The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part II

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

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

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

You're creatively confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You're having trouble deciding which book to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You're dealing with big personal changes.

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

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

You're an adrenaline addict.

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

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

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

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

You're just plain tired.

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

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

 

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

Tell me in the comments section below. 

 

 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part I

When I work with writers to help them stop procrastinating, usually they don't quite know why they're doing it. They often end up labeling it as laziness or writer's block. I can tell you that I've never met a truly lazy writer, and while I certainly have met some who are blocked, sometimes a little delving is required to uncover the deeper issues that are stopping them from writing.

Let's talk about the spectrum of writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.

You're stuck.

You might find yourself procrastinating when you're stuck. Maybe you've hit a section you aren't sure how to deal with, or you need to rewrite some or all of your draft but you're not sure where to start, so you just... don't. This stuckness doesn't take long to turn into procrastination, and soon, to full on avoidance.

Antidotes: Sometimes when you're stuck, you need help to get going again. A plot coach or a writing friend often comes in handy here. Alternatively, you might want to write about the writing -- this is a great time for some journaling and brainstorming to unlock your writing energy and ideas.

You're overwhelmed.

Sometimes the sheer volume of work facing you will cause you to procrastinate. When you're looking at a mountain, it's hard not to feel the weight of it bearing down on you. 

Antidotes: The antidote for overwhelm is to find one small step to take. In other words, what's the first thing you can think of, no matter how small, that you know you can do now? Then do the next thing. This is a great time to pick easy things to do too, because when you're feeling overwhelmed, easy makes it doable. Sometimes I'll just work on formatting for a bit to get myself back into the project, no matter how fiddly it is. No step forward is too small.

You've been hooked by perfectionism.

When you get stuck in believing that you must make your writing perfect or get caught up in visions of this being your biggest hit ever, you'll be triggering procrastination faster than you might believe. Perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis work together to create a vicious cycle that keeps you from writing, ever. Perfectionism is funny way of staying safe too, because if you don't write it, you don't have to see it being flawed and imperfect, nor can you be ridiculed for it.

Antidotes: Make peace with being an imperfect human being who values writing and finishing more than telling yourself whoppers about incredible success or massive failure that hold you back. Embrace the notion that only the divine is perfect, and decide that messy and done is so much better than not writing.

Your inner critic is freaking out.

When the voice of your inner critic starts getting loud and scary, it's hard to keep writing, especially if you listen to it as if it's the voice of truth and reason, rather than simply a terrified guard dog it trying to keep you safe. Also note that this voice will get louder and scarier the closer you are to the precipice of taking action, finishing a draft, or moving into a new level of your career. If those aren't reasons to procrastinate, I don't know what is!

Antidotes: First, pat your inner critic on the head and tell him/her that you're going to take care of everything, you got this, and you don't need any help protecting yourself. Then, one by one, rewrite the negative self-messages that swirl through your mind while you're writing into positive, believable statements. Having a coach or witness for this work helps it land more deeply and take root in your psyche in a positive way. 

You've gotten feedback on your work and it's affecting you.

Good feedback, bad feedback. Feedback period. All feedback affects us. It's an energetic shock to the system that's hard to absorb. We've been tenderly entwined with our beloved writing only to have it held at arm's length by a stranger who cooly evaluates it. The stun from this can send you into a tailspin. And good feedback? Glowing feedback on your early chapters? That can be a recipe for triggering perfectionism and the anti-creativity cycle too, because suddenly you have to measure up to your existing work and you might not believe you can.

Antidotes: After giving yourself some time to recover from getting the feedback, take a deep, deep breath. Remind yourself who is in charge. (That would be you.) Evaluate the feedback as cooly as it evaluates your book. What do you agree with? Use that. What do you disagree with? Throw it out or save it for later re-evaluation.

You're deeply exhausted and you're self-protecting.

Sometimes you may procrastinate because you're actually deeply tired or burned out, and reflexively protecting yourself from overextending. This may be the result of binge writing, pushing to meet deadline after deadline, or from being exhausted by a non-writing life circumstance.

Antidotes: Rest. Write for the love of it, if you're called to do so, but make it easy, like journaling, and give yourself some time to recover. You will feel the call to write again. Trust me. 

You're dealing with a creative wound that needs addressing.

When you're not writing... and not writing... and not writing... and it's just going on forever, sometimes there are deeper creative wounds that have gotten triggered and need addressing. Like that time you were ridiculed for daring to make art and express yourself creatively. Or how you were raised in a family culture that taught you that writing would never pay your bills and you were a fool if you pursued it. Or the scathing feedback you received from someone you deeply loved. Events like these leave open wounds in our psyches, like ghosts in the machine.

Antidotes: Revisit the events in a safe way (such as through visualization or journaling) so you can find the truth in the experience from a broader spiritual perspective. From there, you'll be able to begin to find forgiveness for yourself and peace with the experience. Often these experiences happen to us when we are young, and having our more mature perspective helps us begin to shift how we feel about it now. While you can do this work on your own, working with a coach or witness who can hold a safe space while you're processing what happened can accelerate your growth and ability to move past the pain.

And there's more...

There are many more underlying reasons for procrastination, including creative apathy, confusion, adrenaline addictions, and more. Read Part II, here

When has procrastination most reared its head for you, and how have you dealt with it?

Share your stories and experiences in the comments section below.

 
 
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

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.

 

 

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!

5 Tips for Building a Writing Habit that Lasts All Year Long … Like Clockwork

It's that time of year. We're all making resolutions and setting goals, thinking about our biggest, fondest dreams, and what we hope to accomplish with our lives in the year ahead and beyond. As writers, usually our resolutions, goals, and visions have a lot to do with our writing, along with the other big goals we'd like to accomplish.

And once you're clear on the dream -- you'll want to have a way to put it all into action.

This is where building a lasting writing habit comes into play. Habit will get you through to the end, where willpower and determination might otherwise fail you.

5 Tips to Build a Lasting Writing Habit

When it comes to building a writing habit, habit itself is the key word. We want you to get your writing to a place in your life where you wouldn't even consider NOT doing it, the way you wouldn't even consider not brushing your teeth every day. That's when you know you've got a solid writing habit.

Here are 5 tips for how you can build a habit that lasts:

Tip #1: Write daily or near daily.

When you're trying to build a habit, aim to write DAILY. Writing on a regular basis is a hell of a lot easier than writing infrequently, it stirs up more frequent creative thoughts, and it eliminates the whole need so many writers have to "warm up". It turns out that most "warming up" is procrastination and resistance in disguise, and you won't need it once you're writing regularly.

In fact, when you write on a regular basis, you'll find that your subconscious mind is always working on your project, so it's much easier to dip in and out of it on the fly.

So when you're starting out building a writing habit, or even rebuilding one, aim to write every single day. There's a kind of open window into our writing that closes more tightly the longer the span of time that passes between writing sessions. So keeping that window of time to 24 hours or less, when you're building the habit, is key. Once you've got it down, you can start experimenting with taking days off here and there.

When I first started writing regularly, I had to write every day or my resistance levels would build up to code red proportions. Now I can take weekends off and step back into the writing come Mondays with less drama and angst.

Tip #2: Set small, attainable goals for your daily writing.

Lots of writers crash and burn by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Many writers are surprised to discover how much they can accomplish in just 15 minutes of writing every day -- it adds up over time into so much more than you would ever think. (Check out the story about Rick, who went from 5 minutes of writing a day, to now working on finishing a 6th major draft of his novel.)

Do yourself a favor and start out your habit building with a super small, easily attainable goal that you KNOW you can do, every day, even if it's just 5 minutes day. When new members start in my Called to Write Coaching Circle program, we encourage them to focus on even just checking in every day as a way of building the habit muscle.

Tip #3: If you're not writing, make the goal smaller.

Once you set your goal, if you don't find yourself doing it, don't despair or call yourself a failure!

Instead, take that as a useful piece of information (your resistance is higher than that goal) and set the goal smaller, even if it's writing for one minute.

Truth be told, when you're building the habit, it's NOT the size of the goal that's important, it's the habit itself that is.

Once you're meeting and succeeding with your initial goal, you can build up to more over time. I started out aiming to write for 15 minutes a day (and finished a script that way) and gradually built up to writing three to four hours a day at my peak before I had baby #2. 

Tip #4: Create triggers for your writing habit.

You always brush your teeth when you get ready in the morning and before you go to bed, right? Getting ready in the morning and going to bed are triggers. You don't debate about whether or not you'll brush your teeth, you just do it because you're so used to it, it would feel weird NOT to do it. So if you can set up a trigger for your writing, it makes it easier to do.

Here are some examples of possible triggers: 

  • Write immediately upon awakening. A huge benefit of writing first in the day is that it clearly separates it from other life tasks and obligations so you don't have to transition so much between other things to writing and back again.
  • Write with a timer or during a group writing sprint. When you use a timer or you're writing alongside other people, the writing energy just kicks in and carries you along. 
  • Write after meditating or exercising. It's nice to stack other resistance-provoking activities next to each other in the day and hit them with a one-two punch.
  • Write before exercising or before doing some other kind of regular activity. Then you have something to "bump up against" in your schedule. 
  • Write immediately after you get home, eat dinner, or put the kids to bed. Know that when you're done, you'll write before you do anything else. 
  • Write before going to bed. If you're a die-hard night owl, consider making writing the last thing you do. 

If you keep doing the same thing, over and over again, it will become a regular part of your routine, and much easier to sustain over the long term.

Tip #5. Create as much accountability as you need to keep writing.

There are many different kinds of accountability, including writer's groups, mentors, deadlines, accountability parties, and writing buddies.

The trick is to figure out exactly how much YOU need to keep the fire lit under your writing motivation and put it into place. Look for the right combination that keeps you in action.

For example, you might want to have a writing buddy you exchange pages with every week, to keep you honest, whether you actually read each other's work or not. You could combine that with a writer's group, like my Called to Write program, which provides daily accountability. If that isn't enough for you, you could also add in an in person writing group and/or a contest or submission deadline to keep you focused.

There's no one size fits all answer here. You might be someone who is either great at staying accountable to yourself or someone who rebels against any kind of accountability. If that's the case, you may you prefer to put your focus on community and connection, rather than accountability, so that what helps keep you motivated is that your identity is tied to your writing and the group you're in.

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Put these five tips into action and see what you can do! It's amazing what happens once you start. I wish you all the best in 2016 for a creative and productive year!

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Coaching CircleMake 2016 the year your writing takes off!

If you want help, support, accountability, and more writing encouragement than you can shake a stick at in 2016, join the Called to Write Coaching Circle.

When you join us by December 31 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, you'll lock in our 2015 rates and have all the support you need to get your word counts soaring. Plus, when you enter coupon code NEWYEARWRITE you'll save $30 on your first session or package. Join us!

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

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.

 

The results of my online detox experiment and how it has affected my writing

I wrote recently getting a handle on online distractions that keep you from writing, and prior to that, about cutting back on the online distractions that were cluttering my head.

I've been highly interested in this topic because I could feel my life-energy being sapped by these distractions and it's been really bothering me, despite the many changes I've already made. I do a good job of protecting my actual writing time from email and other online stuff, but the rest of my life? Not so much.

And it was mostly because of my phone. My computer use feels manageable. My TV consumption is minimal (though I have been watching lots of Prison Break and Breakout Kings as I'm prepping a sci-fi prison movie right now!). Having said that, I like being able to use my phone to read ebooks in the dark late at night without waking the baby (who sleeps in the same room) and being able to write on it when I want to.

But I don't like feeling like I can't be without it. Ever. YUCK.

(And honestly, the picture I've chosen to accompany this post keeps freaking me out -- it seems entirely emblematic of how so many of us are viewing our world through the filter of a device... constantly.)

My email trap

It was email that was really my last "hook" -- I rationalized that as a business owner, I need to stay on top of things and make sure nothing was falling through the cracks. But that notion kept me constantly checking to see if I had any new messages. 

And not only did I feel guilty for oh so frequently "checking" my phone when I was around my kids, I didn't like the way my brain felt always cluttered by all the checking, even after I'd taken Facebook off my phone, turned off almost all the notifications in the lock screen and more. It was like being tied into other people's energy and needs was keeping me on edge, in a hyper vigilant state of awareness and constant readiness. Again, YUCK. 

Finding the courage and support to make a change

So I decided to participate in Jessica's Look Up two week online use "detox" program and see what shifts I could make.

Since my online Writer's Circle program is similarly grounded in accountability, self-observation through journaling, and support through coaching and peer connection, I knew going in that her program would be just the ticket to get me focused on what I really wanted.

She had us work through her four-step process of first defining what we want, noticing what impulses were driving the behavior to check in online, accepting that those feelings and impulses (often discomfort) would not necessarily change but that we could learn new ways to deal with them, and finally choosing what we wanted instead. Then, every day, we answered simple journal prompts every morning to set our intentions for the day about our online use and how we wanted our days to go, and every evening, about how it went and what we learned.

I deleted Gmail from my phone

Initially I found myself sort of skirting the edges of changing my phone use, testing the water, seeing how it felt just to consider cutting back. (Which just shows how powerful an addiction it can be!)

Even before the program started, I installed the app called "Moment" so I could see how much time I was actually spending on my phone, and how many times I was picking it up. So in some ways it was good that I wasn't changing anything initially, but just observing. And it was kind of scary. There was one day, prior to the program, where I picked up my phone FORTY-NINE times. 49!! It's embarrassing even to put that in print.

On about Day 3 of the 14-day program I decided to take Gmail off my phone entirely. For good measure, I took off Chrome too, so my second-biggest, "let me just look that up real quick" excuse was gone too. I still have Safari there but since it wasn't my go-to program it just doesn't have the same attraction. While I was at it, I turned off every other kind of lock screen, pop up, and banner notification I could find on my phone (except iMessage and Reminders, which I do use) and on my computer.

It was so worth it.

I felt sort of jittery for about 24 to 48 hours, still on that automatic "must-check-now" auto-alert. It was mildly frightening to feel so much like Pavlov's Dog. Again, YUCK. 

What changed for me

After that, everything got a lot more calm.

I found myself feeling much more present in my life and to my family.

My brain felt quieter, calmer, more alert.

I had more energy.

I started reading REAL BOOKS and putting my hands on REAL THINGS like baking food, drawing, collaging. I noticed that when I felt the urge to "check" I could make tea, or snuggle with my boys, or GO OUTSIDE and look up at the beautiful amazing sky that helps make life on this planet possible. 

I also found that I could still use my devices for certain things: Kindle, Netflix, the timer, the calculator, iMessages, writing, and other apps I love and find incredibly useful without it taking over my time and energy. My phone became a tool again, instead of a constant companion or savior or whatever it was actually doing for me. It's been interesting to walk the line of finding what online use works for me and what doesn't, at least for right now.

I found myself being crystal clear about times when I absolutely did NOT want to be consuming any online stuff at all and have had a few spans of totally unplugged time (something I used to do weekly) and LOVED it.

It's started to feel kind of gross to be looking at my phone.

So I just don't do it much anymore. It mostly stays in my office, on the charger, except when I need it when I'm out and want it for emergency phone calls, or if I need it for another purpose, like the calculator or timer. Again, it's gone back to being a tool, and I like that.

I also found that the days have gotten So Much Longer! All those "little" checks and moments of time that were getting sucked into online use are suddenly mine again. My mind is clearer. My intentions are clearer each day. I feel more focused.

How my writing has changed

And as far as my writing goes, I have not noticed a huge change in my writing time, but I'm not surprised by that, since I've already been writing regularly and protecting my writing time well.

What I have noticed is that I feel readier to write when I sit down to do it. Now what swirls around in my brain when I'm out in the world is what I'm going to be writing about next, whether it's a blog post, my current script, or the next big project that's coming down the pipeline. It might sound like a small shift, but it's huge. It feels like I've reclaimed my own territory again. And it's such a relief.

What about you?

Are there ways your online use is hindering your time, life-energy, or writing focus whether it's on your phone or computer or other device? Does anything I've shared here inspire you to make a change? I'd love to hear what you think.

 

Getting a handle on the online distractions that keep you from writing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to Jessica Michaelson speak about dealing with our "click and scroll" compulsions in the context of how they keep us from living the lives we want to lead. Jessica is a brilliant coach and psychologist that I've worked with on a number of different issues and I adore her for her clarity, deep honesty, relentless compassion, and her willingness to embrace the darker sides of our psyches. 

The trap of online use and how it affects our writing

I took the class because while I've gotten my past Facebook and Twitter compulsions under control, I still find myself checking email and for other alerts much more frequently than I'd like to, or that is ultimately necessary for my business and life. I also find myself getting distracted by online interactions at the wrong time -- meaning, they are interactions I actually want to be having, but I'm having them at a time that doesn't work in my life, with my kids in particular.

Also, I read a recent post of Jessica's that got me thinking about the effect my online activities were having on my general demeanor -- I know I'm likely to be more snappish and distracted when I allow myself to try to do two things at once, and I don't feel good about myself when I'm like that.

The other thing that stood out for me from her post was how much more peaceful she was feeling and how much more energy she had as a result of cleaning up her online use. 

Although I've mostly managed to prevent online activities from interfering with my actual designated writing time, I'm aware that having my mind occupied and distracted and busyified with other people's stuff and other online BS takes away from my clarity of mind and my ability to explore my own ideas, which can interfere with my writing. I instantly saw her point about how ceasing or reining in these kind of distractions would free up a lot of energy for me.

And I know I'm not alone.

A number of my writers in my online Writer's Circle coaching program and in the classes I teach talk about how hard it is to stop themselves from surfing the internet reading the news or articles, checking email, and scrolling through various online social media sites, and how it impacts their writing time-wise. Having now read what Jessica wrote and listened to what she shared today, I can also see how those seemingly innocuous activities may be draining some of our energy for writing. 

It's important to note the "may" in that sentence and I'll tell you more about why in a moment.

Solutions for handling online impulse control

Here's what I learned from Jessica:

  • There's no one right way here (a woman after my own heart!) when it comes to online use. Every one of us has to decide what it is that we want to create with and in our lives, and then make a decision about how much (if any) online time supports that. In my case, a significant part of my business, marketing, community-building, and social life happens online, and that's totally okay with me. It's only when it crosses the line into compulsively checking that I don't like it. 
  • Our brains love mindless, automatic, and habitual activities because they release dopamine, which feels great, so there's a biochemical reward for doing the same things over and over again without thinking. It feels good, so we do it. 
  • The problem is that being on autopilot means that we have let go of making conscious choices in our lives, and that's where most/many of us actually want to live, where we are in the driver's seat of our own lives.
  • If we're going through a rough patch in our lives, we may NOT want to try to reduce or corral our online use because it serves as a buffer for the discomfort we are experiencing. This resonates for me; I know that when I've gone through difficult life phases, having some of these tools for distraction have felt like life savers.
  • A big key to solving this challenge is to accept it. In other words, we will always feel discomfort in our lives in some form, and so we will always have urges toward numbing activities, whether they are online activities or another sort (like over eating, TV watching, etc.). Jessica says that the key here is to accept the discomfort, the urges, and the uncomfortable feelings as part of the package. To notice them, and breathe through them.
  • The solution is, in fact, a four-part combination approach of defining what we want from our lives, noticing what's happening when we have the urge to click, accepting the discomfort we're experiencing and impulses to click to calm it, and choosing to make new choices and create habits and supports to help ourselves see them through. Jessica goes into a more detail on each of these points in the webinar.

The discomfort of writing

All this strikes an important chord around the discomfort of writing. Remember, we know that writing -- because it is our biggest calling -- will trigger massive amounts of resistance. And resistance comes from wanting to avoid fear and discomfort.

So it makes perfect sense that it's so so so easy to say "I'll just check the news/Facebook/Twitter/email real quick before I start writing". It helps soothe that discomfort with a nice dose of dopamine that makes us feel better ... for a minute. But then we feel terrible for not doing the writing like we said we would.

Taking time to instead define what we want in our lives, for our writing, and for our online use and making new choices to support that are a huge step in the right direction. Jessica pointed out though, that we can't skip the steps of noticing and accepting, if we truly want to create lasting change.

Want more on this?

If you'd like to watch to the replay of the webinar, you can check it out here.

Jessica is also leading a 14-day program to help people specifically make new individual choices about our online use, in case you'd like to find out more. I'm not an affiliate for her program; I just happen to believe she is a person of high integrity who offers a tremendous amount of value to her clients. Although she often works with mothers, she is by no means limited to only that population, and specializes in helping her clients become the best of who we are.

 

(p.s. I'll resume my writing project selection series with my next post!)

 

 

 

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.