercises now

Later this week I’m releasing a new home-study course – Design Your Writing Life – that’s essentially a step-by-step blueprint for how to go from where you are now to the writing life you’ve always been looking forward to.

It will be available with a special launch discount on Thursday, May 8th, and I wanted to share a few select parts of what I teach inside it so that you can get a taste of what the course is all about.

Your first exercise is below!

Exercise #1 – Expand your writing options
(So you can write more easily, more often)

One of the biggest roadblocks to getting your writing done is limiting yourself to just one or two spaces to write. If conditions aren’t ideal, you’ll lose a lot of steam and think writing will be harder than it has to be.

We don’t do this in the rest of our lives – that would be like saying you could only go to the grocery store when it’s sunny outside. But when it comes to creative tasks like writing, this is a very common and very human issue to grapple with.

The good news is that there’s not that much to grapple with. You can do so much for your writing career by taking 5 minutes to consciously create a list of writing spaces that you know you can write in, even if they’re not ideal.

You don’t want to get so precious about your writing that you can only write on Tuesdays in the north corner of the house when the wind is blowing from the east. :)

The more flexible you can be with your writing spaces, the more easily you can break the feeling of being too locked in to or beholden to any one particular space. You’ll become a more powerful and capable writer simply by making this one change.

Here’s an example of how this exercise works

What you can do right now is take 3 to 5 minutes to make a list of the different places that you currently write in, or could write in, and order them from “most likely to result in writing” to “least likely.”

As an example, here’s a list of all the places and ways that I write, in order of most frequent to least:

  • In my office on my main computer. The office has doors that I can close and lock.
  • In my bedroom in my bed on my laptop. I can also close and lock the door while I’m writing, though I do so only rarely.
  • In my bedroom at my grandmother’s old writing desk with my laptop.
  • On the couch in the living room with my laptop, or at the dining room table with my laptop. I usually only use this space to write if my son and husband are away and I want a change of scenery or if they are otherwise occupied in another room.
  • In a café or restaurant with my laptop, listening to soundtrack music without words on my ear buds.
  • In the car on my iPad with my logitech keyboard. Least likely!

(I’ve also been known to take my iPad or laptop with me to doctor’s appointments where I know I’ll be likely to be waiting a while.)

Here’s why this works so well to make writing easier for you

This exercise will get your brain noticing where you already write most often, which reinforces your identity as a writer and can help make you more likely to write. Instead of thinking about all the writing you’re not doing, you’ll be thinking about all of the writing you already do.

It also can help you notice patterns in what kinds of environments are most suited for your unique writing style.

And, it can help unlock options for what to do when the space you’re writing in isn’t working for you – as in my example above, I can see my dining room table as a good place when I need a change of scenery.

Finally, it helps you see that you can (and do!) write even when it feels hard. The last item above in the example – my least likely option of writing on my iPad in the car – still shows me that it can be done, even in the least ideal environment.

And when you know that, the “I can’t go to the grocery store unless it’s sunny” feeling starts to go away – and you will find yourself writing more often, more easily, every single day.

Take 3 minutes now and do this exercise in the comments!

I’d love to see what you come up with for this exercise and all of the different places that you find yourself writing (or that you know you could definitely write in if you thought about it).

Take a few moments to write down a few places right now – even four or five places is a fantastic start – and tell me how you feel at the end of the exercise.

I look forward to cheering you on. :)




  1. Victoria Augustine says:

    Changing up the writing space is something I recently discovered myself. I have three locations I use now, but there’s a fourth I could probably try. I love writing in bed, but it’s hard on your back. Changing locations has increased the hours I put in. I didn’t realize how important this small factor was until I read your post, but it’s true!

    • Terrific, Victoria! Sounds like you’re really paying attention. I love it!

      When I write in bed, I do prop myself up with lots of pillows and I have a special lap desk kind of thing I write on. I also don’t do it for hours on end, usually 30 to 60 minutes, so that it isn’t too hard on my back either. :)

      Thanks for commenting — and for being the first to do so!

  2. 1. At my desk, using laptop.
    2. Sitting on the couch with laptop.
    3. Using Kindle sitting wherever I happen to be.
    4. In bed, propped up with pillows.
    5. At my mother’s house, with spiral notebook and pen.

  3. I write in my office, my studio, my car, a cafe, the library, a chapel, on an air plane, on the couch, and sometimes in bed. I use either my desk top, my lap top, or a notepad. My desk top computer in my office has the most available imagery for me to include in my writing, as my work involves painting. But I am adaptable. I always have a pen or pencil handy, and if there’s no paper available, I write on the back of an envelop, a receipt, a napkin, my hand, whatever is available. Great topic!

    • Kits! Thanks for commenting. :)

      I love seeing how adaptable you are with your writing spaces, good for you!

  4. Sto wari Hhan says:

    If a “poem” is coming through, I basically have to find a place immediately to write, so I carry a shorthand pad or smaller spiral note pad I can tuck in my belt while I am doing physical labor like cleaning house.

    Driving seems to set my intuitive mind free to roam and come up with great thoughts so I have a pad beside me to jot down the suggestions. If its lengthy then I find a place to pull off the road and make my notes – or poem.

    Best yet is when someone else is doing the driving – auto, bus, train, plane, boat. Recently, I wrote 10 haiku poems for 10 moon photos while my daughter, granddaughter and I were on the road for 8 hours to visit Great Grandma. This also works for me to take photos or make drawings and sometimes all three are happening.

    Out on Patio in nice weather.
    In the upstairs loft in my husband’s apartment in New York.
    At the dining table when everyone else is out of the house.
    I just realized that the places I am least likely to write or draw in are the places I have set up to do so. On the go and late at night when the rest of the world is asleep seems to be my creation time. Also, my work usually starts on paper and gets converted to the computer later.
    Thanks for the exercise!! Very revealing!

    • Ooh, great insight about realizing the places you have set up to do so are your least likely places to use! It sounds like your intuitive/creative mind likes a lot of freedom to “think outside the box”!

  5. 1. Most consistently productive is a cafe on ipad with Bluetooth keyboard.
    2. My quiet space with desk, candle and locked door is highly productive but I rarely go there. I think I’m afraid of it or something.
    3. Kitchen table on laptop or journal.
    4. Desktop for rewrites.
    5. Movie theater, produces most surprising additions to creative process.
    6. In the car at the beach or other special place.

    I want to be consistent at my quiet desk, but haven’t yet.
    Great exercise, thank you.

    • Great observations, Suzanna. I love that you noticed that the quiet space with the desk may be making you feel afraid of it (feels too serious?) and you aren’t consistent there but are wanting to be. Maybe even your high level of productivity while there feels “too” productive? Great job!

  6. i always write using pen and paper. i can write:
    at the kitchen table
    sitting outside in the back yard
    on the long wooden table that looks out a large window in the living room
    on the rocking chair on the front porch
    on the couch in living room
    on a hammock by a creek
    sitting up on my bed

    wow, this was like magic. when i was done with this simple two minute exercise i felt expansive and more forgiving of myself for not sitting down and doing the writing i want to be doing. unexpected effect, but i will take in gladly :)

    • Laura, What a great and lovely outcome! Good work — you really opened yourself up to the possibilities. I love it.

  7. It looks like I do a lot of writing with pen and paper in quiet places.
    1. In my home office at desk with the laptop or on the bed with pen and paper.
    2. Outside in the garden shed with pen and paper or laptop.
    3. In the study on the sofa with pen and paper.
    4. At work during lunch with pen and paper.
    5. In my truck with pen and paper.
    6. At the library with laptop or pen and paper.
    7. In bed right before going to sleep with pen and paper.

  8. HI Jenna:
    Okay, here goes:

    Most likely to least —
    1. My upstairs “cubicle” with my two-screen desktop computer. The keyboard and pen tablet and high-tech ergonomic writing chair give me the most comfort and ergonomic support…at my age (69) and after 3+ decades of professional writing, that’s importante!
    2. Dining room table, our defacto gathering place in cold weather because the fireplace insert is there. Not such an ergonomically good place to write. Plus laptop keyboards: bad wrist juju.
    3. laptop in office. Sits on my lap. worse ergonomics for neck and wrists. Electromagnetic discomfort in certain areas of the body that shall remain unspecified.
    4. Outdoors at our house in spring/summer/fall. Lovely weather but uncomfortable, poor screen viz. Nice for casual writing though.
    5. laptop in my favorite local cafe in the village, across from a vintage movie theater. Distractions: vintage movie theater, people talking, walking by, clouds, birds, sky, flowers, coffee, cookies…yeah.
    6. I’ve written at the top of a mountain road overlooking Santa Barbara, CA when I lived there. Sitting in my van with the lappie, the world laid out before me…wonderful inspirations! Not so great for comfort or productivity though.
    conclusions: I know I can write anywhere. I do so most productively at my home desktop because of the tools I have at my disposal, and the physical discomfort I feel doing it elsewhere (mostly carpal tunnel, eye strain, stiffness from standard furniture.
    I do 90% of my productive writing, and most efficiently by far, at the desktop (#1). It’s quiet, I have the whole upstairs to myself and everything is right where I can reach it without having usually to get up.
    Thanks…not much new for me here but reaffirms my choices for where to go when it’s time to get crackin’.

    • Jim, it’s so great you’re paying such close attention to the ergonomics and physical comfort — so important for our writer’s bodies to hold up in the long term! And it IS nice to have options for little bits of writing when you want a change of scene. :) Thanks for posting!

  9. Here are my writing places so far. Lately I’m finding that when I get stuck or need to get closure on a piece, I head to Starbucks – in fact, I’m there now! I’m not completely sure why, but it really seems to help. Maybe it feels more “official” plus I can’t go take a nap or get distracted as easily. Whatever it is, it works!

    1. At my desk in my bedroom “office” – where all my inspiring stuff is set up
    2. At Starbucks at the long “writer’s table” with the plug-ins for laptops
    3. On the love seat in the living room with my laptop
    4. At the kitchen table if it’s early and I don’t want to wake my husband
    5. At a variety of coffee shops, to keep things interesting: Starbucks, Merridees, Frothy Monkey, etc.
    6. I used to journal by hand a lot, but have kinda gotten away from it since they discontinued my favorite journals. Now I journal on the computer, which works okay – but doesn’t feel quite as “earthy” somehow. Also I rarely do other writing by hand – not sure why, just feels like it would bog me down – plus I’d have to retype it!

    • Kim, I love the idea of the “long writer’s table” at Starbucks, it sounds terrific! And I like that you know what to use it for — when you get stuck or need closure on a piece. It sound like being there really helps you focus. Good for you!

  10. I write in a few places:

    1. On the couch at my laptop.
    2. In bed in my bedroom (laptop or tablet)
    3. In the breakfast room at the hotel where we’re staying (I haven’t tried this yet but want to. On my laptop probably).
    4. In the library on my laptop.
    5. On my phone at the doctor’s office.
    6. On my tablet on trips (car or plane).

    I’ve discovered that yes, I want to be comfortable, I want quiet and I like being around people.

    The leasing office where we used to rent used to play the radio all the time (and I don’t have one of those nifty noise-cancelling headphones). Really drove me up the wall!.

    Sometimes when I want to storyboard, I need a wall or my cork boards. So that requires me to be at home. But other times I just want to brainstorm my plot points. And I like being around people. Or it’s way too easy to get distracted and think “Hey I’m at home! No need to work.”

    By the way, these are not changes I’ve put into play yet. I’ve just noticed that I like being outside after a grueling final polish. I’m going to make a switch and do what’s best for me from now on God willing.

    • Great discoveries, Sabina! I hear you about the story boarding. I’m always looking for new options in that regard. Good for you for planning to make the switch to what’s best for you!

  11. I found this apparently simple question so interesting, Jenna!

    I currently only really write in two places: in my bed, propped up with pillows and using a particular purple and silver cushion to lean on; and at my desk, on my laptop – sitting at my ergonomically designed back chair, with my laptop on its stand at the right height, and with a proper separate keyboard. My desk (and my office) is in my living room, so I can only write here when my daughter’s not at home, or closeted upstairs in her bedroom.

    What was interesting about this is that the writing I do in my bedroom is my Morning Pages: longhand, in A4 lined journals with cheerful coloured covers, using a choice of coloured pens depending on how I feel that day. It’s three pages that I don’t censor or edit – just go with whatever wants to be written. I don’t do any other sort of writing here. And I don’t do any other sort of writing longhand.

    The writing that I do at my desk (which happens much less often) is what I think of as “proper” writing – blog posts, business emails, work on my website – and is typed. I have encountered a lot of resistance here – or maybe just a total lack of inspiration.

    I’ve tried writing outside in the garden when the weather is good, but without much success; I haven’t (yet) found a way to get comfortable and to deal with the glare on my screen.

    Now I’m wondering about the formality of writing at my desk and whether that puts pressure on me to get it right – and what I could do differently…?

    • Oh, Anne! What inspiring insights. Yes, someone else mentioned feeling less inclined to write in the formal spaces they have set up. I think that’s fascinating! I suspect it could be a combination of the big dream aspect of the more formal writing situation (the resistance goes up the higher the stakes we have in something) plus possibly the simple matter of making a habit of going in and sitting down to write? That helped me a lot when I was first getting going — having a habit and commitment to write everyday helped me circumvent the question of IF I was going to write. It was just something I did!

  12. I have lap top and a large screen. I prefer to writing on the big screen and put it in my bed room to watch tv and then carry it to either my writing room or my paper mess room. Mainly it goes to my paper mess room now since I am trying to handle a lot of paper right now. Sometimes I take the paper downstairs. I could go to library but I’ve been too ill to leave house much. After reading this exercise , i thought of putting large screen on a lower table so I can writing on it with barely leaving the bed and not have to carry it in other room. I think I will try to set that up this week.

    • Margaret, good for you — that really sounds worth exploring. It’s tricky to navigate what works best when we have factors like being ill to contend with. Good for you for giving it some thought!

  13. You know, one of the things that came up in different ways was a kind of dayfreaming scenario. When I walk in the park and let my mind drift, or when I lie in bed thinking of subject matter and follow the trail. Sometimes things for me get written almost as a draft when Im day dreaming. It is kind of a mind set to possibilities. For me I need the mind set, and yes, your exercise has opened up where it seems to pop up. The prime places and the occasional. It all starts thpough for me with the daydream in the park or staring out of the window. Once I get locked in, I can flow. The environment sets the tone for me being able to drift into a frame of mind that lets me produce. Is that wierd? Is it even a part of the excewrcise or did I miss the boat?

    • Raphael, Whatever the exercise brings up for you is just right. :) It’s all about self-observation, noticing, and awareness. A lot of writers find that day dreaming is the kind of intuitive mental space they need to be in to get a project started. It might also be interesting to experiment with various environments and producing too. Sometimes we think we have to have things a certain way but then discover we don’t! That’s why I like to encourage writers to try new things and create variation for themselves. :) Thanks for commenting!

  14. Christina says:

    I write in my living room most of the time. And my home office, when I need to focus without distractions. I also love to write on the beach, or in my bedrooms. Then again, when I’m into the flow of a great story idea, I can write anywhere, and block out whatever, or whoever is around me.

    • Isn’t that fun, that being in the flow helps us ignore everything else? And I think it’s great that you’re aware of other options (like your home office) for the times when distractions do get to you. As much as writing in the flow is SO wonderful, it doesn’t always happen. :)

  15. Carrie Honigman says:

    Places to write: In my office at my desk on my PC. This is my regular writing space.
    On my laptop at the desk of my hotel room which is where I am writing this.
    In a spiral notebook parked in my car anywhere..
    In a spiral notebook at the beach.
    On my laptop sitting outside by the fountain.
    On my laptop sitting at the kitchen table.

    • Carrie, great list! I love the idea of you writing by a fountain too. That sounds just lovely. Thanks for commenting. Did you learn anything about your writing from making this list?

  16. Gail Clifford says:

    I agree with all the other responses – ones I use that I haven’t seen:
    1. airplane /airport: traveling a lot for work recently so have both notebook and laptop options always ready: love to find that seat by the power outlet so I can make it all the way through without losing power
    2. at work: I have 12 hour shifts, with occasional down time between patients. Even if I just log into my personal e-mail account (allowed where I work) and type out a scene outline, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something – it can be a great time to brainstorm, even with all the chaos around.

    That was probably the biggest surprise for me – that you can (and I do) write under the craziest circumstances (I have a small desk in a busy ER) AND that neon pink earplugs are very handy for cutting out the noise for the terrible beeping that is constant in an ER but also notify my colleagues I’m not really ignoring them- they just need to get my attention before telling me the next story

  17. I like how you have different ways to write based on where you are working. I’m featuring this post in tomorrow’s edition of The Content Letter.

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