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How to Craft a Writing Plan + a Downloadable Worksheet

While you might think you don’t need a writing plan, you’d be surprised how many writers I work with who get partway into their process and realize they don’t know what they’re doing and get lost. This tends to lead to a lot of painful self-berating and self-doubt. But why? Many of us come to writing without training, and even if we’re trained in the craft, we aren’t necessarily trained in the practice of writing.

This will help. 

Mapping out a step-by-step plan can eliminate a lot of headaches. Not all of them. There are always surprises. We also want to leave lots of room for the Muse to inspire and guide us — and there are unexpected challenges along the road.

So this isn’t about getting locked into a rigid framework and then getting frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Instead it’s about getting clear on what we’re working on and how and when we’re doing it, so we can find the thread again when we get lost in Daedalus’ Labyrinth. 

One of the things we’ll be doing for my upcoming Deep Dive Writing Intensive is putting together a writing plan. Here’s how you can create one for yourself, whether you’re joining us or not (and make sure you pick up my free downloadable worksheet at the end of this post). 

Here’s how to develop a writing plan for your book or script: 

1. Assess what stage of writing you’re in.

Are you at the beginning? Doing story or character development? Drafting a first draft? Or revising your 7th draft? Being clear what stage of writing you’re in will allow you to craft a successful plan, because each stage requires a different kind of writing, mindset, and/or approach.

2. Establish your next milestone goal.

While you can attempt to make a writing plan for the entirety of the writing process for a book or script, it’s more effective to plan and work in smaller increments. For example, you might be aiming to complete an intuitive/lightning draft, or your story development work or outlining. Pick a target you can break down into smaller chunks. This step flows naturally from first identifying what stage you’re in, because you’ll usually be aiming to complete that stage or the next one.

3. Identify the steps you’ll take or tasks you’ll need to complete to hit your milestone.

If you’re writing a first draft, for example, you can estimate the number of scenes you’ll be writing, and approximately how many words or pages you think each scene will be, to generate an estimated word or page count.

(Useful approximate rules of thumb are 2,000 words for a chapter, with 250 words per page, double-spaced, and you can look up the general word counts for your genre to get a sense of where you’re heading, e.g. approximately 80,000 words for an adult novel. The number of scenes per chapter can vary. Screenwriting is different, with about 15 pages until each major turning point in the story, and usually between 90 and 115 pages for a spec script.)

Other examples:

  • For story development, you might make a list of the issues you want to have solved and other meta story items you want to have pinned down. (Here’s My “Must Have” List Before I Start Writing Pages.)
  • For character development, you might use a character profile template and a list of characters you want to flesh out. (Here’s my Character Profile Template.)
  • For a revision, you might first reverse-outline what you have, then assess what needs to change, and then develop a new scene outline. 

4. Set a completion target date or deadline.

If you’re not working toward an external deadline (e.g. a publisher’s or producer’s deadline), you’ll want to set either a deadline or target for hitting your milestone goal. If I don’t have a hard deadline, I still like to have a target I’m aiming for to give myself something to work toward, even if I’m also allowing myself some wiggle room. 

Give thought to why and how you’re establishing your deadline to help with staying motivated. For example, I want to revise my sci-fi script (again) during the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive, so my current goal is to finalize my list of revision changes before we start writing on September 20th. 

Another way to do it is to look ahead in your calendar for “natural” deadlines. For example, you might have a big life event coming up that you’d like to have this stage of work completed by, or a big work project on the horizon coming up that you’d like to be free to focus on. The idea is to give yourself a reason to stay in action.

5. Be clear on what “done” or “completed” actually means.

I’ve made the mistake of targeting “finishing” my current draft but I wasn’t 100% clear on what that meant, in my own mind. Did done mean, I’d written all the way through the end of the draft? Did it mean I’d done that plus a read-through and a polish and was ready to submit to beta-readers for feedback? Did it mean that I was ready to submit to my producer? Being clear helps you know what you’re actually trying to accomplish.

6. Estimate your writing pace.

If you’re a newer writer, this is a little harder to do. And even if you’re an established writer, sometimes certain sections just take longer. But taking a stab at estimating how long something will take you helps you craft your writing plan. How many words or pages do you usually write in an hour? How long does it typically take you to revise pages? How long to develop a character?

In my experience the heavy lifting usually comes in the story development stage, whether I’m writing a new draft or revising, so I allow a lot of time for either story development or assessing what I have and how I’m going to take it to the next level. 

7. Gauge your available time.

Look at at your calendar, and then your completion timeline.

How much time do you realistically have between now and then? How many actual writing hours can you set aside, allowing for life, sleep, eating, other work, family, exercise, and anything else you’re doing or committed to doing? (And is there anything you can eliminate or reschedule, while you’re at it?

8. Check the math.

Now check, does the math work? Do your pace, your deadline, your available time, and your writing plan actually work

For example, if you want to write 10,000 words, you have 60 minutes a day available every day for 2 weeks, and you write 500 words in an hour, you won’t quite make it. You’ll only get to 7,000 words in that amount of time, so you’ll need to adjust. 

Or if you’re targeting 5,000 words in 60 minutes a day, every day for two weeks, and you typically crank out 800 words per hour, you’ll have left an overly generous allowance. Also a place to adjust.

9. Adjust as needed.

Once you do the math, you can tweak the variables as needed until you have something that works.

Extend or retract your deadline, increase or reduce the time in your schedule, or adjust your goal to make it work.

10. Write down your plan and schedule it.

Once you have a workable plan, write it down. Writing really can become a labyrinth, and it’s surprising how easy it is to get off track or lose your way. Having your plan in writing will help you stay the course. 

Make sure you schedule your writing time on your calendar too. 

11. Leave space for life and divine intervention.

Even while you’re crafting this plan, make sure you’re mentally allowing for life to happen and divine intervention to occur. It’s far better to set yourself an easier set of tasks and succeed even if something goes wrong or is unexpectedly slower or harder, than it is to lock yourself in and be disappointed or be hard on yourself if something goes awry. This is about having (and learning) resilience as a writer.

Or you may be inspired by the Muse and something will end up being easier or different than you expected. Or you’ll discover that the Muse won’t allow you to write the “easy” version and you’ll be doing something harder. That’s all about trusting yourself, her, and the process.

Make room for yourself, life, and the Muse, and you’ll be good to go.

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

Download Your Writing Plan Worksheet Here

Click here to download your Writing Plan Worksheet to help you craft a plan for your writing or get a jump on prepping for the Deep Dive if you’re joining us. 

 

Interested in possibly joining us for the next Deep Dive?

Find out more and register here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

Clear the Decks for Your Writing + a Downloadable Checklist

Back-to-school time is upon us. Whether you have kids or not, the end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall, time-to-get-organized energy is running high right now! 

(It also means we’re at or near that moment where the end of the year is in sight. Can you feel it? I’m feeling it.)

This makes this time of year pretty much the ideal for thinking about how, when, where (and why!) you’ll meet your writing goals for the year. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing done this summer (or year so far) as you’d intended. Maybe you did. If you’re on track, more power to you! If not, this is a great time to adjust your course.

For me, after losing my father in February and some unexpected health issues, I’m in a much different place than I’d expected to be, but I’m ready to take a big leap forward now. 

The fall Deep Dive Writing Intensive is a big part of this plan for me. I’m targeting making a big burst of progress on the sci-fi script I’m working on. I’m also looking ahead, knowing the holidays are coming, we have a wedding to go to, my 50th birthday is coming up (holy smokes), and my older son’s birthday (11!), plus flu and cold season, so I’m aiming to take action while the energy is here. 

In the first prep workshop for the Deep Dive, we’ll start with “Clearing the Decks” for our writing. We’ll meet by phone on September 5th to make our Clear the Decks plans so we’re ready to rock and roll on September 20th when we start writing in earnest. I’m giving you a special preview of this process (and a downloadable checklist!), so whether or not you participate in the Deep Dive, this will help you make more time and space for your writing. 

How to Clear the Decks for Your Writing

Clearing the decks for your writing is a fascinating topic because it can be such a slippery slope — I don’t want you to decide you have to KonMari* your entire home before you can write — you have to be mindful about how you approach this. So many writers put off writing until “everything else” is taken care of first, and that’s just not the way it works — in general. 

However, if you’re setting out to do a focused burst of writing, you’ll want to make some extra space in your life to make it work. The core idea here is to look for opportunities to streamline, clean up, eliminate, delegate, and clear out to make more room for your writing.

This is also an excellent opportunity to review your schedule for any “creep” that’s occurred, like extra commitments that have snuck into your schedule and make it harder have time or energy to write, or any back-sliding that’s happened with scheduling your writing time or your resolve to meet it.

Here’s a list to get you started thinking about the different areas of your life you might want to triage. (Hint: the key word here is triage! Again, you don’t want to try to handle everything, but systematically evaluating what might get in the way and proactively handling it is quite effective.)

Remember, the core idea is to eliminate or quiet things that might otherwise get in the way of your writing. You can use these questions as prompts to freewrite or brainstorm to get yourself started, and then use the checklist (below) as you work your way through making any needed changes. 

  1. Logistical Realm: What adjustments do you need to make to your schedule to make space for your writing? What events, guests, responsibilities, and commitments do you have coming up that you’ll either want to reschedule, eliminate, or decide how to accommodate around your writing? 
  2. Physical Realm: What do you need to do to make your physical space more conducive to writing, if anything? Is there clutter? Are there distractions in your line of sight? How can you take great care of your physical needs with healthy food, snacks, beverages, sleep, and exercise? Are any physical IRL materials for your book organized and ready to use? 
  3. Mental Realm: How will you reward yourself for writing? Are there any open loops you need to close or resolve so you can focus? How will you handle new writing ideas that come up during your writing time? How will you handle negative self-thoughts if they come up?
  4. Emotional Realm: How will you handle emotional challenges that may arise around your writing? How will you handle non-writing emotional challenges? What support systems can you put in place?
  5. Digital Realm: How can you minimize or eliminate digital distractions so you can focus on your writing? Is there any organization of your writing files you need to do? 
  6. Financial Realm: What bill paying and other financial tasks can you handle now or automate so you can prioritize your writing? Are there other financial tasks (like taxes) you need to handle in advance or plan to address when you’re done? 
  7. Relational Realm: How can you guide your family, partners, friends, and colleagues to respect your writing time? How will you protect your writing time from interruptions? 
  8. Spiritual Realm: How can you spiritually prepare to make the most of your writing time? What intentions and positive visions are you holding for yourself as you write? Are there rituals you may want to plan in advance?
  9. Writing Prep Realm: Is there anything you want to have prepped or completed BEFORE you begin your intensive writing time? Do you have a timeline in place for completing it? 

Download Your “Clear the Decks” Checklist Here

Click here to download your Clear the Decks” Checklist so you can make space for your own focused writing burst or get a jump on prepping for the Deep Dive. 

Join the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive.

Find out more and register here: 
https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

 

 

* From The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
Photo by Carlos Quintero on Unsplash

15 Steven Pressfield Quotes to Inspire Your Writing

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

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

It was life-changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love this.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

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

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

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

Highly recommended. 

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

Is It Time for a Big Burst of Progress on Your Book?

There are many stages of writing.

There are the practical stages — inspiration, idea, concept, development, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and proofing.

There are the emotional stages of a writing project — from eureka! to discouragement to resolve to despair to euphoria to apathy to completion. It’s an up and down journey sure to delight the most ardent theme park enthusiasts. Or not.

There are also a set of career stages in a writer’s life. We might experience them as a progression as we evolve from feeling the call to write to treating it the way a professional does, or we might move in and out of these states along the path to writerdom.

For example:

  • Wanting to write but not writing.
  • Writing occasionally, ephemerally, but not quite getting anywhere. 
  • Binge writing in a big burst of enthusiasm, to meet a deadline, or in a NaNoWriMo-fueled burst, but then crashing into writing aversion/burnout for a long period of time, maybe even months or years. 
  • Writing regularly and consistently, but maybe not as productively as you’d like to be, possibly struggling with creative blocks along the way.
  • Writing like a pro.

Before you hit the pro stage (and sometimes even then), these stages can be sometimes more fulfilling than others, depending on where you are in your writing career. 

For example, if you’ve been wanting to write forever, and you’re finally writing every day, even for just a few minutes day, that’s a huge win. On the other hand, if you’ve been plodding away at a draft, day in and day out, and feeling like you’re never getting anywhere, it might be time for a push with your writing.

I generally work with writers in my Called to Write Coaching Circle who want to go from not writing to writing. From writing sporadically and inconsistently, to writing daily. (Or as one of our writers put it, writers who want to go from whining to writing. LOVE that.) 

In the Deep Dive Writing Intensives I run, I work with writers who are ready for more. They might have the daily writing thing down, but want to put in a focused burst of work on their books or screenplays. This usually happens when they have a goal they’re trying to reach and want a boost of progress to get there. 

Here are some examples of times you might be ready for a big push with your book or script.  

Signs You Might Be Ready to Go for a Push with Your Writing

  • You’re willing and able to carve out the time and space in your life for an ultra-focused period of writing. This means being willing to clear your schedule of any and all extraneous commitments and otherwise scaling back where you can (stockpile your freezer now!) to make it easy on yourself. 
  • You have a story idea you want to develop or outline and want to (need to!) carve out some time to do it. Putting in a few weeks of intense attention can get you to the finally “ready to write pages” stage and feel incredibly satisfying. 
  • You’re writing, but you’re stuck in a rut or feeling complacent about your work and your progress. There’s nothing like doing a big push on your book or script to get you out of your comfort zone and operating at a higher level of productivity. You’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep writing once you get to the other side of a focused burst of writing so you don’t crash and burn afterward.
  • You’ve done all the prep work for a new project but you’re hesitating and holding back from diving into the actual writing. If you’re sitting on the edge of the pool, scared to even dip in a toe, now might be exactly the right time to take the plunge. It can be easier to face all the resistance in one go, especially if you find a way to write alongside other writers to help support you.
  • You’re in the middle of writing a book or a big rewrite and you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The dreaded middle of any stage of book is called the dreaded middle for many reasons, including that it’s just plain hard to get through. Remember — when you’re going through hell, keep going. This is a good time to put on a burst of speed, keep your head down, and keep working. 
  • You’re staring down a deadline and procrastinating or struggling to pace yourself and you want to avoid the binge-burnout cycle you’re setting yourself up for. Many writers (especially those dealing with second novel syndrome, I find) get stuck in procrastination when there’s a deadline coming up — not close enough to spur you into action, but not far away enough to totally ignore. This makes for a constant and uncomfortable low level of guilt and anxiety. Whether you’re working on a self-imposed deadline, a publisher’s deadline, or other submission deadline, using a focused, structured burst of writing to help pace yourself can be life and sanity saving, plus you’ll be far better positioned not to lose your writing habit on the other side. 
  • You’re making progress, kind of, but you’d really like to put some mileage on this thing and see your page count climb. Along the same lines as the “dreaded middle,” sometimes you just need to see somethinganything happening to feel some sense of progress and accomplishment (so helpful with these long form writing projects).
  • You need a safe space to write. If when you’re part of a critique group (or even just hard on yourself in your internal mental conversations), you may want a separate, critique-free writing “space” where you’re just committed to the process regardless of anything else happening. It can be both healing and relieving to “just write” and is particularly so when you’re writing with a group of like-minded writers who help you normalize the experience of writing.
  • You wish you could go on a retreat or disappear to a cabin in the woods but you can’t quite swing it with your budget (or your family, job, or other commitments). Finding a way to create a writing retreat for yourself from the comfort of your own home is a lovely alternative and can fulfill much of that desire in you to “get away and write.”
  • You know what you want to write but you’re having trouble overcoming resistance. That monster called resistance can be handled in a couple of ways. One is by sneaking past it in small increments of writing time, which is an excellent way to get started. The other is to jump in, full bore, and write like your life depends on it. The trick is having a structured support to help you keep going afterward. 

If You’re Ready to Go Big, Here’s How

If you’ve decided you’re ready to make a big focused burst of progress with your writing, while there are certainly options, like creating a self-led writing intensive for yourself or attending a writing retreat (if you can swing the travel, lodging, and retreat costs), I’m a fan of online writing intensives like my Deep Dive to help you focus and get the most bang of your buck. 

Here are some resources to get your started:

There are certainly times when a writing intensive is NOT the way to go — if you’re dealing with creative wounds for example, or having trouble figuring out what to work on. If you’re wondering if you’re ready for a big burst of writing progress, shoot me an email or ask me a question in the comments and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you. 

Featured image photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Getting Out of Writing Overwhelm and Into Action

Let’s talk about writing. And overwhelm.

First, a story. 

When I was a kid, my parents used to take us on high Sierra backpacking trips. They were hard. We’re talking about high-altitude, have to hit 10,000 feet before you get to the lake kind of hard. With backpacks. On super steep trails. In the blazing sun. I was also prone to altitude sickness, so there wasn’t a lot of incentive to go higher, other than the incredible beauty of the alpine lakes and the satisfaction we had once we reached our destination. 

Which was actually a hell of an incentive. 

Every summer my sister and I would slog up the steep trails, managing the weight of our packs on our sore shoulders, the blisters forming on our feet, the headaches creeping in, the tiredness, and the whininess that would sneak into our voices. My dad always brought up the rear, even though he was the fastest and strongest hiker. 

In every trip, there were always points along the way where I begged to stop. I’d despair that we’d ever get there. My dad was my coach at those times. Giving up wasn’t an option. He was always patient, calm, and quiet. He’d just wait with me until I was ready to get up and keep going. 

He’d say, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think about how far it is to the top. Just look at the trail right in front of you, and focus on getting to the next bend in the trail. Then the next, and the next.”

And bit by bit, we’d get there.

Overwhelm In Writing

As writers, we often hear the line from E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Usually this quote is used to describe the process of figuring out a story and how we find our way through it, bit by bit. But we can also use it to describe and understand the entire process of writing, from first draft, to rewrite(s), to publication, and to marketing, including dealing with any and all overwhelm at each of those stages. 

When we’re writing, the big gap between here (where you are right now) and there (where want to end up — done! finished! published!) can feel pretty darned overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that you might be wondering if you’re even capable of making it. 

Underlying Causes & Solutions for Addressing Overwhelm  

Let’s dig a little deeper into where you might be feeling overwhelmed, and then look at some solutions to help you find your way through.

6 Underlying Causes of  Writing Overwhelm

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, no matter what stage of writing you’re in, here’s what might really be going on:

  1. There’s so much left to do, and it really is overwhelming. Writing a book is a long haul project. So is a screenplay, when you consider the many drafts a script often goes through before it’s produceable and marketable. There’s a ton of work left to do, and it’s easy to feel disheartened when staring up the face of the enormous mountain you’re attempting to scale. (Hint: You’re looking at the mountain, not the trail.) 
  2. You’re scared to put yourself out there. Writing a book can trigger self-doubts, fears, procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance. When you’re conscious of it, you can feel overwhelmed by the enormity and responsibility of it all. When you’re less conscious of it, you can get stuck in writing overwhelm as a kind of “safe haven.” It can feel easier to go around in circles than to take the risk of fulfilling your big dream. 
  3. You’re doubting that you’re up to the challenge. Hand-in-hand with #1, above, you might not even feel sure you have what it takes to write at the level required to succeed. You might be losing confidence in yourself, your book, and your ability to write. If you’re in this place you may be so overwhelmed that you’re considering giving up on your book, or worse, giving up on writing altogether. This is the kind of overwhelm that comes from a crisis of confidence. 
  4. You’ve lost your way. Sometimes you can end up feeling lost, like you’re not sure how to solve the story problems you’re facing (or even to figure out what the problems truly are), or you’re overwhelmed with a sheer quantity of content and disorganization, and you can end up going around in circles, feeling paralyzed, dazed, and confused. The fear here is that you’ll never find your way.
  5. It feels like you’re running out of time. Many of us have this ticking clock inside our heads about when it’s okay and when it’s too late to “arrive” on the scene with our finished books. The fear here is that it’s too late for you, which creates a sense of overwhelm around trying to fit way too much into too little time.
  6. You’re feeling overwhelmed by life, too. We’re busy. All of us. Our culture, our world, and our lifestyles seem to be busier than ever and only getting worse. Finding time to write seems darned near impossible when you’re juggling a job, kids, friends, pets, family, spouses, and more. The fear here is that you don’t have the time and space in your life to actually pull off making time to write, which again leaves you feeling overwhelmed.

6 Solutions for Moving Past Overwhelm and Into Action

Here are six solutions to help you overcome the overwhelm and move into action with your writing.

  1. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, just like my dad taught me. The most basic antidote for overwhelm is to take the smallest possible steps, one by one, to move through it. This means making a plan for how you’ll approach your writing (or rewriting), and working on it in the smallest possible pieces until it’s done. In fact, the more resistance, fear, or doubt, you’re feeling, the smaller the chunk you’ll want to work on (even if you spend all day working on small pieces). If you keep your focus on the next step right in front of you, you can get through to the end.
  2. Get mad. Resistance is a smothering force. It paralyzes you and bogs you down, until you begin to feel hopeless and like you’ll never succeed. Anger, on the other hand, holds the powerful energy of action. When resistance gets you down, get mad. Use the energy of being a little (or a lot!) pissed off that resistance is trying to beat you to get fired up and get back to work. When I feel discouraged, my fighting spirit rises up in me and says, “No way! I’m not letting resistance win.”
  3. Use a map, aka, remember your Big Why. When you’re lost and overwhelmed, remind yourself of your Big Why. Think about (and write down, for next time) WHY you’re writing this book. What do you love about it? What are your deepest reasons for wanting to write this book? Reconnect with your passion and love and energy for the book. Pair that with the energy of anger to light a fire inside yourself.
  4. Get help for the climb. Sometimes, you need help to reach the top of the summit. This could look like working with a coach, joining a writing group, or partnering up with a buddy. Someone who will be patient, supportive, kind, and compassionate without giving up on you for a single second. 
  5. Make a push of progress on your book. A nifty trick for dealing with overwhelm is making a focused, concerted burst of progress on your story. Writing solidly, with focus, helps you regain your sense of identity and your confidence in yourself as a writer. This is what Tony Robbins calls “massive action.” And though I generally advocate for regular daily writing as the primary antidote for resistance, sometimes we need to take powerful action to restore our confidence, energy, and momentum. You can do your own focused writing intensive or join mine to help you make that happen.
  6. Remember your ultimate destination. Not only are you writing this book or screenplay right now, you’re also working to fulfill your overall writing career goals. This project, right now, is part of the map you’re using to get there. While this might sound like contradictory advice, holding the big view of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it can help with taking the small steps along the trail.

The reward?

Reaching that ultimate destination. Seeing the world you want to see, from the great heights you’ve earned, step by step.

 

Join the next Deep Dive Writing Intensive.

Find out more and register here: https://calledtowrite.com/deep-dive

 

 

 
 
1. Featured image by AJ Yorio on Unsplash
2. Unsplash

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part IV: Set Yourself Up for Success

Welcome back for the fourth (and final) post of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In my prior posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing, Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals, and Boosting Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive). Today I’m writing about setting yourself up for success.

Part IV: Setting Yourself Up for Success

When you’re aiming to set yourself up for success with an intensive writing effort, there are a number of things to keep in mind. I discussed some of these in the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), but they are worth reiterating in this context as well, along with some other keys to making your writing work.

  1. Have a Clear Writing Goal and Plan. We’ve already discussed this in prior posts in more detail, but having a crystal clear writing goal and a plan to meet it are a critical part of setting yourself up for success. You can’t “succeed” if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. This is one of those “so simple it seems obvious” things but you’d be amazed at how often we skip this step in our thinking and lives… and our writing.
  2. Manage Your Mindset & Expectations. You will also want manage your mindset when designing for success. This came up on our goal setting call yesterday for the Deep Dive. If we set goals, and don’t meet them, we worry we will then feel disappointed or feel we have “failed.” This can be a deterrent to setting goals in the first place. So you’ll want to be mindful of striking a balance between an inspiring goal that stretches you just outside your comfort zone and is achievable, but doesn’t scare the pants off you, make you want to stop before you even start, or fear feeling wretched if you don’t make it.
  3. Do Your Best Dance. When you embark on an endeavor like this, you will want to give it your very best shot so you can feel proud of yourself at the end, no matter what happens. Play full out and have fun, celebrate the ups and downs as being part of the process, and make sure to get a high-five at the end.
  4. Get Enough Sleep. When you’re a writer, sleep is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. One of the biggest things I work on with writers in my 1:1 coaching sessions is helping them set up a realistic writing schedule that includes getting enough sleep.

    This often means going to bed early enough in order to be able to write early in the morning, or get through a work day and then have the reserves to write in the evening. Sleep has a big impact on your decision making abilities and your fortitude in sticking with your plans, so when you mess with sleep, your resistance is likely to be higher and your commitment to your writing is one of the first things to falter. So make sure you get enough sleep. :) It’s one of the simplest things you can do to support your writing habit.

  5. Make Smart Choices and Eliminate Distractions. In order to free up time for writing (and getting enough sleep), you’ll need to make some super smart choices. You’ll probably have to stop staying up late, surfing the internet, playing Candy Crush, watching Netflix, reading your email, or whatever else you’re doing that eats time.

    You don’t have to stop doing these things, necessarily, but you can turn them into rewards for doing your writing. Just keep them corralled into an appropriate amount of time so you are putting your writing first and reserving the energy you need for writing. Oftentimes we do these things to “recharge” our energy, but it is worth checking in with yourself to see if they are actually recharging, especially past a certain amount of time spent.

  6. Take Care of Your Physical Body. When we write, we’re sitting for long periods of time. We have to take care of our bodies with stretching and exercise. I’m a fan of Pilates and yoga, myself, as well as eating lower carb, especially at lunch time, so I don’t zone out in the afternoons. I also make a point to drink plenty of water and other non-sugar beverages like tea and sparkling water. Think about what keeps you functioning optimally and be sure to put that in place alongside your writing time.
  7. Set Up a Support System and Create Accountability for Yourself. Embarking on a focused writing intensive is highly likely to trigger uncomfortable feelings. You’re taking a big step closer to reaching your overall goal of being a published writer or produced screenwriter, after all. That can trigger a cascade of doubts, fears of success and failure, and resistance. So set up a support system in advance of people you can turn to and lean on for help, if you feel yourself faltering.

    You can also create a system of accountability for yourself. This may be the same support system or it may be different. In my own case, I have outside supporters (friends and writing coaches) who are my support system, and my writing programs for accountability (the Deep Dive and the Circle). The primary distinction for me is that I tend to process challenging emotions with my supporters, while I rely the accountability for helping me stay on track and true to myself with my goals. The important consideration when setting up accountability is to have clearly named your goal and timeline so you feel that sense of internal responsibility to follow through.  

  8. Set Daily Goals to Support Your Overall Goals. While you’re working on meeting your larger writing goals, you’ll want to have broken them down into incremental daily goals too. Do this so you’ll know when you’re done for the day, and if you’re staying on track with meeting your larger goal. During the Deep Dive, we’ll be checking in every morning with our daily writing goals and our writing intentions for the day (see #9).
  9. Set an Intention for Your Writing. Setting yourself up for success includes being intentional about your writing practice, including thinking about the energy you want to bring to your writing each day. When I’m setting my daily writing goal, I like to think about the intention or energy I’ll focus on that day. I usually write it in capital letters somewhere, like PURPOSEFUL or FOCUSED. It helps to bring my attention to my intention when I do it that way.
  10. Reflect on Your Day, Each Day. At the end of the day, notice how it all went. What went well? Where did things go astray? Is there anything you can tweak or adjust for tomorrow? In writing, self-reflection is huge. It’s not about noticing “failures,” it’s about gathering information and learning and improving … and having fun with piecing together a puzzle that works. 
  11. Reward Yourself. Plan in advance how you’ll reward yourself at the end of your hard work, each day, each week, and at the end of your writing intensive. Is there a great treat you’ll reward yourself with? Something you wouldn’t normally give yourself? This might be just the right time to get it. :) 

Got questions?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, and Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive).

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part I: Clearing the Decks (and a Free TeleClass!)

It’s back-to-school time. For many of us, regardless of whether we have kids or are going to school ourselves, this means we’re both recovering from summertime and tuning into the back-to-school fall energy. Which is usually highly motivating and exciting. 

It also means we’ve hit that moment where the end of the year is in sight.

If you take the time to think about it, this is the ideal come-to-Jesus moment for meeting your writing goals for 2017 — far better now than to try to pull out all the stops on December 15th. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing done this summer (or year so far) as you’d intended. Maybe you did. If you’re on track, more power to you! If not, this is a great time to adjust your course.

Goal setting at the beginning of the year is often a magical, inspired effort. And by magical, I mean, magical thinking. Somehow, in the thick of the holidays and year’s end, it seems as if the year ahead will not be filled with… anything! We’ll miraculously have oodles of time. We declare that we’ll finally focus and achieve things we haven’t achieved before. And then January happens. Then February. And March. And suddenly it’s end of summer and we feel like we have whiplash looking back trying to figure out where the time has gone.

I know I was unexpectedly affected by illnesses for much of the winter and spring, various challenges with my parents’ health, as well as all of the political happenings. I didn’t have space built into my writing plans for any of those things. I haven’t stopped writing, but I certainly haven’t been as efficient as I’d intended. I’m okay with that. Life happens. But I also still want to make a solid stab at reaching my goals for 2017.

My Deep Dive writing intensive is a big part of this plan for me. I’m looking forward to making a big boost of progress on the sci-fi script I’m working on to help me jump start a broader push through the end of the year. I’m also looking ahead, knowing the holidays are coming, along with my birthday, and my older son’s birthday (10!), plus flu and cold season, so I’m aiming to take action while the energy is here. 

Here’s where I’m starting the process. I’m writing this “(You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals” series to help all of us bring awareness to the fact that the year end is a heck of a lot closer than we think. (There are 80 working days between today and the end of the year, and that doesn’t factor in winter break vacations for those of us with kids.)

Today, we’ll talk about Clearing the Decks to help you meet your writing goals.

In the next three posts we’ll cover Revising Your Goals, Boosting Your Progress, and Setting Yourself Up For Success

Part I: Clear the Decks for Your Writing

Clearing the decks for writing is a fascinating topic because it can be such a slippery slope — I don’t want anyone to decide they have to KonMari* their entire home before they can write — so it’s worth being mindful about how you approach this.

At the same time, when I’m looking at doing a two week stint of intensely focused writing, I know I’m going to have to make some extra space in my life to accommodate that. So I want to look to see, are there places in my life I can streamline, clean up, delegate, and clear out to make more room for my writing (and for me!)?

This is also a great time review any schedule creep that’s occurred — in other words, have I taken on any extra commitments that I perhaps should postpone or eliminate? Have I back-slid on scheduling my writing time or my resolve to meet it? 

I recently led a free teleclass to go over all this in detail. (It was be recorded so you can still listen to the recording.) If you’d like to listen, click here to join my mailing list and get the recording details.

Here’s a preview of some of what we’ll be talking about — I’ll be sharing tips about each of these as well:

  1. Logistically: What adjustments do you need to make to your schedule to make space for your writing? What events, guests, responsibilities, and commitments do you have coming up that you’ll either want to reschedule or decide how to accommodate around your writing? 
  2. Physically: What do you need to do to make your physical space more conducive to writing, if anything? Is there clutter? Are there distractions in your line of sight? How can you take great care of your physical needs with healthy food, snacks, beverages, sleep, and exercise? 
  3. Mentally: How will you reward yourself for writing? Are there any open loops you need to close or resolve so you can focus? How will you handle new writing ideas that may come up during your writing time? How will you handle negative self-thoughts if they come up?
  4. Emotionally: How will you handle emotional challenges that may arise around your writing? How will you handle non-writing emotional challenges? What support systems can you put in place?
  5. Digitally: How can you minimize or eliminate digital distractions so you can focus on your writing?
  6. Financially: What bill paying and other financial tasks can you handle now or automate so you can prioritize your writing? 
  7. Relationally: How can you guide your family, partners, friends, and colleagues to respect your writing time? 
  8. Spiritually: How can you spiritually prepare to make the most of your writing time? What intentions and positive visions are you holding for yourself as you write?


Click here to get the free Clear the Decks teleclass recording.

 

And check out Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive), and Part IV, here: Setting Yourself Up For Success.

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

* The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

 

The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part II

Last week I shared Part I of this post about the many faces of procrastination, and the underlying reasons it shows up. It’s not necessarily “just” writer’s block or laziness, which are the common explanations I hear.

There are actually a number of variations on the theme of procrastination, and it’s usually driven by something deeper, like feeling stuck, being overwhelmed, being hooked by perfectionism, or wrestling with past creative wounds that need addressing — some of the examples I wrote about last week.

Let’s look at a few more of these writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.

You’re creatively confused.

Creative confusion is one of the most fascinating causes for procrastination I’ve come across (perhaps because it’s one of my personal “favorites”). Creative confusion will have you spinning in circles, not sure which direction to go with your story, considering multiple ideas and perspectives, and feeling unable to decide among them. It’s as if everything suddenly has equal value and there’s no differentiating them. 

Part of the issue here is empowerment. When you forget that you’re the architect of your story and that there’s not necessarily a “right” way to write it, it’s easy to get confused. Confusion can also be a smokescreen for the fear that you’ll get it “wrong.”

Antidotes: Make the shift into action by being willing to do the work of sorting through your ideas by putting them on paper and evaluating them as objectively as you can. One of the ways creative confusion keeps you stuck is that it all happens very quickly in your head. Get it down, and figure it out. And remember that you’re the one in charge. It can also be helpful to talk it through with a trusted coach or writing pal who has your story’s best interests at heart (not her ideas for what you “should” do).

You’re feeling apathetic about your book (or script).

Creative boredom or apathy is another one of these super tricksters that can keep you locked into procrastination. You don’t write because it feels like you’ve “just lost interest” in your story. Interestingly, this usually happens when you’ve just hit (or are about to hit) a major milestone with your story, or you’re about to tackle the next stage. What’s happening here is that a new level of fear is cropping up and putting the brakes on to minimize your risks of failure.

In other words, it ain’t about the story. 

Antidotes: Keep on keeping on. The only way out is through. While there may be passages in your book that are need work, that’s a storytelling problem, not “time to give up on the whole project” problem. This is the place to commit to finishing, no matter what.

This is also a great time to remind yourself of your Why for the project — why you started writing it in the first place. Sometimes just tracking back to the Why will be enough to get you in action again.

You’re having trouble deciding which book to write.

This kind of procrastination turns up when you know you want to write or feel ready to write but you can’t decide which story to work on, or you decide on one, only to change your mind in short order, usually telling yourself it’s not good enough in some way, then look around for something else to work on, only to dismiss that one too. And the next one after that.

This kind of procrastination can also look like coming up with a bazillion ideas to work with but not being able to choose among them. 

Antidotes: Check out my free downloadable guide about how to choose your next book (or script) using decision criteria and intuitive decision making skills. You can also try one of my favorite bits of Steven Pressfield’s wisdom, which is to “figure out what scares you the most, and do that first.”

(If, on the other hand, you’re totally drawing a blank for any ideas at all, try Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach of paying attention to your faintest whispers of curiosity and see where they lead you.)

You’ve fallen out of the habit of writing and each day that goes by, it gets harder to restart.

If your writing practice has fallen apart — for whatever reason — procrastination has taken hold and it’s just not getting any better. Each day you tell yourself you’re going to write, but find endless distractions around the house, get caught up in work (or TV or candy crush!), tasks to take care of, or toilets to clean. This is “garden variety” procrastination in my book, but it’s still a doozy.

Antidotes: Set a very small writing goal and meet it. Then do it again the next day. And the next. Keep going until you have the practice in place. Troubleshoot any obstacles that come up — like falling into reading email or getting sucked into other tasks — and find ways to streamline your path to your writing desk each day. If you set a goal, and you’re still procrastinating, make the goal smaller until you actually do it. Get accountability to help you with this if you need it. (Work with me 1:1 or join the Circle, for example.)

You’re dealing with big personal changes.

Look, sometimes big life events happen and the idea of tackling writing at the same time feels (and may even be) impossible. Major illnesses, weddings, new romances, births, deaths, break ups, divorces, moves, and job changes are life changes that can get in the way of writing and then morph into “regular” procrastination even once the dust has settled. It’s okay. It happens. But it’s helpful to know how to deal with it when a big part of your identity is tied into being a writer and you start losing your sense of self while it’s all happening, and then wonder who you are when it’s done.

Antidotes: Be patient with yourself during the upheaval, and give yourself a little time for re-entry. You may want to have a “maintenance practice” of writing morning pages in place during these times, even as a placeholder until you can get back to your book or script writing efforts. Have a plan in place for how and when you’ll reboot your writing once you’ve made it through the thick of the experience. If you find yourself still struggling with your identity after the fact, do some journaling or coaching work to help get you back in touch with yourself as a writer.

You’re an adrenaline addict.

One of the most fascinating parlor tricks I see writers engaging in is creating an endless series of non-writing emergencies, deadlines, and disasters that make it impossible to write. This is procrastination at its peak form, because it becomes inarguable. Whatever “it” is, has become such an emergency, that it has to be done right now. At this point, it actually does. But when a writer lives this way, chasing from disaster to disaster, writing always gets to stay (safely) at the bottom of the pile.

The trickiest trick of all is that the purveyor of these hijinks deep down revels in the sense of excitement and in being the rescuer of the situation from certain doom. It turns out, writers who do this to themselves are addicted to the rush of it all, and they’ll even design it so they “get” to write this way too (at the last minute, in a mad panicked rush).

This strategy does two things. It’s a brilliant way of getting off the hook for doing your best work, because you simply can’t, not with all those emergencies to take care of. It’s also very clever way of getting an adrenaline boost of energy to face the terror of writing. 

Antidotes: Admit the addiction. Make a conscious choice to stop this behavior. Learn to pace yourself — with everything, including your writing — and get ruthless about cutting out anything and everything you don’t have to do. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to do it all perfectly. Cut some corners! 

You’re just plain tired.

Maybe you’re not exhausted, but “just” tired. Maybe you haven’t reached the point of creative burnout, like I mentioned last week, but maybe you have other non-writing commitments that tax you. Some of these are avoidable (volunteering for committees) and some are not (having little kids or an aging parent), but either way you’re tired. This tiredness becomes an excellent excuse for procrastinating. “I’m tired,” you say. “I just don’t have it in me today to write. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Antidotes: I’ve always loved the quote from David Whyte on this subject, “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” When it comes to the daily sort of tiredness that can leave us feeling run down (as opposed to massively burned out), writing regularly — even just in small amounts — is often the cure. Also, take a look at how you’re investing your precious life energy and see where there might be energy leaks you can shore up. Look for where you’re not feeling a “Hell, yes!” about the things you’ve committed to and think about letting them go. Work with a friend or coach to inventory your commitments and see what you can release for someone else to handle.

 

So… what did I leave out? What other ways have you seen procrastination show up?

Tell me in the comments section below. 

 

 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part I

When I work with writers to help them stop procrastinating, usually they don’t quite know why they’re doing it. They often end up labeling it as laziness or writer’s block. I can tell you that I’ve never met a truly lazy writer, and while I certainly have met some who are blocked, sometimes a little delving is required to uncover the deeper issues that are stopping them from writing.

Let’s talk about the spectrum of writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.

You’re stuck.

You might find yourself procrastinating when you’re stuck. Maybe you’ve hit a section you aren’t sure how to deal with, or you need to rewrite some or all of your draft but you’re not sure where to start, so you just… don’t. This stuckness doesn’t take long to turn into procrastination, and soon, to full on avoidance.

Antidotes: Sometimes when you’re stuck, you need help to get going again. A plot coach or a writing friend often comes in handy here. Alternatively, you might want to write about the writing — this is a great time for some journaling and brainstorming to unlock your writing energy and ideas.

You’re overwhelmed.

Sometimes the sheer volume of work facing you will cause you to procrastinate. When you’re looking at a mountain, it’s hard not to feel the weight of it bearing down on you. 

Antidotes: The antidote for overwhelm is to find one small step to take. In other words, what’s the first thing you can think of, no matter how small, that you know you can do now? Then do the next thing. This is a great time to pick easy things to do too, because when you’re feeling overwhelmed, easy makes it doable. Sometimes I’ll just work on formatting for a bit to get myself back into the project, no matter how fiddly it is. No step forward is too small.

You’ve been hooked by perfectionism.

When you get stuck in believing that you must make your writing perfect or get caught up in visions of this being your biggest hit ever, you’ll be triggering procrastination faster than you might believe. Perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis work together to create a vicious cycle that keeps you from writing, ever. Perfectionism is funny way of staying safe too, because if you don’t write it, you don’t have to see it being flawed and imperfect, nor can you be ridiculed for it.

Antidotes: Make peace with being an imperfect human being who values writing and finishing more than telling yourself whoppers about incredible success or massive failure that hold you back. Embrace the notion that only the divine is perfect, and decide that messy and done is so much better than not writing.

Your inner critic is freaking out.

When the voice of your inner critic starts getting loud and scary, it’s hard to keep writing, especially if you listen to it as if it’s the voice of truth and reason, rather than simply a terrified guard dog it trying to keep you safe. Also note that this voice will get louder and scarier the closer you are to the precipice of taking action, finishing a draft, or moving into a new level of your career. If those aren’t reasons to procrastinate, I don’t know what is!

Antidotes: First, pat your inner critic on the head and tell him/her that you’re going to take care of everything, you got this, and you don’t need any help protecting yourself. Then, one by one, rewrite the negative self-messages that swirl through your mind while you’re writing into positive, believable statements. Having a coach or witness for this work helps it land more deeply and take root in your psyche in a positive way. 

You’ve gotten feedback on your work and it’s affecting you.

Good feedback, bad feedback. Feedback period. All feedback affects us. It’s an energetic shock to the system that’s hard to absorb. We’ve been tenderly entwined with our beloved writing only to have it held at arm’s length by a stranger who cooly evaluates it. The stun from this can send you into a tailspin. And good feedback? Glowing feedback on your early chapters? That can be a recipe for triggering perfectionism and the anti-creativity cycle too, because suddenly you have to measure up to your existing work and you might not believe you can.

Antidotes: After giving yourself some time to recover from getting the feedback, take a deep, deep breath. Remind yourself who is in charge. (That would be you.) Evaluate the feedback as cooly as it evaluates your book. What do you agree with? Use that. What do you disagree with? Throw it out or save it for later re-evaluation.

You’re deeply exhausted and you’re self-protecting.

Sometimes you may procrastinate because you’re actually deeply tired or burned out, and reflexively protecting yourself from overextending. This may be the result of binge writing, pushing to meet deadline after deadline, or from being exhausted by a non-writing life circumstance.

Antidotes: Rest. Write for the love of it, if you’re called to do so, but make it easy, like journaling, and give yourself some time to recover. You will feel the call to write again. Trust me. 

You’re dealing with a creative wound that needs addressing.

When you’re not writing… and not writing… and not writing… and it’s just going on forever, sometimes there are deeper creative wounds that have gotten triggered and need addressing. Like that time you were ridiculed for daring to make art and express yourself creatively. Or how you were raised in a family culture that taught you that writing would never pay your bills and you were a fool if you pursued it. Or the scathing feedback you received from someone you deeply loved. Events like these leave open wounds in our psyches, like ghosts in the machine.

Antidotes: Revisit the events in a safe way (such as through visualization or journaling) so you can find the truth in the experience from a broader spiritual perspective. From there, you’ll be able to begin to find forgiveness for yourself and peace with the experience. Often these experiences happen to us when we are young, and having our more mature perspective helps us begin to shift how we feel about it now. While you can do this work on your own, working with a coach or witness who can hold a safe space while you’re processing what happened can accelerate your growth and ability to move past the pain.

And there’s more…

There are many more underlying reasons for procrastination, including creative apathy, confusion, adrenaline addictions, and more. Read Part II, here

When has procrastination most reared its head for you, and how have you dealt with it?

Share your stories and experiences in the comments section below.

 
 
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash