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How to Craft a Writing Plan + a Downloadable Worksheet

While you might think you don’t need a writing plan, you’d be surprised how many writers I work with who get partway into their process and realize they don’t know what they’re doing and get lost. This tends to lead to a lot of painful self-berating and self-doubt. But why? Many of us come to writing without training, and even if we’re trained in the craft, we aren’t necessarily trained in the practice of writing.

This will help. 

Mapping out a step-by-step plan can eliminate a lot of headaches. Not all of them. There are always surprises. We also want to leave lots of room for the Muse to inspire and guide us — and there are unexpected challenges along the road.

So this isn’t about getting locked into a rigid framework and then getting frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Instead it’s about getting clear on what we’re working on and how and when we’re doing it, so we can find the thread again when we get lost in Daedalus’ Labyrinth. 

One of the things we’ll be doing for my upcoming Deep Dive Writing Intensive is putting together a writing plan. Here’s how you can create one for yourself, whether you’re joining us or not (and make sure you pick up my free downloadable worksheet at the end of this post). 

Here’s how to develop a writing plan for your book or script: 

1. Assess what stage of writing you’re in.

Are you at the beginning? Doing story or character development? Drafting a first draft? Or revising your 7th draft? Being clear what stage of writing you’re in will allow you to craft a successful plan, because each stage requires a different kind of writing, mindset, and/or approach.

2. Establish your next milestone goal.

While you can attempt to make a writing plan for the entirety of the writing process for a book or script, it’s more effective to plan and work in smaller increments. For example, you might be aiming to complete an intuitive/lightning draft, or your story development work or outlining. Pick a target you can break down into smaller chunks. This step flows naturally from first identifying what stage you’re in, because you’ll usually be aiming to complete that stage or the next one.

3. Identify the steps you’ll take or tasks you’ll need to complete to hit your milestone.

If you’re writing a first draft, for example, you can estimate the number of scenes you’ll be writing, and approximately how many words or pages you think each scene will be, to generate an estimated word or page count.

(Useful approximate rules of thumb are 2,000 words for a chapter, with 250 words per page, double-spaced, and you can look up the general word counts for your genre to get a sense of where you’re heading, e.g. approximately 80,000 words for an adult novel. The number of scenes per chapter can vary. Screenwriting is different, with about 15 pages until each major turning point in the story, and usually between 90 and 115 pages for a spec script.)

Other examples:

  • For story development, you might make a list of the issues you want to have solved and other meta story items you want to have pinned down. (Here’s My “Must Have” List Before I Start Writing Pages.)
  • For character development, you might use a character profile template and a list of characters you want to flesh out. (Here’s my Character Profile Template.)
  • For a revision, you might first reverse-outline what you have, then assess what needs to change, and then develop a new scene outline. 

4. Set a completion target date or deadline.

If you’re not working toward an external deadline (e.g. a publisher’s or producer’s deadline), you’ll want to set either a deadline or target for hitting your milestone goal. If I don’t have a hard deadline, I still like to have a target I’m aiming for to give myself something to work toward, even if I’m also allowing myself some wiggle room. 

Give thought to why and how you’re establishing your deadline to help with staying motivated. For example, I want to revise my sci-fi script (again) during the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive, so my current goal is to finalize my list of revision changes before we start writing on September 20th. 

Another way to do it is to look ahead in your calendar for “natural” deadlines. For example, you might have a big life event coming up that you’d like to have this stage of work completed by, or a big work project on the horizon coming up that you’d like to be free to focus on. The idea is to give yourself a reason to stay in action.

5. Be clear on what “done” or “completed” actually means.

I’ve made the mistake of targeting “finishing” my current draft but I wasn’t 100% clear on what that meant, in my own mind. Did done mean, I’d written all the way through the end of the draft? Did it mean I’d done that plus a read-through and a polish and was ready to submit to beta-readers for feedback? Did it mean that I was ready to submit to my producer? Being clear helps you know what you’re actually trying to accomplish.

6. Estimate your writing pace.

If you’re a newer writer, this is a little harder to do. And even if you’re an established writer, sometimes certain sections just take longer. But taking a stab at estimating how long something will take you helps you craft your writing plan. How many words or pages do you usually write in an hour? How long does it typically take you to revise pages? How long to develop a character?

In my experience the heavy lifting usually comes in the story development stage, whether I’m writing a new draft or revising, so I allow a lot of time for either story development or assessing what I have and how I’m going to take it to the next level. 

7. Gauge your available time.

Look at at your calendar, and then your completion timeline.

How much time do you realistically have between now and then? How many actual writing hours can you set aside, allowing for life, sleep, eating, other work, family, exercise, and anything else you’re doing or committed to doing? (And is there anything you can eliminate or reschedule, while you’re at it?

8. Check the math.

Now check, does the math work? Do your pace, your deadline, your available time, and your writing plan actually work

For example, if you want to write 10,000 words, you have 60 minutes a day available every day for 2 weeks, and you write 500 words in an hour, you won’t quite make it. You’ll only get to 7,000 words in that amount of time, so you’ll need to adjust. 

Or if you’re targeting 5,000 words in 60 minutes a day, every day for two weeks, and you typically crank out 800 words per hour, you’ll have left an overly generous allowance. Also a place to adjust.

9. Adjust as needed.

Once you do the math, you can tweak the variables as needed until you have something that works.

Extend or retract your deadline, increase or reduce the time in your schedule, or adjust your goal to make it work.

10. Write down your plan and schedule it.

Once you have a workable plan, write it down. Writing really can become a labyrinth, and it’s surprising how easy it is to get off track or lose your way. Having your plan in writing will help you stay the course. 

Make sure you schedule your writing time on your calendar too. 

11. Leave space for life and divine intervention.

Even while you’re crafting this plan, make sure you’re mentally allowing for life to happen and divine intervention to occur. It’s far better to set yourself an easier set of tasks and succeed even if something goes wrong or is unexpectedly slower or harder, than it is to lock yourself in and be disappointed or be hard on yourself if something goes awry. This is about having (and learning) resilience as a writer.

Or you may be inspired by the Muse and something will end up being easier or different than you expected. Or you’ll discover that the Muse won’t allow you to write the “easy” version and you’ll be doing something harder. That’s all about trusting yourself, her, and the process.

Make room for yourself, life, and the Muse, and you’ll be good to go.

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

Download Your Writing Plan Worksheet Here

Click here to download your Writing Plan Worksheet to help you craft a plan for your writing or get a jump on prepping for the Deep Dive if you’re joining us. 

 

Interested in possibly joining us for the next Deep Dive?

Find out more and register here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

Clear the Decks for Your Writing + a Downloadable Checklist

Back-to-school time is upon us. Whether you have kids or not, the end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall, time-to-get-organized energy is running high right now! 

(It also means we’re at or near that moment where the end of the year is in sight. Can you feel it? I’m feeling it.)

This makes this time of year pretty much the ideal for thinking about how, when, where (and why!) you’ll meet your writing goals for the year. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing done this summer (or year so far) as you’d intended. Maybe you did. If you’re on track, more power to you! If not, this is a great time to adjust your course.

For me, after losing my father in February and some unexpected health issues, I’m in a much different place than I’d expected to be, but I’m ready to take a big leap forward now. 

The fall Deep Dive Writing Intensive is a big part of this plan for me. I’m targeting making a big burst of progress on the sci-fi script I’m working on. I’m also looking ahead, knowing the holidays are coming, we have a wedding to go to, my 50th birthday is coming up (holy smokes), and my older son’s birthday (11!), plus flu and cold season, so I’m aiming to take action while the energy is here. 

In the first prep workshop for the Deep Dive, we’ll start with “Clearing the Decks” for our writing. We’ll meet by phone on September 5th to make our Clear the Decks plans so we’re ready to rock and roll on September 20th when we start writing in earnest. I’m giving you a special preview of this process (and a downloadable checklist!), so whether or not you participate in the Deep Dive, this will help you make more time and space for your writing. 

How to Clear the Decks for Your Writing

Clearing the decks for your writing is a fascinating topic because it can be such a slippery slope — I don’t want you to decide you have to KonMari* your entire home before you can write — you have to be mindful about how you approach this. So many writers put off writing until “everything else” is taken care of first, and that’s just not the way it works — in general. 

However, if you’re setting out to do a focused burst of writing, you’ll want to make some extra space in your life to make it work. The core idea here is to look for opportunities to streamline, clean up, eliminate, delegate, and clear out to make more room for your writing.

This is also an excellent opportunity to review your schedule for any “creep” that’s occurred, like extra commitments that have snuck into your schedule and make it harder have time or energy to write, or any back-sliding that’s happened with scheduling your writing time or your resolve to meet it.

Here’s a list to get you started thinking about the different areas of your life you might want to triage. (Hint: the key word here is triage! Again, you don’t want to try to handle everything, but systematically evaluating what might get in the way and proactively handling it is quite effective.)

Remember, the core idea is to eliminate or quiet things that might otherwise get in the way of your writing. You can use these questions as prompts to freewrite or brainstorm to get yourself started, and then use the checklist (below) as you work your way through making any needed changes. 

  1. Logistical Realm: What adjustments do you need to make to your schedule to make space for your writing? What events, guests, responsibilities, and commitments do you have coming up that you’ll either want to reschedule, eliminate, or decide how to accommodate around your writing? 
  2. Physical Realm: What do you need to do to make your physical space more conducive to writing, if anything? Is there clutter? Are there distractions in your line of sight? How can you take great care of your physical needs with healthy food, snacks, beverages, sleep, and exercise? Are any physical IRL materials for your book organized and ready to use? 
  3. Mental Realm: How will you reward yourself for writing? Are there any open loops you need to close or resolve so you can focus? How will you handle new writing ideas that come up during your writing time? How will you handle negative self-thoughts if they come up?
  4. Emotional Realm: How will you handle emotional challenges that may arise around your writing? How will you handle non-writing emotional challenges? What support systems can you put in place?
  5. Digital Realm: How can you minimize or eliminate digital distractions so you can focus on your writing? Is there any organization of your writing files you need to do? 
  6. Financial Realm: What bill paying and other financial tasks can you handle now or automate so you can prioritize your writing? Are there other financial tasks (like taxes) you need to handle in advance or plan to address when you’re done? 
  7. Relational Realm: How can you guide your family, partners, friends, and colleagues to respect your writing time? How will you protect your writing time from interruptions? 
  8. Spiritual Realm: How can you spiritually prepare to make the most of your writing time? What intentions and positive visions are you holding for yourself as you write? Are there rituals you may want to plan in advance?
  9. Writing Prep Realm: Is there anything you want to have prepped or completed BEFORE you begin your intensive writing time? Do you have a timeline in place for completing it? 

Download Your “Clear the Decks” Checklist Here

Click here to download your Clear the Decks” Checklist so you can make space for your own focused writing burst or get a jump on prepping for the Deep Dive. 

Join the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive.

Find out more and register here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

 

 

* From The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part II, with Guest Expert Marina Darlow of Systems Meet Humanity

Today I’m pleased to welcome back Marina Darlow of the Systems Meet Humanity podcast as a guest expert for the second part of her two-part series, 4 Steps for Making Stuff Actually Happen.

(If you missed it, my interview with Marina on her podcast aired last week. You can check out our interview on the podcast here: http://vision-framework.com/podcast/jenna-avery.)

Marina is a systems expert who focuses on helping people be more productive by putting workable, human systems into place. I invited her to write about how to help us make our work actually happen. 

Enjoy!

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part II

by Marina Darlow

Hello again, Marina here, thanks to Jenna’s gracious invitation.

Have you chosen to do something exciting since we saw each other last? Maybe a task you’ve been avoiding for a year, looking at you accusingly from the to-do list? Have you started it already?

Good.

Today, in the second part of our series, we’ll see how to keep at a task, and then to finish it, completely and unquestionably. We’ll also touch upon a rarely-mentioned and hugely time-hogging matter — the transition from one task to another.

Part II: Staying On Task and Completing It

As a refresher, there are four stages to each task:

  1. Choosing – deciding which task to start NOW.
  2. Starting – starting is often the hardest thing to do.
  3. Staying on Task – keeping focus and fending off distractions.
  4. Finishing – knowing where you draw the line in the sand and consider something finished.

In Part I, we discussed Choosing and Starting. Today we’ll be covering Staying on Task and Finishing.

Ready? 

Let’s start with Stage 3, staying on task.

Stage 3. Staying on Task, and Fending Off Distractions

My mind runs at such a fast pace I get so far ahead before one task is finished. I am thinking about the 2nd and 3rd things on my task list way before task 1 is complete, or get deathly bored and skip to something more engaging.”

This is a quote from a client. Can you relate?

How do you stay on task?

Keeping your mind from racing ahead of you and instead staying on task ultimately comes down to how you handle three key variables:

  • Managing your environment,
  • Matching the right task to your available energy levels, and
  • Choosing the right level of stimulation for you.

1. Manage Your Environment. The key idea is to have your environment be as distraction-free as possible. Close the door. Put on headphones. Clean your table. Leave only a handful of tabs open. Hang your personal list of rules for creative tasks somewhere you can always see it.

Important: Don’t make it too sterile. Who wants to work in the OR? Unless you’re a surgeon, of course.

2. Match Your Tasks to Your Energy Levels. Brain-dead? Don’t try to write your next masterpiece. Do admin stuff instead. Find your most productive times of day, and schedule demanding tasks then, whenever possible.

In most cases you already know when you’re at your best: morning, afternoon, or evening.

3. Choose Your Stimulation Levels. This one is tricky and usually achieved through some trial and error. However – there are some guidelines. The “mind-racing” often happens in one of the following scenarios:

  • You’re doing something mundane, or only mildly demanding, and kind of boring.
  • You have a lot on your plate and you haven’t made a very clear list of priorities.

If you’re doing something that doesn’t require all your mental faculties, you’re using the spare brainpower to think about unrelated tasks. Naturally, you start feeling stressed, bored, disengaged, and probably resentful. Time to strategically multi-task.

For example:

  • Listen to a podcast while folding laundry instead of worrying about doing the dishes.
  • Fill out forms while choosing a design (or a venue) for your presentation.
  • Fidget with your favorite spinner while taking meeting minutes.
    It often helps if you have a “lead” and a “supporting” activity. It also helps when activity A is more cerebral and activity B is more physical.

If your mind is racing in a handful of directions, and you feel all of them are equally stressful, time to take a pause, and get back to your plan. Look – what should you be focusing on NOW? This week? Today? Give yourself permission to worry about the later stuff… later.

Stage 4. Finishing Tasks

The key here is to know when the task is finished. How do you know? You define the criteria at the outset.

Some things are easier than others. Clean the office! When is the office considered officially clean? When there’s no more boxes left, just a table, a chair and a laptop.

When is the chapter finished? Hmmm…

When you have said all you planned to say? Sure, but how do you know? Outlines help. Deadlines help too. Sometimes, when you’ve worked on it for 3 hours, after the initial “good enough” version is ready is where you draw the line in the sand.

The important part is to decide ahead of time when you’d consider your task DONE.

Bonus: The Art of Transition

Now that you know how to finish, let’s task about how to transition from one task to another or return to a task after an interruption. “Transition” is a fancy name for making this shift.

Here’s what happens, most often at a subconscious level:

  • You become detached from a task.
  • You experience a drop in your energy.
  • You then re-attach to a new task.

This process requires your brain to get back to higher energy and focus levels, consuming surprisingly huge amounts of time and effort.

Transitions tend to be harder for visionary creatives.

  • It’s harder to start, because of the all-or-nothing perception.
  • It’s harder to stop, because you’ve either been hyper-focusing, or you’re lost in the details.
  • Your emotions – anger, confusion, frustration – cause an unpleasant drain on your mental resources. (That’s actually true for everyone, creative or not.)

So how can we make transitions easier?

Three elements: awareness, planning, and ritual.

  • Awareness. Allow time and energy for transitions to occur. For example, schedule at least 15 minutes between meetings. Give yourself permission to get up from your desk and walk around the office after you’ve finished a tricky piece of code, and before you start the next one. Stretch and sit there for a moment after writing a proposal, and before you make your next call.
  • Plan for transitions. Have a well-defined plan ahead of time. A plan makes it easier to both detach and re-attach, because you know what’s coming next. Anxiety levels go down, and you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what’s next. We talked about this in Part I, around the process of choosing a task.
  • Design “transition rituals.” A ritual can be absolutely anything, as long as it is short and easy. The meaning of the ritual comes from you. But it helps if a ritual is connected to tasks at hand.

    For example: a ritual to transition from research to writing can look like this:

    1. Bookmark the browser tabs you’ll need later.
    2. Close all research-related tabs.
    3. Get up and jump 3 times.
    4. Open a Google Doc.
    5. Click Tools->Voice Typing.
    6. Start with 30 seconds on talking gibberish into the mic.

A ritual anchors us, helping us along on the path from the detachment from one task, through energy drop we experience, and into attachment or re-attachment.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of transitions:

  1. From task A to task B.
  2. From task A back to task A after someone interrupted you.
  3. From task A back to task A after you’ve interrupted yourself.

You may design one transition ritual to rule them all, or you may come up with a different ritual for each type. Or you may want a ritual for each key activity you’re doing – a ritual for transitioning into writing, a ritual for doing house chores, a ritual for getting back on track after someone has interrupted you, and so on.

The rituals you develop will ideally become habits, because when an action is a habit it saves you tons of decision-making energy, or in other words, activation energy.

To Recap

Execution is rarely effortless (otherwise me and a host of my productivity-geeky colleagues would be forced into another line of work). But a strategic approach to your workload at each of the four phases (choosing, starting, staying, and finishing a task) makes the shiny “getting things done” goal tangibly more achievable.

Choosing a task becomes way easier if you follow a plan, broken down into bite-size chunks.

Reducing activation energy really helps to start anything, however daunting – remember the 20 second rule?

A fitting environment coupled with the right stimulation levels keeps us on task and fends off pesky distractions. Finally, (no pun intended) setting criteria for “what’s considered DONE” at the outset is absolutely essential to, well, finishing.

What about the twilight zone between the tasks? Developing quick and easy rituals for mastering transitions will make a huge difference in your ability to make things happen.

Combine these tools and you’re unstoppable.

About Marina

Marina Darlow is a systems expert and a productivity geek. She sees her job as helping impact-driven entrepreneurs get 10-20 more productive hours a week, stop leaking money, and prevent stress-fueled breakdowns.

An engineer by training, Marina came to a realization a couple years ago: working for a conglomerate was not as inspiring as she wants her life work to be. Her quest for inspiration brought her to found Vision Framework, a company that builds small, purpose-driven businesses from the inside, helping entrepreneurs run their companies with ease by putting effective, easy-to-use, and fun (yep!) systems in place.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part I, with Guest Expert Marina Darlow of Systems Meet Humanity

Today I’m pleased to welcome Marina Darlow of the Systems Meet Humanity podcast as a guest expert.

My interview with Marina on her podcast just came online this week and I encourage you to check it out. We had a terrific conversation about systems and writing, including working in small chunks, how emotions can be “signposts,” and more.

You can check out our interview on the podcast here: http://vision-framework.com/podcast/jenna-avery

Marina is a systems expert who focuses on helping people be more productive by putting workable, human systems into place. I invited her to write about how to help make work actually happen for us here. 

Enjoy!

4 Steps to Making Stuff Actually Happen, Part I

by Marina Darlow

First, thanks, Jenna for bringing me to be a guest on your wonderful blog.

As a systems geek with a penchant for implementation coaching for creatives, I love to write about making stuff actually happen.

I’ve noticed that people love setting goals, even making plans, but when it comes to implementing, never mind doing it consistently, from week to week… then we have a problem.

So let’s talk about the real, tangible implementation of the tasks currently residing on your plate. And, hopefully, on your calendar.

There are four stages to each task:

  1. Choosing – deciding which task to start NOW.
  2. Starting – starting is often the hardest thing to do.
  3. Staying on Task – keeping focus and fending off distractions.
  4. Finishing – knowing where you draw the line in the sand and consider something finished.

This two-part series will help you glide through each of these phases, from decision to completion. Today we’ll start with Choosing and Starting. 

Part I: Choosing What To Do and Starting the Task You Chose

What, in your opinion, are the biggest barriers to execution?

In my experience it’s the trio below. I wonder if you can relate:

  1. The all-or-nothing approach.
  2. Time-blindness, or as a client of mine once said “What do you mean what’s my timeline? I have “now” and “not now.”
  3. Trouble with transitions.

If we don’t address this unholy trinity, it can cause a lot of damage: by making you feel “always behind,” getting in the way of making decisions, leaving you overwhelmed, and working yourself to the point of acute burnout. As Jenna mentions in our interview, visionaries are particularly prone to overwhelm. They’re able to imagine the result very clearly, and therefore they can see the gap between “here” and “there” in all its mind-boggling glory.

So how do we overcome these obstacles?

The first step is to dig deeper into the Anatomy of the Task: what it’s made of, where the implementation breakdowns tend to happen, and how to address each scenario.

As I mentioned before, each task has four phases:

  1. Choosing
  2. Starting
  3. Staying on Task
  4. Finishing

Today we’ll look at the first two phases:

Phase 1. Choosing a Task

Last year I did a large round of interviews as research for a course I run.  “Setting priorities” came up as one of the four top challenges my interviewees mention. No wonder – this is where both “all-or-nothing” approach and time-blindness come to mess with your head.

You want to do All The Things, and you’re at loss how long will it take.

If you read Jenna’s blog, or better yet, work with her, I’m going to assume you already have a plan and even that you’ve broken it down into small chunks.

You might even have a calendar that tells you what you’re supposed to do this afternoon at 2 p.m.

Even it’s not an exact task, your choices are now blessedly limited. This is will make your life much, much easier.

However, you might still have two to three options to choose from. What do you do, if no obvious choice presents itself? (Obvious could mean a looming deadline, an especially exciting task, or a task you’ve been prompted to do with someone else. It can also be just an easy decision for whatever reason.)

What do you do if you still struggle to choose?

Here are two good possibilities: 

  1. Choose randomly. Flip a coin, if you wish. Any decision is better than no decision.
  2. Make a good enough decision. For the perfectionists among us – making a “good enough” decision is a huge step forward.

Here’s some surprising motivation: making a decision stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, increasing dopamine activity.*

In a fascinating experiment, two rats are given cocaine. Rat A had to pull a lever to receive an injection. Rat B didn’t have to do anything, it just hangs out there. Guess which rat gets a bigger boost of dopamine? That’s right, the lever-pulling Rat A.

An active choice creates a change in the brain circuitry responsible for attention, and in how we feel about the action we chose. We choose –> we get dopamine. If we just hang out, like our friend Rat B, we get little to no increase in pleasure.

So make that decision. You’ll feel warmer and fuzzier.

Phase 2. Starting a Task

You’ve chosen a task? Great! Let’s start.

Hmmm… easier said than done. You should’ve seen me shuffling around the house, sitting down, staring at the screen, opening and closing the browser, anything to delay the start of writing this very post. Starting a task, especially if it’s something big or important can be daunting.

Here’s a tactic I’d like to share: the 20 second rule. It was developed by Shawn Achor to build better habits, but I found that the concept works just as well for starting a task.

“I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit.” ~ Shawn Achor

The idea is to reduce the barrier to a desired behavior. He coined this rule by moving his guitar from the closet to the middle of his room – right next to him instead of just 20 seconds away. “Three weeks later,” he says, “I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.”

The task in question can be a part of forming a habit, or a one-time undertaking. Either way, starting a task requires “activation energy,” and our job is to reduce it to minimum.

How?

  • Adapt your environment and design a ritual. If the task in question is something you do often, like writing, editing, or putting books in order, the best way is to adapt your environment and design a ritual. For example, I start most of my writing sessions by talking into a mic. (Voice typing is a fantastic invention!) So I always have my microphone next to my laptop. However, I only plug it in before a recording session. The ritual of plugging the cord into the port signals to me that I’m about to start recording.
  • Start with the tiniest action. If the task is a completely new, or unusual, or just happens rarely, start with the tiniest action. Really small. No, even smaller. You’ll gain momentum. Remember, no “all-or-nothing.” Small, incremental steps are the way. If you’ve decided to clean your new office, start with removing a book closest to the door.
  • Design a “new task” ritual. Another approach you can employ: design “new task” ritual, for everything new or unusual. Making a cup of coffee, slowly and deliberately, does the trick for me.
  • Partner up. If you’re really struggling, find a person to help you kick-start. I can’t think of anything more effective than a friendly sounding board, someone to hold your hand, and frame the here-and-now for starting your task. A presence of another person is… binding. We tend to pull ourselves together, our focus increases, and we suddenly find ourselves perform and stay on task. For instance, when I was floundering, trying to assemble different pieces of information into a coherent article, I ended up calling a friend and begging her to spend a few minutes just listening to me ramble. What do you know, 15 minutes later I had a detailed outline, with all the references in the right places.

A side note: Sometimes, you’d need to mix it up. With the creative crowd, a ritual works for a while, until it doesn’t. You get bored, your brain finds a way around the ritual. So if you feel that opening a blank document and talking gibberish into it doesn’t help you start writing anymore, time to invent a new ritual. Maybe you’d want to choose a radio station with a soundscape to keep you focused, then open a blank document.

Stay Tuned for Part II

That’s it for today. Next time we’ll discuss how to stay on task, and then how to (finally!) complete it. Amazing, isn’t it?

About Marina

Marina Darlow is a systems expert and a productivity geek. She sees her job as helping impact-driven entrepreneurs get 10-20 more productive hours a week, stop leaking money, and prevent stress-fueled breakdowns.

An engineer by training, Marina came to a realization a couple years ago: working for a conglomerate was not as inspiring as she wants her life work to be. Her quest for inspiration brought her to found Vision Framework, a company that builds small, purpose-driven businesses from the inside, helping entrepreneurs run their companies with ease by putting effective, easy-to-use, and fun (yep!) systems in place.

 

*The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, byAlex Korb PhD
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Working hard

Is It Time for a Big Burst of Progress on Your Book?

There are many stages of writing.

There are the practical stages — inspiration, idea, concept, development, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and proofing.

There are the emotional stages of a writing project — from eureka! to discouragement to resolve to despair to euphoria to apathy to completion. It’s an up and down journey sure to delight the most ardent theme park enthusiasts. Or not.

There are also a set of career stages in a writer’s life. We might experience them as a progression as we evolve from feeling the call to write to treating it the way a professional does, or we might move in and out of these states along the path to writerdom.

For example:

  • Wanting to write but not writing.
  • Writing occasionally, ephemerally, but not quite getting anywhere. 
  • Binge writing in a big burst of enthusiasm, to meet a deadline, or in a NaNoWriMo-fueled burst, but then crashing into writing aversion/burnout for a long period of time, maybe even months or years. 
  • Writing regularly and consistently, but maybe not as productively as you’d like to be, possibly struggling with creative blocks along the way.
  • Writing like a pro.

Before you hit the pro stage (and sometimes even then), these stages can be sometimes more fulfilling than others, depending on where you are in your writing career. 

For example, if you’ve been wanting to write forever, and you’re finally writing every day, even for just a few minutes day, that’s a huge win. On the other hand, if you’ve been plodding away at a draft, day in and day out, and feeling like you’re never getting anywhere, it might be time for a push with your writing.

I generally work with writers in my Called to Write Coaching Circle who want to go from not writing to writing. From writing sporadically and inconsistently, to writing daily. (Or as one of our writers put it, writers who want to go from whining to writing. LOVE that.) 

In the Deep Dive Writing Intensives I run, I work with writers who are ready for more. They might have the daily writing thing down, but want to put in a focused burst of work on their books or screenplays. This usually happens when they have a goal they’re trying to reach and want a boost of progress to get there. 

Here are some examples of times you might be ready for a big push with your book or script.  

Signs You Might Be Ready to Go for a Push with Your Writing

  • You’re willing and able to carve out the time and space in your life for an ultra-focused period of writing. This means being willing to clear your schedule of any and all extraneous commitments and otherwise scaling back where you can (stockpile your freezer now!) to make it easy on yourself. 
  • You have a story idea you want to develop or outline and want to (need to!) carve out some time to do it. Putting in a few weeks of intense attention can get you to the finally “ready to write pages” stage and feel incredibly satisfying. 
  • You’re writing, but you’re stuck in a rut or feeling complacent about your work and your progress. There’s nothing like doing a big push on your book or script to get you out of your comfort zone and operating at a higher level of productivity. You’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep writing once you get to the other side of a focused burst of writing so you don’t crash and burn afterward.
  • You’ve done all the prep work for a new project but you’re hesitating and holding back from diving into the actual writing. If you’re sitting on the edge of the pool, scared to even dip in a toe, now might be exactly the right time to take the plunge. It can be easier to face all the resistance in one go, especially if you find a way to write alongside other writers to help support you.
  • You’re in the middle of writing a book or a big rewrite and you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The dreaded middle of any stage of book is called the dreaded middle for many reasons, including that it’s just plain hard to get through. Remember — when you’re going through hell, keep going. This is a good time to put on a burst of speed, keep your head down, and keep working. 
  • You’re staring down a deadline and procrastinating or struggling to pace yourself and you want to avoid the binge-burnout cycle you’re setting yourself up for. Many writers (especially those dealing with second novel syndrome, I find) get stuck in procrastination when there’s a deadline coming up — not close enough to spur you into action, but not far away enough to totally ignore. This makes for a constant and uncomfortable low level of guilt and anxiety. Whether you’re working on a self-imposed deadline, a publisher’s deadline, or other submission deadline, using a focused, structured burst of writing to help pace yourself can be life and sanity saving, plus you’ll be far better positioned not to lose your writing habit on the other side. 
  • You’re making progress, kind of, but you’d really like to put some mileage on this thing and see your page count climb. Along the same lines as the “dreaded middle,” sometimes you just need to see somethinganything happening to feel some sense of progress and accomplishment (so helpful with these long form writing projects).
  • You need a safe space to write. If when you’re part of a critique group (or even just hard on yourself in your internal mental conversations), you may want a separate, critique-free writing “space” where you’re just committed to the process regardless of anything else happening. It can be both healing and relieving to “just write” and is particularly so when you’re writing with a group of like-minded writers who help you normalize the experience of writing.
  • You wish you could go on a retreat or disappear to a cabin in the woods but you can’t quite swing it with your budget (or your family, job, or other commitments). Finding a way to create a writing retreat for yourself from the comfort of your own home is a lovely alternative and can fulfill much of that desire in you to “get away and write.”
  • You know what you want to write but you’re having trouble overcoming resistance. That monster called resistance can be handled in a couple of ways. One is by sneaking past it in small increments of writing time, which is an excellent way to get started. The other is to jump in, full bore, and write like your life depends on it. The trick is having a structured support to help you keep going afterward. 

If You’re Ready to Go Big, Here’s How

If you’ve decided you’re ready to make a big focused burst of progress with your writing, while there are certainly options, like creating a self-led writing intensive for yourself or attending a writing retreat (if you can swing the travel, lodging, and retreat costs), I’m a fan of online writing intensives like my Deep Dive to help you focus and get the most bang of your buck. 

Here are some resources to get your started:

There are certainly times when a writing intensive is NOT the way to go — if you’re dealing with creative wounds for example, or having trouble figuring out what to work on. If you’re wondering if you’re ready for a big burst of writing progress, shoot me an email or ask me a question in the comments and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you. 

Featured image photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part IV: Set Yourself Up for Success

Welcome back for the fourth (and final) post of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In my prior posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing, Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals, and Boosting Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive). Today I’m writing about setting yourself up for success.

Part IV: Setting Yourself Up for Success

When you’re aiming to set yourself up for success with an intensive writing effort, there are a number of things to keep in mind. I discussed some of these in the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), but they are worth reiterating in this context as well, along with some other keys to making your writing work.

  1. Have a Clear Writing Goal and Plan. We’ve already discussed this in prior posts in more detail, but having a crystal clear writing goal and a plan to meet it are a critical part of setting yourself up for success. You can’t “succeed” if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. This is one of those “so simple it seems obvious” things but you’d be amazed at how often we skip this step in our thinking and lives… and our writing.
  2. Manage Your Mindset & Expectations. You will also want manage your mindset when designing for success. This came up on our goal setting call yesterday for the Deep Dive. If we set goals, and don’t meet them, we worry we will then feel disappointed or feel we have “failed.” This can be a deterrent to setting goals in the first place. So you’ll want to be mindful of striking a balance between an inspiring goal that stretches you just outside your comfort zone and is achievable, but doesn’t scare the pants off you, make you want to stop before you even start, or fear feeling wretched if you don’t make it.
  3. Do Your Best Dance. When you embark on an endeavor like this, you will want to give it your very best shot so you can feel proud of yourself at the end, no matter what happens. Play full out and have fun, celebrate the ups and downs as being part of the process, and make sure to get a high-five at the end.
  4. Get Enough Sleep. When you’re a writer, sleep is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. One of the biggest things I work on with writers in my 1:1 coaching sessions is helping them set up a realistic writing schedule that includes getting enough sleep.

    This often means going to bed early enough in order to be able to write early in the morning, or get through a work day and then have the reserves to write in the evening. Sleep has a big impact on your decision making abilities and your fortitude in sticking with your plans, so when you mess with sleep, your resistance is likely to be higher and your commitment to your writing is one of the first things to falter. So make sure you get enough sleep. :) It’s one of the simplest things you can do to support your writing habit.

  5. Make Smart Choices and Eliminate Distractions. In order to free up time for writing (and getting enough sleep), you’ll need to make some super smart choices. You’ll probably have to stop staying up late, surfing the internet, playing Candy Crush, watching Netflix, reading your email, or whatever else you’re doing that eats time.

    You don’t have to stop doing these things, necessarily, but you can turn them into rewards for doing your writing. Just keep them corralled into an appropriate amount of time so you are putting your writing first and reserving the energy you need for writing. Oftentimes we do these things to “recharge” our energy, but it is worth checking in with yourself to see if they are actually recharging, especially past a certain amount of time spent.

  6. Take Care of Your Physical Body. When we write, we’re sitting for long periods of time. We have to take care of our bodies with stretching and exercise. I’m a fan of Pilates and yoga, myself, as well as eating lower carb, especially at lunch time, so I don’t zone out in the afternoons. I also make a point to drink plenty of water and other non-sugar beverages like tea and sparkling water. Think about what keeps you functioning optimally and be sure to put that in place alongside your writing time.
  7. Set Up a Support System and Create Accountability for Yourself. Embarking on a focused writing intensive is highly likely to trigger uncomfortable feelings. You’re taking a big step closer to reaching your overall goal of being a published writer or produced screenwriter, after all. That can trigger a cascade of doubts, fears of success and failure, and resistance. So set up a support system in advance of people you can turn to and lean on for help, if you feel yourself faltering.

    You can also create a system of accountability for yourself. This may be the same support system or it may be different. In my own case, I have outside supporters (friends and writing coaches) who are my support system, and my writing programs for accountability (the Deep Dive and the Circle). The primary distinction for me is that I tend to process challenging emotions with my supporters, while I rely the accountability for helping me stay on track and true to myself with my goals. The important consideration when setting up accountability is to have clearly named your goal and timeline so you feel that sense of internal responsibility to follow through.  

  8. Set Daily Goals to Support Your Overall Goals. While you’re working on meeting your larger writing goals, you’ll want to have broken them down into incremental daily goals too. Do this so you’ll know when you’re done for the day, and if you’re staying on track with meeting your larger goal. During the Deep Dive, we’ll be checking in every morning with our daily writing goals and our writing intentions for the day (see #9).
  9. Set an Intention for Your Writing. Setting yourself up for success includes being intentional about your writing practice, including thinking about the energy you want to bring to your writing each day. When I’m setting my daily writing goal, I like to think about the intention or energy I’ll focus on that day. I usually write it in capital letters somewhere, like PURPOSEFUL or FOCUSED. It helps to bring my attention to my intention when I do it that way.
  10. Reflect on Your Day, Each Day. At the end of the day, notice how it all went. What went well? Where did things go astray? Is there anything you can tweak or adjust for tomorrow? In writing, self-reflection is huge. It’s not about noticing “failures,” it’s about gathering information and learning and improving … and having fun with piecing together a puzzle that works. 
  11. Reward Yourself. Plan in advance how you’ll reward yourself at the end of your hard work, each day, each week, and at the end of your writing intensive. Is there a great treat you’ll reward yourself with? Something you wouldn’t normally give yourself? This might be just the right time to get it. :) 

Got questions?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, and Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive).

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

Systems and Focus and Goals, Oh My! … Plus the 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

I recently read a blog post by James Clear that suggested we forget about setting goals and focus on systems instead. I appreciated his points about how goal-focused thinking can get us into trouble because it can: 1) keep us dissatisfied with the present moment, 2) cause trouble with long-term progress, and 3) create a sense of control we might not actually have. I agree with all of those points.

But I disliked the implication that therefore goals should be forgotten. Like anything else, they are one possible tool to help us create outcomes that we want, and like any other tool, they need to be used wisely. At the end of the article he even says, “None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

So despite the fact that it seems that James and I are in agreement about the value of both goals and systems, since there’s usually a lot of debate around this time of year about whether or not goals or resolutions are “right,” I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned from working with hundreds of writers on goal-setting and creating systems to help them reach those goals (writing habits).

The truth is that goals and systems can work hand-in-hand quite beautifully. Here are eight thoughts about goals, systems, focus, and finishing:

  1. There’s no one right way to do anything. We each have to find what works for us individually. My way of setting goals might not work for you. Your way might not work for me. You don’t even have to set goals if you don’t want to. But what I’ve seen is that when we focus on something specific (a goal) and pursue it, we are much more likely to achieve the outcome we’re looking for than by hoping it will happen. 
  2. Systems, habits, and routines alone can get us somewhere, but we can get lost along the way when we use them without an intended outcome. I love, love, love systems. And systems in and of themselves are brilliant solutions for consistently problematic issues, like dishes stacking up in the sink and feeling overwhelmed by them (run the dishwasher every night without fail), or laundry taking up writing time or becoming a magnet for resistance (schedule a time for laundry outside your writing schedule and stick to it), or putting off paying your bills (create a routine for how and when you write checks).

    But if you’re attempting to use a system, routine, or habit to achieve a long-term outcome, like writing a book, you actually have to have an outcome in mind in order to reach it, aka a “goal.” You can’t just write every day and hope it will happen (though it may eventually, assuming you keep working on the same thing without fail, which perhaps sounds obvious but can be a big assumption in the world of project-hopping writerly types). I’ve seen too many writers get lost in the weeds of writing without writing toward an end, and lose track of what they set out to do in the first place. Even James actually had an outcome in mind for the system he was using (writing and publishing blog posts twice a week).

  3. Goals help us focus our efforts. Honestly, there is so much going on in our lives, that unless we are super clear about what we are trying to accomplish, it’s easy to get pulled off track. That writing habit can become a pat on the head (“See, I did my writing today!”) unless it is focused. Pick something to finish. Finish it. Pick something else. Finish that. Repeat. Setting a goal keeps your eye on the prize.
  4. Goals set in a vacuum won’t get us very far either. Having stated the importance of goals, I see many writers creating unrealistic goals (“A page a day!” … but what happens when you’re in revisions, are you still going to write a page a day in addition to revising?) or using magical thinking to neglect the reality of their daily lives and ending up frustrated at year’s end because they don’t achieve their goals. Or even worse, they set goals to match what other people are doing, whether or not that’s achievable in their lives (“My friends are all writing six scripts a year, so I should be able to do that too, right? Never mind that they don’t have kids or that their spouses are independently wealthy.”). We have to set goals that work within the context of our lives, even when we’re setting stretch goals for ourselves. 
  5. Goals without systems are likely to fail. Goals and systems work hand-in-hand. Want to finish a book, a good one? You can’t write it without a writing routine or practice. You have to put in the time, show up, and do the work. It won’t happen on its own, and it probably won’t happen well if you’re binge-writing it at the last possible minute. (And even if it does, the cost on your health, well-being, and future writing energy may be higher than you like.)
  6. Use systems and milestones to counteract flagging motivation on long-range goals. When we set very long-term goals (such as year-long goals), they can feel so far away that we have a hard time staying motivated and engaged with them. Having a writing system helps us manage that sense of disconnection from our distant goals, particularly when we combine it with milestone goals. A system helps us keep writing — it’s a practice we’re accustomed to engaging in every day — so we can’t help moving the project forward, as long as we don’t stray to another. We can also hugely benefit from setting shorter term goals (one to three-month goals) that are completion milestones along the way to the finish line. That ultimate finish line can feel really far away, so we can give ourselves something to work the system with in the meantime.
  7. Taking stock periodically helps maintain momentum. Post your goals where you can see them, check in with them on a regular basis, and take stock of what you’ve accomplished so far (add up ALL THE THINGS, even if they seem small) to help you see your progress and stay motivated to continue.
  8. Progress without a finished product isn’t particularly satisfying. Yes, as writers we have to be in love with the process and the practice of writing. Yes, we may never be published or produced. There are no guarantees. Yes, yes, yes. But we can still take our books and scripts to their completion points to the best of our abilities and ship them out into the world, and move on to the next project. We can use goals to focus our efforts so we get to the finish line. Working a system and being productive without focusing on an outcome or a finish line can become an endless loop that doesn’t feel satisfying otherwise. We have to have both.

The 3 Necessary Ingredients to Finish a Book or Script

From what I’ve seen, there are three necessary ingredients to finishing a book or a script:

  1. A specific writing project to work on. Preferably just one long-form project. I rarely see writers completing more than one project at a time successfully. Maybe the true pros can do it. Maybe. My recommendation: Pick one project at a time. And finish it. Then do the next one.
  2. A writing system. You can also call this a writing habit, practice, or routine. It means showing up daily or near daily to write. This is what we do in my Circle.
  3. A goal for completion. Yes, set a goal. I’m a fan of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resonant, Time-Bound) because they help us double-check to make sure we’re being specific enough about the who, what, where, why, and how. Set a goal for when you’ll complete your book or script, and while you’re at it, map out the timeline too. 

So put those systems and goals to work, and make your writing happen. I’ll be right there with you.

diamonds

In other news, Make 2017 Your Year To Write is available in the shop and on sale through January 31. Check it out here: http://programs.calledtowrite.com/2017-vision.

 

 

Find Your Three Big Rocks

I mentioned in a recent post that I’ve written “in the past” about choosing your “three big rocks” for the year. Turns out “the past” was 2007 (!), so I thought it was worth sharing again. 

I believe this idea has tremendous validity in our overly busy world.

Turns out, when we focus our efforts on the important things we want to accomplish and create with our lives, we are more productive and we are happier.

The Three Big Rocks concept has been spread by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

I’ve heard it told a number of different ways. Here’s an abridged version:

A time management expert places a large wide-mouthed jar on the table, and then puts several large rocks carefully into the jar. When the jar is packed to the top, he asks, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone watching says, “Yes.”

He says, “Really?” He adds pebbles into the jar and the group watches as they work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he asks again, “Is this jar full?”

By this time, the group is skeptical. “Maybe not,” they say.

“Good!” he answers. He adds sand to the jar and it fills in the spaces left between the rocks and the pebbles.

Once more, he asks, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” they shout.

Once again, he says, “Good!”

Then he takes a pitcher of water and pours it in until the jar is full to the brim.

He then looks at the group and asks, “What do you think is the point of this Illustration?”

One eager beaver raises her hand and says, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit more things in.”

“No,” the speaker replies, “that’s not my point. The Truth is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all.”

We have to pick out what our “Big Rocks”, organize our priorities around those, and only then look at what else we want to add into the remaining interstitial spaces of our lives.

No more of this “I have to take care of [8 million small things] before I can put my attention on my writing.” Trust me, it doesn’t work. Where you put your attention is what you get more of. 

I’ve learned to put my focus on only three big rocks for any given day, and for the year as a whole as well. 

Writing, of course, is always one of my big rocks. I manage to get MOST of the little things done as well. And the rest of them? Well, they aren’t usually that important.

For this year, my three big rocks are my kids, my writing, and my business.

For today, my three big rocks are working on this blog post, working on my script, and writing two testimonials for my beloved coaches.

What are yours?

Powerful questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the three most important things I want to accomplish today?
  • What are the three big things I want to create or accomplish this year?
  • What truly matters to me in terms of how I spend my time?
  • How well are my choices matching up with what matters most to me?

You might also like this article I wrote for ScriptMag on the subject of being too busy to write.

 

Happy writing!

 

 

Finish your novel at any age

It’s always thrilling for me to see someone finish a writing project, particularly when I’ve been on the journey with them, from within the trenches of the Writer’s Circle. We cheer each other on, during the hard days and the easier days, so it feels like a success for all of us when we see someone finish a project and reach their goal.

Of course, there are various milestones for “finishing” too — finishing the outline, finishing the first draft, revising the first draft, working on the second draft, submitting it for publication, etc. etc. In the Writer’s Circle, we make a point to celebrate all the milestones we can. It’s a must on a long-haul project like a book or screenplay.

In this case, we’re celebrating the success of one of our writers who has finished the first draft of her novel at age 74!

Fredrica Parlett

I was particularly excited when Fredrica Parlett joined the Writer’s Circle. I know and have worked with her talented daughter, Isabel, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Fredrica on occasion here in Berkeley as a result. What excited me about Fredrica’s project was her passion and commitment to her novel — even when the self-doubts would creep in, Fredrica kept up a steady stream of writing with the support of the Writer’s Circle.

It’s been thrilling to see her return to and build on the first chapter she wrote of her novel four years ago in a class and had then set aside, first writing 20,000 words in her first three sessions in the Circle, and climbing steadily over time, bit by bit, day by day, to the milestone of completing her first draft this March after 18 months of work.

A self-described “writer, searcher, and hyperactive senior,” Fredrica has dreamed of writing a novel for a long time, and with the support of the Writer’s Circle, has made it a reality. We’ve applauded her and encourged her to keep going, even as she’s said in her dry, witty tone, “I just hope I can finish it before I die.” As someone with long-lived relatives (the women in her family tend to live into their hundreds), we never doubted she would manage it, but we’ve been so happy to see her get there nonetheless.

I thought you might enjoy reading a little bit more about her project and her journey up to this point — as well as what comes next — in her own words:

Fredrica, thanks for being here. Would you first tell us about your writing project — what’s it about?

I am writing a “literary” novel, which follows the lives of two protagonists in 1950’s America: a 16-year-old dyslexic boy, who is misdiagnosed as mentally retarded and psychotic, and the 36-year-old psychoanalyst who tries to save him from a lobotomy.

Tell us about yourself and your dream of writing — how long has this been a dream for you?

As a child I used to lie in bed and make up stories, mainly to do with the Lone Ranger as my father, who misunderstood me, but then I would vindicate myself by rescuing him from horrible bandits or some other dire situation. I wrote short stories from about the age of 9, mostly about talking animals, such as duckbill platypuses. I also wrote poems, also about animals. I’ve always been interested in language and writing clearly. Only after my second child left home for college, did I start thinking about writing a novel. I had one underway, which wasn’t going well, when my house and all its contents burned down in the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991. After the fire I abandoned hopes of writing a novel and devoted myself to studying classical piano.

In 2009, I saw an advertisement for an online writing course given through Stanford University (my alma mater) entitled “Beginning a Novel.” I took the course, the aim of which was to write the first chapter of a novel. That was the beginning of this story, but it lay fallow until I joined the Writers’ Circle at the suggestion of my daughter, who works with Jenna. I have always been drawn to novels rather than short stories.

How does it feel to have completed the first draft of your novel at age 74?

It feels wonderful. I have had to deal with all kinds of self-doubt and to learn to really prioritize my time, because I am easily pulled into duties and obligations. I had several medical issues last year also — amongst which were foot surgery and an appendicitis, as well as deaths in the family. It seems incredible that I actually wrote 170,000 words telling this story.

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

I was surprised to find that the support of the Writer’s Circle made all the difference between writing and not writing. Reporting in to the site every evening has been, I think, the most important influence. If a day is slipping away with no writing, I get more determined to do some in order to be able to report progress.

But the other tools of the Circle have helped me as well — reading about others’ difficulties and successes, commenting on them (which is recognizing I have the same difficulties), attending the coaching calls where we have in-depth discussions about all our questions, and certainly participating in the group writing sprints — knowing the others are devoting that same hour to writing is a great boost. Sharing information about books and websites addressing the craft of writing and publishing is invaluable. The fact that the other members are much younger doesn’t seem to be a problem, even if I roll my eyes occasionally at their new age jargon. They are a serious and dedicated group. All these contacts keep me motivated and focused.

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle?

I was always subject to the tyranny of the “urgent.” A large house, family, friends — and piano lessons — all of which were rewarding but did not fulfill the dream to write a novel.

You left the Circle for a time and came back to join us again. What did you notice about your writing habit while you were away and what have you noticed since you’ve come back? What difference has participating in the Circle made for you?

When I was not in the Circle, I noticed that the habit of putting everything else first began creeping back in. I missed the pressure of being accountable — stating my writing goal for the next day and trying to honor that. And I’m very prone to discouragement or negative self-statements such as, “I’m much too old to be undertaking this huge endeavor.”

Coming back, I immediately felt the power of the support. My total writing time increased dramatically, almost without my noticing it. (I have always set doable goals and then been surprised when I exceeded them — another trick learned in the Writer’s Circle.)

What would you say to others who dream of writing a novel in their later years, and what advice do you have for other writers?

If you dream of writing a novel, don’t put it off any longer. The quality of my life has greatly improved from this undertaking, so I have profited, whether it ever is published or not. How has it improved? I look around and within myself for inspiration. I channel my tendency to worry about the world and the scratches on my hardwood floor into worrying about the fate of my dear protagonists, about whom I could talk to you for hours, without you realizing they aren’t alive right now. We all know how hard it is to establish a new habit, especially one that supports our inherent creativity. That is what the Writer’s Circle can do.

What’s next for the novel and for your writing?

I am now in the revision process, which demands an entirely new set of skills. Fortunately, many of the Circle’s writers are in the revision process also. One of them recommended a book, which is helping me raise the stakes, increase the tension, and make ruthless cuts. I do Julia Cameron’s morning pages every day so that the words keep flowing. I am attempting to rewrite certain scenes in a much more dramatic, intuitive tone. Very exciting. I have the “soft” goal of having the novel ready to send to a publisher or to self-publish on Amazon by the end of this year. I am planning a road trip to Southern California in the Fall to experience directly the places in my novel, even Highland Mental Hospital in San Bernadino, which is still operating. Beyond that, who knows?

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

I want to stress that setting a realistic daily goal, even 15 minutes a day, and reporting in every day, so that one really begins to believe one is a writer, is really invaluable.

Thank you, Fredrica!

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writerscirclepostJoin The Writer’s Circle. One of the things we love about the Writer’s Circle is that it helps you put the focus on your writing first. If you need a nudge in that regard, the next session starts on soon, and we’d love to have you join us. You can find out more and register at http://JustDoTheWriting.com

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Your turn

If you’d like to celebrate with Fredrica, please leave a note for her in the comments on the blog. And if YOU’RE dreaming of writing a novel (or book or screenplay or ??), tell us about it too and we’ll cheer you on!

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

When to look for a mentor — or not

The other day I spoke to prospective client.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your turn

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

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

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

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

 

What I'm Up To

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

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

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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