The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part II

Last week I shared Part I of this post about the many faces of procrastination, and the underlying reasons it shows up. It’s not necessarily “just” writer’s block or laziness, which are the common explanations I hear.

There are actually a number of variations on the theme of procrastination, and it’s usually driven by something deeper, like feeling stuck, being overwhelmed, being hooked by perfectionism, or wrestling with past creative wounds that need addressing — some of the examples I wrote about last week.

Let’s look at a few more of these writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.

You’re creatively confused.

Creative confusion is one of the most fascinating causes for procrastination I’ve come across (perhaps because it’s one of my personal “favorites”). Creative confusion will have you spinning in circles, not sure which direction to go with your story, considering multiple ideas and perspectives, and feeling unable to decide among them. It’s as if everything suddenly has equal value and there’s no differentiating them. 

Part of the issue here is empowerment. When you forget that you’re the architect of your story and that there’s not necessarily a “right” way to write it, it’s easy to get confused. Confusion can also be a smokescreen for the fear that you’ll get it “wrong.”

Antidotes: Make the shift into action by being willing to do the work of sorting through your ideas by putting them on paper and evaluating them as objectively as you can. One of the ways creative confusion keeps you stuck is that it all happens very quickly in your head. Get it down, and figure it out. And remember that you’re the one in charge. It can also be helpful to talk it through with a trusted coach or writing pal who has your story’s best interests at heart (not her ideas for what you “should” do).

You’re feeling apathetic about your book (or script).

Creative boredom or apathy is another one of these super tricksters that can keep you locked into procrastination. You don’t write because it feels like you’ve “just lost interest” in your story. Interestingly, this usually happens when you’ve just hit (or are about to hit) a major milestone with your story, or you’re about to tackle the next stage. What’s happening here is that a new level of fear is cropping up and putting the brakes on to minimize your risks of failure.

In other words, it ain’t about the story. 

Antidotes: Keep on keeping on. The only way out is through. While there may be passages in your book that are need work, that’s a storytelling problem, not “time to give up on the whole project” problem. This is the place to commit to finishing, no matter what.

This is also a great time to remind yourself of your Why for the project — why you started writing it in the first place. Sometimes just tracking back to the Why will be enough to get you in action again.

You’re having trouble deciding which book to write.

This kind of procrastination turns up when you know you want to write or feel ready to write but you can’t decide which story to work on, or you decide on one, only to change your mind in short order, usually telling yourself it’s not good enough in some way, then look around for something else to work on, only to dismiss that one too. And the next one after that.

This kind of procrastination can also look like coming up with a bazillion ideas to work with but not being able to choose among them. 

Antidotes: Check out my free downloadable guide about how to choose your next book (or script) using decision criteria and intuitive decision making skills. You can also try one of my favorite bits of Steven Pressfield’s wisdom, which is to “figure out what scares you the most, and do that first.”

(If, on the other hand, you’re totally drawing a blank for any ideas at all, try Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach of paying attention to your faintest whispers of curiosity and see where they lead you.)

You’ve fallen out of the habit of writing and each day that goes by, it gets harder to restart.

If your writing practice has fallen apart — for whatever reason — procrastination has taken hold and it’s just not getting any better. Each day you tell yourself you’re going to write, but find endless distractions around the house, get caught up in work (or TV or candy crush!), tasks to take care of, or toilets to clean. This is “garden variety” procrastination in my book, but it’s still a doozy.

Antidotes: Set a very small writing goal and meet it. Then do it again the next day. And the next. Keep going until you have the practice in place. Troubleshoot any obstacles that come up — like falling into reading email or getting sucked into other tasks — and find ways to streamline your path to your writing desk each day. If you set a goal, and you’re still procrastinating, make the goal smaller until you actually do it. Get accountability to help you with this if you need it. (Work with me 1:1 or join the Circle, for example.)

You’re dealing with big personal changes.

Look, sometimes big life events happen and the idea of tackling writing at the same time feels (and may even be) impossible. Major illnesses, weddings, new romances, births, deaths, break ups, divorces, moves, and job changes are life changes that can get in the way of writing and then morph into “regular” procrastination even once the dust has settled. It’s okay. It happens. But it’s helpful to know how to deal with it when a big part of your identity is tied into being a writer and you start losing your sense of self while it’s all happening, and then wonder who you are when it’s done.

Antidotes: Be patient with yourself during the upheaval, and give yourself a little time for re-entry. You may want to have a “maintenance practice” of writing morning pages in place during these times, even as a placeholder until you can get back to your book or script writing efforts. Have a plan in place for how and when you’ll reboot your writing once you’ve made it through the thick of the experience. If you find yourself still struggling with your identity after the fact, do some journaling or coaching work to help get you back in touch with yourself as a writer.

You’re an adrenaline addict.

One of the most fascinating parlor tricks I see writers engaging in is creating an endless series of non-writing emergencies, deadlines, and disasters that make it impossible to write. This is procrastination at its peak form, because it becomes inarguable. Whatever “it” is, has become such an emergency, that it has to be done right now. At this point, it actually does. But when a writer lives this way, chasing from disaster to disaster, writing always gets to stay (safely) at the bottom of the pile.

The trickiest trick of all is that the purveyor of these hijinks deep down revels in the sense of excitement and in being the rescuer of the situation from certain doom. It turns out, writers who do this to themselves are addicted to the rush of it all, and they’ll even design it so they “get” to write this way too (at the last minute, in a mad panicked rush).

This strategy does two things. It’s a brilliant way of getting off the hook for doing your best work, because you simply can’t, not with all those emergencies to take care of. It’s also very clever way of getting an adrenaline boost of energy to face the terror of writing. 

Antidotes: Admit the addiction. Make a conscious choice to stop this behavior. Learn to pace yourself — with everything, including your writing — and get ruthless about cutting out anything and everything you don’t have to do. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to do it all perfectly. Cut some corners! 

You’re just plain tired.

Maybe you’re not exhausted, but “just” tired. Maybe you haven’t reached the point of creative burnout, like I mentioned last week, but maybe you have other non-writing commitments that tax you. Some of these are avoidable (volunteering for committees) and some are not (having little kids or an aging parent), but either way you’re tired. This tiredness becomes an excellent excuse for procrastinating. “I’m tired,” you say. “I just don’t have it in me today to write. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Antidotes: I’ve always loved the quote from David Whyte on this subject, “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” When it comes to the daily sort of tiredness that can leave us feeling run down (as opposed to massively burned out), writing regularly — even just in small amounts — is often the cure. Also, take a look at how you’re investing your precious life energy and see where there might be energy leaks you can shore up. Look for where you’re not feeling a “Hell, yes!” about the things you’ve committed to and think about letting them go. Work with a friend or coach to inventory your commitments and see what you can release for someone else to handle.

 

So… what did I leave out? What other ways have you seen procrastination show up?

Tell me in the comments section below. 

 

 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Scared of Being Ungrounded by Success?

When you imagine yourself into your own future writing success, how does it feel? Is it exciting but terrifying, all at once? Do you imagine yourself changed irrevocably by your fame and fortune? Do you sense yourself being overwhelmed by attention, energy, and even money? Will you still be a good person?

Will success change you?

A Sneaky Kind of Resistance

I’ve seen in myself and others this terror of success manifesting as a very sneaky kind of resistance. We self-sabotage because we’re afraid we can’t handle the success. Another way to think of this is as an “upper limit problem,” where you thwart your future success by imploding in the here and now, even in the smallest of ways.

Does “I just don’t feel like writing today” ring any bells?

Under the terror is a fear of losing your very sense of self as a result of being successful. As if you’ll be so overloaded with the intensity of success that you’ll transform into chaotic energy that floats you away into nothingness.

Sometimes we stop ourselves from writing because we’re afraid to fail.

And sometimes we stop ourselves because we’re afraid to succeed.

Symptoms of a Fear of Success

It could be as simple as procrastinating or being a perfectionist, but it might also look like taking on so many tasks that you can’t write, failing to do your best work, stopping just short of finishing project after project, fearing that you’ll betray your loved ones if you succeed or are happy, or even allowing emergencies to erupt and backlogged work to accumulate so you can’t write (or write well) because you have too many demands on your time, space, and energy.

Interesting how those symptoms match both a fear of failure and a fear of success, isn’t it?

Addressing a Fear of Success

But the solution for moving past the fear lies in understanding which fear it is.

Having a fear of failure means needing to adjust your mindset about what failure means.  

If you’re struggling with a fear of success, though, the solution lies in bringing yourself into the here and now, into this moment, right now, reading this piece with me, and remembering that you get to decide how to handle your life. You’re the author of your present, and your future. You get to practice being grounded, centered, present, and calm, right now, right here. You get to make decisions and plans for your money, time, and energy now, so that when success arrives you’re well prepared for it.

So just breathe with me, right now. Notice the air, the light, the sounds around you. Take a deep inhale, and then let it go. You don’t have to worry about the future right now, because you’re getting ready to be your future self, one step at a time.

Your job, right now, is to calm and soothe yourself. To bring your attention back to the work you’re doing right now. The learning you’re having right now. One step at a time.

Enjoy it.

You may also like:

Upcoming 

 

* This is an affiliate link, which means if you sign up for the course after clicking it, I will earn a small commission, which I deeply appreciate. Thank you for supporting Called to Write!

 

Perfectionism Is Lying to You

Writers don’t always recognize the grip of perfectionism when caught in its vise. But perfectionism is a wicked master that keeps us from achieving our true potential.

I should know. I struggle with perfectionism too.

Perfectionism is a Coping Mechanism

I learned to be a perfectionist as a way to keep myself safe. If I did something correctly (as evaluated by my family), I was praised and validated. If I did something incorrectly, I was critiqued. That critiquing resulted in a lot of shame for me. Shame that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t measuring up. There was an implication I’d embarrassed my family with my error (even if it was something as simple as arranging crackers inartistically). If ever I objected to taking part in something aesthetic, I was told, “but you’re so creative.” So I would comply out of sense of obligation and guilt. And then when if or when my creativity didn’t measure up, I would go deeper and deeper into hiding and shame. And yet at the same time, I loved (and love) being creative. Such a trap!

So many writers have similarly intricate sets of creative wounds, and perfectionism as a coping strategy is the result.

Perfectionism Endangers Excellence

Either do it perfectly, or don’t do it at all.

Perfectionism tells us there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. To do anything. Perfectionism doesn’t allow for mistakes or failure. But those so-called “failures” and “mistakes” are where the greatest breakthroughs and innovations happen. We’ve seen this through history, science, and technology. The path to success is rarely a straight line.

When we court perfection, we endanger our own brilliance, excellence, discovery, and evolution.

Perfectionism Lies to You

Interestingly, writers who are perfectionists will often self-describe as being “lazy.”

Perfectionism says you aren’t good enough, you aren’t trying hard enough, and concludes that you must be lazy or you would be working harder. And in fact, when you procrastinate on taking creative action, you might even look lazy. But that is a lie. 

The real reason you are procrastinating is that you are afraid you will not be able to do your work perfectly, so it’s safer not to do it at all.

You are not lazy, you are terrified.

These “lazy” writers are also often the same writers with intense fantasies of landing on bestseller lists and high achievement.

Perfectionism also lures you into daydreams of massive success. Awards, recognition, fame. But rather than being motivating, these visions are also paralyzing, because just as before, you are afraid you will not be able to achieve this high level of success, so it’s safer not to try at all.

Perfectionism likes black and white extremes. In perfectionism’s eyes, you’re either a massive failure or a massive success.

Perfectionism is lying to you.

Write Because You Love It

What if you were just you? Being your excellent, awesome self? Showing up, doing your work, writing because you love it, because you’re called to it, not out of fear of blowing it or the hope of making it big? 

Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence through action. Allow yourself to fall, and get back up, over and over again.

Keep writing.

You can watch me chatting about perfectionism and productivity with Deborah Hurwitz in my upcoming interview for her free Productivity for Perfectionist’s Virtual Summit coming up April 4 to 23. Find out more and register here.*

 

* This is a referral link, which lets Deborah know I sent you. I won’t receive a commission for your participation in this free event.

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

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

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

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

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

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

Join us!

 

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

 

 

3 antidotes for an otherwise “perfect” process

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

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

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

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

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

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

The insidious nature of perfectionism

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

Ever.

Including ourselves.

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

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

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

Three antidotes for perfectionism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And something fell into place for me. Finally landed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just doing the writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s totally okay. 

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

 

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

 

7 ways to recommit to your writing

Writing consistently, regularly, and honestly is a challenge.

But it’s a challenge worth meeting.

And when it comes to delivering on that task, it turns out that discipline is an over-rated solution when it comes to writing. Having a writing system and habit is what gets it done, day in and day out. But even when you have a writing habit in place, you still have to constantly refine it, improve it, and raise the bar when you get complacent. 

Because there are times in our writing lives when we can become complacent. We can hit rough patches and take breaks. We can lose momentum or get our writing disrupted by travel or work or kids or LIFE. We can lose confidence in our projects and our ability to write. We can get knocked on our asses by feedback that takes weeks to recover from. And we can also fall into writing without purpose or intention, particularly when we don’t have specific deadlines or milestones we’re trying to hit. 

The problem is that this kind of complacency will suck the vibrancy out of you, your writing, and your writing life. You might appear to be productive, as one of my Writer’s Circle members said this week, but really, you’re asleep with your eyes open and you know it. And it doesn’t feel good. 

The solution?

Recommitment.

When you find yourself in this place, it’s time to recommit to yourself as a writer. To your writing. To your writing life.

It’s about shifting back into a higher gear. Treating your writing like the life’s calling it is. Making it a priority. Making it happen.

7 ways to recommit to your writing

When you find yourself phoning it in or going through the motions, here’s what you can do to change it up and get back on track with what you were put here to do:

  1. Write like your life depends on it. You’re here to write, right? So do that. Take your writing seriously. Move mountains if necessary to make it happen, even if you’re hitting only your barest minimum “rock bottom goal” for the day. It counts, and it makes a big difference to your psyche when you honor your commitment to yourself this way.
  2. Up your game. Check in with yourself about how you’re feeling about your writing. You might be feeling lulled into a sense of complacency. You might be feeling good about your writing and what you’re accomplishing. But if you have a nagging sense that it’s time to require more of yourself, do that. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to help you make that happen. Look for deadlines or create them. Get accountability into place for yourself. Do what you’re saying you’re going to do. Create a sense of alertness, urgency, or briskness for yourself about your writing so you remember why you are here and make it happen.
  3. If today you can’t write, couldn’t bring yourself to write, don’t want to write, hate writing, or something else happened that stopped you from writing, TELL SOMEONE SAFE. This is a little bit like falling off the wagon if you are a recovering alcoholic. You’ve got to talk to your sponsor ASAP. Get to your people as fast as you can and get help getting back on track. Tell them/us your worst, darkest thoughts about writing. We can take it. We’ve probably had those same thoughts too. The thing is, we ALL have obstacles to writing. They run the gamut from perfectionism to distraction to limiting beliefs to creative confusion and apathy. Our collective work as writers is to systematically unearth and remove these obstacles one by one so they no longer stop us from doing what we were put here to do. (This is a big focus of what we do in the Writer’s Circle, and what’s particularly brilliant about the system is that seeing other writers remove obstacles helps us do so too.)
  4. Stay out of comparison. Everyone is on their own path when it comes to writing. Someone else will be writing more than you, someone else will be writing less. Someone will be more successful than you are right now and someone will be less so. IT DOESN’T MATTER. We are all on our own writing journeys. What matters is that you are meeting your own goals and working on your writing habit and writing career based on where you are and where you want to go. So you if you see someone writing for 4 (even 8 or 10!) hours a day and someone else aiming to write for 5 minutes a day, don’t worry about it. Just keep your eyes on your own paper and what you are doing for yourself. It’s all good. Just keep writing.
  5. Plan ahead. If you’re writing for 5 of 7 days per week or taking holidays off or whatever it is that you are doing — decide ahead of time. Don’t have the conversation about “IF” you are writing today. Know that you’re writing or not writing that day and act accordingly. Have the conversation about “WHEN” you will be writing. It’ll be much easier that way.
  6. Be as clear as possible about what you’re working on. This whole writing thing is a LOT easier if you have one specific project you’re working on and keep working on until it’s done. Particularly if you’re in writing habit building mode, you may find it easier to focus on simpler writing, like doing morning pages or responding to journal prompts to get started. But ultimately, being crystal clear about your project choice will give you direction, momentum, and purpose. Working on multiple projects at once (aka project stacking or layering) is an advanced skill, in my opinion. So save that for later if you’re working on strengthening your writing habit right now.
  7. Just do the writing. We called our group the “Just Do The Writing Accountability Circle” in the past. The reason we say “just do the writing” is that it really is the right solution in most cases. Thinking about writing, talking about writing, avoiding writing, and otherwise dithering about writing usually doesn’t fix whatever the problem is, whereas writing usually does. I say usually, because sometimes there are creative wounds that need healing, and sometimes we need to write about the writing to find out what’s going on with the work, but interestingly the way through both those things is still writing. So just do the writing and you’ll be in good shape. :) (And if you need help with a creative wound, I’m here to help.) 

Where are you with your writing right now? Is it getting to be time to step it up a notch? Are you phoning it in? What on this list inspires you most to make a change?

Tell us in the comments so we can celebrate with you and help you keep your word to yourself.

What you need to hear when you have writer’s block

naomidunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post from my friend, writer, and favorite business consultant, Naomi Dunford.

Naomi is an incredibly inspiring writer, and she also happens to be the only business consultant I ever recommend.

Her powerful piece had me in tears. I only wish I’d known what she was going through!

 

 

Write Like It Never Happened

There was a week in the summer of 2010 when I had two life-changing conversations. In both of these conversations, each had with different people, and for different reasons, and ostensibly on different topics, the people I was speaking with suggested that perhaps lil ol’ me would be more successful and make more money and be more awesome if I acted, well, more like them.

They didn’t say it like that, of course. People don’t. When well-meaning people want to give advice, they tend to simply paint a picture, and it’s only if you look at that picture from a certain angle that you realize they have painted a picture of themselves.

Up until that time, I was following the very specific content marketing strategy of write when you are possessed of the urge to say something and publish it soon after. That resulted in between four and five blog posts a week most weeks, and sometimes there would be a week or so in which I had nothing to say, during which I didn’t write anything.

The people I spoke with thought that I should be more strategic.

They thought I should write blog posts that were designed to link to other blog posts, or to products, or services. They thought I should custom create blog posts purpose built to give opportunities for search engine traffic, “link bait”, and virality on social media.

This is good advice, actually. It’s certainly the advice I give when people ask me how to be more strategic with their content marketing. It’s the advice I give when people come to me asking for help. It’s the advice I give when people are starting from nothing and want to create something “the right way” from the start.

Like I said, it’s good advice. It just wasn’t great advice for me.

See, I wasn’t looking to get more strategic with my blog posts. I wasn’t looking to “optimize” or “take it to the next level” or “play a bigger game”. I had always found blogging to be one of the most rewarding activities I could possibly imagine. It was fun, and it made me smarter, and it helped me think, and it helped me grow.

Doing it my way got me into the Technorati Top 1000, meaning that, for a time, this was among the 1000 highest traffic blogs on the internet. (That honor, in tandem with two crisp American dollar bills, will get you a tall Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but still. It was good to know that I was good at something.)

What was it Toby Keith said? “A sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”?

These conversations came out of the blue. They came from colleagues I admire. They came while we were supposed to be talking about something else, something nice. And the shock of them, the surprise of them, the “yes, that little blog you have is nice and all, but perhaps you should be a tad, I don’t know, manlier? ” condescension of them, well, I folded. I figured these guys must be right. Anything I had attained must have been in spite of myself, and if I wanted to go anywhere in life, I’d better start acting like a grown-up.

Unsurprisingly, when I went to the keyboard, I didn’t know what to write. When the only dictate is “whatever you do, don’t act like yourself”, it’s tough to figure it out. And I stayed that way for four years.

In the meantime, I have written. I’ve written for work – the classes and the emails and the sales copy. Over two million words, actually. But nearly none of them have been mine, and nearly all of them have been a struggle.

Sure, sometimes I would catch a groove and forget to obsess. Sometimes I would be on a deadline and didn’t have time to dwell. Sometimes I would drink wine and get angry and write what I damn well felt like, mentally hating the two of them the whole time.

But most of the time, what I had once loved, I’d grown to hate.

Which brings us to this summer.

This summer, I had two more conversations, one with a student, and one with a colleague.

The student emailed me to ask if she could write a certain kind of content in her newsletter. In her PS she said she hoped I’d say it was okay, because “that kind of thing would be a blast to write.” And I wrote back and said, “Go ahead. If it would be a blast to write, it will be a blast to read.”

(Hmmm. Physician, heal thyself?)

And then I talked to a colleague. I said I didn’t know what to put on my blog, and I hadn’t for years. We talked for a long time. He asked questions. I explained the problem. He thought for a while, and then he likened the whole thing to cupcakes.

cupcake-atmHe said, “Remember that cupcake we got out of the ATM in Beverly Hills? Remember how it was perfect?”

“Even if it wasn’t perfect, I still would have liked it. If it had been a little less moist, or it had been carrot cake instead of red velvet, or if it had less icing or, hell, no icing. When someone presents you with a cupcake, and it’s even a little bit good, your answer is not ‘Gee, I wish it was different.’ Your answer is ‘Sweet! A cupcake!’ You’ll even take a brownie, or a cookie, or a brownie with icing, or a cookie with brownie-flavored icing. You don’t care. You’re just happy you got a cupcake.”

“Maybe it’s the same with your blog. Maybe you don’t have to be a certain way. Maybe you can just make cupcakes.”

And so I tried. I tried to write even though I’d had writers’ block for four years. I tried to write myself up some cupcakes.

It was awkward. It was wooden. It was tentative and hesitant and SO not the same as it used to be. It felt like touching a lover after a four-year dry spell full of nasty silences and not very casual disregard. But I did it. And here we are.

Between four years ago and now, other well-meaning people have tried to give me advice on how to beat my writers’ block. It’s become a bit of a joke in the classes I teach. People come onto our Q&A calls and ask how my book is going, and we all laugh.

The advice people give about writers’ block can generally be paraphrased – or quoted verbatim – as “just write”.

I would ask what I should write, and they would say just write. I would ask how to start, and they would say just write. I would say I don’t know how, and they would say just write.

They were correct, of course. That’s exactly what I should have done. But their advice never held, it never stuck, because, well, I don’t know why. I wanted it to work. I just needed more, I guess.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m stupid.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m weird.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t because I’m loud and I’m brash and I swear too much. I can’t because those big, strong men I admire and respect told me I was doing it wrong.

And I suppose what I would have wanted was for somebody to take me by the shoulders and say this:

“Write like it never happened.”

“Don’t let them get you. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them take the vitality and the fire and the sparkle that is you and sanitize it into a beiged-down version.

“Don’t change just because it makes other people feel safer. Don’t let them tell you that you would be perfect if you just weren’t so… you. Don’t let them take you away from everybody else who likes you just the way you are.

“I know it will be hard, and I know it won’t be the same, and I know you’ll doubt your every word for a while, but it will get better.

“Do you remember when you were little, and you swore you would never let anyone break you down, no matter how hard they tried? That small person inside of you is counting on you to make all her dreams come true. That small person said that one day, she would write and people would read, and that mess of a childhood would be transformed into something better. Nobody can make it okay for that small person but you.

“Write like it was ten years ago and nobody had told you that you couldn’t do it. Write like it was possible. Write like you had hope, and write like you had dreams, and write like there are millions of people out there waiting to hear what only you can say.

“Write like you did before it ever occurred to you that there might be anyone who wanted you to be different.

“Outrun it. Outrun the feeling that they might be right. Outrun it, outwrite it, and drown it with voices of love and support and admiration and high fives.

“Listen to your children who believe you can do everything and that Mummy is the wisest, strongest, prettiest person in the whole world. Put your trust in the ones who know you and love you and never want you to change. Write and write and write and write and write, no matter what, write.

“It. Will. Get. Better.”

I think that’s what I would have wanted to hear.

So just in case that’s what you want to hear, and you need somebody to say that to you, I’ll say it to you now:

Write like it never happened.

diamonds2

Naomi Dunford‘s first piece of published writing was a review of Coneheads for the local paper. She was 12. Her greatest writing related achievement is getting 104% on an essay about “The Fatal Flaw In King Lear”, a play which she has heard is very moving. She writes Morning Pages about once a year.

She is a business consultant, writer, and blogger who started her company, IttyBiz, in 2006 and has been featured in numerous books you probably own but have not read. Read (not much) more here.

diamonds2

Thanks for reading!

We always love to hear what you think in the comments.

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

Ask Jenna: How can I stay more focused on my writing?

I received some great questions from one of our Writer’s Circle members the other day about staying focused on writing, and she gave me permission to answer them here.
 

The Question

First, here’s her question:
[I’d love some] tips for getting more focused when I’m writing. Several factors are at play, I’m sure, but probably the biggest ones are:
 
1. Internet Addiction. It’s a bad habit, but I am constantly checking for new email messages. Need to shut off the interwebz while I’m working, but I find that even if I do that I still find other ways to distract myself (getting up for water, making lists of other things I need to do, etc.)
 
2. Resistance. The usual. It’s easy to be excited and loose with my ideas when I’m not facing the keyboard, but as soon as I say it’s time to work I freeze up, get distracted.
 
Any tricks for combating these issues?
 
I feel like it’s just a matter of discipline, but even knowing that I still haven’t been able to make better habits. And, even more frustrating, it’s only when I’m working on my own projects — the things I should be MOST excited to have time for. If I’m writing for someone else (with a deadline, for money) then it’s not a problem because it’s just a task to cross off my list, so I do it.”

The Answer

Here’s my answer:
 
First, great questions, thank you. Second, here are some thoughts to get you started with this shifting all this:
 
  • For the internet: Experiment with being super ruthless about the rules (for now) about what you’re allowed to do or not. For example, turn off the internet connection while writing, close the email program, maybe even try the app Freedom to block access to all internet related stuff for a specific chunk of time.
  • Pay attention to all the things you distract yourself with and figure out a system for them so they can’t distract you. This is what I call “You-proofing your writing” (more on this in a future article). Don’t see these “distractions” as failures, but as parts of the puzzle to refine. Examples:
  1. If you typically find yourself getting up for water in the middle of a writing session, design a new routine to get a glass of water before you sit down to write. I keep a bottle of water next to all my writing spaces so can I refill my glass easily.
  2. For to do lists, consider a 5 minute purge of everything on your mind before you start working. Or keep a pad of paper close at hand so you can quickly jot things down and then get back to writing. I like to use the app “Things” to track my ideas and to dos, so I pop into that program and put things on the list if they nag at me while I’m writing. Yes, it’s better not to break concentration. But if it’s keeping me from focusing because I’m afraid I’ll forget it, it’s worth it to me to take a moment to get it down.
  3. Other distractions might include taking phone calls (turn off the phone if you can or have caller ID so you can see if it’s your kid’s school calling), having a messy desk (dump everything in a box!), people dropping by (put a sign on the door that says “Do Not Disturb”), etc. Think about the possibilities, notice when they come up, and see what you can do to anticipate them.
  • Be mindful of the distractions on an emotional level. For example, if email is your downfall, think about why you’re called to it. Are you looking for something in particular? I find that when I’m feeling vulnerable, I’m more likely to turn to email as if I can find solace there. It doesn’t work, and it’s worth seeing that I have an unfulfilled need so I can seek fulfillment for it elsewhere in its proper place. Or notice that you want to get up and get water right when you’re reaching a hard part of the project. How can you support yourself through that moment rather than turning away from it?
  • Understand your resistance: On a similar note, we “freeze up” because we get into flight/fight/freeze mode when tackle our own projects because our projects MATTER to us on a deep level. Being AWARE that distractions and things like finding it easier to work on other people’s projects are all part of the normal fears that come up about writing can make it easier to stick with it and navigate it, using things like:
  1. Setting super small goals so you can more easily talk yourself into doing them, e.g. 15 minutes. Then stick to it. You can increase the time the next day and beyond, but the idea is to create the habit around a strengthened comfort level first. So it might be slower at first but it will pay off over time. It’s a bit like building muscles up over time.
  2. Using a timer to help keep you focused for the duration of your writing session goal. I find I’m much less likely to get up or do other things while I have a timer running. It might seem silly or weird but it’s worth experimenting with.
  3. Talking or coaxing yourself through it. When you notice yourself getting distracted or feeling stuck, tell yourself, “Okay, this is just fear coming up. I know how to do this. It’s just putting one word on the page after the other, and I can even change it later if I don’t like what comes out. Just one word after the other.” Or something like that. Acknowledging the fear really helps. Discipline doesn’t help here as much as self-compassion does.

Your turn

Do you have a question? Submit through my contact form here and I’ll do my best to answer you on the blog.

Also, what do you notice about your typical distraction patterns? Post them in the comments and I’ll toss out some system strategies for you too!

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

Do you have accomplishment amnesia?

Accomplishment amnesia is a common ailment that strikes many of us, particularly those of us that are highly conscientious, responsible, talented, and highly sensitive. It seems to run in parallel with these traits.

What is accomplishment amnesia?

Accomplishment amnesia occurs when we get so busy meeting our obligations and moving on to the “next thing” that we quickly forget what we’ve done in the past (however distant or recent) that has value.

I find this malady particularly comes up when we get into a place of self-doubt — we can’t remember a single thing we’ve done or accomplished. We feel useless, talentless, valueless.

We might even feel creatively blocked or numb because we are devaluing the work we’ve done but are not appreciating.

A darn good job

I’ve been going through a rough patch lately, and I noticed recently that as I’ve been starting to feel better, I’ve been berating myself for not having done more lately. “Why am I so behind? How have I let things get like this?”

I stopped myself and noticed what was really going on: I had accomplishment amnesia.

I quickly reminded myself of all the personal challenges I’ve faced over the last couple of months, including having surgery on my wrist, and shifted the conversation to noticing what I have done: filed my taxes, settled a car accident claim, dealt with an intensely difficult emotional time, never missed writing a blog post, coached my clients, continued running my Writer’s Circle, and carried on writing my screenplay no matter what. Wow! I’ve accomplished a lot under very difficult circumstances.

Sure, there’s more, there always is. But look at what I’ve done!

Does this happen for you too?

Most of my clients have this kind of accomplishment amnesia. They’re so focused on what they haven’t done, that they forget to celebrate what they have.

Here’s how you can start to shift out of this delusion that you haven’t done anything worthwhile:

1. Catch accomplishment amnesia early.

When you notice yourself falling into the pattern (like I did), stop and take stock. Is it really true that you haven’t been doing enough? Take a few minutes to review what you actually have done. You’ll be surprised.

2. Don’t buy into the standard definitions of success and accomplishment.

Don’t limit yourself to society’s success definitions. Instead, think about what you’re proud of. Create your own definition of what it means to be successful.

Just yesterday, my writers and I were discussing what it means to claim the title of “writer.” Many of us are discovering it has much less to do with being a published or sold writer (though many of us are striving for those), and everything to do with showing up and doing the writing regularly — having a writing practice.

3. Set small milestones.

Increase your sense of accomplishment by setting and celebrating small milestones as you attain them. Instead of only celebrating when you complete the book, whoop it up for every chapter. Then when you do hit the finish line, make sure you celebrate that point too.

I’m rewriting my screenplay using Chris Soth’s “Mini Movie Method,” which lends itself nicely to this sort of milestone assessment. Every 15 pages I complete another mini-movie, so it’s easy to create a sense of accomplishment as I go.

Look for similar small milestones in your own work.

4. Celebrate your accomplishments in the moment.

I watched a fun video of Tamara Ireland Stone, author of the young adult book, Time Between Us,* which I just finished reading and very much enjoyed. She had just received her box of copies of her book and made a point to celebrate with her husband and friend and glass of wine. I hope she’ll do the same for every future book as well.

When you do have an accomplishment, STOP what you’re doing and celebrate. Build the muscles of appreciation for yourself and your work.

5. Create a “brag book.”

I’ve forgotten where I first heard this term, but the idea is to create a scrap book of your accomplishments so that you can go back and remind yourself, “Yes, I’ve done some amazing, wonderful things.” And you have. Include anything and everything you can think of that you’ve accomplished. On my list: birthing my son, finishing my first screenplay, completing graduate school and earning two master’s degrees, nurturing an incredible friendship with my best friend, becoming a certified life coach, etc.

Bottom line

It’s all too easy to think of ourselves as never reaching the finish line when there’s always so much more to do. Rather than thinking you’ll never get there, remember to enjoy what you’re doing along the way. It’s the journey, after all, that counts.

Your turn

Click here to tell me what you think. I always love to read your feedback.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

What to do when you want to write but you’re not writing: 6 steps to get back on track

Note: For all the naysayers who scoff when people have trouble writing — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along, move along.

When you want to write, but you’re not doing it — whether not at all or not as much as you’d like — there are some simple tricks that can help get you going.

Here are some examples of times where you might see your not-writing pattern show up:

  • You’ve been wanting to write but you aren’t sure what to write about.
  • You know what you want to write about but you can’t find the time to write.
  • You have time to write but you can’t seem to get yourself to do it — and you feel guilty and ashamed about it.
  • You were writing regularly, but you just got back from a trip and you’re having trouble getting started again.
  • You’re stuck on a particular part of your project and you don’t know what to do about it.
  • Just looking at a blank page is overwhelming.
  • Thinking of the final product (the book, the screenplay) is overwhelming and you can’t imagine how you’ll ever get there.
  • You’ve had a success with your writing and you’re feeling intimidated about topping it (second novel syndrome is an example of this).
  • You’re bored of the project you’re working on and you can’t think of anything else to work on that sounds remotely interesting.

First things first.

ALL of these scenarios have one thing in common: Resistance.

Resistance is that little devil we affectionately know by many names — perfectionism, procrastination, fear, doubt, apathy, etc.

Resistance is telling yourself you don’t have enough time: You do. Really. You only need a few minutes every day to get back on the horse. And it’s way less hard than you think it is. I promise.

Resistance is telling yourself you don’t care, don’t have ideas, or don’t want to write. Bull. I know you’re a writer and I know you want to write.

Let me help you.

6 steps to get back on track with your writing

Step #1: Don’t fall for the resistance.

Resistance LIES to you. It is the enemy. Resistance is not your friend. It is not the truth. It is like an energetic force you press up against when you start moving closer to your project, like you’re wading through chest-high sludge. It pushes you back. IT resists YOU.

DO NOT fall for it. Do not believe it, do not entertain it, do not listen to it.

Step #2: Start with super small baby steps.

The smallest you can muster.

Decide on the very smallest increment of writing that feels totally, completely, 100% attainable.

My recommendation? Somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes per day.

Step #3: Use a timer.

Get out your paper, your file, whatever you want to work on. Set your timer for the time you agreed upon with yourself. Write for that entire length of time. Don’t stop until the timer dings.

If you’re fresh out of ideas, do morning pages, use writing prompts, or answer questions from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or The Vein of Gold. Or brainstorm concepts for your next novel or script. I don’t care what you’re doing, as long as you’re putting words on the page.

Do work on these with an eye on getting clear what your bigger project is about if you aren’t already.

Step #4: Celebrate!

Seriously. I’m not kidding. You just overcame the massive forces of resistance. That is no small feat. It’s like destroying the Death Star every single day.

Give yourself a treat — surf on YouTube for a couple of minutes, stretch in the sunshine. No big deal, just a little acknowledgement of what you just accomplished.

Step #5: Mark time on your calendar for tomorrow and plan what you’re going to write.

Get out your calendar and schedule the time for your next writing session.

While you’re at it, decide what you’ll work on during your session.

Step #6: Continue every day.

Keep writing, incrementally, for at least 5 to 7 days out of every week. You’ll be surprised to notice that it’s much easier to get started again when you’re staying current with your project. Experiment with how much time it’s “safe” to take off.

I found pretty quickly that anything less than 5 days off is almost unbearable for me. Seven days a week on the other day, feels exhausting. I do like to have a day off.

Next time: 10 tips to make writing regularly easier — Stay tuned!

The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts on Monday, June 11th, and the last day to register is Thursday, June 7th by Midnight Eastern Time. If you are a serious writer who isn’t writing — or a writer who wants to get more serious about your work — my Writer’s Circle system will help you finish your projects. Come join me!

Find out more at www.JustDoTheWriting.com

“I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time.”

“I’ve had this book brewing in me for 15 years. I never thought I could finish it…it seemed too big. After joining the Writer’s Circle, I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time. The Writer’s Circle system is so effective, that I have used the basic principles in other areas of my life to great success. It is so satisfying to finally turn my dream into reality.”


~ Terri Fedonczak, Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, www.aLifeInBalance.com

Finished the first draft of her parenting book after starting it 10 years ago.