Make 2015 your year to write (Part two!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series, where we’re continuing with our writing prompts and process to help you set real, attainable writing goals and resolutions for 2015.

To catch up, in our first installment we began with reflecting on your writing life so far. Today we’ll continue that work by looking at the patterns and challenges you’ve faced this year, including more writing prompts for you to explore.

Remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I’m your coach this week! Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I’ll be sure to address or answer them for you. (And if you start the process “late”, not to worry, just come on in and join us.)

Let’s dive in to part two of our process, starting with looking at patterns and challenges, then moving into what we’ve learned and what we might like to do differently in the future.

diamonds2

Notice the writing patterns and challenges you’ve faced this year — and what you’ve learned as a result

As writers, we’re likely to have a collection of patterns that we fall into. We’re also likely — because we are living, breathing human beings :) — to face a number of challenges over the course of a year. When we take an objective, information-gathering look at the impacts our patterns and challenges have on our writing, we can learn a great deal about what’s working and what’s not — and what we want to do differently next year. 

We’ll look at each of these in turn, starting first with patterns.

1. What writing patterns have you noticed?

When you think back over the year as a whole, this is a great opportunity to observe the larger patterns of your writing habit and process. There may be both supportive and unsupportive patterns that you notice. 

For example, here are some supportive patterns you might have experienced:

  • Writing every day or near-daily throughout the year.
  • Easily getting back on track with your writing habit if you get thrown off by things like travel or illness.
  • Finding your way successfully (even if it’s hard) through your own creative process without getting bogged down or stopped overly long at any point along the way.
  • Regularly and consistently finishing your writing projects and/or hitting your major writing milestones.
  • Treating your writing like a professional responsibility by prioritizing it and showing up for it and yourself.

Here are some examples less supportive patterns you might have noticed:

  • Tending to procrastinate or get sucked into meaningless distractions before writing every day (or not writing at all!).
  • Not writing regularly, or binge-writing only when there’s a deadline looming.
  • Falling into perfectionism and refusing to move forward with a project until you know exactly what you’re doing (a big one for me).
  • Changing your mind about which project you’re going to work on so much so that you find yourself making little progress on anything. We call this “project hopping” in the Writer’s Circle.
  • Falling out of the habit of writing and struggling to get back on track — or avoiding it altogether.
  • Overthinking instead of turning to the page and just doing the writing.
  • Constantly looking for outside answers from experts, classes, and others rather than relying on yourself.

IMPORTANT: There’s no judgement here. This is about observing what has worked for you and what has not, so that you can begin to make changes as you move forward into 2015.

From Sonya, a Writer’s Circle member:

“I have noticed a couple of patterns related to my writing this year. First, I tend to procrastinate in a major way when writing involves disclosing anything that might make me the least little bit vulnerable or sharing something remotely emotional. I also procrastinate with work writing when I don’t feel like an expert in the subject or I might not come across as knowing what the heck I am talking about. Which is ironic because with most legal writing that I read these days, it is simplistic and not well thought out. I guess I don’t want to be lumped in with that type of writing and I want to be respected and thought well of professionally.”

 

2. What challenges have you faced?

As writers, we face a wide range of challenges every day. We can call these the “usual suspects”. But over the course of the year — a lifetime even — the challenges become broader and deeper, and have a life-scale impact. As we review what we’ve done this year and the things that have come up along the way, it’s worth being cognizant of the challenges we’ve tackled along with our writing, so we can be more compassionate with our own self-assessment.

Let’s look at some examples of the kinds of challenges you might have faced on this year.

The usual suspects.

First, the usual suspects. These are the “garden variety” challenges we face as writers, like resistance, procrastination, and perfectionism. I call them garden variety types not to diminish them but because of how commonplace they are — we face them Every Single Day.

Here’s a quick list of some of the “favorites”:

  • resistance
  • procrastination
  • fear
  • doubt
  • insecurity
  • apathy
  • confusion
  • perfectionism

And this is what we have to overcome every day just to get to the page.

Creative challenges.

Beyond those usual suspects, then larger creative challenges come into play.

For example, receiving difficult feedback can be a huge challenge to work through. (And sometimes so can positive feedback!) Managing multiple projects with multiple deadlines can overwhelm us. Having trouble choosing projects can be another. Even dealing with our own standard playbook of personal bugaboos fits into this group of creative challenges.

Sometimes we’re also recovering from creative wounds from our past — or present — that impact our writing. They tend to drive those usual suspects from a deeper place, as the underlying reasons for them.

Life challenges.

And then there’s the big picture. Writing is part of life. It doesn’t exist outside of life in some kind of vacuum. This is something that’s eminently clear to me as someone who coaches writers over the long term through our Writer’s Circle.

In our small coaching groups, our writers go through many major life events over the course of a year.

Family members die.

Babies are born.

Beloved animal companions and pets pass on.

People get cancer and go through treatment.

Weddings are held.

Major illnesses come up.

From my notebook:

“My biggest life challenge this year was having a baby. I knew it would be a huge change, and it was. I found myself feeling a bit lost in my own reality at times. But it was gratifying to see that I could find my way through such a major life upheaval and come back to my writing in a strong way.”

From Sonya:

“I have transitioned jobs form a full time job, commuting to San Francisco to being a consultant with work and clients but not full time. It has thrown me off of any routine or time constraints and I haven’t fully adjusted to this change in schedule and priorities. I need to get into a better routine for writing. I did maintain a daily fitness routine and now I need to figure out a daily writing routine that I can sustain and stick to. I probably need to brainstorm ideas on this topic with someone or on a coaching call. I’m obviously not solving it on my own. That’s what coaches and support groups are for – to help us solve things that we can’t solve on our own.”

All these things affect us. And they can take a real toll when it comes to our writing life. It’s not always easy to just roll with these punches and come back up in full fighting form. Sometimes we need time to bounce back and recover. And sometimes we need lots of support.

 

3. What were the biggest things you learned about your writing this year?

Once you’ve given some thought to the patterns and challenges you’ve faced, think about what you can learn from them that will inform your writing life to come. You can also think about what you’ve learned from your own writing process. 

For instance, you may realize you need to build in more padding in your writing planning and scheduling to account for the ups and downs. Or have heart-to-heart talks with your loved ones about respecting your writing time. 

Or perhaps you may be noticing that you are capable of a lot more than you thought you were, but need to give thought to protecting yourself from creative burnout.

The answers will be different for each of us.

From Wendy, a Writer’s Circle member:

“I’ve learned that consistently showing up and being a writer rather than trying to be a writer works.”

From Jo, a Writer’s Circle member:

“I realized and finally acknowledged how vital writing is to me and has been since from childhood. And realizing that the deep gnaw inside has been the result of ignoring and undervaluing writing. If I had continued to do that, I know it would be the great regret I would have while sitting on the rocking chair on the front porch of the old folks’ home drooling into my chin hairs.

“I am tired of trying to find the “right” way to write or express myself. That path leads to too much discomfort and anxiety to bring to something that is so vital to who I am and what I want to accomplish in the world. It is an exhausting way to approach a creative life. So I am learning to stop turning on myself. I am gradually getting better letting go of the “right” way and working on finding “my” way to write.

“I also learned to protect my writing from those in my life who refuse to respect it and how vital it is to me. My creativity is an inner event and I need to nurture it by keeping it safe from negative influences. When my writing is ready, I will trust in my abilities and in the process and let it go to find it’s way in the world and it’s meaning in the minds, eyes and hearts of readers. Until then I will only share with those who can respect the creative life.”

From Helen, a Writer’s Circle member:

“For me, writer’s block is usually the case of not having an organized work environment and/or a calm/organized mind.  When my writing table is clear, and my mind is clear after meditation, then I feel ready to attack the task at hand.”

 

4. Is there anything you regret or wished you might have done differently?

While I don’t want to bog you down in regrets, it is worth taking time to notice and acknowledge anything you wish you had done differently.

The reason to do this is so that you can be more clear about what you might like to change or work on as you go forward.

Wendy says:

“My biggest regret is the self-doubts that have slowed my progress.”

Jo notes:

“I regret not honouring my writing more myself. I did this by avoiding it often, by feeling that it was trivial or “airy-fairy” or self-indulgent.”

Sonya says:

“I wish I had written more consistently this year. Even though I have the writing sprints on my calendar every day, I tend to ignore them if there is the slightest bit of interference. I need to keep to the sprints and use that hour to write. Or I need to set aside an hour a day to write – no matter what. I don’t think I’ll find one consistent time each day (like 8 am every day) but I do think I can plan my writing time on Sundays the way I plan my exercise time for the coming week.”

 

5. What might you do differently in the coming year to address those things? Is there anything to forgive yourself for?

Having given thought to all these patterns, challenges, and insights, what might you like to do differently in the coming year? Is there anything you’re holding on to a judgement about that you can let go of and forgive yourself for?

From my notebook:

“I need to remember everything I’ve been through this year when I look back and wish I had done more. I can forgive myself for being human and not just being a writing machine. I can remind myself that I’m here to live a rich life AND be a writer who produces regularly.

“In terms of next year, to combat my perfectionist’s tendencies, I need to stay on top of noticing when I get stuck in overthinking or believing I need to look outward for solutions, and instead just keep turning back to the page, again, again, and again to write my way through my stuck places. I need to keep the focus on getting the words on the page and solving problems later.”

 diamonds2

Writing prompts for part two: Challenges & Insights

pen coffeeHere are your writing prompts for part two, assembled in one place for your writerly convenience.

Take them to your journal, talk them over with your writing colleagues, or just contemplate them when you can (or answer them in the comments if you feel inspired). 

Once you’ve answered the prompts, share your insights, thoughts, or questions in the comments section.

  • What writing patterns have you noticed?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • What were the biggest things you learned about your writing this year?
  • Is there anything you regret or wished you might have done differently?
  • What might you do differently in the coming year to address those things? Is there anything to forgive yourself for?

And be sure to come back for tomorrow’s exercise, where we’ll start tapping into where you want your writing life to be headed.

“See” you tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

Make 2015 your year to write (Part one!)

Welcome to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series! Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s that time of year where we are naturally drawn to look ahead to the coming year and dream about and plan for what we want to accomplish. As writers, of course, our focus is on our intentions, goals, and visions for our writing.

But not so fast! There are a few — and often overlooked — steps to help you to set your goals in such a way as to assure your success.

Over the next seven days, I’ll be sharing seven articles with you about the key steps you can take to make 2015 your writing year to remember.

Each article includes a set of simple writing prompts that you can complete on your own or here on the blog in the comments section.

Throughout the week, I’ll be your on-the-spot writing coach, so if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, insights, or issues, just post them in the comments section on the blog and I’ll be sure to address or answer them for you.

Today we’ll get started by reflecting on your writing life.

diamonds2

Reflect on your writing life so far

We start with reflection to first establish the foundation of where you are and where you’ve been. 

This is important because most of us have a tendency to focus purely on the goals and resolutions we’re setting for the new year and what’s next, but skip right over the realities of what’s happened for us this year and what our current writing life looks like. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for pie-in-the-sky goals that have a less-than-likely chance of succeeding. And we want you to succeed, right? ;)

So first, to begin this process together, we’ll look at where you are right now, and where you’ve been, before we move on to what’s next. 

You can call this “completion” work if you like.

We’ll do this by answering a series of three simple questions, starting with:

1. What has your writing given you?

First, we’ll start by having you look at what your writing has given you. What gifts it has brought to your life, and what opportunities?

While you think about this, think back over 2014, and also your writing life as a whole.

For example, when you think about the trajectory your writing life has taken, are you enjoying it? Are you happy with the track you’re on, or feeling dissatisfied? What has being a writer brought to your life that you would not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience? 

I’ve reached out to my Writer’s Circle participants (and included notes from my own insights) to share their thoughts with us as we go through this process together:

From my notebook:

“In the last year of writing, my writing has given me a way to stay connected to myself. As a mom of now two children, one born this year, having this way to know who I am outside of motherhood has been a safety anchor for me. Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and the all-encompassing 24/7 nature of the job of “mother” can be entirely overwhelming, and though it has been hard at times, I’ve been grateful to have this special thing called “writing” that is entirely my own.

Writing has also strengthened me. I have a stronger ability to focus. My trust in my own creative process has grown. My understanding of myself through my writing has expanded exponentially. I’m continually learning, growing, improving and expanding my ability to write well, to write more clearly in my own voice, and to write in a such a way that feels both faster and freer.”

From Helen, a Writer’s Circle member: 

“My writing is mostly scholarly/academic. I noticed that while I am writing on a particular topic, then I usually feel more knowledgable about the topic after I have completed the paper. As this knowledge grows, I plan to become a Subject Matter Expert on my various topics of interest.”

 

2. What are you most proud of?

While you’re contemplating your relationship with your writing, also ask yourself, what are you most proud of? 

Here again, it’s worth looking at both this current year and your writing life so far.

And please, don’t be hard on yourself. If you have a hard time coming up with something you feel proud of, see where you can stretch your awareness. There is always something to be proud of, even if it’s something like, “I always kept my goal to be writing at the forefront of my mind.” Or, “I am crystal clear that writing must be a high priority for me 2015.”

From Tracee, a screenwriter and Writer’s Circle coach:

“Somehow, despite life and Facebook, I managed to write four screenplays this year! In the past, I was lucky if I wrote one in a year. I am quite proud of that but I am even more proud of creating a writing life that allowed for such an accomplishment.” 

From Sonya, a Writer’s Circle member:

“I am most proud of having done the coaching and Writer’s Circle for a full year. Even with my divorce and money troubles, I made this a priority. I want to continue to do so for 2015.”

 

3. What did you accomplish with your writing this year?

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make as writers is to keep our eyes only on how much further there is to go, without remembering to take stock of what we have accomplished and completed.

For this question, we want you to examine what you accomplished, regardless of how big or small.

Take an inventory.

How many words, pages, books, scripts, blog posts, etc., did you write? What did you put out into the world with your writing? Are there intangible things you accomplished with your writing?

Take the time to look back over 2014 and make notes about what you’ve accomplished. 

From my notebook:

“This year, I’ve kept writing even in the midst of having a new baby. I’ve kept up my blog, with both my own posts and guest posts, rewritten, recorded, and released my Design Your Writing Life series, completed numerous assignments for the screenwriting classes I’ve been taking, completed a rewrite of my first script, generated over 165 concepts for new script ideas, developed an outline for a brand new script, and started writing pages for the new script. I’m thrilled about it too, considering I was wickedly sick at the beginning of the year, and navigated through both a rocky third trimester, a birth, and still allowed for lots of bonding time with our new little boy.”

diamonds2

Your writing prompts for part one: Reflection

pen coffeeSo here they are, our questions for the day, assembled in one place for your writerly convenience. Take these writing prompts to your journal to consider them, copy-paste and write out your answers in the comments section on the blog, mull them over when you have a quiet moment, or chat about them with your writer friends. 

  • What has your writing given you this year?
  • What are you most proud of?

  • What did you accomplish with your writing this year?

And lest you feel unsatisfied with not looking at things left undone or that feel otherwise troublesome, don’t worry, we’ll tackle that question tomorrow when we focus on the writing patterns, challenges, and any regrets you’re facing.

“See” you then!