Ask the Coach: How Can Writers Deal with Procrastination? – On Script Mag

In this month’s “Ask the Coach” article, I’m responding to a comment on Twitter about handling procrastination. This is a topic I never tire of talking about with writers because it’s so relevant and important to understand and navigate. Plus, I’ve recently reviewed some newer (and empowering) research about procrastination, which I’ve shared in the article. 

In the article, I review five high-level reasons writers procrastinate to help us unpack this common struggle. I describe each reason more fully in the article, but here’s the core overview: 

  1. We procrastinate because we’re afraid.
     
  2. We procrastinate because writing matters to us.
     
  3. We procrastinate to manage challenging emotions. 👈 the newer part!
     
  4. We procrastinate to get dopamine hits.
     
  5. We procrastinate to process intuition and information.

With this understanding of why we procrastinate, I also offer ways we can manage procrastination, including rewriting negative thoughts, creating community and support around writing with other writers, using deadlines and other external motivations, and more. 

 

The bottom line is that we procrastinate for very real reasons.

 
Want the full scoop? There are more details in the full article on Script Mag: 
Ask the Coach: How Can Writers Deal with Procrastination?


 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Ask the Coach: How Do I Keep Writing During Summer? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag! This month I’m addressing a question about how to keep writing during the summer:

“How do I keep writing even when I’m pulled away by summer? Between vacations, BBQ weather, busy kids, and an urge to get my house organized, I’m having trouble focusing on writing. What do you suggest?”

This is a timely question, with the summer solstice nearly upon us. A common challenge for many writers is being pulled in multiple directions — whether it’s family, a day job, multiple writing projects, self-care, or just wanting time off, while also wanting to keep pushing ahead with our writing goals and visions. And summer can be tricky. As a season, summer evokes a feeling of spaciousness and expansion, creating both the idea we’ll have “tons” of time to write while simultaneously feeling drawn to get out into nature, play, go to the pool, and do other summer-focused activities. And as you mentioned, it can feel like an expansive time to clean and purge your house, too!

Here are seven ideas to help you creatively keep writing and enjoy the summer. Use them with a mix-and-match approach, adopting those that work for you and ignoring the rest. [more…]

 

…don’t fall for the false dichotomy that you can only write OR enjoy the summer. You can do both.
 
 
Read the article on Script Mag: 
Ask the Coach: How Do I Keep Writing During Summer?

 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Jane Palash on Unsplash 

 

Ask the Coach: Superstitious About Writing Time? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag! This month I’m addressing a question about being superstitious about writing:

“Do you ever feel superstitious about your writing time? Like you have to write in the same place, at the same time, after eating the same thing, to recapture the same success of a particular writing day that went well? Or do you find yourself giving up on a day’s writing because you weren’t able to do those things?”

This is an intriguing set of questions because whether or not a writer considers themselves superstitious about their writing practice, it speaks to underlying strategies and challenges around having a consistent writing practice, which is something I recommend for most writers. Let’s discuss. [more…]

 
Create a routine or container for your writing practice, but don’t be afraid to experiment and refine. Being a creature of habit is useful for writers, but we don’t have to be locked in.
 
 
Read the article on Script Mag: 
Ask the Coach: Superstitious About Writing Time?

 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Black ice from Pexels

Ask the Coach: Help! Do I Abandon My Current Script for a New Idea? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the next installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about whether to abandon a current script in favor of a new idea, or not:

“I recently committed to working on a particular script idea, and almost instantly became fascinated by another story entirely. Should I move to the new idea? Or is this a distraction getting in my way?”

Great question. Ultimately, this is a choice no one else can make for you, but here are some possibilities about what’s going on, and some possible strategies to consider.  [more…]

 

When it comes to choosing what to focus on, and possibly letting go of a current idea, there’s a lot to reflect on. Brand, career, preference, genre, instinct, market, and more. And because there’s often a fine line between recognizing resistance versus intuition, pay attention to how and when new ideas come cropping up. The beauty of writing is how it begets new ideas. It’s your job as a creator to corral that surging herd into a manageable strategy that works for you.

 

 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Ask the Coach: When Should I Give Up On a Script? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the next installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 
This month’s question is specifically about finishing, and when — or if — to give up on a project:
 
“How can I deal with the indecision that comes with looking at what I’m writing and reaching a point at which I say, “I never should have started this in the first place — no one will care about this, this is unoriginal, this has no chance of selling, what was I thinking?” I don’t see a point at continuing and then go on to the next potentially shiny object. Very frustrating and totally within my control. What do you recommend?”
 
Great question! In order to help you answer it, I have some questions for you.

 

“The first thing to consider is whether or not this inner voice speaking up is the voice of resistance, or the voice of intuition.”

 
For my four questions to consider and my full answer,
read the article on Script Mag here:
Ask the Coach: When Should I Give Up On a Script?
 

 

If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Why We’re Rereading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”

Here at Called to Write, we’re rereading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art

I’ve read it at least five times already. And referred to it many times in between.

This month, as part of starting off the new year, I invited my Called to Write members to read (or reread) The War of Art with me. We’ll have an online book club discussion about it next week where I’m sure we’ll learn even more about this brilliant book as we discuss it together. 

Here’s why I made this pick. 

The War of Art is a Bible for Writing

The War of Art has been like a bible for me since I first read it. It was the first time I understood that I wasn’t struggling to write because I was lazy, or “a procrastinator” by nature, unoriginal, or lacking ideas. When I read it, a lightning bolt of understanding flashed through me. I was afraid. I was afraid I would fail, that I would succeed, that I wouldn’t do my ideas justice. Resistance was what was paralyzing me. 

It was then I began to understand what it meant to face the fear and work anyway, and to help other writers do the same. 

We Sometimes Need Help Finding Our Way

2018 was a hard year for many of us. It was rough personally, socially, politically, and more. 

In my own life, 2018 was borderline apocalyptic. Between losing my father early in the year, several temporary-but-limiting-and-impacting health issues, wretched tech problems with the (old) writing program I was running, the terrible air quality and fires on the west coast over the summer and deep into November, and the political and cultural climate we’re living in right now, not to mention the day-to-day regular stuff of taking care of a family and running a business… well, like I said, it was rough. And between dealing with grief and all the other ruckus, my writing took a bit of a hit. I was writing, but not the way I wanted to be and resistance was high as the year drew to a close.

When life gets rocky, I focus on getting back on track as quickly as possible.

The War of Art felt like the perfect way of clarifying and reorienting, for all of us.

We Do Better, Together

While I knew reading The War of Art alone would be fruitful, I also know there is power in reading and learning together.

I also know it can give us a common language to communicate about our writing challenges, much as we were able to do after reading Finish by Jon Acuff last year

I also sense, in the midst of this globally challenging time, that collectively strengthening our resolve, grit, resilience, sovereignty, and drive will help us better support each other to stay on track with what we were put here to do.

Your Turn

Have you read The War of Art?

How has it changed your perspective on your writing?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you have a copy of The War of Art?

If you’re in the U.S., join my mailing list and we’ll send you one! You’ll receive instructions about how to request your book when you sign up. We also have copies of Pressfield’s book The Knowledge to share, though we’re asking you to pick one, not both. :) Many thanks to Steven and Callie Oettinger at Black Irish Books for creating this opportunity for us to share these books with you. 

 

 

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Photo by Carlos Quintero on Unsplash

15 Steven Pressfield Quotes to Inspire Your Writing

Steven Pressfield has been among my greatest sources of inspiration since I committed myself to taking my call to write seriously.

Around that time, a friend suggested I read The War of Art.

It was life-changing.

Since then, I’ve continued to be deeply inspired and motivated by his other books including Do the Work, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing, and his newest book, The Artist’s Journey (among others). 

Steven’s work, his ideas, and his message have become a part of me. They’ve become a cornerstone for how I approach my writing practice, and what I do as a writing coach.

In fact, the core of what we offer at Called to Write could not be more perfectly aligned with The Artist’s Journey, both of which span the practical nuts and bolts of writing all the way to the more spiritual aspects of calling, destiny, and purpose. 

Today I’m sharing 15 of my favorite quotes from his books, with the intention of inspiring you, as he has inspired me.

#1. “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” ~ The War of Art

I have found this to be true, over and over. Every time I’m tempted to check something online or take care of something else first, it’s resistance. And this is what we do with my Called to Write Coaching Circle and my writing intensives — help writers overcome fear, doubt, and resistance, and sit down to write. Every day. For me, showing up to one of our daily writing sprints helps me press that inner “Go” button and get to work. Every time.

#2. “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” ~ The War of Art

I have very much found this to be true. Those who question their calling are the most likely to be truly called. I also find that a writer’s sense of identity is a byproduct of actually writing. In other words, once we’re writing, regularly, we feel like writers. And it’s surprising how little it takes to get to that place. 

#3. “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” ~ The War of Art

I also loved what I heard Steve say in an interview once, “Figure out what scares you the most and do that first.” Fear (and resistance) truly shows exactly where we need to grow. If there’s a place in your writing you’re experiencing resistance, look there first. That novel idea you’re avoiding, the story you’re longing to write but you’re scared you won’t be able to do justice? Go there. 

#4. “The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. . . [he] steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul.” ~ The War of Art

Writing is very much about the long haul. Every screenplay I’ve embarked on has taken far longer than I’ve ever anticipated. I’ve learned now to catch myself when I start saying things like, “this will practically write itself!” and to recognize it as one of the many voices of resistance playing tricks with my mind.

#5. “Creative panic is good. Here’s why: Our greatest fear is our fear of success. When we are succeeding — that is, when we have overcome our self-doubt and self-sabotage, when we are advancing in our craft and evolving to a higher level — that’s when panic strikes. . . When we experience panic, it means we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.” ~ Do the Work 

“Threshold” is a perfect word here — there are transitions in each work where panic appears. When we’re closing in the on the end, when we’re pushing our envelope. It’s fascinating how that’s often the moment when things go awry and panic sets in. The most important thing is to not make it mean anything. 

#6. “Start (Again) Before You’re Ready: I was living in a little town in northern California when I finally, after seventeen years of trying, finished my first novel. I drove over to my friend and mentor Paul Rink’s house and told him what I had done. ‘Good for you,’ he said. ‘Now start the next one.'” ~ Do the Work 

I’ve always loved this concept, because it reminds me that this is a lifetime choice for me. I’m a writer. This means I will always be writing. So when I’m done with one, I celebrate it, but then I get going on the next.

#7. On writing “A Character Smarter Than I Am: I realized something I had already known: The part of our psyche that does the writing . . . is far deeper than our personal ego. That part is tapped into a course whose wisdom far exceeds our own. All we have to do is trust it.” ~ The Authentic Swing

Something I love about Steven Pressfield is his ability to bring in the reverence and awe of drawing on our greater, wiser selves with our writing. That even while we’re doing the “blue collar” work of writing, much like digging trenches and just showing up and putting in the time, we’re also resonating with the Muse on  a higher plane. The work comes through us, when we let it. 

#8. “Aspiring artists often kill their careers in the cradle by overworrying and overthinking. Don’t do it. … You discover who you are as you go along. What defines you is what you have done, but the weird part is you never know what that’ll be until you do it. The trick is: Do it.” ~ The Authentic Swing

Just do it. Just do the writing. And I don’t mean — “just write” — I still prefer to plot and plan my work. But writing is where the answers lie, pen to paper, fingers to keys, even if I’m dialoguing with myself, noodling to figure out what I’m doing. Thinking isn’t writing. I put words on the page to find out what I think, what I know, and who I am. 

#9. “How Writing Works . . . The trick to writing, or to any creative endeavor, is that once you start, good things begin to happen. You can’t explain it. You don’t know why. An energy field is created by your love, your will, your devotion, your sweat. . . Trust it. Be brave.” ~ The Authentic Swing

Writing takes on a life of its own. Writing regularly brings a kind of self-sustaining momentum to it, once we get it going. That’s where the magic happens.

#10. “Before we turn pro, our life is dominated by fear and Resistance. We live in a state of denial. We’re denying the voice in our heads. We’re denying our calling. We’re denying who we really are. . . What changes when we turn pro is we stop fleeing.” ~ Turning Pro

Turning Pro is one of my favorite books of Steve’s. When I read it, I straighten up and get serious about my work, no matter whether I’m loving or hating it. I take it seriously. 

#11. “When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. . . We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. . . This changes our days completely. It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do.” ~ Turning Pro

Yes. Once we commit, we redesign and reconsider everything. We recognize the effort it takes to overcome the resistance, and design our writing lives to minimize that friction and get ourselves to the page as quickly and as easily as possible, each and every day.

#12. “The amateur believes that she must have all her ducks in a row before she can launch her start-up or compose her symphony or design her iPhone app. The professional knows better. . . Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared. The professional takes two aspirin and keeps on truckin’.” ~ Turning Pro

Although some might find the idea of writing hurt harsh, I’ve found that so many of the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t write just aren’t true — and most especially those things we tell ourselves we have to have or have done first (like having more time, more money, better computers, or the bills paid, house clean, laundry done, kids off to college… you name it).  

#13. “The artist on her journey confronts no foes that are not of her own creation. Her fear is her own. . .  She has created them mentally. She can defeat them the same way.” ~ The Artist’s Journey

Most everything that stops us with our writing comes from within us. Our fears, our doubts, our excuses. Our addictions. (My experience is that grief may be an exception to this.) I love Steve’s point that we can defeat these the same way they are created. 

#14. “On the artist’s journey, all strengths are mental. . . [and] are self-generated . . . all may be acquired by effort and force of will.” ~ The Artist’s Journey

Our strengths, just like our fears and doubts, come from within as well. We can learn resilience, patience, courage, and more. 

#15. “An artist’s identity is revealed by the work she or he produces. Writers write to discover themselves… whether they realize it or not. But who is this self…? It is none other than the ‘second you’ — that wiser ‘you,’ that true, pure, waterproof, self-propelled, self-contained ‘you.'” ~ The Artist’s Journey

An underlying concept of the The Artist’s Journey is that our “second self,” the part of ourselves that is greater and wiser, is the one who writes. When we allow her to do so. I call this part our “essential self” — the part of us that remains when everything else (ego, personality, negative habits, limiting baggage) has been stripped away and we can step forward fully into ourselves and shine. Steve suggests that our role as artists is to move between our first and second selves, essentially “returning with the elixir” over and over again, as we write, even many times in day, and that the core of what we’ve been put here to do is to make that journey over and over again.

I love this.

If you’d like to check out these books for yourself, here are links to them on Amazon.com and Black Irish Books (Steve’s publishing company). The Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you click on them and purchase the books that way.

In other news, registration for my next Deep Dive Writing Intensive opens today.

Check it out here: https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

 

 

Photos by Carlos Quintero on Unsplash and Ales Krivec on Unsplash
Race to the finish

On Finishing (and Perfectionism!): A Review of Jon Acuff’s Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of DoneI’ve just finished reading Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done* by Jon Acuff. It’s a delightfully irreverent book packed with useful insights — sometimes counterintuitive — about how and why we stop ourselves from finishing (hint: perfectionism is the root cause).

It’s been a particularly fun read right now for three reasons.

First, I’ve been reading it alongside several of my Circle members and we’ve been discussing it on our online site. I have a feeling we’ll be doing this again. It’s a mini online book club. Yay!

Second, I’m just about to lead the goal setting call for the Deep Dive Writing Intensive I’m running (we start writing next week!) so I’m looking forward to incorporating some of Acuff’s principles into our goal setting work. And since the Deep Dive Writing Intensive is designed to help people finish (or make major progress in that direction), it’s particularly apropos.

Third, I know I’m a recovering perfectionist. Or at least a perfectionist who’s trying to recover. (The first step is admitting you have a problem!) So this book was useful on both professional and personal fronts.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

  1. The “day after perfect” is the make-or-break day. Acuff says the “day after perfect” often turns up as soon as day two of pursuing a goal. I see this happening with writers who put in a big burst of enthusiastic writing for their first day out (sometimes later), then crash and burn the next day by going into massive writing aversion and avoidance the next day… which can lead to despair and giving up. I much prefer to see writers pacing themselves for the long haul. Acuff makes the point that we have to focus on “moving forward imperfectly” and “trying again… today, tomorrow, or next week.” I’ve always been a fan of “starting over tomorrow,” whenever I get off track with my goals so I’m right there with him.
  2. There’s a difference between commitments and distractions. Acuff makes a useful distinction between the things we’re committed to doing, like our day jobs and our kids, as our commitments, and things like Netflix — and those side projects you turn to when it’s time to write — as distractions. See how simple that is? I found this useful for reinforcing what I do when I write out my Three Big Rocks list, which is to focus on the key things I want to accomplish for my goals that day. I don’t include my standing commitments (taking care of my kids and exercising, for example), because I think of them as “givens,” but prioritize the three major commitments I’m making for the day.
  3. You can look for your own sweet spot with rewards or penalties (or both) when it comes to goal setting. Acuff says, “make it fun if you want it done,” and recommends establishing a reward or a penalty for your goal. I’m more motivated by rewards than punishment, but his writing had me think more about deciding on really fun rewards, and deciding on them in advance. I’m particularly thinking about how I can do this on the daily and weekly scale (one example he gave was how author Sammy Rhoades would reward himself with a Friday afternoon movie for meeting his writing goals, which sounds right up my alley).
  4. Pay attention to where you “hide” from your goals. Acuff describes both “hiding places” — where we go to avoid our goals — and “noble obstacles” — the clever schemes we design to make it so we can’t possibly focus on our goals because we’re serving some higher purpose. I’ve seen so many writers over the years come up with the most fascinating and suddenly highly important non-writing or OTHER writing projects than they originally come into our programs with. This is really worth paying attention to and short-circuiting.
  5. Put your new idea at the finish line for your current one. If you tend to come up with a new idea that’s much more appealing than your current project the minute you start (in the coaching world, we call these Bright Shiny Objects), Acuff recommends making the new idea the project you “get to” work on when you finish your current one. With writing, I recommend what I call a “Project Queue” (tips on how to do this with writing projects are in my free guide, “How to Choose Your (Next) Book“). The core idea is to promise to work on the new idea next. In a sense it even becomes a reward for getting to the end of the current one. Yay!
  6. Aim a little lower with your goal setting. Acuff recommends cutting our goals in half, either by cutting the quantity or output in two, or by doubling the amount of time we give ourselves. This is because most of us are entirely unrealistic about how we set our goals. I’ve personally been setting fewer and fewer goals over the last few years, after seeing myself being unable to attain the multiple, too-fast-paced goals I was aiming for, and I can see right now from checking my 2018 goals list that I may have a bit more tweaking to do after reading Finish, especially after the hard start to the year I’ve had. 
  7. The “day before done” is another place many of us go astray. I’ve witnessed this in my own writing, suddenly becoming apathetic toward a screenplay, telling myself I’ve just lost interest in the story. Acuff identifies three primary fears triggered by a looming finish, including a fear of what happens next (Amazon reviews!), a fear it won’t be perfect, and a fear of “what now?” The key, he says, is addressing these fears with a combination of trusting yourself to figure it out and being open to seeing what happens.

More my favorites in this book are the “secret rules” we use to sabotage ourselves (“If I lose all this weight, then I’ll have to go dancing/be looked at/feel more vulnerable”), choosing what to “bomb” (where you’re strategically choosing to suck at something in order to prioritize your goal), using data to track your goals and “celebrate your imperfect progress,” and many more.

While there were times I wasn’t 100% sure if I thought Acuff was actually writing about resistance and not so much about perfectionism (which I consider to be a subcategory of resistance), I loved what he shared and he has stirred some useful thinking and insight for all of us who have read it. 

Highly recommended. 

* This is an Amazon affiliate link, which means Called to Write will earn a small commission if you purchase the book after clicking on this link, for which we are greatly appreciative!
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

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 Called to Write community, 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: 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 Called to Write 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

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