Free Download: Make 2016 Your Year to Write

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably dashed down a set of ideas for goals for the year but have been meaning to come back around and refine them, having just now finally recovered from the holidays or that cold you picked up at Aunt Susie’s house or getting the kids reorganized for school.

The good news is that it’s not too late to set goals and resolutions for 2016 that work and will help you make this an amazing year for writing. And I’ve got a fantastic tool to help you. 

At the end of 2015, I ran a seven-part series on completing the prior year and planning ahead for the next one. This year, I’ve updated it and created a downloadable version of it as a PDF guidebook, along with two options for completing the exercises: a workbook and Scrivener-style journal, along with a quick start guide. It’s called Make 2016 Your Year to Write: 7 Steps to Goals and Resolutions that Work for Writers.

This process is a great way to contemplate what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, where you want to head next, and why.

The 7 steps include:

  1. Reflecting on your writing life and career so far
  2. Noticing your writing patterns and challenges
  3. Tapping into what you want for your writing life
  4. Examining the gap between where you are now and where you want to go
  5. Tuning into your vision for your writing career
  6. Setting goals for your writing year
  7. Making your writing happen

You can complete the seven steps all in an afternoon, or work through them one day at a time, whichever works best for you. Each step includes a brief discussion and some examples from other writers to get you thinking.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of this free program, click here to download it.

 

 

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

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

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

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

5 Tips to Build a Lasting Writing Habit

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

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

Tip #1: Write daily or near daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #4: Create triggers for your writing habit.

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

Here are some examples of possible triggers: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coaching CircleMake 2016 the year your writing takes off!

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

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

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

Make 2015 your year to write (Part five!)

Welcome back to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series! We’re closing in on the end — both of our seven-part series, and also of 2014. The end is near! … which makes this the perfect time to venture into the real reason we’re all here: setting goals and resolutions for 2015 that are real and attainable.

But first, two things:

One: In case you’re just joining us, let’s review what we’ve been exploring this week together. We started by reflecting on our writing lives so far, then looked at challenges and insights, then began tapping in to what we want for our writing lives, and then explored how to close the gap between where we are right now and where we want to end up.

Two: Before we get into specifics for 2015, we’re going to first look at the big picture of your writing career (and writing life!) as a whole. Tomorrow will be the big day for 2015 goal setting and resolutions. More about why we do it this way in a few minutes.

In the meantime, remember, if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, or problems, I’m your coach this week. Just post them in the comments section on the blog and I’ll be sure to address or answer them for you. And if you’re wondering, it’s perfectly okay to join in on this process at any time. We’re glad to have you.

Now for part five!

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Tune into your vision for your writing career and life

Although we did some initial exploring in part three for what you want your writing life to be like, feel like, and look like, and looked at how we can start to close the gap between then and now in part four, today we’re going to consider the trajectory you want for your big picture writing career and life. 

The importance of having a long-term vision

Before we go into it, though, let’s talk about WHY we want to do this visioning thang. It’s important to start with a long-term vision BEFORE setting goals for 2015, because we want to make sure that your short-term goals are in alignment with those long-term goals.

In other words, if you’re setting goals for 2015 that have nothing to do with where you want to end up, you can end up in an entirely different place than you intended to go. That may sound entirely obvious, but I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve worked with who set goals that take them to the wrong place, often because of what they think they should be doing or because someone else wants something for them that isn’t necessarily a match with what the writer wants for themselves. 

So it’s worth it to be clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it before you start identifying specific goals. 

First we’ll discuss the common places writers get stuck with visioning and how to use a vision.

Then we’ll explore our two writing prompts for today.

Common places writers get stuck with visioning

Sometimes visioning can get sticky. It sounds like a big fancy thing to do, and in a way it is, but it’s also a lot simpler than we tend to make it. And we’re all wired a little differently, so the kind of visioning that works well for Josephine Writer down the street may not work so well for you.

Here are the typical ways I see writers getting stuck with visioning. If you see yourself in any of these, try my suggested tweaks to course correct.

For instance:

  • Some writers get hung up on trying to be too specific, e.g. “I’ll have written 27 books by 2019!” Being specific can be clarifying and useful, but it can also feel like all the creative juice gets sucked out of it when it’s just about fulfilling a numbers game. If this is an issue for you, just be a little more broad with how you approach it, e.g. “I’ll have books lining my shelves with my name on the byline.” 
  • Sometimes going into visioning work can feel discouraging because it feels so far off in the distance and so big that we’ll never get there. If you find yourself having trouble with this, invite yourself to hold it lightly, like a game or one possible future. And if it feels too heavy, give yourself permission to tweak and change it until it feels fun and inspiring. That’s really the point, after all! We’re going for fun, inspiring, and directing.
  • Another important pitfall to be aware of is that it can be easy to fall into fulfilling other people’s visions for you if you’re not careful. Sometimes our mentors, agents, managers, parents, families, friends, colleagues, spouses, and kids can have ideas about what we should be doing that may or may not ring true for us as individuals. And if you start forcing yourself to follow someone else’s goals, you’ll be likely to find yourself feeling lost instead. This isn’t to say that our trusted experts and colleagues should always be ignored, but rather to make sure that we are checking in with our own internal guidance about what we truly want. A good way to check for this is to keep an ear tuned in to the word “should”. If you catch yourself saying that, chances are your vision needs some adjusting to be more in line with YOU and your reality.
  • Along the same lines, we can get equally hooked by what outside measures of success are supposed to look like. In other words, you might think you “have to” self-publish, or traditionally publish, or break in by a certain date, or make a certain amount of money. It’s important to both remember that we each have our own paths to take, and also that we can define success on our own terms. So as you vision, think not about what you are supposed to have, be, or do, but rather what feels most exciting and meaningful to you. Don’t just focus on making lots of money if you don’t know what you want to do with it, for instance. This isn’t a race. It’s about creating meaningful, quality lives for ourselves, and that can span a wide range.
  • Don’t worry overly if you can’t get super clear and have great detail about your vision. Some writers say, “I just don’t see anything specific.” If you find that to be an issue, you can go for flashes of a vision like we did in part three, or even try to tune in to a felt-sense that tells you a bit about where you’d like to be. There’s no right and wrong with visioning. Just go with what comes to you, and feel free to make it a combo-deal of your mental ideas and thoughts plus the images you see. As long as it’s coming from you, it’s all good.

How to use a vision

It’s also important to know HOW to use a vision. It’s not a hard and fast tool, nor does it have to adhere to a specific timeline.

Instead, hold a vision lightly, as a guiding tool, and know and trust that you can evolve and change it as you go — because after all, things change, and LIFE changes.

That said, we can still use a vision as a powerful step in moving toward what we want.

The key is to get clear on the vision and then focus on taking the first steps.

As you take your first steps, your next “first” steps will become clearer.

It’s worth checking on a regular basis about where you are on the path — Are you moving in your intended direction? Falling off course? Is there anything that you want to change or adjust?

Then you can make adjustments — or not! — depending on what’s emerging for you in terms of your own clarity about it.

To summarize:

  • Hold it lightly.
  • Take the first step.
  • Check to make sure that the next “first” steps are in alignment with the big picture vision.
  • Refine and adjust the big picture vision as needed.
  • Take the next “first” steps.
  • And so on.

So now let’s look at our inquiries for today’s exercise: 

1. What’s your overall vision for your writing career?

We’ll begin with thinking — your ideas and thoughts about what you want.

While you’re working with this inquiry, you want to consider things like:

  • What kind of writing career and life do you want to have? Are you picturing writing in a quiet, remote place with lots of independence and freedom? Or working in the hustle-bustle of a big city? Or collaborating for long full days in a writer’s room in Hollywood, staffing a TV show? Do you feel excited by the idea of high-intensity, fast-paced work, late nights, and deadlines? Are you more in the “I just want to write in a quiet place by myself” camp?
  • And along those lines, is what you’re currently headed toward or holding in mind a good match for your temperament? Sometimes writers are focused on a specific kind of writing career that doesn’t fit well with their temperament, like someone who might prefer the collaborative environment of screenwriting but is instead currently focused on novel writing, or vice versa. 
  • Is writing the core of your career, or is it part of your platform? Some writers are also speakers, teachers, bloggers, or coaches. Writing can be a PART of the big picture but it doesn’t have to be all of it.
  • Are you envisioning your writing as your sole source of income or does your income come from a mix of sources? Think about what that might look like and feel like. Sure, it may be something you transition to over time, but making a living from your writing as your only source of income is a very different thing than having multiple streams of income. And it might also be interesting to think about the types of writing you’re considering as well.
  • By when do you hope to have “arrived”? Do you have a timeline in mind? Is there anything you know will be in place when you have the career you want to have?
  • How will you know you have “arrived”? Are there any outside measurable or observable criteria? Any inner guidelines that will help you “know”?

From my notebook:

“I’m most interested in a having mixed and varied writing career. I’d like to publish novels and write the screenplays based on them. I’d also like to write about writing, since I love the personal insights we can all gain around our writing processes (and tantrums, LOL). As much as I like collaboration, I know I’m going to want to have time alone to write as well. As far as income goes, I’d be delighted to have the majority of my income coming from my writing, but I’m hard-pressed to imagine giving up ALL of the coaching work I do too, since it’s so much fun. I’m willing to have that be something that gets determined in a supply/demand kind of way.”

 

2. What do you intend to accomplish as a writer? 

Do you have a specific idea in mind about the breadth or depth of your work?

Any ideas about how your work will manifest?

This might include things like:

  • Genre
  • Medium/format
  • Quantity
  • Distribution
  • Sales (or not!)
  • …and more!

From my notebook:

“I want to be known for a groundbreaking sci-fi series that gets adapted into movies for the big screen. I’ll happily write other books and screenplays along the way, and I know they’ll be primarily in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. In my heart of hearts, I’d also happily have more than one series. But I still imagine there being one core series that I am known for. My own Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

 

3. What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

A great tool for exploring the first two questions are to also see what images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments.

For instance, do you see a row of your published books lining the shelves in your favorite local bookstore? Posters of your movie plastered all over town? Your published articles in your favorite periodicals?

Perhaps you see yourself as the renowned expert in a specific field of study.

What comes to mind for you?

From Ginger, one of our Writer’s Circle members:

“For the longest time, I had an image in my head of shelves and shelves of books in the bookstore, like a Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele. Not necessarily romance, but tons and tons and tons of books. I never really put too much thought into it, it was just a picture that I had. I always wanted to write a LOT of books — like, a crazy lot.

“Then the other day I was in Chapters and I saw it — you know in the sections where it’s like, ‘Fiction A-D’ or ‘Spirituality’ or ‘War’? There was one of those huge signs, just like those ones, and it said ‘James Patterson.’

“He got a sign as big as ‘Lifestyle’ or ‘Magazines’.

“And I said, ‘That. That’s what I want.’

“Of course, it’s a different world now, and by the time I’m publishing, and considering what I’m publishing, there probably won’t be a bookstore, and there won’t be a sign. Digital world and all that. But I want it to be reasonable for there to be a sign, even if the whole world goes digital. I want to be worth a sign.

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pen coffeeWriting prompts for Part five: Vision

Now you get to play with the writing prompts for today.

If you’re inspired to do so, please share your responses in the comments section on the blog — or your insights after writing about them in your journal, talking them over with other writers or a trusted friend, or letting them swirl through your consciousness. Feel free to leave questions for me too, if you have them.

  • What do you intend to accomplish as a writer?
  • What’s your overall vision for your writing career?
  • What images flash into your mind that show your accomplishments?

And don’t miss tomorrow’s installment, where we’ll get specific about goal setting for 2015!

Hold on to yer keyboards, writers, here we go. :)

 

 

 

Make 2015 your year to write (Part one!)

Welcome to the Make 2015 Your Year to Write series! Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s that time of year where we are naturally drawn to look ahead to the coming year and dream about and plan for what we want to accomplish. As writers, of course, our focus is on our intentions, goals, and visions for our writing.

But not so fast! There are a few — and often overlooked — steps to help you to set your goals in such a way as to assure your success.

Over the next seven days, I’ll be sharing seven articles with you about the key steps you can take to make 2015 your writing year to remember.

Each article includes a set of simple writing prompts that you can complete on your own or here on the blog in the comments section.

Throughout the week, I’ll be your on-the-spot writing coach, so if you have questions, thoughts, challenges, comments, insights, or issues, just post them in the comments section on the blog and I’ll be sure to address or answer them for you.

Today we’ll get started by reflecting on your writing life.

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Reflect on your writing life so far

We start with reflection to first establish the foundation of where you are and where you’ve been. 

This is important because most of us have a tendency to focus purely on the goals and resolutions we’re setting for the new year and what’s next, but skip right over the realities of what’s happened for us this year and what our current writing life looks like. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for pie-in-the-sky goals that have a less-than-likely chance of succeeding. And we want you to succeed, right? ;)

So first, to begin this process together, we’ll look at where you are right now, and where you’ve been, before we move on to what’s next. 

You can call this “completion” work if you like.

We’ll do this by answering a series of three simple questions, starting with:

1. What has your writing given you?

First, we’ll start by having you look at what your writing has given you. What gifts it has brought to your life, and what opportunities?

While you think about this, think back over 2014, and also your writing life as a whole.

For example, when you think about the trajectory your writing life has taken, are you enjoying it? Are you happy with the track you’re on, or feeling dissatisfied? What has being a writer brought to your life that you would not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience? 

I’ve reached out to my Writer’s Circle participants (and included notes from my own insights) to share their thoughts with us as we go through this process together:

From my notebook:

“In the last year of writing, my writing has given me a way to stay connected to myself. As a mom of now two children, one born this year, having this way to know who I am outside of motherhood has been a safety anchor for me. Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and the all-encompassing 24/7 nature of the job of “mother” can be entirely overwhelming, and though it has been hard at times, I’ve been grateful to have this special thing called “writing” that is entirely my own.

Writing has also strengthened me. I have a stronger ability to focus. My trust in my own creative process has grown. My understanding of myself through my writing has expanded exponentially. I’m continually learning, growing, improving and expanding my ability to write well, to write more clearly in my own voice, and to write in a such a way that feels both faster and freer.”

From Helen, a Writer’s Circle member: 

“My writing is mostly scholarly/academic. I noticed that while I am writing on a particular topic, then I usually feel more knowledgable about the topic after I have completed the paper. As this knowledge grows, I plan to become a Subject Matter Expert on my various topics of interest.”

 

2. What are you most proud of?

While you’re contemplating your relationship with your writing, also ask yourself, what are you most proud of? 

Here again, it’s worth looking at both this current year and your writing life so far.

And please, don’t be hard on yourself. If you have a hard time coming up with something you feel proud of, see where you can stretch your awareness. There is always something to be proud of, even if it’s something like, “I always kept my goal to be writing at the forefront of my mind.” Or, “I am crystal clear that writing must be a high priority for me 2015.”

From Tracee, a screenwriter and Writer’s Circle coach:

“Somehow, despite life and Facebook, I managed to write four screenplays this year! In the past, I was lucky if I wrote one in a year. I am quite proud of that but I am even more proud of creating a writing life that allowed for such an accomplishment.” 

From Sonya, a Writer’s Circle member:

“I am most proud of having done the coaching and Writer’s Circle for a full year. Even with my divorce and money troubles, I made this a priority. I want to continue to do so for 2015.”

 

3. What did you accomplish with your writing this year?

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make as writers is to keep our eyes only on how much further there is to go, without remembering to take stock of what we have accomplished and completed.

For this question, we want you to examine what you accomplished, regardless of how big or small.

Take an inventory.

How many words, pages, books, scripts, blog posts, etc., did you write? What did you put out into the world with your writing? Are there intangible things you accomplished with your writing?

Take the time to look back over 2014 and make notes about what you’ve accomplished. 

From my notebook:

“This year, I’ve kept writing even in the midst of having a new baby. I’ve kept up my blog, with both my own posts and guest posts, rewritten, recorded, and released my Design Your Writing Life series, completed numerous assignments for the screenwriting classes I’ve been taking, completed a rewrite of my first script, generated over 165 concepts for new script ideas, developed an outline for a brand new script, and started writing pages for the new script. I’m thrilled about it too, considering I was wickedly sick at the beginning of the year, and navigated through both a rocky third trimester, a birth, and still allowed for lots of bonding time with our new little boy.”

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Your writing prompts for part one: Reflection

pen coffeeSo here they are, our questions for the day, assembled in one place for your writerly convenience. Take these writing prompts to your journal to consider them, copy-paste and write out your answers in the comments section on the blog, mull them over when you have a quiet moment, or chat about them with your writer friends. 

  • What has your writing given you this year?
  • What are you most proud of?

  • What did you accomplish with your writing this year?

And lest you feel unsatisfied with not looking at things left undone or that feel otherwise troublesome, don’t worry, we’ll tackle that question tomorrow when we focus on the writing patterns, challenges, and any regrets you’re facing.

“See” you then!

 

 

 

Why I’m not interested in resolutions or themes or chains

It’s the second day of the new year.

I spent a little time yesterday wondering about whether or not I wanted to make any resolutions and found that the answer was no. What I want to do, more than anything, is keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is making lasting change in my life a little bit at a time. I thought it might be interesting to talk about why these other ideas — resolutions, themes, and chains — don’t work for me.

Why resolutions don’t work for me

The idea of vowing to take on improvements in my life from the resolution perspective just doesn’t work for me anymore.

I think it’s because it’s too vague. Maybe it’s the way I think about resolutions. I’m not 100% sure.

What I do know is that in the past when I’ve made resolutions, I’ve failed to make concrete plans for taking steps to achieve them. I didn’t understand the massive levels of resistance that would come up or have the slightest clue about how to deal with it. I didn’t know what specific actions I’d be taking.

I can remember one year when I promised myself that I would eat better, and caved in to a tasty treat on January 1st. I gave up then, figuring that if I couldn’t do it on day 1, I wouldn’t be able to continue.

I can remember another year when I resolved to journal every day, and it maybe lasted for a week before I “blew it.” So I didn’t bother to try again after that.

Now granted, I’ve grown a lot since then and I think I’m certainly more self-aware than I was 20 years ago when I was making those resolutions, but at the time, my thinking was, “I’ve already blown it, why continue? It’s already too late to get it right.”

Inherently I think the concept of a resolution can be difficult to sustain, and can set us up to feel like failures.

Why themes don’t work for me

I’ve also taken classes and worked with coaches where I’m supposed to pick out themes for the year. The classes and concepts are lots of fun. We came up with themes like “Focus. Fun. Spirit.”

But I never stay connected to the themes I identify. They don’t have specific meaning for me. Or specific action steps associated with them. Too vague again.

Don’t break the chain?

There’s a neat calendar and article out there created by the Writer’s Store, based on Jerry Seinfield’s idea of “Don’t Break the Chain,” and an even better calendar for 2013 made by my colleague and Twitter pal Graham Jones.

Last year I toyed with the idea of writing every day. As you probably know, I run an online Writer’s Circle, which is designed to promote that kind of regular, consistent accountability. But in our Circle, we ask our writers to write at least five to seven days out of every seven days, not to commit to writing every day.

At first I railed against the idea of taking days off. I figured we “should” all write 7 days per week (and you probably know how I feel about “shoulds” — big red flags).

But over the past 16 months we’ve been running the Circle, I’ve discovered a few important things and changed my mind:

  • Resting replenishes my creative well.
  • If I take more than one day off from writing per week, I have a much harder time getting started again.
  • If I don’t take off at least one day per week, I start to get rebellious and cranky and want to quit altogether.
  • Writing every day makes me feel worn out. It’s a grueling path. Marathon runners know the importance of rest days. And writing is certainly a marathon.
  • Taking guilt-free, planned time away from writing keeps my mid-brain calm (that part of your brain that freaks out and puts you into fight-flight / procrastination mode) and allows me to subconsciously work on my project in my back-brain.

Certainly you and I are different. For some people, writing (or working creatively) every day is a must. For me, it’s a no-no.

Six days a week? Sure.

Seven, not so much. My biggest concern about the “don’t break the chain” idea is that if we DO break the chain, it’s far too easy to fall into the well of despair and struggle to get ourselves back out of it. I’d much rather plan a day off, almost like a “cheat day” with a diet, to keep me from getting mired in perfectionism, guilt, or shame.

What does work

What does work for me is taking incremental steps to make lasting changes.

I like to identify my big vision, or my projects, like “rewriting my sci-fi script” or “losing 25 pounds.” If I’m feeling really inspired, I might craft inspiring intention statements, like “I intend to knock this script out of the park” or “I intend to be feel great in my own skin.”

But the most important step for me, as I mentioned above, is to come up with specific, frequent action steps and to work on “cracking my own code” when it comes to overcoming my resistance to taking those steps.

Layering in new habits

I also like to “layer in” improvements over time.

An example?

Sure! Glad you asked.

Sixteen months ago when we started the Writer’s Circle, I focused first and only on building the habit of regular writing. I didn’t worry about quantity of words, or even quality for that matter. I also made a decision not to try to do more than one kind of habit-building at a time. So I just focused on writing for 15 minutes a day, 6 days per week.

Approximately 4 months later, I started layering in a new habit of exercising. Over the years, I’ve finally realized (aka cracked my own code) that I won’t work out unless 1) I’m paying someone to “watch” me do it, e.g. a trainer or in a paid class, 2) there’s a specific schedule to do it, or 3) I’m already out of the house. So I hired someone to do Pilates with me on a weekly basis.

Then about 6 months after that, I started adding in time at the gym. At first I just aimed to go once per week. I figured out pretty quickly that I could put on my workout clothes, take my son to school, and then go right to the gym. I started rearranging my schedule to make that doable. I don’t start coaching or working with anyone until 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, which gives me plenty of time to get him to school, get in a good workout and get back to my office in time to get started. I also set it up so I could do that five days per week and put my two favorite movies (Star Trek 2009 and Serenity) on my iPhone so I can study them while I’m on the elliptical. Great motivation to get there.

It’s easier once you build the habit

What fascinates me about this is something I talked about in my Creative Productivity teleclass series over the last couple of weeks: Once I got going, it was much easier to continue doing it, than it was to stop. I’m now compelled to keep writing and to keep exercising, two of my biggest bugaboos over the last 20 years. The more you do it, the easier it is to keep going.

So what I like to do instead of all these resolutions and themes and chains is to come up with small, almost ridiculous steps that make it easy for me to do the thing I said I was going to do, a little bit at a time and to view it like a giant experiment, where I’m observing what worked and what didn’t. One of my writers says that the Circle is like we’re in our own laboratory, and we are the lab rats, experimenting on ourselves. It’s a terrific analogy.

Your turn

I wonder how you might apply the same ideas to your own transformations, a little bit at a time? Tell me what you think. I love reading your comments and insights.

Build your writing habit

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

 

Thanks for reading and Happy 2013!

Warmly,

 Jenna
 

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