What to do when you come up empty

naomi dunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post by Naomi Dunford, my friend and business consultant who runs IttyBiz.com.

Although she’s writing from the perspective of business writing or blogging, her wonderful ideas for how to cope with “coming up empty” are useful for writers of all sorts.

Take a look and see what resonates as useful for you.


Today, I completely ran out of things to say.

I wrote the introductions for my next seven newsletters.

I found quotes for the next month.

I wrote 53 emails, planned a trip, and took two sales calls.

And I called my mother.

I should note here that I’m writing this on a Saturday.

I’m sure it comes as a surprise to nobody, but at some point in this process, I completely ran out of things to say.

And poor you! You are sitting there, breathlessly waiting for your next instalment of the IttyBiz daily and I am dry. I got nothing.


It’s weird when this happens. You’re on this crazy roll, getting an absolutely stupid amount of stuff done, and you’re getting accustomed to the momentum. It’s like shopping in a crazy busy mall. You get into a flow of bam! bam! bam! Dodge, charge, pivot, go, turn, and then…

Silence. Motionlessness.

It’s like all of a sudden the people are gone and the stores are shut and you’re not entirely sure what you’re supposed to do now.

What you are supposed to do now

When you are experiencing temporary burnout, you must do something that is not work.

That something should be, at minimum, comparable in time and attention level as a chunk of work. If you would be working for two hours, you should take at least two hours away. If you would be working on something mentally engrossing, you should do something equally engrossing.

This seems obvious to those around you, and yet completely counterintuitive to you. You think that you should stay busy, stay occupied, get something useful done. You think that you should try harder, or get a coffee, or stare at your computer screen for a while in case that solves the problem.

Nope. This is one of those few situations where the majority is actually right.

All your idiot friends who tell you that you need to take a little break, step away from the computer for a while? Those ones who just don’t get it?

Yeah, unfortunately, it’s you who doesn’t get it. (Please bear in mind here that when I say “you”, I mean “me”.)

Time for some practical examples!

If you were going to work on outlining your next project, and it was going to be mentally taxing, you need something that will not only utilize a completely separate area of your brain, but something that will actively restore you. A movie, perhaps. A run, maybe, as long as you’re not the type who thinks while you’re running.

If you were catching up on your emails and it wasn’t going to be taxing, you can just do something dumb and brainless. Candy Crush: Soda Saga is a nice choice here, but if you’re stuck on a level, you’ll only get five minutes. But the movie option still works. I routinely TiVo Jeopardy! for situations like this one.

If you’re doing something that’s making you numb, like taxes, you’re going to need something energizing. Some kind of personal treat would be a good idea, ideally something that gets you far away from the source of the problem. Drop in on a yoga class or get an ice cream. Bonus science points if you go somewhere you don’t normally go – it activates the novelty parts of your brain and makes you more alert for a good while afterwards.

Some tips for taking a break:

1. One thing that I find really helpful here is setting a little intention before you take your big break. I say something like, “OK, I’m going to go watch Legally Blonde so I can give my brain a chance to fully restore. That way I can come back rejuvenated and ready to kick some ass.”

I avoided doing this for a long time because I thought it was cheesy. Then I tried it and it worked. Then I tried it again and it worked again. Once the third time succeeded, I had to admit that it was a good strategy for me. I value science over ego, and if it works, it works.

2. If you hate the task, you may want to admit it to yourself. I don’t hate this task, I love it, but there are plenty I don’t love. When I was recording launch multipliers in month 11 of BIG LAUNCH, after I’d already done it once before but my computer wiped the files? Yeah, those are the kind of situations made for “Oh my God I ****ing hate my ****ing job and I ****ing hate this ****ing product and I swear I am moving to Costa Rica tomorrow.”

Sometimes, saying exactly how you feel is remarkably cathartic.

3. On the other hand, if it’s just standard issue fatigue, try to put a positive frame around your break. This is not the end of the world. You’re in a line of work that drains your resources. Being periodically drained is hardly a state of emergency. Sitting around saying you’re soooooo drained and soooooo tired and juuuuuust caaaaaaan’t work is not helpful.

Pretend you work for a moving company. Those guys are tired at the end of the day, and they probably can’t lift one more thing. You know what they do? They drink some beer, watch some baseball, and put their feet up. They do not put in an emergency call to their life coach, claiming existential catastrophe.

Sit down, enjoy your Strictly Ballroom, and smile. Your rejuvenating, not injured.

4. Plan for it. If you’re in a periodically draining line of work, this is going to happen. It might be a good idea to have a plan and some supplies on hand so you can immediately shift gears when you’re feeling the signs.

People with diabetes plan for crashes. Parents of preschoolers plan for crashes. Don’t get superstitious about this.

The more you plan for a crash, the faster you can recharge, and the faster you can get back on your feet.


Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out Naomi’s other guest post here about writer’s block. 



The struggle with creative identity

Last week I met with a group of 13 moms to talk about “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom”. I was struck by the disconnect many of the mothers were experiencing around their creative identity, which is something many writers struggle with, parents or not.

Observations about creative identity

Here’s what I noticed about creative identity through talking with these moms and working with writers through my Writer’s Circle. And certainly the question of creative identity is not specific to writers, either, it translates across all forms of creative expression.

  1. When you aren’t owning your creative identity, you can feel out of step with yourself, like you neither belong here nor there. This is about not being in touch with a sense of thinking of yourself as a “writer” or an “artist” yet — or ever. (Some people don’t like labels of any kind, but that’s not quite what we’re talking about here.) It’s about having a deep sense of inner rightness connected to how you think of your answer to the question, “Who am I?”
  2. Coming to terms with your identity as an artist or writer can require dealing with old expectations and limiting beliefs about what it means to be creative. Sometimes, I find that these thoughts and beliefs revolve around negative perceptions of creativity as flaky and ungrounded. Sometimes this can also mean letting go of expectations — and previous self-incarnations — of wild and prolific creativity, especially when faced with Real Life challenges (like parenting, care giving, careers, and day jobs).
  3. As a culture we tend to diminish or devalue writing and creativity, so sometimes we resist calling ourselves by those identities. We’re afraid to be laughed at or seen as not being serious by our peers in “real” jobs.
  4. As a culture we tend to also exalt creative expression only for certain types of artists or writers (usually “talented” or “successful” in a certain way), and we feel ashamed to try to claim our creative identity “too soon.” I see this a lot in the debate about when we can consider ourselves “real” writers. Do we have to be published first? Do we have to be paid first? Many writers, including me, feel that if we’re writing regularly we can call ourselves writers. I see this showing up when people say, “I am a struggling writer” or “I am a wannabe writer.”
  5. Going through a major life transition can challenge your creative identity, like motherhood, major loss, career change, or divorce. I imagine this challenge could come in a good sense — helping us more fully claim our identities — or in more challenging one, where we lose all sense of ourselves and can’t seem to find our way back. Often this comes about when we make a transition from one career to another (even if it’s from one creative career to another). When I became a coach and left my urban design work behind, it took a long time to feel like a coach. When I became a writer as well as a coach, it took another solid chunk of time to transition into seeing myself as a writer.

Identity challenges coming out of an MFA program

One thing that also struck me when I listened to the mothers the other day was about how many of them had been through MFA programs and then into motherhood and now weren’t writing. I suspect there are a few components to that process. In the first place, an MFA program can be an extremely intense phase of writing time — even binge-writing — which can be quite exhausting and requires time to recover from. I can still remember how finishing graduate school myself felt like hitting a brick wall — intense action followed by a sudden, total full stop that left me adrift, much in the way a rushing river spilling out into a lake or ocean suddenly loses its force.

There’s also a major shift in community. One writer I interviewed about going through an MFA program said, “There is a sense of loss in leaving an MFA program. You’re surrounded by people who really care about writing, and then when you leave, you need to find a way to get continued support for your writing, and it’s not easy.”

On top of that, while an MFA program can be about becoming a writer in a very real sense, the focus is primarily on craft, and not so much on developing a consistent writing practice. My interviewee commented, “When I graduated, it was like I reentered the ‘real world’ and realized that, while I’d no doubt become a better writer, I hadn’t developed consistent, sustainable writing habits, which was about learning a whole new skill.” So it’s easy to imagine that writers coming out of an intense program might suddenly feel at a loss about how to continue — and even start to wonder who they are as their entire foundation changes.

Next time we’ll talk more about how to reclaim your identity as an artist or writer if you’ve lost it or you’re struggling to claim it.

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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The stages of a writing project

Something that’s helped me when taking on a longer writing project is understanding the natural ups and downs of the writing process. Now when I know I’m in an “up” or a “down”, I don’t take either one too seriously and just forge ahead.

But in the past, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that if I’m having a hard time or if I’ve “lost interest” in a project, that it means something about the project, like:

  • It’s not the right project for me.
  • I’ve blown it and I don’t know how to fix it.
  • It’s time to ditch the project and move on to another one.
  • I’m not capable of solving a particular problem or of finishing.
  • The idea I started with wasn’t actually good enough.

Now that I’ve been through this process a few times, and I’ve worked with more than a few writers and observed them going through their own stages with their writing projects, I’ve come to see the experiences we have as natural patterns that are part of any project. And “getting” that I’m having a normal experience helps me make the decision not to take it too seriously and to continue on, even if I’m having a hard time with it.

The stages of a writing project

So let’s talk about these stages we go through, shall we?

Here’s what I’ve observed about the natural stages of a writing project. I’m sure they apply to ANY kind of creative or other resistance-triggering endeavor. If you have other stages you’ve recognized, please post them in the comments.

  • The idea! — “Ooh! I have an idea for a project, this is great! I can’t wait to get started!”
  • The joyful beginning — “Yay, I’m starting today, this is so exciting, this project is going to be amazing! It’ll be my best project yet!”
  • The crash of reality — “Oh, wait, I really actually have to show up and do this now for real? Like every day? I don’t even know where to start or what happens next!”
  • The commitment phase — “Okay, bit by bit, I can do this. I’ll figure it out. I can make this happen.”
  • The dreaded middle — “Wait, what’s supposed to happen here? Where am I? What’s this about again? Why am I doing this?”
  • The downhill side — “Okay, I’m past the midpoint, it’s all downhill from here, I can see the ending from here, I can make it!”
  • The 80% mark — “This is so boring, I’ve lost interest in this project, I’m over it. I don’t even know why I was interesting in this idea in the first place. That other project sounds like so much more fun.”
  • The recommitment moment — “I’m not falling for that, I can do this, it’s not that much longer, I’m not falling for that Bright Shiny Object (the other project), I’m going to keep going.”
  • The almost to the bitter end stage — “This is terrible. What was I thinking?”
  • The last push — “I just gotta get to the end, then I can see what I have.”
  • The end — “I made it! This was so worth it.”

And then, of course, we start all over again.

Notice the creative blocks

What’s particularly useful about this is noticing how creative blocks like perfectionsim (“This’ll be my best project yet!”) and apathy (“I’m over it.”) can show up. They are resistance in disguise. The key is not to fall for them, but to keep going until you get to the end. THAT is the time to evaluate what you have and decide what happens next with it.

An epidemic of incompletion?

I see an epidemic of not finishing all around me. Perhaps it has to do with the short-term gratification culture we’re raised in these days (a favorite quote from Carrie Fisher, “Instant gratification takes too long!”).

What I know is that personal strength, self-confidence, and self-worth is deeply grounded in commitment, doing the work, and making the hard choices.

Your turn

My best experiences of my life so far never have come from taking the easy way out. What about you? Leave a comment on the blog and let me know.



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Set your truth free

One of the struggles writers often face is the fear that comes up around sharing the truth through our work. It might be the truth about what we think or about who we are. Or perhaps it is about actual experiences we’ve lived, like those we might share in a memoir.

I’ve talked to so many writers who are afraid of what will happen when they tell their personal stories or write their memoirs. Fears about hurting people we care about, fears of being rejected or disliked for speaking the truth. These fears can become real impediments to seeing the project through to completion — and sometimes to even starting it at all!

Mary_Montanye_8.12When Mary Montanye joined the Writer’s Circle on a colleague’s recommendation, she was almost done with her memoir — but not quite. She was feeling stuck around moving to the final completion point with the project — a tough moment for any writer — particularly because her memoir would set some deep and personal truths free into the world. We were proud to help her cross that finish line with the support of the Writer’s Circle.

I asked Mary to share with us about her experience of completing her memoir and of participating in the Writer’s Circle.

Perhaps you will be inspired by her story to complete your memoir also. :)

Mary, welcome and thanks for being here.

First, let’s talk about your accomplishment — finishing your memoir! You joined the Writer’s Circle and finished your memoir in your first session, right? What was that like for you?

I did finish it in my first 4-week session. I was very close to the end when I joined the Writer’s Circle. I had been working with a published memoirist/writing coach/teacher for quite a few years and had learned how to write a memoir. She’d helped me dive deep, find the truth and the emotion beneath the “facts” of what had happened. This was good and it made for a meaningful story. However, because I was sharing my truth and some lifelong secrets, I also found it very difficult to push through to the end. Regardless of how often I was told that I didn’t have to “put it out there” if I didn’t want to, I knew the next step after finishing a piece of work was trying to get it published or, if nothing else, to share it with family and friends. This terrified me and, as I closed in on the finish, stopped my writing altogether. Getting over this hump and writing “The End” on the final draft felt great! I have to say this was a highlight of my life.

How long had you been working on the memoir prior to joining the Circle? In what way did the Circle help you get over the hump to completing it?

I’d been working on the memoir off and on for five years before joining the Writer’s Circle. The Circle provided not only accountability and structure but also a connection to other writers who were putting aside their fears to do what they felt called to do. My writing teacher did provide accountability, but her function was to help me become a better writer. Sometimes when you’re always looking to improve, you never get to the place where you can declare something done, especially when you’re afraid to declare a piece done, as I was.

What can you tell us about yourself and about the focus of the memoir?

When my husband and I were living and working in Orange County, CA, I bought — on the spur of the moment and by myself — a cabin in a mountain canyon in Colorado. My grandmother had lived in that same canyon when I was a child and I had fond memories of it. That action changed not only my life, but my husband’s and my mother’s lives. The memoir is based on that. How we all got to the point of living in this beautiful mountain canyon and how it affected our relationships with one another. It is also a story of healing from physical illness and childhood abuse.

How did you find out about the Circle and what inspired you to join us?

I was taking an online class — not sure which one it was now — when one of the other participants mentioned you, Jenna. She loved your newsletters and commented that she was learning a lot from you and thinking about joining the Writer’s Circle. I checked out your website, was very impressed, noticed that another Circle session was about to begin, and decided to join. I was feeling stuck in the memoir, but had decided it was time to stop working with my writing coach. I was ready to go out on my own, so to speak, and liked the idea of connecting with a group for accountability. Because I travel a great deal, it was important that the group meet online. First, I signed up for one session to see how I liked it. I am now on my second 4-month round. I liked it a great deal!

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I learned that, personally, I need structure and accountability. I’ve always been the type of person who follows through with her commitments. If I declare to the group that I am going to participate in a sprint or be on a coaching or welcome call or write for half hour that day, then it’s likely I’ll do it. The Writer’s Circle gives me a place for that kind of accountability. And the Circle gives me a connection to other writers and coaches who are writers themselves so I don’t feel so alone or unique in my creative struggles. I also discovered that there is an ebb and flow to my creative output. Jenna, her coaches, and the other writers in my small group accept that and honor it. This has normalized for me my way of creating and how my day-to-day life can affect my writing.

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed? What’s different now about your writing habit?

The biggest challenges I faced before joining the circle were (a) believing that my desire to write was not a valid reason to give it time; and (b) that I was a writer at all! Both these challenges disappeared almost completely in the first month, and that’s pretty amazing given that I’ve held onto those opinions for most of my life. Before joining the Circle, I would go long periods without working on the memoir. During those periods, I struggled with depression because I wanted to write but was always talking myself out of it. I know it sounds strange, but that’s what was going on with me. Participating in the Circle gave me a reason to show up to the page and for me, that’s huge. Once I’m actually writing all the excuses and fears fall away for a bit and I know I’m in the right place doing what I need and want to do. These days I rarely miss a day when I’m not writing something and therefore I am also much happier.

What advice do you have for other writers?

My advice to other writers is: Don’t underestimate your desire to write. If you have that desire this is something you are supposed to be doing. I compare it to singing for me. I have absolutely NO desire to sing in a band or a choir or even alone in the shower and that’s a good thing, because I also have absolutely NO talent for it! I believe we are given desire to accompany the talents we have. This isn’t to say that there won’t be times when we won’t want to write. Jenna, her coaches and the other participants of the Circle have shown me this happens to all of us at one time or another. Still, we return to the work because that’s who we are — writers.

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m not sure what’s next for me. I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll publish the memoir. I think I might publish a small printing through a self-publishing venue and let my friends and families read it. Then, after their input, I’ll decide if I want to try to market it. But I do know I will stay on in the Writer’s Circle (I’ve just committed to another four sessions) because they are my people and my life feels fuller when I’m connected to them. And I’ll keep writing … whatever it is I feel to write on any given day.

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

I’d like to add that I truly believe that we need to be doing what we feel called to do and to find whatever help we need in order to do it. If we do so, we will be happier people and therefore so will our families, friends and communities. There IS time. Whether or not our work is ever published is not the point. The point is that as writers, we write.

Thank you, Mary!

Your turn

If you’d like to celebrate with Mary, please leave a note for her in the comments on the blog. And if YOU’RE dreaming of writing a memoir, tell us about it too and we’ll cheer you on!



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If this was your wake up call, what would it be?

Seems like every time I turn around, someone I know is going through something big:

… Friends with cancer.

… My father facing health challenges.

… A neighbor’s house catching on fire.

… My cousin’s husband dying.

… Even my own roll-over car accident a few years back now.

The circle of those affected feels like it’s getting closer to me, like a tightening loop.

And it’s got me to thinking…


…Is there anything I’m not paying attention to that I want to be?

Am I going to wait for my next wake-up call, or what if I just paid attention now?


Change the rules that keep you in the dark.

Last night, we saw The Croods. I loved the message at the end: “We changed the rules that kept us in the dark.” (I love that they really spelled it out; it’s a kid’s movie after all.)

And that got me to thinking even more.

How am I keeping myself in the dark, operating out of fear rather than reaching out for tomorrow? Or living for today for that matter?

As writers and creatives, one of the biggest challenges we face every day is our fear. No wonder we act like we’re confronting our own mortality. On some level we are.

But I don’t like this question.

I’ve never liked how people say, “If you knew were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?”

Maybe there’s something too cynical about me to fully appreciate that question, but there are things I commit to doing on a regular basis that I’m darn sure I wouldn’t do if I knew I’d be dying tomorrow, but I can’t live like that on an ongoing basis. Things like exercising and flossing and making sure my kid’s lunch is made, that yeah, I don’t think I’d pay attention to if the world was going to end.

On the other hand, I’m okay with it in the big picture.

But what about the big picture of our lives? I’m down with looking at that and making sure that what we’re doing matches with where we want to be now and where we want to end up.


It wasn’t too long ago that I got the message, “Write like your life depends on it.”

And I’m writing every day now, which is a heck of a lot more than I was doing at the time. Which was rarely, if at all.

But am I writing like my life depends on it?

Not yet.

So am I going to wait for the next cosmic two-by-four, or am I going to do something about it?

Well, you already know the answer, right?

Do something.

Saturday I got out a pad of paper and started redesigning my schedule to put the focus on more writing. It’s not quite where I want it to be, so I’m going to do some more work on it today. And then I’m going to begin the process of shifting my schedule more and more in that direction. It’s okay with me if it takes a little while to shift; it’s a kind of gradual herding things into the right corrals. But it works.

Having fun.

The other persistent message that I simply have to do something about is FUN.

I’m good at working hard, you probably know that about me by now.

And I’m fairly good at really luxuriating when I give myself the chance. (I just love taking days off and putting my feet up and watching movies and eating great food and treats.)

But I just don’t give myself the chance very often.

I come from a long line of self-sacrificers and workaholics and the buck is going to have to stop here, now.

The funny thing is, I’m still not sure what I truly want it to look like, this fun thing. Writing is fun, but it’s also work.

I think it’s more about lightness of spirit and regular adventures. I hesitate to schedule time for fun. But I also used to hesitate to schedule time for writing, and look where that got me!

What if fun was worth making time for?

That sounds like a ridiculous question even as I write it.

But sometimes my brain needs an excuse to think of things in a new way.

Being appreciative and being present.

And last, I think my perhaps my biggest one, is about appreciation and presence. I’m so good at appreciating things in other people, but not so good at appreciating them in my own life. This is huge, and hard to admit. I’ve got more work to do here.

My recent tech shabbats have shown me about the power of being present and not checked out into my own little world. So I’m getting there. And there’s more. There always is.

What about you?

If this was your wake-up call, what would it be?

What is the voice of your spirit asking you to pay attention to right now?

What have you been neglecting but you know, deep down, you want to attend to?

If the Universe was going to give you a whack upside the head with a cosmic two-by-four, what would it be trying to tell you?

Your turn

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Anything you’re tolerating? Ignoring? Things you know you want to do but aren’t? What if you chose to tackle them head-on? I’m sure I’ve got a few more of them. Seems like it’s time for an inventory.



Coming Attractions

~> Monday, April 8th. Through April 8th, my OnDemand webinar, “10 Practical Tips for More Consistent Productive Writing“* with the Writer’s Store is on sale. Use the code ONDEMAND413 at checkout to save 50%.

~> Thursday, April 18th. Register by April 18th for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts April 22nd). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.


What I'm Up To

~> Writing. I’ve finished my read-through of Progeny and now I’m starting in on the editing and polishing in earnest. I’m also beginning to outline my next project, tentatively called Do Over, which will be a sweet little time travel romance. Can’t you just see it already?

~> Unplugging. Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Join me!

~> Reading. Finished How to Train Your Dragon: How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse* with my son. Now we’ve started in on A Boy and His Bot* by Daniel H. Wilson. I also finished Crucible of Gold* by Naomi Novik (loved it!) and then plowed through a re-read of Do The Work* by Steven Pressfield in one afternoon. Next up is finishing Adventures in the Screen Trade* by William Goldman and then tackling Making a Literary Life* by Carolyn See. Or maybe the other way around. I never do like rules. :)


Thanks for reading.


* Affiliate link

The trap we all fall into

I spoke with a sister writer yesterday and we talked about the many, many challenges we face when it comes to completing projects, let alone getting them out there into the world.

As moms and working women, we said, there’s always so much that has to be done, so many dishes to wash, noses to wipe, and deadlines to meet. Then if you start factoring in other people’s needs and wants (especially when you put them first) it’s all too easy to let your precious soul’s work slip to the bottom of the pile.

I’ll get to it later

If you’re like most people, you’re probably going through the day thinking that you’ll get to it later — whatever your “it” is, that creative work you’re endlessly postponing for another day, whether it’s writing or painting or drawing or finally getting the word out about your work — but that later never comes.

Or maybe you’ve promised yourself that you’ll work at the end of the day, but quite frankly, you’re exhausted.

The trap

The trap is that you’re aiming to clear the decks first, thinking your brain will finally have the space it needs for the creative work.

You figure you’ve got to get to Inbox Zero or handle all those administrative tasks or answer so-and-so’s Very Important Message first. Then you’ll be able to focus.


Those things are like tribbles from Star Trek. They multiply at an exponential rate of growth, and if you persist in putting them first? They will literally devour your time.

And right now, you are letting them do that.

It’s time to stop.


Let’s face it. Life happens. Life can be busy. It doesn’t have to be, but it often is, in this culture, in this era.

There will always be more email.

There will always be more to do. More information. “Opportunities.”

And we get to choose how we respond to that stuff, or not.

Do you want to organize your life around it?

Or do you want to organize your life around what is most sacred to you?

Your deepest, soul-level priorities.

What does that even look like?

For me, that is my writing and my family, period.

So guess how I spend my mornings?

I wake up, and I snuggle with my son. When we feel ready, he goes to play with his dad and have breakfast while I write for 30 minutes. It’s not a huge amount of time, true, but I do it 6 days a week.

I’ve also corralled my business, for the most part, into regular, day time hours. Rarely does it spill over into the night or onto the weekends. Why? So I can be with my family in the evenings and focus on my son.

Doesn’t mean my life isn’t hectic. Doesn’t mean there aren’t still things I want to change. But I’m working on them incrementally, moving them to the place I want them to be. Just like a writing project, bit by bit.

The key

The key to all this comes from a few simple notions.

1. Your creative work is what you were put here to do and is therefore of the utmost importance to you, your life, and your soul’s fulfillment (and even as a role model for your kids).

2. In order to fulfill that work, you must design your life around it and make sure its priority level is reflected in the day-to-day choices you are making.  (I can help you with this in my mentoring programs.)

3. Then you must protect that sacred work time — I call mine my sacred writing time — like your life depends on it. It does.

Your turn

I’d love to hear from you. How do you protect your creative or writing time?



Coming Attractions

~> THIS FRIDAY: March 8th at 11 a.m. Pacific — Your Creative Next Steps. If you enjoyed my Creative Productivity TeleClass Series and you’re wondering about the next steps to put what you learned into practice, you’ll want to join me for this free information call next week. I’ll walk you through identifying your next steps and fill you in about details about how I can support you along the way through my 1:1 mentoring programs. Sign up here: https://calledtowrite.com/nextsteps

~> March 21st: Register for the next Writer’s Circle session. Register by March 21st for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts March 25th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. We’re running four groups of fantastic writers right now and it’s a ton of fun. Come join us!


What I'm Up To

~> Daily writing. DONE! I’m done with the rough draft of my rewrite of Progeny!! (And now the real work begins.)

~> Reading How to Speak Dragonese* with my son. Reading Crucible of Gold* by Naomi Novik and Adventures in the Screen Trade* by William Goldman.


Thanks for reading.


* Affiliate link

When to look for a mentor — or not

The other day I spoke to prospective client.

She said, “I just don’t know how you can help me. I mean, I already know what I have to do, I just have to do it, right?”

The answer, on some level, is “Yes, of course.”

On the other hand, the beauty of having a coach or a mentor is that you have someone with you to help you through the tricky rough spots, to hold your hand when you lose your way, and to offer a fresh perspective when you can’t see the forest for the trees.

There are many different kinds of support like this out in the world, and the key is knowing WHEN you don’t need help and when you do.

How to decide if you’re not ready for mentoring right now, or maybe it’s time to move on

You might not be ready for mentoring right now, if:

  • You are having trouble listening to your own voice. Sometimes, and this is true for many seekers, we take in so much information, training, and guidance from other people that we lose sight of our own knowing. This is a good time NOT to work with a mentor, but rather the time to take a break, turn inward for a while, and tune into your own voice. The exception to this would be working with a coach or mentor who specializes in helping you access your own inner wisdom, guidance, and intuition rather than directing you with their own.
  • Your mentor has only one right way of doing things and/or isn’t teaching you to “fish” for yourself. Ideally you’ll want to have a mentoring relationship where your mentor is truly imparting the knowledge that will help you fly on your own, someday soon. If you’re working with someone who is just doing the heavy-lifting for you, you won’t get as much out of the relationship as you deserve.
  • It’s not in your budget or it’s not the right program. It is important to invest wisely in mentoring. I’ve seen far too many people invest ridiculous amounts of money in high-end coaching programs that sound good on paper but aren’t specific to their concerns, only to end up in debt and none the wiser for their experience (with the exception of a lesson in more judicious spending). Choose your mentors wisely, and make sure you’re investing in training and support that gets you to the specific outcomes you’re looking for.

How to decide if you’re ready for mentoring right now

You may be ready for a mentoring relationship now, if:

  • Even though you know what to do, you’re still not taking action. It’s one thing to know, it’s another thing to do. When all of your self-sabotaging gremlins rear their ugly heads and trip you up, do you know how to get around them? Do you persevere and get it done? Or do you call it a day? Having a mentor can make the difference between thinking and taking action. And THAT is where the rubber meets the road. In a recent post, I mentioned that I use multiple sources of accountability and mentoring in my life. Believe it or not, I’m not that good about following through on things unless I have significant motivation to do so. I use my mentors, like my screenwriting mentor and my business consultants, to keep me on track with much of my work.
  • You’re ready to stand in equal partnership with your mentor. You’ll want to work with someone who isn’t necessarily “above” you, though they may have more knowledge that you do in a particular area. I’ve learned the hard way to be exceedingly careful about putting anyone on a pedestal. Instead, I look for people to work with that I have the clarity of a peer-based relationship with. When I work with clients, I like to see us standing side-by-side, partnering to address the work at hand together, bringing all our expertise to bear.
  • You lose your way frequently. On the other hand, the beauty of having a mentor is that you have someone to hold the bigger picture for you, even when you lose your way. If you’re at all sensitive, as are many of my readers, you’ll be more likely to flounder when the boat gets rocked. Having a mentor who will remember of all your talents and abilities — especially when you can’t — is a powerful source of comfort and sustenance when the going gets rough.
  • You want to move faster than you can on your own. Having a mentor definitely has advantages when it comes to moving more quickly. In addition having accountability to keep you in swifter action, it’s incalculably faster and more effective to have someone to trouble-shoot, plan, and brainstorm with you than you can usually do on your own, particular if those aforementioned gremlins are throwing their unhelpful comments into the mix. 
  • You want the expertise and knowledge a mentor can offer. I choose to work with mentors who have a particular knowledge and expertise that I lack. Whether it’s writing a sales page or structuring my screenplay, I choose to hire folks I know I can both learn from and can help me do the work. I don’t want theory — I want practice. This is why I’ve always aimed to strike a balance between discussing the work and doing the work with my clients. I walk them through quieting their inner critics, writing proposals, working through detailed project timelines, and designing their writing schedules. Homework will only get you somewhere if you actually do it. Having someone to do the work with you? That’s where you know you’ll get the benefit for sure.
  • You want help applying that expertise to your specific circumstances. So often, we sign up for classes and programs but get lost in the anonymity of groups. When you want help with application of content specific to you, having someone that can focus with you on a precise project can make all the difference when it comes to translating from esoteric idea-land into practical get-it-done land. Which is where I love to live — in that bridge between worlds.

Your turn

I always love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts.




Coming Attractions

~> Creative Productivity Next Steps. If you enjoyed my Creative Productivity TeleClass Series and you’re wondering about the next steps to put what you learned into practice, stay tuned for an announcement about a free information call with me coming soon. I’ll walk you through identifying your next steps and fill you in about details about how I can support you along the way through my 1:1 mentoring programs. Make sure you’re on my mailing list and watch your inbox for details coming soon.

~> Next Writer’s Circle Session. Register by February 21st for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts February 25th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. We’re running four groups of fantastic writers right now and it’s a ton of fun. Come join us!


What I'm Up To

~> Daily. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries. Working now on Mini Movie Seven!

~> Reading The Rescue (Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 3).* Watching Downton Abbey* (Season 3). Started up again on Michio Kaku’s The Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel.*


Thanks for reading.


* Affiliate link




Take action on what you know

As creatives, one of the skills we have to master is finding our way to the finish line, even when it feels like muddling our way through the dark.

Sometimes we know where we want to go, but we don’t know how to get there.

And when this happens, many people end up doing nothing. They don’t take action because they don’t have all the information yet, or they aren’t clear on the whole picture.

And yet from my perspective, this is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.

So often creative wait for inspiration, not realizing that if they put pen or paintbrush to page, pick up the guitar, or open their mouths to speak or sing, just trusting the act of creation is enough to get things going.

Because strange though it may seem, inching just one part of a project or idea forward can be enough to catalyze the entire system into action.

For instance, let’s say you have a beginning to a story, and you have an idea of the ending, but you aren’t quite sure how to get there yet — what happens in the middle? Well, you can start brainstorming structural ideas and plot devices. But what do you already know, and how you can nudge that forward?

Maybe you have a pretty good idea of your characters, so what if you spent some time fleshing them out? Or maybe you can visualize the ending clearly — what if you started writing there?

Yes, it’s true that some of that work might be for “nothing.” But really, truly, is any work ever lost? Isn’t it the process and the learning that comes through that work independently valuable, regardless of its lifespan?

In another example, let’s say you want to redecorate your living room, but you don’t know where to start. And yet you DO have your eye on a particular couch you just love. Rather than waiting to solve the entire design problem, what if you got the couch you love and build the rest of the redecoration project around it?

I suppose the risk is there that you’ll have purchased a couch you love but you can’t find a single thing that will look good with it, but I doubt it.

The paralysis of inaction can become painful procrastination in short order. What do you already know about where you are that you can take action on?

Do it.

Remember the quote from Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

Your turn

You know I always love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts.




Coming Attractions

~> Creative Productivity Next Steps. If you enjoyed my Creative Productivity TeleClass Series and you’re wondering about the next steps to put what you learned into practice, stay tuned for an announcement about a free information call with me coming soon. I’ll walk you through identifying your next steps and fill you in about details about how I can support you along the way through my 1:1 mentoring programs. Make sure you’re on my mailing list and watch your inbox for details coming soon.

~> Next Writer’s Circle Session. Register by February 21st for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts February 25th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. We’re running four groups of fantastic writers right now and it’s a ton of fun. Come join us!


What I'm Up To

~> Daily. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.* Working now on Mini Movie Seven!

~> Reading The Rescue (Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 3).* Watching Downton Abbey* (Season 3). Wanting to get back to Michio Kaku’s The Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel.*


Thanks for reading.


* Affiliate link




7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

The other day I commented about how “It’s so tricky to be your own deadline-maker” on my progress page on my Writer’s Circle site.  One of my lovely group members wrote back and said, “If you have some tips for how to be more motivated by self-set deadlines, I would love to try them.”

So like last week, I’m continuing my theme of answering questions that have come up in my Writer’s Circle that I felt would be useful for everyone to think about. (And before your eyes glaze over if you’re not a writer, don’t worry, you can use these techniques too.)

And here they are:

7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

As you read through these, see if you notice how I use external forces to keep the internal deadlines moving ahead.

1. Use Jedi mind tricks.

If at all possible, find a reason to believe in the significance, importance, and the power of the deadline. If you create a deadline, but you internally decide that it’s flexible or not important, you won’t stay motivated by it. So find a reason that makes your deadline compelling.

For instance, my current compelling deadline for the ebook project I’m working on is the result of mapping out my launch calendar for 2013 with my business consultant, and it’s pretty clear that unless I stay more or less on track with it, there will be a rather significant snowball effect of Other Things Not Working, which will have a negative ripple effect throughout the entire year.

Of course we built some wiggle room and flexibility into the schedule, but knowing that if I don’t meet my “ship date” for my ebook project, I’m only going to create stress and discomfort for myself. It’s highly motivating to keep me on track. (See also #2, taking care of your tomorrow self, below.)

Similarly, even if you don’t have an editor, agent, producer, audience, or manager (yet) clamoring for your latest project, you can find deadlines for it to help you stay inspired all the way to completion, like signing up for a contest and aiming to get your project submitted by their deadline.

In my case, I know the next ProSeries Producer’s Meeting is coming up this summer, so I have a deadline for finishing my script naturally built into my 2013 plan.

We can call these “self-created” deadlines, because we choose them ourselves — we make them extrinsic deadlines to help us stay motivated internally.

2. Take care of your tomorrow self too.

I have learned — finally, it’s been hard — to take care of my “tomorrow self” as well as my “today self.” In other words, when you’re tempted to slack off on your deadline, take the long view, and have compassion for the future self who’s about to bear the brunt of today’s workload.

When I’m only looking at things from the vantage point of my today self, even though I’d love to THINK that since there’s no big deadline looming on the immediate horizon I can take the day to get caught up on small tasks and admin, when I remember to think of my tomorrow self, I know SHE’LL be the one to pay the price for that kind of thinking.

Pacing myself is good for all the versions of me — it keeps me happy now, today, tomorrow, and beyond.

3. If you can’t find a reason for the deadline, invent one.

Alternatively, if you can’t find any more natural means of making a deadline motivating, create one. My favorite tool here is something we call “social accountability,” and it has to do with promising at least one other human being that you’ll be delivering said project on a specific date, ideally at a specific time.

For instance, you can agree to exchange projects for feedback or notes with a fellow writer on a certain date, or invest in a mentoring relationship where your mentor is waiting to review your work with you. I like to schedule appointments with my mentor in advance of having my next 15 pages written — it’s terrifically motivating to get me to complete them.

I also like to let my audience know when they can expect things. For instance, when you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive a welcome message letting you know that you can expect to receive my weekly blog post in an ezine format every Wednesday. To strengthen that deadline for myself, I’ve even set up my mailing list system (Aweber*) to automatically broadcast my blog post at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, which means that unless I have it done before then, it won’t go out on time, which means extra work for me.

An accountability party is another powerful way to create a motivating deadline. I picked up this idea from Barbara Sher’s books. The idea is to host a party — you pick the deadline — where you’ll be celebrating the completion of your project with your friends and family.

4. If you don’t have a deadline, focus on taking consistent action.

Now, all this said, one of the interesting aspects of the Writer’s Circle is that it can help you stay motivated and taking action even when you don’t have a deadline. Writing projects are long-term commitments, and staying motivated with them can be tricky. But if you focus on taking small, consistent, daily action, as we recommend to our Writer’s Circle participants, you WILL eventually reach the end of your project. You actually DON’T HAVE TO HAVE a deadline to get yourself into action.

Personally, I like to use all of the methods I’ve described here in combination. I set myself up for the regular daily action, combined with self-selected externally motivated deadlines and invented interim deadlines. The way I figure it is this: The more the better. I use every trick in the book to keep myself going. And it works.

5. Reverse engineer your project and get super specific about the details.

Once you’ve gotten clear on your deadline, start dividing up your project into manageable chunks, whether it’s chapters, word counts, or time periods. You will likely be able to identify a natural increment you can work with. Then map that out over the time period you have allotted for your project.

For instance, with my ebook project, I have three ebooks that I’m aiming to write approximately 15,000 words for each, for a total of 45,000 words. This means that I can look at the time frame I have, divide it up into reasonable increments, let’s say 1125 words per day, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks. (And also, by telling you about it, I’m creating social accountability for myself. See what I did there?)

What’s motivating about this is seeing exactly what it will take to make my goal. That’s a fair bit of work, right? And if I don’t pace myself, I’ll end up paying for it in a big binge and burnout. Not fun, not pretty. And certainly motivating to avoid, albeit in a somewhat “I don’t want that” kind of way.

6. Set up time to actually fulfill the project.

Once you’ve reverse-engineered your project, then create time in your calendar for fulfillment. You can’t “ship” the thing until you’ve created it, right? So get out your calendar and carve out time, ideally first BEFORE you do all other stuff that normally eats up your day — I know you know what I’m talking about, but just in case: email, Facebook, Twitter, games, futzing around, etc — and be realistic about what you can actually accomplish.

I can write 1000 to 2000 words in an hour, depending on the topic, so I know I’ll want to have at least 5 hours per week carved out to meet my 1125 word deadline, working at a fairly brisk pace. Keeping in mind the big picture helps me get serious about keeping my head down and getting to work when that window of time rolls around on my calendar.

7. Do the work.

Once you’ve got the time on your calendar, be prepared for the resistance to show up. It’ll come in all forms — your mom calling just when you’re supposed to start writing, or an “urgent” email popping into your inbox, or the dirty dishes in the sink suddenly becoming alluring. Recognize that long term projects, even with highly motivating deadlines, are darn difficult beasts to face. There’s always something more we’d rather be doing.

Something that helps me tremendously with this is the Writer’s Circle. As we’re growing, we’re adding more and more group writing sprints, where we come online and write collectively for an hour together. I’ve learned to schedule my project writing time with the group sprints, so not only do I have it on my calendar, I also have accountability to actually show up and do the work.

It’s so motivating and helps keep me focused when I would otherwise be tempted to postpone my writing sessions.

Yep, even me.

So be ready, with every trick at your disposal, to fend off the voices that tell you that other things are more important. They’re not. Remind yourself of your big picture deadline, why you’ve designed it that way, and do the work.

Your turn

What works for you? You know I love to hear from you.

Experiment for yourself

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com







Ready, set, new year

If you have a dream to write or create, you probably have your sights set on the new year as a good time to recommit to your goal.

You probably also believe that once we’ve passed through the holiday ring of fire, you’ll have cleared a lot of new space, time, and energy that has otherwise been occupied with shopping, events, and clearing your desk for the holidays.

Glorious guilt and procrastination

And, surprise, surprise, there do tend to be a few glorious days in January of peace and quiet… but usually with the essence of guilt and procrastination swirling around the edges.

Because even though you’ve promised yourself you’ll get started right away on your writing or art or dream, you don’t.

It’s not what you think it is

But don’t feel guilty. It’s completely normal. You see, once you actually have that big block of time you’ve been longing for, the raw, naked fear comes bounding in and masquerades as wanting to sleep in or take some time off after all the hubbub. What’s wrong with that? “Yeah, I know I said I would write today but it’s new year’s day and I just want to get a little more sleep. I just want to spend the day relaxing for a change.”

It looks like needing time off (and you probably do actually need it) but it’s really fear.

Here’s the thing

(And, yes, we’ve talked about this before.)

Resistance comes up around anything worth doing.

We tend to recommit — at least mentally — to the concept of doing those things in the form of new year’s resolutions.

Guess what?

Those resolutions trigger even more resistance.

Which leads to more distractions, and smokescreens, and procrastination. And stress. And self-doubt.

No more stories

There’s ALWAYS something.



How about instead of making resolutions, we decide to make new life decisions about setting ourselves up for a long-term, sustainable, regular practice of our art? No more grand sweeping gestures and big talk but instead an actual realistic, attainable plan to take small, daily actions to move you toward your goal?

For instance:

  • If you want to write, commit to writing for 15 minutes a day. (We’re offering a “Start The New Year Off Write” special for my Writer’s Circle to help with that. Code: WRITENOW to save $20.)
  • If you want to move your business forward, commit to doing the hardest tasks first (usually marketing, right?), for 15 minutes a day, every day.
  • If you want to paint, set yourself up so that you can paint a little bit every day. Use the two-second rule to make sure your watercolors and sketchbook are close to hand.

Find the smallest increment of absolutely do-able, sustainable, accomplishment you know you can meet, and commit only to that, nothing more. If you find yourself not doing it, make it smaller. And let me know how it goes.

Your turn

Click here to share your thoughts. I love reading your comments and insights.

Build your writing habit

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com




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