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.

 

What “Counts” as Writing?

In my Called to Write Coaching Circle, we primarily keep track of writing minutes, not word or page counts. 

We do this because when we're plotting, outlining, revising, or editing, for instance, our word and page counts won't necessarily increase, but we are moving our books and screenplays closer to completion. 

Pros and Cons of Focusing on Word Count

Many writers chastise themselves for not writing New Words when they're doing such work, and therefore undervalue the time they're putting in on development and revision, two critically important stages of a writing project.

Or they put the focus on writing New Words and increasing word counts and page counts ... but sometimes end up writing purposeless prose, simply to stay in action with writing. I know this can come up for writers during NaNoWriMo, where the concern is often keeping the writing going to meet one's daily word count.

On the up side, keeping words flowing is a powerful way to build a habit of writing. A big obstacle for writers is getting into the practice of getting words out and onto the page. Having a "keep writing and don't stop" mantra helps that flow get established. 

On the downside, I know there are many writers who struggle with what they're left with at the end of a writing session (or a writing month, as in the case of NaNo). There are just that many more words to cull, manage, organize, and edit. 

How to Approach Writing During Writing Sprints

This came up the other day as I was talking with one of our Coaching Circle members about how to make the most of the writing sprints we run as a part of our program.

What I recommend is using writing sprints (you can do your own or join us in the Circle) for any kind of writing-centered work that moves your project forward. I still use a "keep working and don't stop" approach, but I don't put my attention on more words; I instead immerse myself in whatever stage of the project I'm working on that day. So if I'm in the outlining stage, I concentrate working on the outline for the full 60 minutes I've set aside to write, and I don't stop or do other things until my timer dings.

And yes, I write with a timer, which I highly recommend. It's a great way to jumpstart a writing session, and it really helps a writer keep their attention on the work, rather than slipping away to other things. This works particularly well when said writer is tracking and recording their writing minutes so they know every minute counts.

As an added boost of writing energy, participating in writing sprints with others super-charges the writing energy and help writers stay on track. You still have to come into the writing session or sprint with a clear intention, but the good news is that if you're writing every day or near daily and working on one main project at a time, that's pretty easy to do because you tend to stay clearer about what your next steps are. You can do writing sprints online or in person.

Two Caveats About What Counts As Writing Time

I have two caveats when it comes to what counts as writing time.

  • Caveat #1: I recommend tracking research time separately from writing time. Research can become a black hole, so it's important to make sure you're not endlessly researching as a form of procrastination or perfectionism disguised as procrastination (this is where you're so worried that you'll get it wrong that you try to read everything in your field to make sure you're not leaving anything out). I like what Steven Pressfield recommends in Do The Work* -- a "research diet" of no more than three books on your topic before you begin writing, and permission to do more research later once you've written your first draft and truly know what else is needed to flesh out the story. 
  • Caveat #2: Be clear on what you're doing for development and know when to call it done so that you're not endlessly perfecting the story before you start writing. This isn't exactly a counting issue but it's an important one to pay attention to. It's easier for me to write "be clear" than it is to actually achieve that, I realize! It's a very iterative process and knowing when you're done requires a full-on gut check.

    YOU know deep down if you're procrastinating on starting pages or if you still need to work on your deeper structure and meta work for the story. And there's a real spectrum here too: Many of us are so nervous about spending overly long on development and self-monitoring for procrastination that we're constantly and internally pushing ourselves to rush into pages, while others of us get stuck in perfecting mode.

    A good clue is this: What's driving you to keep working? Is the story working for you, but you're telling yourself it's not good enough or thinking that other people won't like it? You may be trapped in perfectionism. Take a good hard look at your work and see if there are any key issues you can work on elevating and then move forward.

    Alternatively if you're thinking to yourself something like, "I don't quite feel good about this yet but I really need to start pages," you may want to give yourself permission to spend a little more time on the development work. Ultimately even story development and actual page writing become an iterative process themselves, so it's true that some working out happens on the page.

    There's no one right answer here (with writing, there rarely is) but tuning into your own inner knowing about what's really going on can be illuminating.

Next time I'll share my current list of the development steps I'm using with my screenplays (and novels, it looks like!). In the meantime, if you're holding a limited definition of what counts as writing in your own mind, I invite you to expand it. Here's the list of everything I can think of that "counts" as writing. Hopefully it will free you up to relax a bit more into your writing process.

What Counts as Writing

  • Concept brainstorming
  • Writing loglines
  • Writing premise lines
  • Developing character profiles
  • Structuring
  • Plotting
  • Outlining
  • Writing a synopsis or treatment
  • Brainstorming and mind mapping
  • Writing scene cards
  • Writing actual New Words
  • Revising
  • Editing
  • Wordsmithing and polishing

What else would you include on this list? Have I forgotten anything? Let me know in the comments.

News

The Writing Intensive. Thanks so much to all of you who participated in my recent survey about an upcoming writing intensive. I'm still collecting data if you'd like to contribute your ideas here. I'm currently thinking that I will run the intensive in October, possibly starting on October 1. This could be a great opportunity for people who want to put in a concerted effort on story development before NaNoWriMo, or are simply champing at the bit to have structured writing support for a big push on a project. Watch this space if you're interested in joining the Intensive.

Coming Up

Coaching CircleThe next session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, October 10th and the last day to register and join us is Thursday, October 6th by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. The primary difference between the Circle and the Intensive is that the Circle revolves around habit-building and year-long daily writing, whereas the Intensive is a short-term writing push. Special rates for the Intensive will be available for Circle members.

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

  

 

* Affiliate link

Get Steven Pressfield’s latest book for free

If you haven't seen the news yet, Steven Pressfield has a new book out called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What To Do About It.

You can download a copy of the ebook for free for the next week or so (click this link to go to the download page). There's no email opt-in required.

I love this for so many reasons. Among them:

1. I adore Steven Pressfield's books about writing. He says this one picks up where The War of Art takes off, which is one of my all time favorite books about writing and always gets me to sit up a little straighter when I read it. My other all time favorite is one of his other books Turning Pro. So you can imagine that I'm thrilled to read the next one.

2. It's a very cool marketing strategy. Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, the co-founders of Black Irish Books, take the long view when it comes to publishing and marketing. They believe in building a loyal audience and spreading by word of mouth. They believe in the value of what they publish and know that getting it out there is a huge part of the process.

3. They're taking a casual approach to their offer. They're not forcing an opt-in (though there is certainly a time and place for that when building a list and a platform). And they're leaving the decision as to how long the offer stays open up in the air a bit. This speaks to their confidence and experience in a powerful way. These guys are comfortable about what they are doing, and it shows.

4. It's got a great title. I'm reminded of the oft-shared article, "I Will Not Read Your F*cking Script", which had me in stitches when I read it. This title speaks to the angst we writers experience over trying to get our stuff looked at ... and WHY people may not want to, something we all could use a little education about, I'm sure. I can't wait to read it.

5. Because I'm a lifer when it comes to being a Pressfield fan, it's fun to get to share this with you. Ordinarily I wouldn't share a book with my audience without reading it first. But because I know, like, and trust Steven Pressfield and his work, I'm happy to put it out there. When we think about this from a marketing perspective regarding our own work, there are lessons to be learned in spades here.

Go forth and download!

Enjoy. And let me know what you think when you read it. I'll be diving into it soon myself.


Warmly,

Jenna


Coming Up

Coaching CircleThe next session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, June 20th and the last day to register and join us is TODAY, June 16 by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

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

  

 

fittingwritingintoyourlifeI'm leading a one-week intensive called "Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter " at Screenwriter's University starting on August 11th and running for 7 days. It's a three-part online recorded video presentation from me and plus online discussions, interaction, and support from me. Find out more and register here. *

* This is an affiliate link, which means I'll earn an extra commission in addition to my teacher's pay, if you register through me.
writing

Are You Called to Write?

I believe in callings.

I believe that each of us has something that we were put here to do, and when we find what it is, we must do it with all our hearts.

And... it isn't always easy to get clear on what our calling is.

Why?

The noisy, busy world we live in and the noisy, busy minds we are encouraged to cultivate by the mainstream makes it hard to hear ourselves and the deeper whispers of our souls.

And that's often how a calling comes through, as a whisper.

It took me a number of years to come around to realizing that my deepest call is to write. I spent my 20s and 30s sorting myself out in that regard, changing careers, soul-searching, and more (like helping other people get clear on their life callings!), only to come back to the insight that my 6th grade self already had hit upon: I want to write.

Are you called to write?

If you're here, reading a website named "Called to Write", I'm going to assume that you also feel that call. That you have the inner compunction to put words to the page in some form. You may or may not be doing it yet, or maybe not yet quite the way you want to be doing it, but I'm guessing that one way or the other, you've been feeling the call to write for some time.

When I conducted a survey a little while ago, 71% of you said that you felt called to write without a doubt. That's huge. And fantastic!

And, interestingly, 71% of you also said that you struggle with procrastination.

Isn't that fascinating?

The very thing we feel called to do is the very thing we tend to avoid.

And it's entirely normal.

One of my favorite things Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art (aka "Jenna's Bible") is this:

"The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."

In other words?

The bigger the dream, the more we fear and avoid it.

The good news

The good news is that it's not as hard as it feels to help yourself write the way you want to. You just need to understand what's really going on behind the calling, behind the resistance, and along the life journey we're making as writers so that you can start to match up what you're doing on a daily basis with your deeper calling.

I'm leading a free teleclass next week to help you do just that.

It's titled: "Called to Write: How to Align Your Daily Actions with Your Soul's Deeper Purpose".

In the class, I'll be talking about:

  • Symptoms you may be experiencing if you’re not living your calling — and what to do about them.
  • Mistakes you may be making that might be stopping you from pursuing your calling.
  • How to know you are called to write — no more second guessing what you were put here to do.
  • Things you think may be signs you shouldn’t write but are not accurate — and you should ignore!
  • Surprising facts about how you can fulfill your calling to write more easily than you expect.
  • The mythic journey you must complete in order to fulfill your calling.
  • Action steps to align your daily actions with your soul’s deeper calling.

If you'd like to join me, please register here: http://programs.calledtowrite.com/teleclass

 

 

And the winners are…

Thanks to the almost 100 of you who participated in my Called to Write Survey!
I appreciate your input so very much.

It was fascinating to look over the results.

So many of us feel called to write, but struggle with all the challenges of bringing it into reality.

For instance, in answer to the question, "Do you feel that you are called to write?"

  • 71% answered "without a doubt"
  • 21% answered "would like to believe that"
  • 8% answered "not sure"

But even though so many of us feel called to write, there are still lots of struggles with procrastinating, being too busy, being uncertain about what to work on, and more.

I'll be looking further at the data and seeing what else I can glean, as well as reviewing all the great questions and issues all of you brought up. Thank you so much!

And without further ado... 

Our book drawing winners!

Here are the TWENTY winners from our random number generated drawing:

  1. Courtney
  2. Dorit 
  3. Michele (with one 'L')
  4. Debi
  5. Beth
  6. Jodie
  7. Marion
  8. Steven
  9. Karen
  10. Rebecca
  11. Christine (@yahoo)
  12. Jo Ann
  13. Risa
  14. James
  15. Antoinette
  16. Amy
  17. Linda D.
  18. Nikki
  19. Candace
  20. Selen

I don't have last initials for everyone, but everyone has been emailed who won (check your spam folder if you think your name is on the list but you don't see an email from us).

IMPORTANT: Winners have until Monday, August 31 at 12 noon Pacific Time to respond with their mailing address and book preference, after that we will move on to our Runners Up.

 

Thanks again to everyone who participated!

 

 

sleeping over laptop

Writing through exhaustion, sickness, and grief . . . or not?

It's been a rough couple of months. My mother-in-law passed away at the end of January. I've managed to have two colds since then (yes, I know it's only February 20th), and the second one has been a doozy. I wrote through the first cold. I wrote through her passing. It felt good to write. It became my solace, my place to turn to myself and remember who I am, even in the face of grief and exhaustion. I even finished the rough draft of a new spec script in the midst of all this. But by the second cold (all whilst taking care of a now 9 month old baby), I was pretty fried and quite simply too sick to do much more than a very low rock bottom minimum. 

As I've navigated the last 10 days in particular, I've found myself focusing on getting well and doing some minimal amounts of tinkering and research to stay in touch with various projects. And now that I'm emerging (finally!) from this Cold From Hell, I'm facing the need to reboot my own writing habit a bit. I'll make a point to write about that next week. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this article (revised and reprinted from 2013) about making the choice about whether or not to write when you're sick, have hit a rough patch in your life, have shaken confidence, are experiencing a loss or grief, or perhaps are suffering from a depleted creative well.

Enjoy!

diamonds2

During a live coaching call for my online small group coaching program for writers, one of our participants asked about how to know when to push through and write if you're not feeling well, and 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, I think 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 and it was nagging at me not to -- but my focus is on 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 writing again as soon as possible, starting out small, even just 15 minutes a day, and building back up to your full pre-illness writing glory over a few days time.

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 scale back your writing time to get through it. I've been through many challenging personal experiences over the last several years as a writer, and I find that it's much easier to keep writing at a rock bottom minimum level than it is to stop writing altogether (this is because it gets harder and harder to restart, the longer the not-writing goes on, as I mentioned above).

As a writer, it's worth knowing what your minimal level of writing is -- how much will keep you engaged and connected to the work? For me, it's 15 minutes a day -- that's my rock bottom. For someone else, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. The point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

Along with aiming for your minimum, when you're going through a phase like this, make sure you increase your levels of self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. It'll benefit your writing in the long term.

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

A common refrain among writers is, "I'm not in the right mood to write." This can come up for all sorts of reasons, like having a bad night's sleep or a bad day at work. It can also be a bit sneaky, and turn up when 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 better at this than I am!").

And what happens is that we start feeling like we need to take time off to rest or to get ourselves feeling better before we write.

But hear this now: Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write. 

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing already, we simply cannot allow our moods to be added to that list.

You may even be surprised to find that when you write on a daily or near-daily basis, your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood. Oftentimes writers find that their best writing and most productive days occur when they did not want to write. And besides, writing will often change your mood for the better anyway.

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 -- nearer to the veil between life and death -- and I found it 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:

"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. I also believe it's perfectly appropriate -- important even -- to allow ourselves time to grieve and be with whatever emotions are coming up. When my mother-in-law died recently, writing was my solace, as I mentioned. I also found great comfort in being involved with the writing of her obituary and the letter to our extended family. 

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." In my pre-baby days, I would take my older son to school, and then do whatever I felt like doing, usually some combination of a buying a fantastic decaf beverage, watching a movie in bed, taking a nap, and maybe going out for a meal at a favorite restaurant. Now, with a little baby in the house, my days off are even a little more home-centric, but still involve similar indulgences (a movie while he naps, something yummy delivered for lunch, and a long bath.)

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? Let us know in the comments.

Experiment for yourself

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 on March 2. It's like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn't, and enjoy working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Get your ‘But’ in the seat and write

One of my all time favorite quotes about writing comes from Steven Pressfield, author of what has become my bible for writing, The War of Art*. In it, he says:

"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."

As a writing habit and motivation coach, I work with writers all over the world who face and tackle this resistance every single day as they struggle to sit down to write. Very often that resistance takes the form of the word "But".

  • But I don't have enough time.
  • But I don't have enough training.
  • But I don't know what to write.
  • But I'm not inspired.
  • But I'm not a good enough writer.
  • But I'm not in the right mood.
  • But I need to take care of all these other tasks first.
  • But I'm not making enough money yet to justify taking time to write.
  • But I don't have a laptop.
  • But I'm tired, I didn't get enough sleep last night.
  • But I'm too busy.
  • But my day job takes up too much of my time.
  • But I don't have a private space.
  • But my kids will interrupt me.
  • But my mom might call and need me.
  • But I'm bored with this project.
  • But I can't decide which project to start with.
  • But I'm stuck.
  • But I have writer's block.
  • But if I was a real writer, it would come easily to me.
  • But I have to deal with this crisis/emergency/major life issue first.

Guess what?

All these Buts are just stories. They are coming up for a deeper reason.

The deeper reason is fear.

Fear is what truly stops us from writing. The Buts are just the surface level rationalizations for fear. They are convenient excuses to keep your butt out of your chair and doing other things so you don't have to face the discomfort of taking on your dream.

Pressfield also says:

"Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work."

It turns out that actually DOING the writing is fairly easy. Most of the writers I work with find that once they are actually putting words on the page, they forget about the inner struggle and just do the work. In the Writer's Circle we run five weekly group writing sprints to help our writers overcome the resistance to sitting down to write (and to curtail the sense of isolation). My other favorite trick is to write first thing in the morning with a timer running. Pushing the start button gives me a "GO" that gets me into gear even when the Buts are loud and pernicious.

The thing to notice here is that fear is a beacon. It guides you exactly where you need to and even want to go, though you may not be aware of that wanting yet. The thing is, if it wasn't a big, big dream, you wouldn't be afraid of it.

No, I'm not talking here about naturally protective fear that keeps you safe from lions, tigers, and bears -- that's GOOD fear -- I'm talking about the kind of fear that's a holdover from when you were a kid, the kind that's trying to keep you safe from any kind of personal humiliation or risk. This is also the kind of fear that's keeping you "safe" from achieving your dreams.

I didn't quite mean for this to become an ode to Steven Pressfield, but he has so much genius on this subject I can't help sharing a few more of my favorite quotes from him about fear:

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is 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."

And:

"Figure out what scares you the most and do that first."

So it's time.

It's time to stop listening to the Buts, the fears, the doubts, and the rationalizations. It's time to site down and do the work, to coax yourself through the fear with lots of support and promises of rewards, to feed your own well of creative inspiration so you feel consistently nourished and ready to write, and to learn whatever you need to learn so you feel equipped to do the writing. But above all else, it's time to write.

Build the habit to overcome your own resistance

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer struggling to overcome your writing resistance, join the next session of our Writer’s Circle. We’ll help you build a regular, consistent habit of writing so the battle to overcome resistance each day gets easier. Plus, you’ll have a great community of support, working alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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Going pro

Over the last week, I’ve seen a lot of conversation about being professional. In part this was from a writer’s perspective, but it also came up in the broader context of reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work, which is a book for “artists, entrepreneurs, and athletes whose ambition is … to pursue their heart’s calling and make it work.”

If I had to pick one role model to follow, I’d be hard pressed not to choose Steven Pressfield. He’s inspiring, practical, and amazing, and a man after my own heart. If I stand for anything, it’s about helping you get out of your own way and do what you were put here to do.

Do the work

What I love about Steven’s work is that he doesn’t say that it will be easy, that you should do what you love and the money will follow, or any of that.

What he says, instead, is that doing the work is hard. That we have to face our fears everyday and get our butts in our seats no matter what to do the work — whatever it is.

Passion is a misnomer

I also read yesterday that passion is a misnomer (I’ve written about this subject before myself). In this guest essay, Joshua Fields Millburn points out:

“Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy every aspect of it.

“In fact, I’ve found the opposite to to be true. While writing my first masterpiece, Falling While Sitting Down, it was a miserable experience 80% of the time. Seriously, much of the time I wanted to put my head through a wall. But the other 20% was magical and exciting and made all the suffering and drudgery well worth it.

“The key is pushing through the tedium of the 80%, so you can find the beauty beneath the banality; it’s there, plentiful in that remaining 20%. You have to tolerate the pain, if you want to pursue your dream.”

Turning pro means being a grown up

When I talked with Elaine yesterday about writing, we agreed with Joshua. Pursuing anything meaningful is hard, a lot of the time. It takes being a grown up and facing the hard sucky parts to get to the other side of completion. It means surfing the waves of pain and self-doubt, sitting on the throne of agony, and doing the work.

It’s time we started telling the truth about that.

Remember, even Ray Kinsella went through his own kind of hell before people came to his field of dreams.

What if we loved even the crummy parts?

And while it’s tempting to pursue one’s calling with the focus on the magical 20% — the epiphanies, sudden insights, and flashy Elvis moments — I can’t help wondering, isn’t it worth it to enjoy ALL of it?

In my post yesterday, I asked you to share your questions for me (which I’m having fun answering — come post one if you haven’t already), and Mary asked, “What’s your story of ‘turning pro?'”

Here’s my answer: The day I turned pro with my writing was the day that I realized that if someone offered me $10,000,000 with the condition that I could never write again, I would turn them down. I knew with incredible conviction that I want to write — I must write — and I will allow nothing to stop me. Not even the bad days where I think I can’t write myself out of a shoebox let alone put a whole script together.

Now the only questions about my writing are: What to write, what to write next, and how to make my writing better and hone my craft. And then what to write after that.

That was the day I turned pro.

When you just can’t do anything else

Steven Pressfield tells a similar story. He talks about how despite his doubts and failures, he knew that he simply couldn’t do anything else but write, and when he tried anything else, he couldn’t stand it. So he had no choice but to keep writing. And he did.

I’m with him.

Bottom line

Dr. Phil talks about making “life decisions.” These are unalterable, no-turning-back decisions where you are all in. To me, that’s what it means to turn pro. What about you?

Your turn

Share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.

Warmly,

 Jenna

Coming Attractions

~> July 5th. Last day to register for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle. For serious writers and for writers who want to get serious about their writing. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

~> July and August. It’s almost time for the next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group. Are you interested in grabbing a spot before we sell out? Email my team and we’ll put you on the advanced notification list. Find out more at http://LifePurposeBreakthrough.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Mentoring with screenwriter Chris Soth through ScreenwritingU.

~> September 18 to 20th. Heading to Hollywood for a ScreenwritingU event to meet with producers and agents.

~> September 21st to 22nd. Staying on in Hollywood for the InkTip Pitch Summit.

~> Sacred writing time. Early mornings and Fridays.

~> Reading Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix with my little boy and Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey on my own. Still in the queue: (500) Days of Summer, Another Earth, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, while we’re finishing up watching Season 2 of Game of Thrones. Amazing! (Yep, I read all the books too.)

 

Failure, Zombies, Systems, and Steven Pressfield

I was emailing with a beloved client this week who was concerned about setting herself up for failure by taking on something she might not be ready for.

I said, "It's not about failing or not failing, it's about learning what works for you and what doesn't, and refining until it does."

She made a great choice to take a midway step toward the thing she was considering. 

In the meantime, our conversation got me thinking about failure and our relationship to it.

The Payoff of Incapacity

Then today I started reading Steven Pressfield's new book, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work. (If you haven't read his stuff, don't wait. He's amazing.) He says:

"There's a difference between failing (which is a natural and normal part of life) and being addicted to failure. When we're addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we are secretly relieved."

He argues that when you remain addicted to failure you allow yourself to indulge in the "payoff of incapacity." And what's the payoff there? Leaving your talents "unexplored, untried, and unrealized."

And doesn't that make sense?

Let's face it, fulfilling your dreams is wickedly terrifying. What if you do fail? What if you can't rise to the challenge?

It's safer not to try. Easier to stay addicted to failure.

But you don't really want to be a zombie, right?

To me, the risk of not trying is much more costly.

Our culture is filled with shadow people -- speaking of zombies, these are the real walking dead -- never pursuing their hopes and dreams, selling out for the American dream and not living their own.

We pay with our souls when we don't do our Work.

Edison Knew Better

In various online sources, the numbers differ about exactly how many times Thomas Edison failed when he attempted to make a light bulb, but there is agreement on one thing: He made so many attempts that most of us would have given up long before he did. LONG before.

His take on the situation was to say that he had not failed, but rather proven that all those other methods did not work.

Design Better Experiments

Which takes me back to my client and the principle I shared with her.

When we choose to see our "failures" as failed experiments, we can design new ones, and see what works better.

Create Better Systems

For example, I have been terrible about filing for years. On Monday it dawned on me that I simply need a better system and that I haven't completely finished designing that system. I've worked on it, it's better, but it isn't done. That's all. It's not that I'm a bad person or even bad at filing, it's that I don't have a workable system yet.

Look at What's Not Working

As another example, at one point I had a bad system for paying my team too. They would email me their invoices and I would procrastinate about paying them. It wasn't that I didn't want to, it was that it seemed overwhelming. Sometimes I'd even be worried the invoices would be too high. I'd have to force myself to download and open their invoices, figure out how much I owed them, write the checks, address the envelopes, get them in the mail, etc. I'd do it, but it felt like pulling teeth. I was often late.

Needless to say, no one was very happy about it, so we came up with a new system.

My team members now put their invoice numbers and amounts due in the subject lines of their email messages to me. At a glance, I know exactly how much I owe them. We also made an agreement that I'd pay them no later than 2 days after I receive their invoices. And they all send them on a specific day every other week. I also have sheet of pre-printed address labels for each of them ready to go.

Now, when the time comes, I just whip out my checkbook, write out the checks, drop them in the self-sealing envelopes, decorate them with the address labels and stamps and voilà. Done.

Something I used to dread has become simple and doable, just because I took the time to create a system for it.

This Works for the Big Stuff too

When it comes to the big stuff, your Work, this works too.

For example, if you want to build your business, but you're not taking steps each day to do that, look at what's getting in the way and what you're doing instead.

If you want to write but you think you don't have the time, look -- really, truly LOOK -- at what you're doing with with your time.

If you want to put yourself out there for speaking gigs, getting more clients, doing more art, or going on more auditions, look at what you're doing, or not doing, to make that happen.

Then create a system to help you overcome the roadblocks you're unwittingly putting in your own way.

Bottom Line

The beauty of taking time to really LOOK at where your systems are breaking down -- at where you are "failing" -- is that it can make a huge difference in your sense of accomplishment and belief in yourself. Which is so worth the investment.

Your turn

Share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.

 

 

Resistance Is Futile

Resistance is swirling all around us this week.

Are You Resisting Success?

Danielle LaPorte recently posted a powerful article called “How to Resist Success” on her blog about how we self-sabotage to avoid success.

In it, she quoted Steven Pressfield, one of my heros and the author of The War of Art, from his new book Do The Work: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” (Great news — you can get the Kindle version of his new book for free for a limited time.)

All the more reason to go for it, n’est-ce pas?

How to Choose Which Idea to Pursue First

I also spotted Marie Forleo’s online video interview with Steven Pressfield. My favorite piece of advice from him was about how to choose which one of your ideas to pursue first: The one that scares you the most.

The Many, Many Forms of Resistance

Then today as I was preparing for my Artist’s Way Accountability and Support Group, and reading “Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength” in The Artist’s Way, I found the concept of Resistance coming up big time. Julia Cameron talks about the creative blocks we come up with to avoid our art:

  • I’m too old. (age block)
  • What am I going to get out of it? (finished product block)
  • I’m too busy. (workaholism)
  • I have more important things to do first. (workaholism)
  • I have to overhaul my whole life first. (drama)

Taking Action to Overcome Resistance

Julia makes the point that we must take small, daily, creative actions to accomplish our creative goals rather than looking for one big sweeping gesture. This is one of my biggest pitfalls.

Steven Pressfield makes a similar point about showing up every day, to do the work.

Jennifer Louden says, “Just. Do. The. Writing.

Sonia Choquette taught us, “Suit up. Shut up. Show Up.” (I’m fairly certain she attributes this teaching to Julia Cameron herself.)

What To Do With All This

At the end of our session today, we outlined our Secret [Big] Dreams. “In a perfect world, I would secretly love to be a ______________.” My answer: A published author.

Then we identified our “true north” for that dream — the how-you-know-when-you-get-there goal. Mine: A real physical book published with a core group 0f raving fans.

We picked a mentor for that dream. (Mine: Steven Pressfield. Seems obvious!)

Then we identified a 5 year vision and a 1 year action plan. My one year action plan looked like this: Write regularly. Get clear on what to focus on.

So I asked myself, “Of all my ideas, what would scare me the most?” The answer: A creativity book. (Holy shit, Batman.)

My participants asked why — my “Who do I think I am?” stories come up fast. But I’m ready to go there anyway. So now I know what my book is about, and I can get to work on it along with my screenplay (which I’ve been working on this week, hurrah!). Yowza.

What’s your secret Big Dream?

I’d love it if you’d share it with me, and the action you can take TODAY to move toward it. Mine: Writing this blog post.

 

 

Coming Up

~> May 3rd, 2011. My Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group continues. Details.

~>May 26th, 2011. Mark your calendar! My brand new event for getting you back on track with what you were put here to do will be happening on May 26th — only 4 spots available. Stay tuned for details.

~>May 28th, 2011. Next broadcast of my Dreamification Radio show on Radio Lightworker. Details. Listen from anywhere in the world to this Internet radio show.