Author Insights: 5 Lessons Learned from a First-Time Memoirist (+ an Autographed Book Giveaway!)

And we’re back! It’s time for the next installment of our “Author Insights” series. In this series, I’m introducing you to writers who’ve taken their writing all the way to the finish line of publication, and they share their “lessons learned” with you. There’s nothing quite like learning from a writer who has made to the other side.

Plus, if you leave a comment at the end of the post before Friday, March 24th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of the author’s book in a random drawing. (IMPORTANT: You must be located in the United States to win.)

Meet Mary Montanye, author of Above Tree Line

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Mary Montanye. Mary joined my Called to Write Coaching Circle at the beginning of 2013 in order to finish the memoir she’d been working on for five years before she joined us. She’s now tackling her next big writing dream with the help of the Circle: Writing a romantic suspense novel. Mary quickly became a staunch advocate for the approach we use in the Circle and joined the team as a coach after participating as a member of the Circle for about a year and a half.

I asked Mary to share her insights about writing her memoir with us. 

Mary Montanye on 5 Lessons Learned in Writing Above Tree Line

My memoir, Above Tree Line, took seven years to write and publish. During that time, I made a lot of mistakes. Here’s what I learned and how I’d do it differently now.

1. Find support early in the process, but don’t let that support stop you from completing the project so you can move on to others.

I worked with a brilliant writer and teacher for much of the writing of Above Tree Line. I learned a great deal from her and will always be grateful for the time I spent as her student. But eventually I realized that somewhere in my work with her I’d become stuck. We were spending all our time together going over and over the same material — changing, tweaking, finessing. I began to wonder if my resistance to publishing and her desire to keep me as a student, might be getting in the way. I ended our working relationship and joined Jenna’s Circle instead. I completed my memoir within a couple of sessions and moved into the publishing stage.

2. Don’t start at the beginning when writing a memoir. (This might be true for other types of writing as well. I’ll let you know when I finish the novel!)

Start anywhere you feel the heat — a memory, a taste, a color, an image, a sensation, a fragrance. Write from there. “She was born on August 16th at such and such hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii…” will bore you and make it more difficult to continue. Your reader won’t like it either. So why bother?

Let the first draft be all over the place. Let it be messy, filled with what was powerful and exciting for you. Ask yourself what interests you about your history or your family. Put it all in, even those parts you know you’ll never let stand. This draft is not the time to censor yourself. If you worry about what your readers will think, you might find you’ve left the gold in the ground and can’t remember where it was when you want to dig it up later.

3. Recognize fear and resistance for what it is — just fear and resistance. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a writer or that it is time to quit.

Fear and resistance got the best of me during the writing stage because I was not separating the creating of a project from the publishing or marketing of it. If I was in the middle of writing about a painful period of my childhood, for instance, and suddenly flashed on the idea that someday someone, perhaps even someone I knew and loved, would be reading it, I froze. I also stopped myself from writing when I’d compare my writing to that of others or when I read posts about the impossibility of publishing in the current marketplace. My coach and fellow writers in the Circle gently guided me back to what was in my power to do: write. Write the best story I could write now, they urged, and leave the rest for later.

4. When you share your writing other than with friends and family, it’s a pretty safe bet that someone won’t like it, that you will get rejections or negative reviews.

I was devastated when a woman who reviewed my memoir for a contest said that, even though the writing was good, she didn’t like either me or my husband. She was a stranger and still it hurt that she didn’t like me and that I’d portrayed my husband as unlikeable as well, at least in her eyes. I made this one review more important than it was — even more important than the complimentary reviews I’d received. A negative review almost stopped me from ever sharing my writing with anyone again.

The lesson in this for me, and I hope for you, is that if you write honestly, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable on the page, you will affect people. And that’s what we want, right? It’s okay if some of our readers don’t approve, like the writing, or even us. Feel your feelings about the review. The Circle and my coach helped me with this, too. They shared my pain and helped me to put it aside, to  continue on.

5. Keep at it. If you have a desire to write, you are meant to write. Jenna would say you have a calling, and we both believe that callings are meant to be followed.

When I held my published memoir in my hands, felt the weight of it, and flipped through its pages, it was one of the greatest days of my life. I was so proud. I wish you the same experience. No matter where you are in your writing, no matter how unsure you may feel, keep going. Get help if you need it, but whatever you do, don’t give up. It is so worth it!

About Above Tree Line

From Amazon.com: “The traumas and losses of childhood are often buried. The child grows up appearing normal, unscathed and perhaps even successful. But often what is buried comes back to attack at the very moment when life is reaching its pinnacle. This is the story of one woman’s spiral downward into physical and mental breakdown and her return to wholeness by courageously, and some would say recklessly, following her intuition. Ms. Montanye’s intuition leads her to a tiny town in a Colorado canyon alongside the wild and scenic Cache La Poudre River. There, she immerses herself in the grandeur and beauty of the surrounding mountains. When her journey begins, no one involved can know that it will lead to such a powerful and bittersweet end: an end that includes healing for herself, her marriage and for the difficult relationship she endured with her mother.”

Above Tree Line is available on:

About Mary

Mary Montanye, her husband, George, and two rescue cockers, Pepper and Chrissy, live on the central Oregon Coast where Mary gratefully writes and coaches while often resting her eyes on the beauty of the natural world that surrounds them. Mary has a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Iowa and counseled individuals and families through nonprofit agencies and her own private practice for many years before retiring and following her dream to write. Mary now coaches other writers in the Called to Write Coaching Circle and is working on completing her first novel.

You can find Mary online at www.marymontanye.com.

Read more from Mary on Called to Write here.

Enter to Win an Autographed Copy of Above Tree Line!

Mary has graciously offered to give away 3 autographed copies of her memoir to my readers. Leave a comment on the blog about one of your own writing lessons or something you learned from Mary’s insights before Friday, March 24th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time and you’ll be entered in the random drawing. You must be located in the United States to win.

 

When to Write and When to Call It a Day

I’ve been sick too much this year, and thought it worth revisiting one of my favorite articles from 2013 on “when to write and when to call it a day.” Here’s an updated version for you:

During a live coaching call for my Circle, a writer once asked about how to know when to push through and write if you’re not feeling well versus how to know when to focus on regaining your well-being.

In my opinion, the answer depends a bit on the circumstances, so let’s look at some specific scenarios.

1. You’ve just come down with a wicked cold or flu.

Assuming you have a solid, regular habit in place, when you get really sick or you’re just those early stages of wretchedness, it’s okay to take a few days off from writing, knowing that you’ll get back to it as quickly as you can.

When I’m feverish, wiped out, or worse, I know the most important thing I can do for my body is to rest and heal.

I have found myself writing even while sick at times — because I felt truly drawn to work on my piece — but in this case my focus is very much about listening to my body.

This is very much like being an athlete, and knowing whether or if to train when you’re sick or injured, and when to take a day off.

I also trust myself enough deep down, after months of regular writing, to know that I’ll re-establish my habit as soon as I am able, usually within 2 to 3 days. The longer you’re away from your habit, the harder it is to get going again, so it will behoove you to pay attention to starting again quickly, even if you start small, such as in 15 minutes a day.

2. You’re going through a rough patch in your life, you’re generally tired or run down, maybe you’re not sleeping very well, or maybe you’re mildly sick.

On the other hand, if the chips are down and you’re having a rough time in your life, maybe you aren’t sleeping well, or maybe you’re getting better from that wicked cold or flu, I’m inclined to recommend that you simply ease up on your writing time a bit, but still keep writing. When I’ve gone through particularly difficult phases in my personal life, I’ve made a point NOT to stop writing, but to carry on at my “rock bottom minimum” level of writing.

As a writer, it’s worth knowing what that minimal level of involvement is with your work for you — the amount of writing that will keep you engaged and connected to the work. For me, it’s a minimum of 15 minutes of writing a day, even if it’s morning pages just to keep writing flowing, though ideally it’s on my main project. For another writer, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It varies between individuals, but the point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

I gained tremendous confidence and strength from seeing myself commit to and show up for doing the work every day, no matter what.

In concert with easing back to your minimum, when you’re going through a phase like this, make a point to ramp up your self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. But do stay connected to the work.

3. You’re in a bad mood or someone said something terrible to you and your confidence is shaken.

A common refrain among writers — particularly those of us who are more sensitive and easily affected by other people and experiences — is “I’m just not in the right mood to write today.” This can particularly come up if you’ve lost confidence because of something someone said about your writing or if you’ve been hooked by the Comparison Monster (“Everyone else is doing so much better at this than I am!”), or even if you’re just in a crummy mood.

Hear this now: As one of my Circle coaches once said, “There’s a difference between self-care and mood.”

Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here, right now reading this, if writing was easy to do.

As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

Don’t let a bad mood or a rough day become an excuse not to write.

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing, and if anything, I think we need to err on the side of writing more regularly and consistently than not.

As Brian Johnson says (via Jack Canfield), “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” So hang in there, do the work, and make it easier on yourself. (A side note: A weekdays-only practice at 100% works.)

You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised that your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood.

In fact, you may find — as many of our Circle members do — that your mood may well shift when you write anyway, and if even if it doesn’t, you’ll still have demonstrated your commitment to yourself, which is deeply affirming and happiness-building.

(See also my post called “You Can Change Your Life in a Split Second.”)

4. You’re going through a painful period of loss, grief, or personal anguish.

At another end of the spectrum is experiencing an extreme loss — like a death of a loved one. When my grandmother died in 2012, I felt as though I was in another world — approaching the veil of life and death on some level — and I found it very difficult to write fiction in yet an entirely different world. So I choose to take a few days off from “real” writing, though I did do a tiny bit of tinkering with my script one day.

On the other hand, Steven Pressfield recommends writing even during times of “personal anguish” in his excellent post of the same title.

He says, “I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not.”

My experience is that those few brief days of being between worlds while in grief are the only spans of time in which I have felt truly unable to write, and then, just as I’ve said above, I still get back to writing as quickly as possible.

5. You need to refill your creative well.

All this said, I am a firm believer in taking big “put my feet up” days off. I love to pick out a day on my calendar when I can feel the need building up, that I block off “just for me.” I take my son to school, and then proceed to do whatever I feel like doing, which usually involves some combination of a fantastic herbal or decaf beverage, a movie in bed, a nap, maybe a meal at a favorite restaurant. It might also involve going shopping at a beloved and inspiring store, like an art store or museum shop. Whatever it is that feels inspiring and uplifting.

On these days, I fully, completely enjoy my Not Writing time, and I know I’m replenishing and rebuilding to dive back in the next day.

Your Turn

The bottom line, for me, is that each one of us needs to experiment, listen to our own bodies and inner selves, and find what works best for us. And, like I said, given the massive opportunities for resistance, fear, avoidance, procrastination, and self-doubt, my strong recommendation is to find a way to stick to your work as regularly and consistently as possible. What do you think? What works for you? Leave me a note in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

This article was originally published in January 2013 and has now been republished with revisions.

 

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!)

 

 

 

Upcoming Writing Classes

Need help getting going with your writing and/or a big rewrite? Want to get a sense of working with me? Check out these upcoming writing classes I’ll be leading in October and beyond.

Note:  The links I’m providing are referral links so the company involved will a pay me a small commission for referring you to them if you sign up after clicking on the link.

 

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With The Writer’s Store:

Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite

navigatingrewrite-500_smallWHEN: Thursday, October 1, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

HOW: Webinar

WHAT: The Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite webinar is focused on rewriting for screenwriters but also has relevant tools for all writers because it addresses the inner aspects of dealing with a major rewrite. This is a one-time, 1.5 hour webinar and will be recorded if you cannot attend the live class.

DESCRIPTIONYou’ve finished your screenplay, right?

Or have you?

Whether you’ve just typed FADE OUT or you’ve been wrestling with a rewrite for ages, rewriting is a necessary part of the screenwriting process. After all, you want your script to shine before you take it out into the marketplace. And since rewriting is part of a screenwriter’s job description, whether you’re elevating a spec, doing a page one rewrite, reworking a script based on feedback or coverage, or overhauling to meet a producer’s needs, it’s worth making sure you have all the tools you need at your disposal to make it happen. (Read the full class description by clicking on the link below.)

In this class you’ll:

  • Discover how to deal with the resistance and overwhelm that turn up when tackling a major rewrite
  • Develop both practical rewriting strategies and inner mindset tools to help you see your rewrite all the way through to completion
  • Gain the skills you need to successfully complete rewrite after rewrite — a must in the screenwriting industry

Click here to find out more and register: Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite

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On Screenwriter’s University:

Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter

fittingwritingintoyourlifeWHEN: Starts on October 15 and runs for 7 days

HOW: A weeklong intensive with a three-part online recorded video presentation and discussions online (with lots of interaction and support from me).

WHAT: The Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter course is about making your writing happen, one day at a time. (There’s a later section of the same course in January you can register for now if the October class doesn’t work for your schedule). Although this class is offered as a screenwriting program it is relevant and useful for other writers too. This is an online program with a prerecorded class (from me) and interactive writing prompts on the site with feedback from me also.

DESCRIPTION: If you aren’t making progress on your screenplay, or you feel blocked every time you sit down to write, it’s time to break the chains of unproductive writing. Adopting the techniques that will make you a consistently productive writer is imperative to seeing any of your writing projects from beginning to end. Get all of the tools to develop an effective strategy and a schedule that you can stick to.

In this week-long intensive, you’ll first watch and discuss (via discussion boards) a three-part video lecture exploring 10 habits and techniques that will keep your writing schedule consistent and productive. Then, you’ll use what you have learned to create a personalized writing plan that you will submit for feedback. At the end of just one week you will have a fail-proof strategy for the most productive writing of your life.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Myths about writing that may actually be sabotaging your progress as a writer.
  • Simple, fresh strategies for handling writing resistance and creative blocks.
  • Ways to design your life and your writing time so it happens regularly.
  • Mindset shifts to help you write more consistently and productively.
  • Techniques to cut down on the time required to “gear up” into writing mode.

Click here to find out more and register: Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter

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My Fall schedule got so busy with these classes that I decided to postpone my own Called to Write teleclass but I expect to offer it in November or December, so stay tuned!

 

The opposite of resistance is insistence

Overcoming resistance to writing requires more effort initially than it does later on, particularly if you build a writing habit and get into the swing of doing it every day without question, like brushing your teeth.

Before that — and sometimes even after you have a writing habit in place — one of your best tools for fighting resistance is insistence.

I suppose it’s a kind of willpower but I think of it more as a blazing piece of magic and determination that tells resistance: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

Insistence means drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I WILL write today!” even if that looks like aiming for your rock bottom minimum of fifteen minutes or 350 words or whatever you’ve identified as your “no matter what”.

Insistence doesn’t have to be a ruthless warrior either. She can also be a gentle goddess, coaxing you to the page, kindly insisting that yes, indeed, you can write today, even just for five minutes. She’s the one that helps you set the timer and get the file open and start typing.

There are days when insisting that I write feels exhausting, like one more thing to do on my overly full plate. But there’s a deeper part of me that feels relieved and satisfied when I show up and do it.

Release the joy

I believe that writing is a calling. Something we can’t not do. It doesn’t come easy for all writers. For many of us, resistance is so overpowering that we begin to believe perhaps we just don’t care enough about writing to actually do it.

Here’s the thing. Where there is resistance, there also is passion, secret joy, energy, enthusiasm, and delight just waiting to burst out, to be freed from its prison.

You are the one with the power to release it.

Gently insisting that you will write today, even just a little bit, begins to break down the dam that holds back all that joy.

Is writing always joyful?

Will you feel joyful while you write?

Maybe not.

Perhaps it’s the pessimistic side of me but I often feel more like a terrified deep sea diver putting on her scuba gear when I sit down at my desk to write. And while I’m underwater I focus on doing the work, as if the sharks and other unseen terrors might be show up at any time. And it’s hard work too, extracting ores and hauling buried treasures back to the surface. It’s only once I’ve returned to the surface, pulled off my gear, and taken a breath of fresh air that the relief and joy erupts through me.

I’m okay with that. But sometimes, I need a little insistence to help me get past the fear of facing all that hard work. :)

 

What about you? How does insistence help you show up and do the work?

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

So, in reverse order, our lucky sevens:

7 steps to recovering from creative burnout

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

7 ways to recommit to your writing

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

7 ways to overcome fear and uncertainty about writing 

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

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

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

7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

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

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

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

Enjoy, writers!

I hope your 2015 is off to a great start.

Happy writing.

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Make 2015 your year to write (Part two!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. What writing patterns have you noticed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sonya, a Writer’s Circle member:

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

 

2. What challenges have you faced?

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

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

The usual suspects.

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

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

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

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

Creative challenges.

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

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

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

Life challenges.

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

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

Family members die.

Babies are born.

Beloved animal companions and pets pass on.

People get cancer and go through treatment.

Weddings are held.

Major illnesses come up.

From my notebook:

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

From Sonya:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The answers will be different for each of us.

From Wendy, a Writer’s Circle member:

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

From Jo, a Writer’s Circle member:

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

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

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

From Helen, a Writer’s Circle member:

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

 

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

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

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

Wendy says:

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

Jo notes:

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

Sonya says:

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

 

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

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

From my notebook:

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

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

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Writing prompts for part two: Challenges & Insights

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

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

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

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

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

“See” you tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s worth it to keep writing through the holidays

Resistance to writing is rife at this time of year. Perhaps that’s why we’re so well primed to resolve to “do better” when the New Year rolls around.

(Though personally I’m not that big a fan of resolutions, especially since they tend to peter out pretty quickly. I’m much more interested in building lasting change through habit. But more on that at a future time.)

There are so many reasons not to write during the busy holiday season: events, obligations, traditions, expectations, inertia, busyness, shopping, cooking, and even just the desire to celebrate and rest up at the end a long year.

Why it’s better to keep writing than to take time off

But the truth is, it’s far better to keep writing — even if you’re just doing the bare minimum — than it is to stop writing.

Here’s why.

First, it’s much harder to get started writing again once you’ve stopped for more than a day or two (and for some of us even one day is too much!). Inertia and resistance builds up when we stop and it’s terrifically hard to overcome it and get going again. If you’re writing regularly, it’s easier to keep writing. If you’re NOT writing regularly, well, it’s easier to just keep on NOT WRITING.

And then the guilt and anxiety sets in. (This is the second reason. And it ain’t pretty. Who can really enjoy putting your feet up and watching a movie when you’ve got that nagging sick feeling in the pit of your stomach?)

This is because when you know you “should” be writing (and I use the word “should” here to mean that you’ve got a project YOU want to work on but you’re avoiding it), you’ll be experiencing a constant low level state of anxiety and guilt, which can ruin whole days at a time. 

You’re much better off aiming for what I call your “rock bottom daily writing goal“, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.

Last, it’s much more inspiring to start the new year from a strong place that will only get stronger, rather than feeling like you’re behind and can never catch up.

What are your plans for writing during the holidays?

Let us know in the comments.

Join the Writer's CircleAnd if you want daily accountability and support to keep writing through the holidays, join the Writer’s Circle. Our next session starts soon! 

3 ways to change your inner conversation about writing

As I mentioned in a recent post, as writers –particularly undertaking big writing projects like a book, novel, screenplay, or even NaNoWriMo! — we need to be mindful about our self-talk and keep it as encouraging and self-supportive as possible. 

This is because one of our main tasks (aside from doing the actual writing) is preventing the freaked out voices of fear, self-doubt, and even a little panic (!!!) at times, from stopping us. Those voices may be loud, scary, and intimidating, but it doesn’t mean they are right. As writers, we have to learn not to take them seriously and how to kick them to the curb so we can keep doing what we were put here to do.

1. Use the power of yet

I read a powerful post the other day called, “The Power of Yet”.

The core idea is to add the word “yet” to a negative thought.

Like this:

  • You might catch yourself saying, “I don’t know how to solve this plot problem.”
  • You can quickly add “yet”, to make it, “I don’t know how to solve this plot problem yet.”

Isn’t that interesting?

It takes a defeated “fixed” perspective and cranks it sideways to make room for possibility. And I’m a firm believer in the power of our subconscious minds to help us solve unsolved problems. A “yet” sets the stage for room to solve, grow, learn, discover. You may not know how yet :), but you will!

I love the power of this simple mindset strategy to change how you’re approaching your writing life.

  • “I’m not good at plotting.
  • “I’m not good at plotting yet.

Or

  • I don’t write characters very well.
  • I don’t write characters very well yet.

It’s an “I’m still learning” stake in the ground against the forces of darkness and negativity.

I love it!

2. See fear and doubt as familiar visitors you know how to handle

We all have a particular conversation that comes up when we’re feeling the doubt and facing the fear head on. It sounds different for each person, though there are common threads.

You might hear things like:

  • You’re not good enough.
  • This is too hard.
  • You’re unoriginal.
  • I’m bored with this.
  • I’m not cut out to handle this.
  • You’re doing it wrong.

The thing is, most of these comments come whizzing through our brains at lightning speed and kick us in the gut before we even know what happened. 

And then we’re feeling bad, not believing in ourselves and our work, and pretty soon we’re not writing for the day or even blocked. It’s like, BAM, day over.

How to change it up

The way to change this whole pattern is to NOTICE it.

Notice what your particular conversation is.

Write it down. 

That’s right. Put it on paper in black and white so you can really see it.

You might notice that’s not even true!

You might also notice that you’ve been hearing those same thoughts over and over and over again.

No surprise there. It’s your familiar visitor, one you’ve seen before (and one you will see again).

Why this even happens at all

Here’s why this happens: When we take on a big dream through the auspices of a Big Damn Writing Project, the fearful, amygdala-driven part of our brains FREAKS OUT. “What? She’s going to put herself out there like that? Is she crazy? We’ll be ridiculed and exposed again, just like that time in second grade!! Oh no!!” And then the inner critic kicks into high gear, damage-control mode. “WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP”, go the sirens. “RED ALERT! ALL SYSTEMS ON LOCKDOWN!”

That’s what’s going on behind those mean, horrible things you’re saying to yourself. 

They are cleverly, evilly, insidiously designed to SHUT YOU DOWN so you don’t “get hurt”.

But big surprise, inner critic, you actually WANT to do this project. :)

So your job is to say, “Oh, hold on, I see that you’re equating this project with that painful experience in high school when you had to speak in front of the entire class and everyone laughed at you in a way that felt like you were going to melt into a giant puddle of liquid shame-goo, but this isn’t the same thing. I’m a grown up now, and I actually want to do this project. So I’m going to take care of you, and me, and I promise we’ll be okay. We can do this thing.”

3. Reframe your negative messages

One of the most powerful things we do on a daily basis in the Writer’s Circle is to use our online journaling system to reframe the negative messages that show up each day.

The first step is to note what the negative message is.

For example: “I’m not fast enough.”

The second step is to take a look at that message in all its black and white glory and ask yourself, “How can I reframe that with a more positive perspective?” You might even want to pretend your best friend came to you saying that about herself. What would you say to her?

It might be something like, “I’m writing as fast as I’m capable of right now, and I’ll only get faster over time.”

Isn’t that a bit kinder?

You might even try “yet” here, though I’d probably change it to something like, “I’m not as fast as I want to be yet.”

What’s your inner conversation like?

Here’s an invitation for you. If you’re feeling brave, tell us a self-directed negative thought you’re holding about yourself as a writer by posting it in the comments. Then see how you might be able to reframe it or add the word “yet” to change it. If you need help, just say so and I’ll be your coach for the day.

And don’t miss our Writer’s Circle special for new writers in honor of NaNoWriMo for our session that starts on Monday. (No, you don’t have to participate in NaNo to use the coupon!)

NaNoWriMo Writer's Circle special

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