Your top “7’s” writing posts from 2014 (your favorite one is no surprise!)

Apparently I think in sevens a lot, at least when it comes to writing about writing. 

As I was reviewing the most-read posts of 2014, apparently sevens were appealing to you, too. 

These “7’s” posts were among the most popular last year, counting down to your favorite (and there’s no surprise to me there about why that one was the favorite — it’s something we all deal with!)

So, in reverse order, our lucky sevens:

7 steps to recovering from creative burnout

reclinerWhen you get burned out, it’s hard to do anything, let alone be creative. In this article, I outline seven steps you can take to go from creative burnout to creative recovery, so you can bring back the joy you feel when you create. This is an important skill to master because sometimes — even when we’re doing our very best to keep the creative well filled and do our writing at a sustainable pace — resistance, deadlines, life, and fate conspire to the point where we’re scrambling to finish a project under a big time crunch, binge-write, and exhaust ourselves as a result (sometimes doing so for days, weeks, even months on end). And once we’ve hit that bottom of the creative barrel, writing anything sounds entirely miserable. Read this article to find out how to bring yourself back into creative balance.

7 ways to recommit to your writing

writing wordle 3Sometimes as writers we get into a good writing practice but still manage to become complacent about actually FINISHING projects and moving on to the next one, rather just making small amounts of progress or endlessly rewriting and editing. When that happens, it’s time to recommit, and raise the bar of our own expectations. In this article, I discuss seven ways to stop phoning it in and require more of yourself as a writer. Read this article to find out how to to recommit to your own writing

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing 

Overcome fear and uncertaintyIn this terrific guest post, Writer’s Circle coach and produced screenwriter Sarah Newman talks about how to stay in action and keep moving forward with our writing even when fear and uncertainty rear their ugly heads. She shares a list of seven great ways to get unstuck and keep writing that I’m sure you will find both handy and inspiring. Read her article and discover how to get into action with your writing.

My 7 part series, “Make 2015 your year to write”

reflectionOur most recent “7’s” post was my seven-part series, called “Make 2015 Your Year to Write”. If you missed it, it’s not too late to work with the writing prompts in the series that will help you design and create goals and resolutions for your writing year (2015 or otherwise!) so that they are well-aligned with what you want in the big picture. That way you can make sure you’re working grounded in the reality of where you are right now as a writer and where you want to end up. 

7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

ticking clocksThis article ties in neatly with the article on recommitting, because self-created deadlines can be a powerfully motivating when it comes to hunkering down and doing the work. In this piece I talk about seven strategies you can use to make your inner deadlines actually mean something. Hint: It often involves turning those “inner” deadlines into outer ones. Read more about mastering your self-created deadlines here. (And see if you can guess which one is my favorite!) 

And your favorite “7” post: 7 ways to beat procrastination 

If the goal is too big, make it smallerThis article was your favorite “7” post, and it’s one of mine too. And it’s no surprise. Procrastination is one of the biggest things we struggle with as writers. In the piece I talk about the most common reasons for procrastination and seven ways to beat it, including some things you may not have thought of, like setting super small micro goals, telling others about what you’re doing to create accountability for yourself, and knowing when to STOP writing. Check it out here and bust your own procrastination habit while you’re at it

Enjoy, writers!

I hope your 2015 is off to a great start.

Happy writing.



Ramp up your writing speed

Ramp up your writing speed

Nicola PittamNote from Jenna: This guest post is from one of my screenwriting pals and a talented journalist, Nicola Pittam. I’ve come to know Nicola through my screenwriting training programs and love her clever wit and ability to churn out the writing at a moment’s notice (I’m pretty sure she wrote this post on the fly in under 20 minutes!).

Nicola’s piece addresses not only HOW to write, but how to write more quickly. Take a look and see what you might glean from her experience for yourself. (And enjoy her British spelling!)

Ramp up your writing speed

by Nicola Pittam

When asked:  “How do you write?” I invariably answer:  “One word at a time.”  (Stephen King)

That’s one of my favourite quotes about writing, from one of my favourite authors. You’d be surprised how many times a writer gets asked that same question over and over again. And while Mr. King’s answer might simply seem like common sense, it’s also completely true!

There is only one way to write – one word at a time, one word after another.

But sometimes it’s difficult to get that first word – or even 1000th word – down on the page, especially if you are on a deadline.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly 25 years and so I’m used to deadlines. In fact, I’ve become so used to it, I work better and quicker if I have a deadline looming in front of me.

But just like everyone else I procrastinate when it’s time to write. I’ll watch bad day time TV, make endless cups of tea, call family and friends to chat – anything but sit down in front of the computer. But if there’s a deadline and I know I have to deliver by a certain time, my brain kicks in and off I go.

I was working for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in the UK at the age of 21, so I had to learn fast. If a breaking news story came into the newsroom at 6pm, it had to be written, subbed and in the paper by 6.30pm as the presses started to roll at 7pm for the next day’s paper. And if you couldn’t do that, you were out the door. So I learnt very early on to write fast and be precise. To this day I can write a breaking news story in 15 minutes, or churn out a 4,000 word magazine feature in under two hours.

For me it’s all about discipline and I was lucky enough to learn that on a job that I loved but that required it.

But what do you do when you don’t have that discipline? Or you’re not used to writing that fast but have all these ideas that want to come tumbling out?

I admit there are times I still have problems writing a script because at the end of the day I’m the only one accountable for it – there’s no editor waiting on the end of the phone to yell at me (or even fire me), if it’s not delivered on time.

So here are some ways I get around this:

  • Set deadlines for yourself. They don’t have to big deadlines. Even little deadlines can help. Instead of thinking: “I HAVE to write 20 pages today”, set yourself smaller goals. You’re more likely to hit a deadline of 5 pages a day than 20. Then if you do more than 5 you’ll feel even more pleased with yourself.
  • Try to have daily deadlines. This way you get into a flow. If you’re writing daily, it will become second nature, you’ll get into a rhythm and your writing will get quicker. A great screenwriting teacher, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, recently had a class doing assignments which were not something we’d generally do every day. But he told us: “This is your new normal.” And that’s what you’ve got to learn to do – make writing faster your new normal!
  • Do as much pre-planning as possible before you even start writing. This will make it much easier (and quicker) to write if you have an idea what you are going to write. A lot of procrastination comes from not knowing what direction your story or script is going in. If you take the time to plot out your characters and story, the writing itself will flow much quicker.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines. Give yourself a little treat if you meet your own deadline. It can be anything from taking an hour out of writing to watch your favourite show, buying a new book or indulging in a piece of pie or cake. My favourite is to get a neck and shoulder massage at the end of each week for spending so many hours sitting at a computer!

But just remember, hitting any deadline is a major accomplishment. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you to get there. We’d all love to write a script a week but don’t beat yourself up when that doesn’t happen. All that matters is that you do as the great Stephen King does, and that’s to write one word a time. And if you do that, before long you’ll have a completed script or novel that you’ll be proud of.


Nicola Pittam is an award winning author and former Fleet Street journalist. She has won awards for her news and features that have appeared in UK newspaper, The Sun, where she worked for 4 years, as well as several women’s real life magazines. She is the co-author of Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman – a biography of the Oscar winning actor, which won four awards in 2013 including “Best Biography” at the Indie Book Awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards. She has been living and working in Los Angeles for the past 17 years as a journalist but now spends most of her time writing screenplays as well as working on a new non-fiction book and documentary, a YA trilogy and a TV pilot called House of the Rising Sun.

You can check out the Bale bio at and on Facebook at

Thanks for reading!

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




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: