Perfectionism Is Lying to You

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

I should know. I struggle with perfectionism too.

Perfectionism is a Coping Mechanism

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

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

Perfectionism Endangers Excellence

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

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

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

Perfectionism Lies to You

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

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

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

You are not lazy, you are terrified.

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

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

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

Perfectionism is lying to you.

Write Because You Love It

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

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

Keep writing.

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

 

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

What if you don’t want to write every day?

As the proprietress of an online program designed to help writers build a daily writing habit, every once in a while someone says to me, "But Jenna, what if I don't want to write every day?"

My answer is, "That's okay."

If....

The reason we advocate daily or near daily writing in my Called to Write Coaching Circle is that most of the time, the writers who come to us are flat out struggling to write  -- at all. And it turns out that the more frequently you write, the easier it is to sustain the habit.

Some writers CAN write on a different schedule and it works perfectly well for them. That's completely fine. I have no objections. Because if you're someone who can write two to three times a week and keep that going over the long haul, that's great! Or if you like to go for months without writing and then have no problem cranking out a book without getting burnt out or frazzled, all the more sparkle bright ponies for you. Really.

But if you're someone who wants to write but isn't, or isn't living up to your desired level of productivity and completion, or keeps getting burnt out in binge-writing frenzies, or is wrestling with procrastination, burnout, perfectionism, or writer's paralysis, you might want to try our daily/near daily approach. It just makes it so much easier to break the patterns you're stuck in.

The thing is, a tremendous amount of paralysis that can build up for writers. It's all founded in fear -- fears of not writing well enough, of succeeding or failing, of public humiliation or ridicule, and more. All that fear builds up in our unconscious minds and sends us in an entirely OTHER direction than writing. But when we first break that pattern of writing-aversion and turn toward writing again with a small, doable step like writing for five to fifteen minutes, we can build new neural connections that reinforce writing as a positive thing in our lives. And if we do it again the next day, it makes it easier and easier to keep going. And once we build our writing up to habit levels, we start operating out of a whole new paradigm, one where taking a day off here or there doesn't throw us completely off track.

No matter what though, the bottom line is this: Do what works for you. There is no one right way to write. There's no one right answer to how to write. Different approaches work for different people. Find yours.

News

My latest news is that I've just signed a contract to rewrite a sci-fi feature for a producer, which I'm very much looking forward to. We're kicking off the project tomorrow. I have a busy 40 days ahead of me!

And on the personal front, my littlest one just turned two yesterday -- I can hardly believe it. And my older boy is about to finish 2nd grade. Time really flies.

Coming Up

Coaching CircleThe June session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, May 23rd and the last day to register and join us is Thursday, May 19 (that's today) by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

  

fittingwritingintoyourlifeI'm leading a one-week intensive called "Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter" at Screenwriter's University starting on August 11th and running for 7 days. It's a three-part online recorded video presentation from me and plus online discussions, interaction, and support from me. Find out more and register here. *

 

* This is an affiliate link, which means I'll earn an extra commission in addition to my teacher's pay, if you register through me.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

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

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

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

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

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

Join us!

 

Register for the Series & Get the Recordings Here

 

 

The Antidote to “Blank Page” Paralysis

Does staring at a blank page paralyze you?

Here's how you can work around it.

It's a common vision of a writer's life. Sitting and staring at the blank page, waiting for inspiration to come. But in my opinion, it's a terrible strategy for a certain breed of writers.

From my experience working with so many other writers, the ominous blank page can be incredibly paralyzing. It usually triggers paroxysms of perfectionism, because we feel that we must come up with the perfect line, the perfect way to begin, or the perfect topic. And if you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you'll know the vicious cycle of perfectionism, paralysis, and procrastination is one of a writer's greatest enemies.

Oddly enough, I'm pretty sure I'd be paralyzed by a blank page myself, but I never allow myself to be confronted by one.

If you're someone who feels frozen in the face of all that white space, here are some strategies to help you get into the flow of writing, whether you're blogging, writing short pieces, articles, or stories, or working on full-length long-form masterpieces.

  1. Begin with an idea. Sounds super simple, right? It's not always so easy to do (we can talk about generating concepts another day), but once you're in the habit of writing, you'll find that coming up with ideas is less cumbersome that it might be now. When I'm starting a project, I'm walking around thinking about it for hours or days before I sit down to write. Because I blog on a weekly-ish basis, I have a constant stream of ideas coming into my head, so I pretty much always have an idea of what I'll be writing about when the time comes. If I don't have an idea for a blog post, I'll often ask the writers around me for ideas. There's always something up, somewhere!

    Alternatively, if I'm starting a script, I'll be honing and crafting the concept in my head and on paper before I sit down as well.
  2. Immediately empty your brain onto the page. Once you've got your idea and it's time to sit down to write (you do have a time to write, yes?), do a "brain dump" onto the page. If I'm working on a blog post, this means kind of spewing out the ideas I've got on the subject onto the page, randomly or in order, it doesn't matter, as well as coming up with a working title (often temporary) that becomes the "container" for the piece. Usually I'm imagining myself talking to all of you, so that helps too -- it feels like I'm writing down the conversation we're having in my head.

    If you're blogging and struggling at this point, you might even want to write down and answer a question, like, "Where do my readers struggle with this?" Or, "What would be most inspiring for my readers on this subject?" to get you going.

    If I'm working on a script, I have a kind of formula that I complete, and it starts with capturing any ideas I have for the logline and story concept, so I begin with getting those onto the page along with anything else I "know" about the story as well.
  3. Turn to structure. From there, start organizing your project. With blog posts, since I've written down the ideas, I start organizing them into a natural order or flow that occurs to me. It doesn't have to be perfect, I think of it as a work in progress, just like my working title.

    If I'm working on a script, this is where the heavier-lifting comes in. I have a set of parameters I "fill in" (that's the formula I'm talking about in step two). I detail my main characters' goals, motivations, and conflicts. I break out major plot points. I outline scenes.
  4. Fill in from there. Once you've got your structure, just start filling it in. If I'm writing a blog post, this means fleshing out and refining what I've started with. When I'm working on a script, I import my scene outline into my screenwriting software, and then fill that in.

    This way, I'm always "filling in" and responding to what I've already set up for myself, rather than starting from a "blank" anything, so I never feel lost or paralyzed. Well, maybe not NEVER. :) But much more rarely.

So if staring at a blank page for you is difficult, use these ideas to get something (ANYTHING!) onto the page to get yourself jump-started, and go from there.

Happy writing!

Are You Waiting for Permission to Write?

In the teleclass I taught last week: "Called to Write: Align Your Daily Actions with Your Soul's Deeper Purpose", something that resonated for my lovely group of attendees was the idea of no longer waiting for permission to write

(If you missed the live class, you can still sign up to get the recording by clicking here.)

I waited for years to start writing fiction.

Inside, I felt like I had to get some kind of stamp of approval before I was "allowed" to write. That I needed an expert or agent or mentor or master writer to see my potential and encourage me to pursue writing. That otherwise I was chasing a fool's dream or breaking the rules somehow. 

Change Your Mindset

I think many writers or want-to-be-writers do this. It's tied to perfectionism. A belief that we have to be "good enough" before we start. That there's a qualification level we have to reach before we even begin.

But how can we learn how to do anything, until we actually start doing it?

One of my mentors, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU.com, talks about how he makes a point, every two years, to learn a new skill, so that he always remembers what it's like to be a beginner. This helps him develop the programs he runs for new writers because he can put himself in our shoes. I'm willing to bet he doesn't wait for permission to learn karate or poker or horseback riding. I'm betting he picks something that interests him, and goes for it.

Why can't we do the same with writing?

Perfectionism, again. This has to do, in part, with the black and white nature of writing in this digital age. Back when I wrote drafts on paper, I didn't hesitate to scratch things out. I knew I was writing a first draft. (I can even recall telling my father that I didn't think I could ever write without real paper! How times have changed...) There's something about seeing our words looking so final that makes them seem like they should be final draft, publication quality. Which is entirely unfair to our early stream-of-consciousness drafts.

Underneath the perfectionism is also fear, the lurking originator of perfectionism and other writerly issues, which tells us to play it safe and protect ourselves from potential failure, ridicule, and rejection. It's a powerful force that works against us and our writing.

But again, how can we learn, grow, and develop ourselves as writers without actually doing the work?

We cannot.

We have to change our mindsets from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

And we have to stop waiting for permission -- for some kind of pre-approval that will guarantee our success -- otherwise, we are really just kidding ourselves.

Don't Wait for Permission

Here's the thing.

You do not have to wait for ANYONE to validate you or tell you that you are good enough or deserving enough or talented enough to write.

No one has to “see” or recognize your writing as “good enough” before you can write. There’s no outside evaluation or assessment of “potential” needed or required.

YOU ARE A WRITER.

You are a writer because you are CALLED TO WRITE.

You know you are called to write because you have been persistently nudged, cajoled, and pestered by your deeper, higher, wiser self to write. 

That means, by definition, you have been invited by the Universe to write.

And therefore, you have all the permission you need, right now.

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Coaching CircleReady to fulfill your calling as a writer? Join the January 4th session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle and start getting your words out in the world where they belong. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. Save $30 on your first session with coupon code NEWYEARWRITE and lock in our 2015 rates as long as you keep your membership active.

 

Choose a writing project with decision criteria

Today I'm continuing a series I started last week about choosing writing projects. This is the first post of the series where I'm delving into HOW to choose a project. In the last post I wrote about the issues and challenges that tend to come up for writers around choosing a project and what underlies them (spoiler alert, it's often some kind of perfectionism!) so that we can start to shift how we're thinking about it.

** Check out the newly updated version of this series available
for download here (or scroll to the end of this post) **

More on mindset first

But first, a bit more on mindset before we explore "decision criteria":

I remember when I started the ProSeries at ScreenwritingU in 2011. I was concerned about picking the "right" project to work on. And I remember that our instructor (Hal) seemed to be relatively unconcerned about my choice, which at the time I found somewhat disconcerting. Hindsight being 20-20, however, I can see now WHY he was unconcerned. He knew that -- especially for someone like me, a then newbie screenwriter -- it didn't actually matter that much what I chose. It would be a learning script, and if I continued screenwriting, which is of course an assumption of the program, it would be one of dozens of scripts I would write.

It's hard to hold that in mind when we're choosing projects, especially because of the things we talked about last time ("It's so much work!"  "What if I choose the wrong one?!" etc.), but if we take an eagle's eye view of our writing careers we can see that yes, this next project will be just one of many projects we work on in our lifetimes. Will it be a best seller or a runaway hit? Maybe, maybe not. But you can see that if you try to choose on that basis alone, you might get somewhat paralyzed.

Enter criteria

Hence the concept of criteria.

When you use criteria to select a project, you systematically narrow your field of ideas using a list of criteria that you choose in advance to help you make the decision.

Everyone has to choose their own criteria, there's no point in me telling you what they "should" be. I can, however, share with you some of the criteria I use and think about (and why) so that it might spark your thoughts about your own.

(Side note: I'll write about OTHER methods to choose projects in the rest of this blog series, including some intuitive methods. So if this particular method doesn't resonate for you, not to fret, there's more to come.)

Okay, so on to project selection using criteria.

Start with where you are right now

The first step is to think about where you are in your writing career and what you are hoping to accomplish. 

For instance, are you trying to:

  1. Establish yourself as a writer?
  2. Figure out your brand?
  3. Choose your first project?
  4. Build an audience?
  5. Break into Hollywood?
  6. Something else?

I think you can see that each of these intentions have different outcomes, and so a project to fulfill them would ideally be picked with a specific intention in mind. And since the project you might choose to build an audience may be very different than the one you might choose if you are working on figuring out your brand, you'll use different criteria depending on what you are hoping to accomplish in order to narrow the field.

Have a list of projects

Also, assuming you're a writer with a ton of ideas you're trying to pick from, you'll want to have a list of projects that you can refer to as you make your decision. (If you're a writer who is struggling to come up with an idea -- any idea! -- that's a different issue that we'll have to tackle another day.)

Choose your writing project criteria

Here are some ideas I've used for writing project decision criteria (and I like to frame mine as questions). Although I've listed quite a few possible criteria, I ask my clients to come up no more than three to five criteria to when we make their project choice. More than that and they just get overwhelmed.

I've listed more than three to five here to give you some ideas of various criteria I've used at different times to get you thinking about possibilities for yourself.

  • Would I be thrilled to write this project? First off, I want to think about my attachment to the project. As long as I'm committing to a long form project, I want to ENJOY myself. This is my life after all, and it's too short to waste doing things I don't feel excited about. (You can also use the question from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, "Does this spark joy?" as an alternate here.) This is about thinking about your level of passion, curiosity, interest, and attachment to a particular idea.
  • Does this project have a high level of clarity for me? Even though I love most of my project ideas, certain projects have more clarity for me. I know what they are about. I know why I want to write them. I know who the characters are. I know what the basic story is. If I don't know those things, perhaps I still have a good sense of the concept and feel that it will be relatively "easy" to develop, as opposed to something that has a lot of blank spots in it and feels hard and/or overwhelming.
  • Is this project marketable and/or high concept? Going in, I want to have a sense that the project will have legs in the marketplace. This can mean a number of things, for instance, that there's a trend or market interest in a specific genre, or that there's kind of a built-in audience with a high level of demand for a specific kind of project. Personally, I'm not that thrilled about chasing market trends because I know that they can change and/or that I might not catch the wave at the right time (I've read that what's on the marketplace book-wise right now was bought 18 months ago). However, I do like to know that there's a potential audience for what I'm writing, like time travel (my favorite!). I also like to know that I have a high concept if at all possible -- a project that people instantly "get" and want to know more about.
  • Does this project fit within my brand? Although there's a lot of resistance to branding, it's particularly helpful in the screenwriting world. This is because it helps potential buyers of your work recognize you in the field of writers. Without a brand, you're just one of many in a sea of thousands and thousands of writers. With a brand, people start saying things like, "Oh, yeah, I know a sci-fi writer, you should talk to Jenna Avery." So it behooves me to stick with projects that support and enhance my brand.
  • What's the potential budget for the project? If I'm picking a screenplay to work on (as opposed to a novel), I'll look at the potential budget for the project. I do this because I want to flesh out the slate of work I have available. Right now, I have two spec scripts that are on the high end for budget, so for my next spec script, I'll want to choose something in the low- or mid-range. Other writers might choose to always write high or low budget. Remember, I'm not suggesting that everyone should do what I'm doing here, but I'm rather sharing the things I think about with the hopes that they spark ideas for you.
  • Does it lend itself to adaptation? As a sci-fi screenwriter, I'm looking at writing novels and novellas that lend themselves to the screen, in that they are cinematic stories, structured like screenplays, and lend themselves to future adaptation for the screen. I'm exploring this option because oftentimes it's easier to pitch a screenplay in Hollywood (especially a big budget script) that already has a loyal audience in book form.
  • Does this project challenge me as a writer and will it help me grow my writing skill set? I like to choose projects that help me grow. For instance, writing low budget sci-fi brings a whole new set of challenges (it has to be more character- than plot-driven). I had a fabulous time writing a low budget script on assignment over the summer simply because it pushed my edges as a writer and expanded my writing repertoire significantly. 
  • Will this project be easy to write? and/or Will this project be fun to write? On the other hand, sometimes when I'm on the more tired side, perhaps because I just pushed myself to write a complex, dark, or heavier project, it's nice to pick the next one to be on the "easier" or lighter side (notice I said easier, not easy) to create a sense of balance for myself. 

Notice that most if not all of the questions have fairly simple Yes/No answers, they either are or are not true. And again, I wouldn't use all of these, I'd pick three to five to use, depending on what I was hoping to next accomplish in my writing career.

From here, I'd narrow my field of questions, then go over my list of potential projects, and see which of them meet the criteria. Then I'd sort them into an order and see which of them, if any, naturally rise to the top and/or fit the most criteria. 

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Over the next post or two, I'll write about putting projects in order of "best fit" to "least best fit for now" and a few more intuitive approaches to project decision-making. In the meantime, let me know what you think about using criteria to choose your project. Can you see any questions or criteria emerging for you that might help you choose what's next for you?

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Download the Newly Updated Guidebook Version Here

There's an updated version of this post and the two others in the series, assembled into a How to Choose Your Next Book (Or Screenplay) Guidebook with an overview of the process in a PDF format, along with a workbook in a PDF and RTF format. You can import the RTF into Word or Scrivener and work with it there.

Click the image below to download the Guidebook now.

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Where Writers Get Stuck Choosing Writing Projects

An issue a lot of writers get stuck on is choosing.  Choosing what to write, what to focus on, which project to start with. I've seen writers longing to write but feeling paralyzed about making a choice. They come up with endless numbers of ideas but reject one after the other upon closer examination, or commit but then quickly run away screaming, or commit but then self-sabotage by hopping between projects or ditching it altogether and starting something new. This is the first in a series of posts about choosing writing projects and different ways of approaching it, and we're starting with how it happens and why it's a problem. As with most things with writing, I don't think there's one right way to do it, but it's worth talking about because for a certain brand of writer, it's a huge issue. (Other writers don't seem struggle with this at all, but face other challenges!)

** Check out the newly updated version of this series available
for download here (or scroll to the end of this post) **

Where we get stuck choosing writing projects

Let's talk about where writers get stuck choosing writing projects.

  1. Being afraid of choosing the "wrong" project. This is sort of the blanket, one-size fits all category for writing selection paralysis. It usually ties into a fear of one of the other issues following, like worrying that we'll get into a project only to find that it loses its gleam and then we'll wish we'd chosen a different one, or being afraid of wasting time and energy on something that doesn't have legs, or being afraid the best selling project will be the one we DON'T choose. The idea here, is that there is somehow a "right" answer or a "right" project to choose. I take comfort from a notion I came across once that we must learn to trust that ALL our projects share a convergence of theme, thought, or concept (they come from us after all!) and that whichever project we choose at any given time will become the "right" vehicle for us at that point in our writing careers.
  2. The potential disappointment of giving up on another project or projects. Usually writers with this "I don't know which one to choose" issue have tons of ideas and interests and project concepts and they are terrified to let any of them go.What I've found most useful so far for dealing with this concern is the idea of a "project queue", that is, having a running list of projects in an approximate order that you'll work on them. Sure, they might jockey for position a bit and one might miraculously appear that knocks the others down a peg or six but it reshapes the terror that we must choose ONE project to work on into choosing the project we will work on FIRST.
  3. Being afraid of investing a ton of time and effort into a project only to have a (or yet another) project that doesn't go anywhere. This is a big one, especially for those of us who have been around the block a few times with writing projects. We know what rewrite hell looks like, up close and personal-like, and it's no fun. So we hesitate about diving in the way we might have been willing to do earlier in our writing careers.Thankfully, I've noticed for myself that as my writing skills grow, my ability to write cleaner drafts (closer to what I intended for them to become) is increasing. I'm also noticing that I have less fear about how long something will take, now that I've learned how to outline better, break things down into smaller chunks, track my work, and just plain old write faster. So there's that. And yeah, it's a ton of work, there's no getting around it. For me, this falls into the category being willing to invest in myself and my writing. As far as something possibly not going anywhere, well, I'm starting to think that's the price of admission to a writing career. There are no guarantees -- this is art after all. We can rewrite, we can do our best to consider marketability, and we can elevate our projects as much as we can. And sometimes? Sometimes it's just a learning project. 
  4. Worrying that a project will not be marketable or good enough. Speaking of marketability, I also see writers getting paralyzed by whether or not there is a market for their idea or if they will be able to write it well enough. The marketability piece seems easier to me to address with some research and study of what's selling in your genre or form.As far as being "good enough" goes though, the only way out is through (that means actually writing and then writing more). I console myself on this front with Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule for mastering a craft. I also think we have to find a balance of pursuing what appears to be marketable (I'm not one for chasing trends, but rather understanding what makes a book or a script work for an audience) and following our own curiosity (Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert!) and interests and ideas into the places they are calling us.

What underlies these issues is fear, of course, which is pretty much the only problem that gets in the way when it comes to writing. And a big clue here is the word paralysis. Underlying paralysis we will often find its close cousin, perfectionism. And perfectionism is, of course, driven by fear.

The perfectionist's safety net

What happens when we don't choose a writing project to focus on is that we hop from project to project, always starting something new and never finishing anything. Or we try to juggle multiple projects at once, working a little bit on this one, a little bit on that one. The result is the same with either approach -- no finished project, no feelings of completion and accomplishment. Also? The world doesn't get to see what you're creating. And there's the safety net -- if we don't finish, we don't have to share, and we don't have to face possible rejection, ridicule, or failure. Not finishing (and sometimes not even starting) is a perfectionist's safety net. That's the "upside" of not choosing. 

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In my next post in this series, I'll share some ideas about HOW to choose projects

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Download the Newly Updated Guidebook Version Here

There's an updated version of this post and the two others in the series, assembled into a How to Choose Your Next Book (Or Screenplay) Guidebook with an overview of the process in a PDF format, along with a workbook in a PDF and RTF format. You can import the RTF into Word or Scrivener and work with it there.

Click the image below to download the Guidebook now.

Turquoise-Car-Button

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Survey says . . . !

I haven't really taken a proper day off this Labor Day weekend, though we did get to take the boys swimming up in warm Sacramento on Saturday, which was lovely. I hope you're having a terrific Labor Day if you're off work today. 

What's been preoccupying me lately is been looking over the results of the survey (and packing up books for our winners, so fun!).

It's been fascinating to see how the answers spread out in response to the question, "Do you struggle with any of the following with your writing?"

Here's a look at all the survey results for this particular question (click the graphic to open it up into a larger window):

Do you struggle with any of the following with your writing?Survey Results

 

Over 71% answered "procrastination," which doesn't surprise me. Interestingly, 71% of you also said you felt called to write "without a doubt".

Isn't that an interesting statistical match up?

The statistic that really stands out to me though, is the second one in the list, which comes in at 44% -- "Jumping from project to project and never finishing anything". 

It's worth talking more about why this happens and what to do about it, but I'll give you a hint right now about what underlies that "habit": Perfectionism coupled with self-doubt and normal resistance (but perfectionism takes the lead).

And of course "Wishing you had more time" comes in close behind it at 38%.

The next batch of highest ranked challenges makes an interesting collection too:

  • Thinking you aren't creative enough or don't have good enough ideas, 35%
  • Not feeling like a "real" writer, 35% 
  • Being too busy with work, 34% 

Followed closely by:

  • Struggling to find big blocks of time to write, 31%
  • Feeling that you need more training, 29%

Can you relate to any of these?

Some of these are "trick" questions of course, and I'll be telling you more about why that is when we talk for the teleclass. (N.B. I'm postponing this class until later in the fall and will keep you posted!)

The answers that were "other" included things like:

  • Insecurity and self-doubt
  • Being afraid to finish because of being unsure what to do next
  • Feeling like no one will want to read what you write
  • Feeling under-skilled and ignorant
  • Failing to set firm boundaries around your writing time
  • Feeling depressed because of other life issues
  • Not getting up early enough or scheduling writing time 
  • Struggling with organizing and editing 
  • Perfectionism
  • Not enough income

And of course I have thoughts and suggestions about how to deal with all of these too, which I'll aim to discuss in the teleclass.

Thanks to everyone who participated! 

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Join the Writer's CircleIn the meantime, if you're struggling with any of these challenges, my best solution (and/or doing private coaching with me) is my Writer's Circle group coaching program. The next session starts this coming Monday, September 14th and we'd love to have you join us! 

 

 

What I really think when you’re not writing

When someone signs up for the Writer’s Circle, and doesn’t participate, I am always fascinated to know why. I don’t assume that the person is lazy or just not writing. And sometimes there are real reasons, like a sudden death in the family or an unexpected deadline at work.

But more often than not, when someone isn’t writing, it’s resistance. Resistance means avoiding the very thing you know you most want to do. In fact, the bigger the calling, the more resistance.

And if you’re the one in resistance, it can be tricky to spot. The stories we tell ourselves become so familiar, we take them as givens.

Garden variety resistance

Stories like “being too busy”, for instance, are common. It’s our best socially acceptable excuse, after all! These are the more obvious cases, where the writer says they want to write, but fails to do so, saying they are too busy.

It’s resistance, plain and simple.

Sure. It might ALSO be true that they are too busy. But WHY are they too busy? What self-created realities are they living in that make them too busy to write?

Resistance leads us to create overflowing lives with impossible tasks and deadlines, because if we CAN’T write, we don’t have to write. Saved!

We always have a choice

The thing is, though, we make the choices that create our lives.

Sure, we might have to hold down day jobs. But we don’t have to be perfectionists about Every Single Bit of work that we do, or work Every Single Available Hour to successfully accomplish our jobs. Perfectionism keeps us working on other projects far longer than necessary. Being busy in this way is the ultimate form of procrastination.

The reality is that it is almost always possible to write for just a few minutes a day, no matter how busy you are. Usually if you can’t find a few minutes, it’s because you’re allowing perfectionism and resistance to get in the way, one way or the other. Even taking on too much work is a form of perfectionism, because when we can’t write, we don’t have to, and we don’t have to see ourselves fail to reach our own impossibly high standards.

Insidious types of resistance

The more insidious types of resistance are new projects that suddenly demand our attention, like just when we’ve finally committed to writing a novel, we decide we have to start a thirty-day workout program, get another degree, start a new business, clear our clutter, move, or fix our finances.

Why do we do this?

On the surface, it might look like we’re mastering self-improvement in all areas of our lives, all at once. It feels so good to finally be committing to writing that we overcommit to trying to improve everything in our lives. Or it might look like we’ve gotten clear that these other projects are more important to do first.

It looks noble. Or smart, to get your priorities in order.

But underneath, it’s self-sabotage.

What we’re really doing is simply avoiding the writing. We might not be willing or able to admit it to ourselves at the time, but raw naked terror is running the show. Better to build one habit or make one major change at a time, ideally in small manageable pieces.

There’s nothing like signing up for something like the Writer’s Circle or committing to doing the work, and then seeing yourself run fleeing in the other direction (or just plain old losing interest) to clue you in to the fact that you are secretly TERRIFIED of facing the page.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being scared.

In fact, it’s ENTIRELY normal. If you aren’t scared, you might even be doing it wrong.

You might be surprised about what I really think when you aren’t writing

But here’s the thing. If you tell me you want to write and the instantly do the opposite, you might be surprised (or not, if you know me at all!) to know that I DON’T think:

  • He’s being lazy.
  • She isn’t serious about being a writer.
  • He doesn’t have what it takes.

Far from it.

In fact, what goes through my brain is:

  • Oh, poor thing, she must be terrified.
  • I wonder if he knows he’s running away.
  • I hope she will reach out for help instead of hiding.
  • I wonder if he knows how defended he is right now.
  • I wonder what she’s doing instead of writing and how I can help her troubleshoot it.

What I really see hidden in the way writers act out after they’ve committed to writing but don't do it – is a cry for help.

The bigger the badder

And the larger the way the resistance plays out, the more terror I see:

  • Taking on new responsibilities at work or for the kids' schools? Scared.
  • Going out drinking every night instead of writing? Panicky.
  • Suddenly deciding to start a new business venture or get a fine arts degree? Petrified.

All these kinds of choices – whether they are sudden new choices or chronic patterns – they are resistance, and show us how scared we truly are.

Is this grounds for self-flagellation?

No.

Far from it.

It’s powerful information.

When you know you are not lazy or weak willed but scared, then you know how to deal with it.

The antidote for fear

The antidote for fear is courage.

But it’s also about having a super simple plan to bypass the fear and get into action with the smallest possible steps to get you writing. (I can help you with that here and here.)

So when I see you not writing, my first response is compassion, followed by tons of support and brainstorming to help you get going again. It’s as simple as that.

 

Make 2015 your year to write (Part four!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series. 

If you're just joining us, here's what we've been up to: In our we began with part one, on reflecting on your writing life so far, then in part two looked at your patterns, challenges, and insights, and in part three began tapping in to what you want for your writing life.

Today in part four, we'll look at how to close the gap between where you are right now and where you want to end up so you can start making real plans for how to get there.

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're joining us "late" in this process, not to worry, just jump in, the water's fine. :) )

On to part four!

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Examine the gap in your writing life

Whenever we have a goal we want to meet or a place we want to end up, there is a certain amount of distance between now and then, or here and there. 

Since we spent some time looking at where you want to GO in our part three work, now we can take a clearer look at what's currently in the way of you getting there.

For instance, you might be bumping into a whole variety of obstacles like:

  • Being too busy or not having enough time to write
  • Having too many other obligations with work and family
  • Dealing with the kinds of creative or life challenges we talked about in part two
  • Trying to "find" time to write instead of making it happen
  • Getting caught up in other people's needs or drama

But you might also be need to make changes about the way you are approaching your writing life.

You might right now be:

  • Not setting strong boundaries to protect your writing time
  • Not making writing one of your topmost priorities (It really needs to be in the top 3 to 5 to become a reality.)
  • Thinking about your writing in a negative way
  • Creating fantasies about what you need to write instead of just writing
  • Constantly debating about "IF" you are going to write each day instead of being clear about "WHEN"

When we look closely at these we can see that some of these are things we need to remove from our writing lives, while others might be things that we can add. Both would have a positive result in our ability to write more, or consistently.

So think about what you've learned from the last few days of exploration and then answer these questions: 

1. What do you want to remove from your writing life?

When you think about things you might want to remove from your writing life to make it flow more easily, what comes to mind? 

For instance, you might notice that you feel ready to let go of:

  • Extra obligations that have outworn their welcome, like the volunteer job that's not fulfilling anymore, or social commitments you don't feel nurtured by
  • Limiting beliefs about your ability to write
  • Outdated relationships with people who don't hold your writing in high esteem
  • Excuses and stories about why you can't write
  • Unprofessional writing relationships and groups
  • Writing projects that have outworn their welcome
  • Bad writing habits like perfectionism or binge-writing

2. What do you want to add to your writing life?

On the other hand, sometimes the gap can be closed when you start adding things in to your writing life, like:

  • A regular, daily writing practice
  • Boundaries that teach people to respect your writing time
  • Urgency and deadlines so you feel motivated to write daily and to finish projects consistently
  • A writing schedule, as in, on an actual calendar with actual times where you will show up and write
  • Accountability and support from people who know how much writing means to you and help you show up and actually do it
  • A writing community of friends who believe in you and support you to make it happen, day in and day out
  • A special place to write in your home, your office, or elsewhere
  • Making a life decision to treat your writing professionally
  • The proper tools and training

Again, there are no right answers here, only what fits best for you. Take some time with the writing prompts today to see what no longer fits for you and what might be a welcome change.

Here are some responses from my Writer's Circle members:

From Helen, a Writer's Circle member:

"This year, I added what I wanted to add: A positive, loving, caring support group that positively encourages my progress. This is your Writer's Circle coaching group, Jenna. What I wish to remove is the negativity that comes from my current academic environment. Constant negative criticism and nagging do little to motivate me; on the contrary, they usually block my creativity and desire to write."

From Sonya, another Writer's Circle member:

"I’ve spent the last year in Jenna’s coaching and writing circle. I chose to do it after listening to her four-session course, 'Design Your Writing Life'. It inspired me to get my writing act together, so to speak. I had been writing sporadically for my own blog, without a real purpose other than to share information and practical advice. I wanted to get more consistent about writing and find a more sustainable writing habit.

"Over the year, I have written a lot more, and a lot more consistently but it has still been what I call sporadic. I’d like to remove this sporadic behavior from my life. I’d like to get into an even more consistent, regular writing habit. I’d like to add writing time that is sacred. I have not been holding writing time sacred. I have been running it over with a Mack truck on a regular basis. That needs to stop. I need to be more consistent and sit down and write, every day, no matter what. No matter for how long.

"I have this unrealistic picture in the back of my mind of having a tiny house in my back yard and having it totally devoted to my own creativity (really, a room of one’s own), for writing, music, quilting, sewing, scrapbooking, photography. It’s about a $10K investment to do this through a friend’s company who makes them. I don’t have an extra $10K lying around to use for this purpose so I currently tend to sit at the kitchen table or on the couch to write. I know I should find a writing space in my home and write in that spot consistently. But to date, I haven’t been able to get comfortable in any space to write consistently. 

"I also don’t like to write when others are around so I tend to do other things when I have my kids (every other week). All of these things feel like excuses, one after another. I need to stop making excuses and just do the writing.

"I guess what it comes down to is that I want to remove excuses from my (writing) life and add an attitude of 'write anyway' to my life."

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part four: Close the gap

Now it's your turn. Here are your writing prompts for today. You can write about then in your journal, discuss them with your writing buddies, or just mull them over when you have a quiet moment. Then if you're inspired to do so, please share your responses and/or insights in the comments section on the blog. Free to leave questions for me too, if you have them.

  • What do you want to remove from your writing life?
  • What do you want to add to your writing life?

And don't miss tomorrow's installment, where we'll tune into the vision for your longer term writing career. It'll be fun and inspiring! See you then. :)