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How to Write Morning Pages In 3 Easy Steps (and 5 Inspiring Reasons You’ll Want To!)

Morning pages are something I mention fairly often here at Called to Write, but haven't ever defined. Many writers are unfamiliar with the concept.

Morning pages are a writing tool created by Julia Cameron and described in her book The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity*.

The core idea is to write three long-hand, stream of consciousness pages every day, first thing in the morning upon awakening, no matter what, even if you only write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over again. 

If you have a comment or question about writing morning pages, make sure you leave a comment by Friday, March 10th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time because one lucky commenter will receive a copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of The Artist's Way, as my gift. (And if you already have the book, I'll send it to someone you want to share it with!)

How to Write Morning Pages in 3 Easy Steps

Here are three easy steps to help you get started writing morning pages:

Step 1: Get yourself a notebook to write in (and put it somewhere you'll find it quickly and easily in the morning).

I like something with half-size sheets so that it doesn't take me all day to fill the pages. My favorite is this steno notebook*, because I love the paper weight and the size of the pages. I prefer using something a little more disposable like this than a fancy journal since I don't want to feel attached to them. Though I've kept all of my many notebooks so far, I expect to eventually have a bonfire with them and I don't want gorgeous leather-bound books energetically stopping me from letting go. I keep my notebook with my favorite pen tucked into my nightstand for easy retrieval upon awakening.

Step 2: Write three pages -- about ANYTHING -- when you wake up.

I love to write morning pages before I do anything else other than make a quick trip to the bathroom and put in my contact lenses. Then I hop back in bed and write. My pages tend to take me about 20 minutes. Some writers prefer to get up and make coffee or tea, and sit in a cozy spot to write their pages. If you're tempted to stop short of three pages, I highly recommend pushing through. There's so much insight that happens once you get deeper in (usually about the 2.5 page mark) -- don't miss it. Don't worry about what you're writing -- just write whatever is swirling around in your brain, even if it's boring, whiny, ridiculous, or pointless. It doesn't matter.

Step 3: Repeat the next day... and don't look back. 

Write the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Morning pages are one of those tools for life that are worth holding onto. Especially in the early days of writing morning pages, don't re-read your pages. Julia Cameron even recommends stapling the pages together when you first start so you aren't tempted to go back. Just put the words on the page, and move on. It's a tool, not a record.

5 Reasons You'll Want to Write Morning Pages

Some pretty amazing and miraculous things start happening once you've been writing morning pages for a while. Here are five reasons you'll want to make them part of your regular writing routine:

1. Morning Pages Lead to Creative Recovery

Morning pages are a powerful tool for creative recovery. Many writers and artists experience creative burnout at some point and struggle to regain their creative footing and orientation. Writing morning pages helps us find our way back to our creative selves.

Morning pages also are a way to "rest" on the page -- a way to keep the words flowing even if you're feeling blocked with writing your book or what to write next, and can be a "bridge" to keep you writing between finishing a draft and tackling your next revision when you don't want to lose your writing habit and momentum.

Writing pages this way also helps free us from perfectionism. Since we're writing without editing or for publication or even for sentence structure, it gives us great practice at letting the words flow freely without judgement or internal censorship.

2. Morning Pages Prepare Your Mind for Creative Insight and Discovery

Writing morning pages will help you clear away any angst, fear, worry, and doubt -- in any area of your life. Morning pages are not journal pages -- you aren't (necessarily) going to be recording your life experiences through your morning pages. Instead, use them to purge the voices of negativity that hold you back. Get them out onto the page and out of your head, so you can move to your writing with a lighter heart and fresher spirit. So go ahead and vent and complain. Get it all out and leave it behind you.

What's so cool about this is that it helps you quiet your mind. And a quieter mind is one better prepared for creative insight and discovery. 

3. Morning Pages Foster Self-Trust and Honesty

Morning pages require honesty. Writing every day about what bothers you and what’s going on has a way of surfacing truths for your attention and recognition. You just can't get away with complaining about the same thing over and over again without feeling called to make a change. You'll notice what’s working and what's not working in your life. And as you listen to yourself, you'll build trust with yourself and your inner wisdom because you'll be noticing over and over again where your inner voice is giving you information about what's going on -- and you'll see the evidence of it.

4. Morning Pages Are an Antidote to Self-Forgetting 

Morning pages are a powerful antidote to self-forgetting. When you write morning pages, you'll reconnect with yourself. In my experience, it can be challenging to “come back to yourself,” especially in a world where busyness and materialism abound (and especially as a sensitive, intuitive, introverted writer). All the noise around us can make us feel lost and disconnected from ourselves, and morning pages bring us back to who we are.

A writer who knows herself is better able to deliver her highest quality work.

5. Morning Pages Are a Pathway to Self-Acceptance

Once you’ve stepped into this place of consciousness, it’s hard to go back. Fundamentally, morning pages give you permission to be who you are. They are a pathway to a radical form of self-acceptance. By being true to yourself and fully expressing all of yourself without judgment, you honor the truth of who you are.

Personally, I have found morning pages invaluable, from plain-old venting to accessing powerful insights. I use my pages to whine, moan, and complain. I unload my greatest fears and my deepest desires. And I ask for guidance from my inner self. It's an incredible way to clear your mind and listen to your heart.

Answers to Common Questions About Morning Pages

  • Do I have to write morning pages in the morning? Yes. :) Though you get to make your own rules for yourself, and of course no one can tell you there's anything you HAVE to do with your writing. At the same time, this is such an incredible writing tool it's worth experimenting with as prescribed.  
  • Do I have to write morning pages long-hand? Julia Cameron (and I) both recommend writing morning pages long-hand. There's something incredibly transformative about writing your pages out by hand. And... there's a pretty nifty site called 750words.com as an option for writing pages online. You could certainly use ByWord or Scrivener as well (two of my favorite writing tools).
  • What's the different between morning pages and journaling? The main difference between morning pages and journaling is that morning pages are about ANYTHING. It's about clearing out, writing stream of consciousness style, about whatever is circling your brain. Journaling can be the same, of course, but it tends to more "about" something, such as recording your day, or exploring a particular issue. And while that happens sometimes in morning pages, it's just as often as not complaining about errands we have to run or other things we're processing. 
  • If your writing time is limited, is it better to just focus on your book than on doing morning pages? Maybe yes, maybe no. I've made the choice for the last couple of years since baby #2 to focus on my primary writing projects rather than doing pages because time (and sleep!) has been at such a premium. And... I've dearly missed them. I've gone to doing a morning journal check-in lately instead, but I'm going back to morning pages too.
  • Can I share my pages with other people? I don't recommend sharing your morning pages with anyone else, ever. Part of the magic and what's makes them so powerful is that they are completely private and sacred. We can't fully reveal ourselves on the page when we're holding back for fear of what someone else might think. So keep them just for you, and protect yourself that way. This is great practice for learning to more fully reveal yourself when writing stories and books as well.
  • Can I write evening pages instead? If you want to, though really, they ARE quite different animals. You might find that you want to do both. My colleague Jill Winski just wrote a post about writing evening pages in addition to her morning pages. Similarly, The Ultimate Writer's Toolkit includes a set of morning and evening journal prompts, but focused on writing only. The Circle also somewhat fulfills the end of day writing "check-in" role that evening pages can play, but again, only around that day's writing. My take: write morning pages to write morning pages, and use your other tools to fulfill their unique purpose rather than making substitutions.

Do you write morning pages? Do you have other questions about writing morning pages? Tell me in the comments by Friday, March 10th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time ... and one lucky commenter will receive a copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of The Artist's Way, as my gift. (And if you already have the book, I'll send it to someone you want to share it with! I'll send the ebook version if our winner is overseas.)

I'll happily answer questions you have about writing morning pages here on the blog, too.

 

* Affiliate link

 

What if you don’t want to write every day?

As the proprietress of an online program designed to help writers build a daily writing habit, every once in a while someone says to me, "But Jenna, what if I don't want to write every day?"

My answer is, "That's okay."

If....

The reason we advocate daily or near daily writing in my Called to Write Coaching Circle is that most of the time, the writers who come to us are flat out struggling to write  -- at all. And it turns out that the more frequently you write, the easier it is to sustain the habit.

Some writers CAN write on a different schedule and it works perfectly well for them. That's completely fine. I have no objections. Because if you're someone who can write two to three times a week and keep that going over the long haul, that's great! Or if you like to go for months without writing and then have no problem cranking out a book without getting burnt out or frazzled, all the more sparkle bright ponies for you. Really.

But if you're someone who wants to write but isn't, or isn't living up to your desired level of productivity and completion, or keeps getting burnt out in binge-writing frenzies, or is wrestling with procrastination, burnout, perfectionism, or writer's paralysis, you might want to try our daily/near daily approach. It just makes it so much easier to break the patterns you're stuck in.

The thing is, a tremendous amount of paralysis that can build up for writers. It's all founded in fear -- fears of not writing well enough, of succeeding or failing, of public humiliation or ridicule, and more. All that fear builds up in our unconscious minds and sends us in an entirely OTHER direction than writing. But when we first break that pattern of writing-aversion and turn toward writing again with a small, doable step like writing for five to fifteen minutes, we can build new neural connections that reinforce writing as a positive thing in our lives. And if we do it again the next day, it makes it easier and easier to keep going. And once we build our writing up to habit levels, we start operating out of a whole new paradigm, one where taking a day off here or there doesn't throw us completely off track.

No matter what though, the bottom line is this: Do what works for you. There is no one right way to write. There's no one right answer to how to write. Different approaches work for different people. Find yours.

News

My latest news is that I've just signed a contract to rewrite a sci-fi feature for a producer, which I'm very much looking forward to. We're kicking off the project tomorrow. I have a busy 40 days ahead of me!

And on the personal front, my littlest one just turned two yesterday -- I can hardly believe it. And my older boy is about to finish 2nd grade. Time really flies.

Coming Up

Coaching CircleThe June session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, May 23rd and the last day to register and join us is Thursday, May 19 (that's today) by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

  

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.

 

 

About this “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” thing

I get kind of pissed off when people say there’s no such thing as writer’s block.

People say “you don’t ever hear of plumber’s block, do you?”

And, “Writers write. If you’re a writer, write.”

Which, yeah.

I agree with that.

Writers write.

But not when they feel stuck.

But if you think about it carefully, doesn’t writers block really mean “feeling unable to write”?

And isn’t it a bit ridiculous to tell someone there is no such thing as the feeling they are feeling?

I think it is.

One of my coaches, Jessica Michaelson, says there are no rules governing our inner emotional sanctuaries.

We get to feel how we feel. We may chose to take action that is different than how we feel – like not throwing the baby out the window when he wont stop screaming ;) or choosing to write when we are not in the mood (which is not the same thing as feeling blocked by the way) – but we may still feel angry and at wit’s end, or grouchy and out of sorts, and that’s perfectly okay.

In fact, I’m not at all sure how it helps someone who feels blocked to invalidate how they are feeling.

I will say, however, that what worries me is how writers usually chose to deal with writer’s block, and what they make it mean in their heads.

Lots of writers who feel blocked just stop writing and flat out hide. Or go around complaining that they are blocked as if they have no ability to make any kind of change their own lives.

I get equally pissed off by people who don’t choose to take action to help themselves, even if it’s a matter of reaching out for help to someone like me, one of my Writer's Circle coaches, or any of the other wonderful writing coaches and mentors out there in the world.

But there’s a reason why we don’t.

It’s shame.

Shame is what makes us hide and stop reporting our results or asking for help.

Shame makes us say “I should be writing.”

And, “But I can’t.”

And that’s the part of me that doesn’t get pissed off but instead wants to come sweeping over to your house and give you a big giant hug and tell you it’s all going to be okay. And then make you a cup of tea and talk, really talk, about what is going on inside that head of yours and help you make a real plan for how you will start to shift and change it, with me holding your hand every step of the way.

Writing is a lonely business.

Feeling blocked is even more so.

It’s not fair to compare it to a chronic illness or depression, but in some ways it’s just as soul crippling.

And as someone who is in the business of helping people honor their soul’s calling, it’s one of the challenges I most love helping you overcome.

 

 

3 antidotes for an otherwise “perfect” process

I was raised in a family where there's a right way and a wrong way, and great woe to the one who chose the wrong way. It was my early training program in perfectionism.

I learned to figure out what the right way was, and always do that. It was safer that way. And easier.

But it wasn't very creative. And it certainly didn't foster much in the way of independent thinking.

Over the years I've gotten better and better about doing things -- including writing -- even when I can do them far less than perfectly. I've learned to be willing to make mistakes, to try things, to "ship" before I'm ready, to create tons of accountability for myself so I can push through where I used to get stuck in the past, and to live more on my own creative edge.

So imagine my surprise in discovering that my own perfectionism was alive and well -- raging even -- this year.

It's an evil thing, perfectionism. So sweet at times. We'll talk about "a perfect day" with a sigh -- and we mean it, it was lovely and delicious and wonderful, everything felt just right. But how do we go from that to the paralyzed inaction of perfectionism when we can't figure out the exact right thing to write?

The insidious nature of perfectionism

For the record, perfectionism is defined as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” It means having such impossibly high standards that nothing can ever measure up.

Ever.

Including ourselves.

And it mucks up many aspects of our lives, including our relationships, finances, parenting, self-care, health habits, and especially our creativity. It rips holes in our self-esteem and our productivity if we let it.

Let's talk about how perfectionism works in a creative process:

  • Perfectionism triggers procrastination. If we don't know the answer in a creative project, we often stop and wait until we can figure it out (or bang our heads against the wall trying to solve it before proceeding). If it doesn't feel right it must therefore be wrong, but what could the right answer be? This can trigger a kind of obsessive procrastination that sometimes looks productive, but isn't -- researching, discussing, debating, thinking about -- instead of writing.
  • Perfectionism feels safer. If I can't get it done perfectly, then I won't do it at all. It's a very black and white, fixed mindset that doesn't allow for learning, growth, or much creativity. (Creativity is MESSY!)
  • Perfectionism leads to paralysis. If we procrastinate long enough, waiting for the right answers, we can stumble into a lasting paralysis. I don't know what to do, I can't do anything. I'm blocked! I can't figure out which way to go. I better stay right here.
  • Perfectionism keeps us from getting feedback. Perfectionists are often extremely reluctant to share our work with anyone or ask for feedback on it. We are terrified of finding out it's not good enough, not done yet, and will require more work. More work that we can hardly bear to do because it's so painstaking. What if they hate my writing? What if I'm not as good as I should be and they can tell? What if they find out that I am an impostor? Ironically, perfectionists often reject the feedback they receive as well, usually as "not good enough". 
  • Perfectionism keeps us from finishing. There's nothing like not finishing to guarantee that no one will notice that the work is less than perfect. It's much, much "safer" not to finish. It's not living up to what I imagined it would be. It just feels wrong. I'm stuck. I can't finish. I'll never finish. There's no point. But not finishing creates self-doubt and its own kind of paralysis: I must not love writing enough. I'm not a real writer. 
  • Perfectionism is an escape hatch. This is a tricky one that Corey Mandell talks about. We sometimes use perfectionism to let us off the hook. We create situations where we "don't have enough time" to get it done perfectly so we phone it in, require less of ourselves, or rush to do it all at the last minute. So when we turn in less-than-our-best work, we have an excuse for why we couldn't live up to our own impossibly high standards. 

Three antidotes for perfectionism

I've recently experienced a perfect storm of three different antidotes for perfectionism that came together in a powerful way.

Antidote #1: Think of perfectionism as just one of many ways to write

One of my mentors, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, has been talking about perfectionism in the Master Screenwriting Certificate program I'm taking. I've been hearing him talk about it for months, but honestly? I kept telling myself that I knew better than to fall for my own perfectionism and that I wasn't falling for it, because I was still writing.

But I was also writing more slowly than I wanted to be writing, and I was finding that I was struggling to "figure out" a lot of my story. The answers weren't coming easily, and I kept finding myself in rabbit hole after rabbit hole of confusion and overthinking.

When Hal described perfectionism as "just one of many processes" we can use as writers, I started seeing it in a new way. 

He says we have many methods to choose from when we write, and perfectionism is an excellent tool for our final, polished draft. But it is not a good tool for getting our first drafts written.

He got me thinking about how I was going about my writing process: I was going along, completing the assignments he had given us, and any time I hit a place I was confused, I would stop, and try to figure it out. Sounds pretty normal, right? But what I wasn't noticing were all the arguments I was having with myself while I was doing that, like:

  • You have to get this right or people will think you don't know what you're doing.
  • You should have gotten a science degree if you were serious about writing sci-fi.
  • It won't be real sci-fi, it'll just be a crummy space opera. (For the record I love space operas.)
  • You need to do a ton more research.
  • You've got to know exactly how this world works or it'll never make sense and the whole script will fall apart.

But after listening to Hal on the subject of perfectionism, I realized that what I was doing was trying to protect myself from failure and rejection by trying to get it done perfectly. But by doing so, I was also stopping myself from moving ahead and was falling further and further behind in class, which is not in alignment with what I actually want.

And something fell into place for me. Finally landed.

Hal has been telling us from the start of the program to give ourselves permission to write crap (I tell people this too, for goodness sakes!) and that if we don't know the answer to something, to either leave it blank or put down a guess and just move on. I made a vow to myself to do exactly that. To work with my outline and my writing process in a more experimental, exploratory way -- a different way to write -- while I'm working through this first draft.

Antidote #2: "Anything other than writing must come after writing."

Around the same time I was listening to Hal, I was also reading Chuck Wendig's latest ebook, 30 Days In the Word Mines, and stumbled onto this little gem about productivity.

"It’s very easy to do a lot of things and feel productive but, at the end, not be productive. This includes:

  • editing as you go
  • research
  • world building
  • networking/social media
  • marketing (before the book is done)
  • talking about writing
  • reading about writing

That’s not to say these are universally unproductive or unnecessary -- but really, when you’re working on a first draft, your best and strongest foot forward is: Write. Nothing else. Produce words. Jam words into sentences. Cram sentences into paragraphs. Paragraphs into chapters. Chapters into stories. Anything other than writing must come after writing." 

What if my "solutions" for my perfectionism-driven fears were manifesting as these kinds of sidetracks? What if instead I just focused on getting it down, rather than figuring it out, as Julia Cameron says?

I made another vow. No more editing. No more researching. No more looking up words in the dictionary. 

Just doing the writing.

Antidote #3: You're not allowed to hate it until it's done.

I also found myself having an illuminating inner conversation last Monday morning.

After my first two vows, I'd been happily outlining on Sunday night, moving along, Getting It Done. 

But then when I woke up on the next day, I found myself thinking, "I hate this script."

(I believe it is highly significant that I was having these thoughts while not working on the project. I find that I get into more trouble with my work when I'm not working on it than when I'm actually putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard.)

My negative thought-stream went on for a few minutes but then I caught myself, realizing that it was NOT helping me. 

So instead I decided, "I am not allowed to hate this script until it is finished. Then I can decide what I think of it. And only then."

After all, even the Pixar folks know you don't really know what you have until something is finished... and then you rewrite!

What if it's TRULY okay not to know the answers?

When this all connected, I realized that I could drastically pick up the pace of my writing if I really, truly, honestly just gave myself permission to NOT KNOW THE ANSWERS. To go with my best ideas, trust myself that I would fix it later if it didn't work, and to move on.

I found myself blazing through my outline as a result, leaving question marks, blank spots, and DKs where I was stuck. (DK = Don't Know, which is easily searchable in a draft since "DK" is an unlikely letter combination.) And I also -- to my surprise and delight -- started coming up with new ideas and solutions for issues I'd been trying to solve in my head rather than through the process of writing.

Since then I've wrapped up my outline and starting writing pages for the script, and it's going faster than I've written in a long time.

It's filled with notes and flaws and details to come.

And that's totally okay. 

Because the biggest win in this small segment of my writing journey is that I'm LOVING the process of writing again. And that's worth more to me than just about anything.

 

What's your perfectionism recovery story? Let us know in the comments!

 

What you need to hear when you have writer’s block

naomidunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post from my friend, writer, and favorite business consultant, Naomi Dunford.

Naomi is an incredibly inspiring writer, and she also happens to be the only business consultant I ever recommend.

Her powerful piece had me in tears. I only wish I'd known what she was going through!

 

 

Write Like It Never Happened

There was a week in the summer of 2010 when I had two life-changing conversations. In both of these conversations, each had with different people, and for different reasons, and ostensibly on different topics, the people I was speaking with suggested that perhaps lil ol’ me would be more successful and make more money and be more awesome if I acted, well, more like them.

They didn’t say it like that, of course. People don’t. When well-meaning people want to give advice, they tend to simply paint a picture, and it’s only if you look at that picture from a certain angle that you realize they have painted a picture of themselves.

Up until that time, I was following the very specific content marketing strategy of write when you are possessed of the urge to say something and publish it soon after. That resulted in between four and five blog posts a week most weeks, and sometimes there would be a week or so in which I had nothing to say, during which I didn’t write anything.

The people I spoke with thought that I should be more strategic.

They thought I should write blog posts that were designed to link to other blog posts, or to products, or services. They thought I should custom create blog posts purpose built to give opportunities for search engine traffic, “link bait”, and virality on social media.

This is good advice, actually. It’s certainly the advice I give when people ask me how to be more strategic with their content marketing. It’s the advice I give when people come to me asking for help. It’s the advice I give when people are starting from nothing and want to create something “the right way” from the start.

Like I said, it’s good advice. It just wasn’t great advice for me.

See, I wasn’t looking to get more strategic with my blog posts. I wasn’t looking to “optimize” or “take it to the next level” or “play a bigger game”. I had always found blogging to be one of the most rewarding activities I could possibly imagine. It was fun, and it made me smarter, and it helped me think, and it helped me grow.

Doing it my way got me into the Technorati Top 1000, meaning that, for a time, this was among the 1000 highest traffic blogs on the internet. (That honor, in tandem with two crisp American dollar bills, will get you a tall Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but still. It was good to know that I was good at something.)

What was it Toby Keith said? “A sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”?

These conversations came out of the blue. They came from colleagues I admire. They came while we were supposed to be talking about something else, something nice. And the shock of them, the surprise of them, the “yes, that little blog you have is nice and all, but perhaps you should be a tad, I don’t know, manlier? ” condescension of them, well, I folded. I figured these guys must be right. Anything I had attained must have been in spite of myself, and if I wanted to go anywhere in life, I’d better start acting like a grown-up.

Unsurprisingly, when I went to the keyboard, I didn’t know what to write. When the only dictate is “whatever you do, don’t act like yourself”, it’s tough to figure it out. And I stayed that way for four years.

In the meantime, I have written. I’ve written for work – the classes and the emails and the sales copy. Over two million words, actually. But nearly none of them have been mine, and nearly all of them have been a struggle.

Sure, sometimes I would catch a groove and forget to obsess. Sometimes I would be on a deadline and didn’t have time to dwell. Sometimes I would drink wine and get angry and write what I damn well felt like, mentally hating the two of them the whole time.

But most of the time, what I had once loved, I’d grown to hate.

Which brings us to this summer.

This summer, I had two more conversations, one with a student, and one with a colleague.

The student emailed me to ask if she could write a certain kind of content in her newsletter. In her PS she said she hoped I’d say it was okay, because “that kind of thing would be a blast to write.” And I wrote back and said, “Go ahead. If it would be a blast to write, it will be a blast to read.”

(Hmmm. Physician, heal thyself?)

And then I talked to a colleague. I said I didn’t know what to put on my blog, and I hadn’t for years. We talked for a long time. He asked questions. I explained the problem. He thought for a while, and then he likened the whole thing to cupcakes.

cupcake-atmHe said, “Remember that cupcake we got out of the ATM in Beverly Hills? Remember how it was perfect?”

“Even if it wasn’t perfect, I still would have liked it. If it had been a little less moist, or it had been carrot cake instead of red velvet, or if it had less icing or, hell, no icing. When someone presents you with a cupcake, and it’s even a little bit good, your answer is not ‘Gee, I wish it was different.’ Your answer is ‘Sweet! A cupcake!’ You’ll even take a brownie, or a cookie, or a brownie with icing, or a cookie with brownie-flavored icing. You don’t care. You’re just happy you got a cupcake.”

“Maybe it’s the same with your blog. Maybe you don’t have to be a certain way. Maybe you can just make cupcakes.”

And so I tried. I tried to write even though I’d had writers’ block for four years. I tried to write myself up some cupcakes.

It was awkward. It was wooden. It was tentative and hesitant and SO not the same as it used to be. It felt like touching a lover after a four-year dry spell full of nasty silences and not very casual disregard. But I did it. And here we are.

Between four years ago and now, other well-meaning people have tried to give me advice on how to beat my writers’ block. It’s become a bit of a joke in the classes I teach. People come onto our Q&A calls and ask how my book is going, and we all laugh.

The advice people give about writers’ block can generally be paraphrased – or quoted verbatim – as “just write”.

I would ask what I should write, and they would say just write. I would ask how to start, and they would say just write. I would say I don’t know how, and they would say just write.

They were correct, of course. That’s exactly what I should have done. But their advice never held, it never stuck, because, well, I don’t know why. I wanted it to work. I just needed more, I guess.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m stupid.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m weird.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t because I’m loud and I’m brash and I swear too much. I can’t because those big, strong men I admire and respect told me I was doing it wrong.

And I suppose what I would have wanted was for somebody to take me by the shoulders and say this:

“Write like it never happened.”

“Don’t let them get you. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them take the vitality and the fire and the sparkle that is you and sanitize it into a beiged-down version.

"Don’t change just because it makes other people feel safer. Don’t let them tell you that you would be perfect if you just weren’t so… you. Don’t let them take you away from everybody else who likes you just the way you are.

"I know it will be hard, and I know it won’t be the same, and I know you’ll doubt your every word for a while, but it will get better.

"Do you remember when you were little, and you swore you would never let anyone break you down, no matter how hard they tried? That small person inside of you is counting on you to make all her dreams come true. That small person said that one day, she would write and people would read, and that mess of a childhood would be transformed into something better. Nobody can make it okay for that small person but you.

"Write like it was ten years ago and nobody had told you that you couldn’t do it. Write like it was possible. Write like you had hope, and write like you had dreams, and write like there are millions of people out there waiting to hear what only you can say.

"Write like you did before it ever occurred to you that there might be anyone who wanted you to be different.

"Outrun it. Outrun the feeling that they might be right. Outrun it, outwrite it, and drown it with voices of love and support and admiration and high fives.

"Listen to your children who believe you can do everything and that Mummy is the wisest, strongest, prettiest person in the whole world. Put your trust in the ones who know you and love you and never want you to change. Write and write and write and write and write, no matter what, write.

"It. Will. Get. Better.”

I think that’s what I would have wanted to hear.

So just in case that’s what you want to hear, and you need somebody to say that to you, I’ll say it to you now:

Write like it never happened.

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Naomi Dunford's first piece of published writing was a review of Coneheads for the local paper. She was 12. Her greatest writing related achievement is getting 104% on an essay about "The Fatal Flaw In King Lear", a play which she has heard is very moving. She writes Morning Pages about once a year.

She is a business consultant, writer, and blogger who started her company, IttyBiz, in 2006 and has been featured in numerous books you probably own but have not read. Read (not much) more here.

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Thanks for reading!

We always love to hear what you think in the comments.

Image © Shira gal aka miss pupik, "Writer's block". Imaged modified only by cropping.

How to tell if you are a writer, or not

I've seen a number of debates and blog posts and flow charts on the internet over the last few months about how to tell if you are a "real" writer or not. This is something people struggle a lot with when it comes to their creative identity.

The bottom line of these conversations is this: Writers write. If you're a writer, you're writing. And, if you're paid to write, you're a professional writer.

As a general rule, I agree with these notions.

However!

And this is a big however: I believe these ideas are doing a grave disservice to people who WANT to write but haven't found their way to it yet. And to the writers who have written -- but for whatever the reason -- aren't writing right now.

It's pretty discouraging.

As a coach, I hate to see discouragement happening out there in the world.

I hate to think of all the people NOT writing right now because they've bought into this notion that since they're not writing YET, they must not be writers -- at least not in the core sense of who they are and who they can become.

Even one of my writing idols, Joss Whedon, practically undid me when he said, "You either have to write or you shouldn't be writing." Since I wasn't writing "enough" at the time, I thought, "Wait, does this mean I'm not a writer? Or that I can't be a writer?"

So there are all these intense messages out there in the world telling you that you're not a writer if you're not writing. And okay, again, I see the point.

But, what if:

  • You have a massive amount of fear and resistance about writing, even though you've always dreamed about writing, and you don't know how to deal with it.
  • You're stuck with your project and you don't know where to go next.
  • You're blocked, you can't pick a project to focus on, or you're paralyzed by performance anxiety or perfectionism.
  • You've just suffered a major loss of a loved one or gone through a horrific breakup and you're in the throes of grief, and you can't find your way back to the page.
  • You're caught up in the myths about writing (like not having enough time or money so you think you can't write).
  • You haven't yet built your writing habit skills, and you're writing irregularly or inconsistently at best.
  • You've bought into the belief that you have to be naturally talented to be a writer so you aren't even giving yourself a chance.
  • You believe you need more training or skills before you can write.

In my opinion, you are still a writer -- at your core -- even under these conditions. Yes, a writer who needs support, discipline, and structure to help get back on track. But still a writer. It means you are a writer who needs a jump start, or maybe a little coaxing to come out of your cocoon and into the world.

The thing is, if you're called to write, you must write. And if you're buying into this story, "I guess I'm not a writer because I'm not writing", you will NEVER write. That's not okay with me. I believe that our souls speak to us about what we are meant to be doing -- they know WHO WE ARE at a deep level. And so even if you haven't CLAIMED that dream yet, it's still yours for the taking.

So let's help you claim that dream and start writing. It's your soul calling to you, after all.

Thanks for reading!

I always love to hear what you think in the comments.

A quick heads up that if you want a jump start to get you writing, I'd love to help. My Writing Reboot sessions are just the ticket. But don't get one now because they'll be in my annual birthday sale this weekend at a ridiculous savings.

Or, you might also be interested in my Writer's Circle to you help build a regular habit and get the support of other writers to keep on writing. The last day to register is tomorrow, Wednesday, November 27. We'd love to have you join us.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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7 Steps to Recovering From Creative Burnout

Over the last few weeks I've been writing about creative depletion and the cycle of creative burnout, and creating a cycle of creative renewal.

Today it's time to talk about recovering from creative burnout.

As I said to one of my Circle members the other day, it's a matter of rebuilding trust with yourself and coaxing yourself back to the table.

So how do we do that?

7 recovery steps

1. First, acknowledge the exhaustion and aversion to the work that's developed.

It's real. It's normal, and it's totally understandable. 

Burnout happens from pushing ourselves too hard for too long and expecting that creative well to remain topped off. Doesn't happen.

2. Next, make a plan for recovery that includes down time.

...even if it's in the smallest of moments every day. Give yourself permission to close your eyes in a comfortable chair for a few moments allows your mind to let go, and relax. You're exhausted, you need to rest.

Ideally, you'll also want to schedule some full days off -- and vacations, if possible -- where you do nothing that's not just for you. Over the last month, I've taken two full days, mid-week, just to put my feet up and watch movies, eat great food, get some body work done, and saunter through the day at my own pace.

In other words, go for full out indulgence from time-to-time. You'll work harder, better, and faster, when you're rested. Not before.

3. When you feel ready, remind yourself why you love your craft.

Just today I was watching some clips from my favorite show ever, Firefly, and felt an upwelling of inspiration and passion come surging back through me.

You do love this work, you've just temporarily forgotten why.

Figure out what your jump-starts are, and go back to them when you need one.

4. Don't expect new ideas to come flowing back to you immediately.

Give yourself time and space to recovery, trusting that your creativity will return. Remember: you're not blocked, you're exhausted.

When my writers don't know what to write and don't have ideas flowing, I encourage them to start with a practice of morning pages (Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way* is the seminal book on the subject).

5. Find ways to regain your inspiration.

Go on "Artist's Dates" (again, see The Artist's Way*), take yourself out for walks, movies, book signings, and speaking events. Consider attending events that have nothing to do with your craft. It's amazing how other topics, knowledge, and ideas can reignite your own originality.

6. When you feel ready, make a baby steps plan to get back on track with your work.

In my Writer's Circle, we recommend working in the smallest possible increment of time that you know without question, that you will actually do. It's okay if it seems ridiculously easy (that's the point, in fact). You'll slowly build back up to more over time.

7. Give thought to how to prevent burnout next time.

In other words, plan ahead. Learn how to pace yourself properly and deal with the natural resistance and procrastination that comes up around creative work so that you don't put yourself right back where you've started.

If you do get into a situation where you'll be pushing to meet a deadline, think about how you can counter-balance the effort on the other side.

The bottom line

Creative recovery requires patience, permission, and a great deal of self-care. You, and your work, deserve it. Please give it to yourself.

Thanks for reading!

Click here to tell me what you think. I always love to receive your feedback.

And Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating here in the U.S. and abroad. I'm grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you for being part of my life.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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Creating a cycle of creative renewal

In my last post, I wrote about the cycle of creative burnout and how our creative inspiration becomes depleted when we push ourselves too hard and for too long.

I’m well acquainted with burnout; it’s a cultural norm in the field of urban design, my last “real” J.O.B. The writing profession has its own set of deadline-driven, high-stress work.

In the creative realms, including writing, artists are often seen as people who work in fits and starts, pulling all-nighters when they suddenly become inspired (or finally stop procrastinating).

I’ve allowed myself to enjoy the feeling of heroism that comes when I swoop in and save the day, meeting the deadline with just seconds to spare, but I’ve paid high prices for every single one of those dramatic experiences: apathy, resistance, confusion, grief, exhaustion, and lifelessness.

And truthfully, I STILL feel like I’m recovering from the bad choices I made working 60 and 70 hours a week more than 10 years ago.

Balance is a myth? I don’t think so.

It’s been said that balance is a myth and that passion should reign supreme.

I disagree.

Imbalance is an amateur’s gig.

Balance — an ongoing cycle of work and renewal without resorting to extremes — is part of not hitting bottom in the first place.

Balance is about staying sane.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard and play hard at different times.

But it does mean keeping an eye on the greater whole and not bingeing on any one thing at any given time.

So what DOES a cycle of creative renewal look like?

The cycle of creative renewal

It looks like this:

 

 

Tell me what you think

I love to read your comments on the blog.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> November 15th. Join my free Writer’s Chat on Vokle.com TOMORROW. Sign up here: https://calledtowrite.com/writers-chat

~> November 21st. Register by WEDNESDAY November 21st (a day early because of the U.S. Thanksgiving) for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts November 26th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Daily (back at it now that I’m more or less recovered from my wrist surgery). Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.* Working on “mini-movie 4!”

~> Reading: How to Train Your Dragon with my son. Back to watching Big Love.

 

* Affiliate link

 

 

 

 

10 tips to get unstuck and write more now

Note: This is a continuation of last week’s blog post: What to do when you want to write but you’re not writing: 6 steps to get back on track. If you want to receive my special Writer’s Series of articles in your inbox, make sure you sign up for my Free Writing Tips series (see the graphic in the sidebar).

Writing regularly is easier than it looks. Like I said recently, discipline isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. My personal goal is to make NOT writing a whole lot harder than it is to write. It’s working! So far I’ve finished a feature length script, 3 shorts, a short story, and countless articles and blog posts. You can do it too.

Here are 10 tips for getting unstuck and making writing regularly a whole lot easier:

Tip #1: Brainstorm.

If you’re good and truly stuck on a specific part of your project, first try brainstorming. It’ll let your mind relax and give you a chance to “try on” ideas rather than feeling like you have to come up with the “right” one.

Then, if you’re staying stuck, check to see if you need more information — research, a class, training, a mentor, etc. It’s OKAY to get help. Really!

Tip #2: Be in community.

Writing can be a dismally lonely business at times. Sure, when you’re on fire and things are rolling, you’re fine. But what about when you hit the skids and you feel that desperate sense of isolation or feel like you’re the only one facing the fear and self-doubt? Every single writer in my Writer’s Circle talks about the same challenges and issues. It’s heartening to know you are not alone.

Tip #3: Never look at a blank page.

If a blank page feels overwhelming to you, don’t use one. Start with questions, a structure, an outline, anything.

When I start a script I first outline the major story beats by numbering and listing them on the page, then I break them down into smaller beats. By the time I paste that into my screenwriting software, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’m headed. And I never stare at an empty page wondering what to put onto it.

Tip #4: Keep the “parts” on the table for as long as possible.

Perfectionists that we are, we are often too quick to make creative decisions and rule ideas out — often before we’ve really explored them. Give your ideas their due, and “keep the parts on the table,” as Accidental Genius author Todd Henry says, “for as long as possible.” This means that you don’t throw ANYTHING out too soon.

Tip #5: Give yourself permission to write crap.

Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Why would you EVER hold yourself to a higher standard than him?

I’ve been seeing a guy practicing his clarinet in a car in the parking lot lately. I love that he is doing whatever he has to do to give himself permission to be bad at something while he finds his footing.

You deserve that too.

Tip #6: Ratchet back the over-achieving.

Yes, I know it’ll take a long time to write a book in 15 minute increments (though it CAN be done — I wrote 25 pages of a script that way and Terri Fedonczak — below — finished the first draft of her parenting book that way).

I know you think  you need to write for at least (1 hour, 4 hours, 8 hours) a day. Trust me when I tell you that when you’re getting back on the writing horse, that’s the surest way to shoot yourself in the foot. You can write more once you’ve got the habit firmly in place.

Start small, and start now.

Tip #7: Keep your head down.

Stop thinking of the bigger project. Keep your head down and just take it one step at a time.

As you repeat these steps, you can work up to more writing as it feels appropriate. When I started writing my last script, all I could bring myself to do was 15 minutes per day. Now I’m writing more. You’ll work up to it. Just take it one word at a time for now.

Tip #8: Deal with the fear.

Underneath resistance to writing is fear. It’s okay. Of course it’s scary. Fear is common when we face things like failure, success, the unknown, and putting our abilities to the test. You can get help with it or work with it on your own, but at the end of the day, your biggest job is getting out of your own way.

Tip #9: Avoid burnout.

It’s much more important that you write regularly and consistently in small, short bursts than it is to write in long blocks of time. Give yourself a break and pace yourself. Being a serious writer means being in it for the long haul.

Tip #10: Write early in the morning.

All those writers who have been getting up at the crack of dawn have got it wired. Writing early, before your rational brain fully kicks in and wants to do all those “important things” that keep you from writing, is so much easier than trying to wrangle it into your day later on. I’m not even a morning person and I love it.

The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts on Monday, June 11th, and the last day to register is THIS Thursday, June 7th by Midnight Eastern Time. If you are a serious writer who isn’t writing — or a writer who wants to get more serious about your work — my Writer’s Circle system will help you finish your projects. Come join us! Your group and your coach are ready to welcome you.

Find out more at www.JustDoTheWriting.com

“I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time.”

“I’ve had this book brewing in me for 15 years. I never thought I could finish it…it seemed too big. After joining the Writer’s Circle, I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time. The Writer’s Circle system is so effective, that I have used the basic principles in other areas of my life to great success. It is so satisfying to finally turn my dream into reality.”


~ Terri Fedonczak, Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, www.aLifeInBalance.com

Started her parenting book 10 years ago and finished it in 3 sessions of the Writer’s Circle, 15 minutes at a time.

 

What to do when you want to write but you’re not writing: 6 steps to get back on track

Note: For all the naysayers who scoff when people have trouble writing — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along, move along.

When you want to write, but you’re not doing it — whether not at all or not as much as you’d like — there are some simple tricks that can help get you going.

Here are some examples of times where you might see your not-writing pattern show up:

  • You’ve been wanting to write but you aren’t sure what to write about.
  • You know what you want to write about but you can’t find the time to write.
  • You have time to write but you can’t seem to get yourself to do it — and you feel guilty and ashamed about it.
  • You were writing regularly, but you just got back from a trip and you’re having trouble getting started again.
  • You’re stuck on a particular part of your project and you don’t know what to do about it.
  • Just looking at a blank page is overwhelming.
  • Thinking of the final product (the book, the screenplay) is overwhelming and you can’t imagine how you’ll ever get there.
  • You’ve had a success with your writing and you’re feeling intimidated about topping it (second novel syndrome is an example of this).
  • You’re bored of the project you’re working on and you can’t think of anything else to work on that sounds remotely interesting.

First things first.

ALL of these scenarios have one thing in common: Resistance.

Resistance is that little devil we affectionately know by many names — perfectionism, procrastination, fear, doubt, apathy, etc.

Resistance is telling yourself you don’t have enough time: You do. Really. You only need a few minutes every day to get back on the horse. And it’s way less hard than you think it is. I promise.

Resistance is telling yourself you don’t care, don’t have ideas, or don’t want to write. Bull. I know you’re a writer and I know you want to write.

Let me help you.

6 steps to get back on track with your writing

Step #1: Don’t fall for the resistance.

Resistance LIES to you. It is the enemy. Resistance is not your friend. It is not the truth. It is like an energetic force you press up against when you start moving closer to your project, like you’re wading through chest-high sludge. It pushes you back. IT resists YOU.

DO NOT fall for it. Do not believe it, do not entertain it, do not listen to it.

Step #2: Start with super small baby steps.

The smallest you can muster.

Decide on the very smallest increment of writing that feels totally, completely, 100% attainable.

My recommendation? Somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes per day.

Step #3: Use a timer.

Get out your paper, your file, whatever you want to work on. Set your timer for the time you agreed upon with yourself. Write for that entire length of time. Don’t stop until the timer dings.

If you’re fresh out of ideas, do morning pages, use writing prompts, or answer questions from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or The Vein of Gold. Or brainstorm concepts for your next novel or script. I don’t care what you’re doing, as long as you’re putting words on the page.

Do work on these with an eye on getting clear what your bigger project is about if you aren’t already.

Step #4: Celebrate!

Seriously. I’m not kidding. You just overcame the massive forces of resistance. That is no small feat. It’s like destroying the Death Star every single day.

Give yourself a treat — surf on YouTube for a couple of minutes, stretch in the sunshine. No big deal, just a little acknowledgement of what you just accomplished.

Step #5: Mark time on your calendar for tomorrow and plan what you’re going to write.

Get out your calendar and schedule the time for your next writing session.

While you’re at it, decide what you’ll work on during your session.

Step #6: Continue every day.

Keep writing, incrementally, for at least 5 to 7 days out of every week. You’ll be surprised to notice that it’s much easier to get started again when you’re staying current with your project. Experiment with how much time it’s “safe” to take off.

I found pretty quickly that anything less than 5 days off is almost unbearable for me. Seven days a week on the other day, feels exhausting. I do like to have a day off.

Next time: 10 tips to make writing regularly easier — Stay tuned!

The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts on Monday, June 11th, and the last day to register is Thursday, June 7th by Midnight Eastern Time. If you are a serious writer who isn’t writing — or a writer who wants to get more serious about your work — my Writer’s Circle system will help you finish your projects. Come join me!

Find out more at www.JustDoTheWriting.com

“I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time.”

“I’ve had this book brewing in me for 15 years. I never thought I could finish it…it seemed too big. After joining the Writer’s Circle, I tamed the book beast in 3 sessions, 15 minutes at a time. The Writer’s Circle system is so effective, that I have used the basic principles in other areas of my life to great success. It is so satisfying to finally turn my dream into reality.”


~ Terri Fedonczak, Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, www.aLifeInBalance.com

Finished the first draft of her parenting book after starting it 10 years ago.