How to Write All Year Round, The Pandemic Edition (+ Tuesday’s the Last Day to Join!)

This is the third and final article in our “new year to write” series! This article is about some of the lessons we learned in 2020 about writing all year round even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. 

In our Called to Write community, it feels like we’ve been through it all together — it’s always an incredible place for learning and growing in a powerful way. 2020 really put our collective writing mettle to the test and I’m grateful for all we’ve learned. 

Here’s what we learned at Called to Write in 2020 about how to keep writing year-round, even in the middle of a pandemic, to bring forward with us into 2021.

Writing with others helps TREMENDOUSLY.

Isolation has been a terrible problem for so many people during the pandemic. And since writers struggle with feeling isolated too? Double whammy. What we’ve found at Called to Write is that having a tight-knit community of writers committed to the cause of writing — even on the days when it just, well, flat out sucks — really helps us see it through. And the thing is, the bad days are so much less important when they’re surrounded by better days. Writing regularly in the company of other writers ends that sense of isolation.

Between our online writing sprints and our weekly, organized Zoom meetings, we have a sense of being in it together. Thank goodness. 

Tip: Find, create, or join a community of writers to help you stay motivated to write. (Hint: Join us!)

Creating MORE structure around writing helps with the timelessness we’ve been experiencing.

Yes, some of us believed having tons of enforced time at home under lockdown would result in equally epic tons of writing time (King Lear, anyone?), but quickly found that was NOT the case.

If anything, we struggled with a disorientation of time and place that felt impossible to manage. Whether you were home alone on your own or in a house filled with unexpected constant companions, making a regular writing schedule happen was Just. Not. Working. 

Oddly enough, in our community, we quickly learned that adding MORE structure for our writing than we usually use was what solved this problem. We added extra writing sprints (we went from one per day to four per day). We shifted to weekly meetings instead of twice monthly, and switched over to Zoom so we could see each other’s faces. We added Progress Journals to track our work and create extra accountability. And what we found is that adding extra structure and support for our writing made it easier to rebuild and maintain our writing momentum.

Tip: Set up designated writing time and lots of extra structure, support, and accountability to help you see it through (as much as you need).

Your “lights out” and wake times really matter.

Getting enough sleep is so important. But so is getting up early to write. These pandemic days are blurry. They squidge together in the most unpleasant way. Grabbing each workday by the horns and showing up to write, usually early, makes it far less important if the rest of the day goes off the rails with distance learning, weird shopping challenges, or other issues.

This is one reason why we ran our Morning Writing Challenge even in the middle of election week. We knew it was likely to be stressful, incredibly distracting, and possibly upsetting, but at the same time, I was determined not to let the state of our republic stop me from writing. And the big way I’ve been doing that — election week and otherwise — is getting up earlier and earlier to write, and going to bed earlier and earlier as a result. 

Here’s the big reason why: Early in the morning, we’re far less likely to get sucked into news, drama, or Other People’s Stuff. Putting your focus on your own work (keeping your eyes on your own paper, so to speak), keeps your writing moving forward, regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world. 

Tip: Figure out how much sleep you need, and design your schedule around it.

Bonus: Get up early to write and reap the rewards of quiet writing time. 

Small increments of writing (still) work.

Something we’ve always taught about at Called to Write is the power of working in small increments of writing time, as a way to build or reboot a regular writing practice. And, as Vizzini from The Princess Bride says, when something goes wrong, you go back to the beginning. Well, some things went wrong this year. So we go back to the beginning. 

If you got off track with your writing in 2020, use the tool of working in small increments of time — even 5 to 15 minutes — to rebuild your writing practice. You can also experiment with working with small sections of your book or project too, if you’re revising, for example, which doesn’t lend itself as well to small increments of time. I jump-started my script revision by focusing on 15 page chunks; far less overwhelming than imagining tackling the whole thing in one go. It’s just a Jedi mind trick but it works, so I’ll take it. :) 

Tip: Use small increments of writing as a tool to help get yourself going again. 

Remember why you’re writing.

This has been a rough year. I know I’m not the only writer who wondered whether it was even worth it to keep writing in the face of the massive challenges we’ve been dealing with globally. It’s impossible not to question our actions when faced with life-and-death circumstances, oppression, and political crisis. What’s important? How should we be spending our time? Will our writing even have a place to end up? What will readers, viewers, publishers, and producers even want, after all this?

My perspective is that all writing is needed and has a place (I’ll make an exception for hate speech). As creators, we entertain, heal, inform, and grow through writing, and we do the same for our readers and viewers. And it doesn’t matter what we’re writing. Fiction entertains, comedy lightens hearts, feel-good movies lift spirits. Serious pieces offer food for thought. Non-fiction teaches. Our writing has a place and a purpose, and if we’re called to write, we simply have to trust the muse and seek to fulfill that calling.

Tip: Remind yourself why you’re writing and what’s important to you about it.

 

It’s a New Year to Write!

Let’s design our 2021 writing vision and goals together.

Even if you haven’t had the successes you wanted in 2020, it’s the perfect time to think ahead to what comes next and how you’ll get there. 

When you join Called to Write, you’ll have access to the Make This Your Year to Write course materials and our live course events, including two Zoom gatherings and one live chat event to help you work through the steps and refine and share your writing vision and goals. You’ll have all the support, camaraderie, and accountability you need to help you work through the course materials and design an actionable vision and goal plan for your writing in 2021. 

Our events start on January 5th!

Here are the steps we’ll be working through together:

  • Step One: Reflect On Your Writing Life & Career So Far (this lesson today, which we’ll review and discuss together on January 5th)
  • Step Two: Notice Your Writing Patterns, Challenges, & Lessons
  • Step Three: Tune Into Your Vision For Your Writing Career and Life
  • Step Four: Tap Into What You Want For Your Daily Writing Life
  • Step Five: Examine the Gap In Your Writing Life
  • Step Six: Set Goals for Your Writing Year
  • Step Seven: Design Your Writing Plan
  • Step Eight: Create Your Support System

Ready to join us? Find out more and register here: https://calledtowrite.mn.co/

Tuesday’s the last day to join in time for the kickoff Zoom event. 
 
 
First photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels
Second photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

7 Mistakes Writers Commonly Make With Goal Setting & Writing Resolutions

Since it’s the first day of the year, and like many writers you probably have goals and resolutions on your mind, I want to highlight a few common mistakes writers tend to make when setting goals for the year, to save you the trouble of possibly making them and stymying yourself or creating unnecessary frustration or disappointment. 

Know in advance that I *am* a fan of goal setting when it comes to writing (and that’s what we’ll be doing with our Make This Your Year to Write process), while at the same time I also know it benefits from forethought.

Here are some considerations to take into account as you plan your goals and resolutions.

7 Mistakes Writers Commonly Make With Goal Setting & Writing Resolutions

Mistake #1: Setting page count or word count goals in a vacuum.

It SOUNDS great to say you’ll write 250 or 1000 words or 3 script pages a day (I’ll write a book/3 scripts a year!), but is it really that great?

When you set a goal for the entire year’s worth of writing focused on a word or page count goal, you’ll most likely be neglecting the reality that writing projects typically also require all kinds of OTHER work that is critical for moving a writing project forward (and counts as writing), like research, development, editing, revising, plotting, structuring, character development, and more.

What happens when you set a word count goal but you’re at a place in your book where you need to edit and revise? Do you end up writing “new words” even when they aren’t relevant to your book… and end up feeling like you’re spinning your wheels? 

What happens when you set a page count goal but you need to restructure your script in order to move it forward? Do you work on two scripts at once… and thwart your forward progress as a result?

The issue I have with word and page count goals set in a vacuum is that they have the potential to create an inherent conflict with yourself; if you focus on meeting the goal, you’re not doing the work you actually need to be doing to move your book or script along. Or if you go ahead and ignore the goal and do the work you need to do, you create an uncomfortable tension within yourself and feel like you’ve let yourself down.

👉 Antidote #1: Design SMART goals that reflect what you’re currently working on and the stage you’re in.

Mistake #2: Focusing on don’t break the chain resolutions.

I gotta be honest, I’m not a fan of “don’t break the chain” resolutions and strategies. I’ve seen too many writers triggered into an obsessive, uncomfortable place trying to keep their streak going. These kinds of goals and resolutions don’t account for days when life goes sideways on us, like getting sick or even just needing to take a day off.

Plus I find that often writers using these streak maintaining methods can end up feeling rebellious and grouchy being locked into something, not to mention a horrible feeling of “losing” all their progress if they miss a day. If anything, breaking a streak, accidentally or otherwise, can quickly become a major deterrent to writing. Once the streak is broken, writers sometimes use it as an excuse to give up on themselves and their goals. 

👉 Antidote #2: Set goals that match your life, are flexible, and allow you to pick yourself up and get back to work if you miss a day here or there or get thrown off track for whatever reason.

(I focus my writing time on weekdays and take most holidays off, and take vacation time off as well.)

Mistake #3: Not setting realistic, achievable goals.

Another common mistake is not setting goals that are actually attainable. I love Jon Acuff’s advice in his book Finish, where he recommends either halving your goal or doubling the time you give yourself to accomplish it. 

All too often writers set “high” goals that don’t allow for real life to happen or put so much pressure on themselves that they more or less implode, giving up on their goals entirely and feeling discouraged and disappointed. 

Having said this, sometimes I see writers who only seem to be able to give themselves permission to write when they are under pressure or in special circumstances (think of binge writing to meet a deadline, only writing during a writing intensive, during NaNoWriMo, or on a writers’ retreat). If you’re wired this way, you might want to consider working with a coach to identify the underlying reasons you’re afraid to write the rest of the year. It’s extremely likely that some level of resistance is getting in your way and that designing a regular schedule with small increments of writing will be a bridge to a regular writing habit and a path to making writing happen more consistently and productively, without the associated burnout that binge writing usually produces. 

👉 Antidote #3: Make your goals so easy they’re pleasurable to fulfill. 

Mistake #4: Not studying your past lessons.

One of the greatest disservices we inflict on ourselves is not giving ourselves time and space to learn from what has worked for us and what hasn’t.

If you set writing goals, and didn’t achieve them, rather than chalking it up as failure and resolving to push through a second (or tenth) attempt, instead reflect on where things went awry.

It usually isn’t what you think it is.

You’re not lazy, or too busy, or don’t have enough time (common myths that stop people from writing).

Odds are you instead set goals that weren’t achievable or didn’t have a workable action plan to help you write all year round or didn’t know how to handle the natural and common resistance that emerges when you’re pursuing a big dream like writing. Or maybe you hadn’t actually picked a clear project to work on yet! There are many, many reasons why writers don’t follow through on their goals, and taking time to learn from those experiences helps you set goals that actually work this time around. 

👉 Antidote #4: Review what worked and what didn’t this year and see what you can learn from it (and yes, you get something of a pass because of the pandemic — and — I’m sure there’s still something to be learned.)

Mistake #5: Setting goals you can’t control. 

Another common mistake writers run into with goal setting is choosing goals they don’t have control over. “I’m going to sell my book (or script) this year!” isn’t an outcome you can control or predict. You can, however, set a goal to send out 50 query letters. Or to make a list of 100 possible publishers for your book. Or vow to submit your script to a specific contest deadline or make 50 pitches. These are goals you can set and control. 

👉 Antidote #5: Put your focus on goals and outcomes you can take action on by yourself. 

Mistake #6: Not reverse engineering your goals to create an action plan. 

Related to mistake #3, not setting realistic, achievable goals, many writers neglect to reverse engineer their goals and make sure they actually work. Often this involves a fair amount of fantasy thinking around how long it actually takes to fully develop a story, do a read through of a script while taking notes, design a full revision plan, or assess how much work there actually is to revise a draft.

So if a writer says, for example, “I’m going to revise my NaNoWriMo draft by the end of January!” when they haven’t read through their November draft yet and don’t really know what they have, or what it’s going to take to get through a revision, it can be pretty discouraging to realize that revising the draft chronologically isn’t going to get them very far, and almost certainly not by the end of January. 

Plus, if you don’t have a plan, you may find yourself procrastinating well into your completion timeline because you haven’t properly assessed all the steps required to get you from A to Z. 

Want to finish a book revision by September 1st? Or write two screenplays by December 1st? Work backward from your intended deadline and map each stage of work to a calendar and writing schedule to see what seems doable. Adjust the goal as needed. Then pad the heck out of that schedule so you’ve got some flexibility for real life to happen along the way. 

👉 Antidote #6: Map your goals to your calendar so you know what to do when, and are motivated to see them through. 

Mistake #7: Not setting goals that align with your bigger vision.

From my Make This Your Year to Write course: “It’s important to start with a long-term vision before setting goals, because [you] want to make sure that your shorter-term, year-long goals are in alignment with your long-term vision.

“Think about it. If you set goals for the coming year that have nothing to do with where you want to ultimately end up, you can end up in an entirely different place than you intended. That may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve worked with who set goals that take them to the wrong place, often because what they think they should be doing or what someone else wants for them isn’t necessarily a match with what they want for themselves.”

Antidote #7: Design your overarching career vision first, then create your goals. (Hint: we’ll be doing this in my Make This Your Year to Write course.)

 

It’s super important to me to help writers set goals that work so we can make regular, consistent progress toward finishing all our writing projects and getting them out into the world where they belong. 

 

It’s a New Year to Write!

Let’s design our 2021 writing vision and goals together.

Even if you haven’t had the successes you wanted in 2020, it’s the perfect time to think ahead to what comes next and how you’ll get there. 

When you join Called to Write, you’ll have access to the Make This Your Year to Write course materials and our live course events, including two Zoom gatherings and one live chat event to help you work through the steps and refine and share your writing vision and goals. You’ll have all the support, camaraderie, and accountability you need to help you work through the course materials and design an actionable vision and goal plan for your writing in 2021. 

Our events start on January 5th!

Here are the steps we’ll be working through together:

  • Step One: Reflect On Your Writing Life & Career So Far (this lesson today, which we’ll review and discuss together on January 5th)
  • Step Two: Notice Your Writing Patterns, Challenges, & Lessons
  • Step Three: Tune Into Your Vision For Your Writing Career and Life
  • Step Four: Tap Into What You Want For Your Daily Writing Life
  • Step Five: Examine the Gap In Your Writing Life
  • Step Six: Set Goals for Your Writing Year
  • Step Seven: Design Your Writing Plan
  • Step Eight: Create Your Support System

Ready to join us? Find out more and register here: https://calledtowrite.mn.co/

 

Stay tuned

for the next article in our New Year to Write series, coming on Sunday, January 3rd, about setting yourself up to write all year long (even in the middle of a pandemic!). 

 
First photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels
Second photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Complete Your Writing Year (+ A New Year to Write Registration Opens Today!)

I’ve got a special exercise for you today. As we begin working through the Make This Your Year to Write process in my Called to Write community, we start by completing the current writing year. 

To give you a taste of what we’ll be working on (and give you a jump-start!) here’s the first step of the Make This Your Year to Write process:

Complete Your Writing Year

We start first with reflection to establish the foundation of where you are right now. 

This is important because most of us have a tendency to focus purely on the goals and resolutions we’re setting for the new year and what’s next, but skip over the realities of what’s happened for us over the last year and what our current writing life looks like. (And yes, this HAS been a highly unusual year, but there are still insights to be gained from what worked and what didn’t.)

Without learning from what is, we create a recipe for pie-in-the-sky goals we are less-than-likely to succeed with. And we want you to succeed, right?😉 

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

I call this completing the year.

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

1. What has your writing given you over the last year? And in your writing career so far?

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

While you consider this, think back over the preceding year, and also your writing career as a whole.

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

2. What are you most proud of?

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

Here again, look at both this current year and your writing career so far.

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

3. What did you accomplish with your writing over the last year? Make an inventory of your writing accomplishments.

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

We want you to examine what you accomplished, regardless of how big or small.

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

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

If you don’t have any tangible progress, make some notes for yourself about what you DID do this year you feel proud of.

Writing Prompts

Here are your writing prompts for Step One, assembled in one place for your writerly convenience. Remember, you can write out your answers privately in a notebook or journal, or on this page in the comments section below — whatever feels and works best for you. 

  1. What has your writing given you over the last year? And in your writing career so far?

  2. What are you most proud of? (This year and career, both.)

  3. What did you accomplish with your writing over the last year? Make an inventory of your writing accomplishments.

It’s a New Year to Write!

Let’s design our 2021 writing vision and goals together.

Even if you haven’t had the successes you wanted in 2020, it’s the perfect time to think ahead to what comes next and how you’ll get there. 

When you join Called to Write, you’ll have access to the Make This Your Year to Write course materials and our live course events, including two Zoom gatherings and one live chat event to help you work through the steps and refine and share your writing vision and goals. You’ll have all the support, camaraderie, and accountability you need to help you work through the course materials and design an actionable vision and goal plan for your writing in 2021. 

Our events start on January 5th!

Here are the steps we’ll be working through together:

  • Step One: Reflect On Your Writing Life & Career So Far (this lesson today, which we’ll review and discuss together on January 5th)
  • Step Two: Notice Your Writing Patterns, Challenges, & Lessons
  • Step Three: Tune Into Your Vision For Your Writing Career and Life
  • Step Four: Tap Into What You Want For Your Daily Writing Life
  • Step Five: Examine the Gap In Your Writing Life
  • Step Six: Set Goals for Your Writing Year
  • Step Seven: Design Your Writing Plan
  • Step Eight: Create Your Support System

Ready to join us? Find out more and register here: https://calledtowrite.mn.co/

 

Stay tuned

…for the next article in our New Year to Write series, coming on Friday, January 1st, about mistakes writers commonly make when setting goals for the new year. 

Join my mailing list to get the articles sent right to your inbox.

 

 

First photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels
Second photo by Sharon McCutcheon on 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 III: How to Design a Writing Intensive

Welcome back for the third part of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In last week’s posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing and Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals. Today I’m writing about boosting your progress. Next time I’ll talk about Setting Yourself Up for Success, so stay tuned for that posts, coming up soon.

Part III: Design a Writing Intensive

In my last post, I wrote about reverse engineering and revising your goals. The reason to assess your 2017 writing goals now is that we’re within spitting distance of the end of the calendar year, and therefore the “deadline” for meeting 2017 goals …before the clock strikes midnight. 

Even if you’ve decided to shift your goals forward into 2018 (I’ve done this with one of my writing goals), you may still want to do an extra “push” with your writing this year to boost your progress and move the ball down the field a little farther than you might get if you a) aren’t writing as much as you’d like to, b) are catching up after a summer writing hiatus or slow-down, c) still want to try to meet your original goal, or d) need a leg up with your motivation.

Doing a focused burst of writing — a short-term writing intensive — is like doing a runner’s wind sprint, where you alternate slower, steadier walking or slow running with more intense bursts of faster running. So doing a writing intensive is about temporarily picking up your pace, then downshifting back into your regular writing habit. (You have a regular writing habit, right? If you don’t, check out my Circle for help.)

A focused stretch of writing can also serve another purpose: It allows you to go deeper into your writing. It’s about putting the focus more intently on your writing. It’s not just about writing faster or more — but it’s also about a quality of experience. Almost like carving out an at-home, immersive writing retreat for yourself. 

In the Deep Dive writing intensive I’m running (starting next week), we’re creating this deeper experience by “clearing the decks” — making space for focused, daily writing at a more intense level by eliminating obstacles and distractions. One of the things I talked about during the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), is mentally making space for your writing, including thinking about what you’re reading, watching, and thinking about during your writing intensive. 

Set Up a Writing Intensive for Yourself

Here’s a simple strategy for creating a writing intensive for yourself:

  1. Give yourself a clear time period within which you’ll complete your intensive, whether it’s a day, weekend, week, or month.
  2. Clear the decks for your writing. Eliminate distractions, set up your life so you can focus on your writing.
  3. Get crystal clear on your writing goal for your intensive.
  4. Have a plan for how you’ll complete your writing goal (more on this below).
  5. Implement your writing plan, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, step-by-step, task-by-task.
  6. Have a reward in mind you’ll receive when you finish.

Have a Plan to Meet Your Writing Goal

When you’re aiming to write efficiently, wind sprint style, you’ll make more of your writing time if you go into it knowing exactly what you’re working on. Sometimes writing is unwieldy at best, but you can still go into it with a clear intention and plan. 

The type of plan you develop will depend on where you are with your current book or script.

Here are samples of plans you could create for your writing intensive. The idea with all these plans is to give you a clear list of tasks to work through, one by one, so you can stay focused and efficient during your intensive rather than feeling overwhelmed, spinning in circles, or getting lost along the way.

  1. Story Development Intensive. If you’re developing a new story, you can create a list of items you want to have answered before you start writing, so you can be crystal clear on your work plan (and so you’ll know when you’re done!). For example, you may want to have your plot points identified, your premise line written, your character profiles developed, and a scene-by-scene outline created, among other things. Here’s my “Must Have” list before writing pages.
  2. New Writing Intensive. If you’re ready to start writing pages, you’ll hopefully already have your own list of story development items complete and ready to go so you can just jump straight into writing pages. If you don’t yet have your story developed, you could go back to the Story Development Intensive, and make your writing intensive about doing that work, or perhaps you prefer to just go for the “pantser” approach and write an intuitive stream-of-consciousness draft. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach, and many writers swear by it. I would be remiss in not saying, though, that it can create one of the biggest challenges I see for writers who then have a potentially massive, disjointed draft they then have to face revising and editing.
  3. Organization Intensive. Perhaps you’re at a different stage of work — the organization stage. Many writers spend years drafting various versions and pieces of a manuscript and then find themselves overwhelmed with all the parts and sections. If you’re in this boat, you’ll want to make a plan for how you’ll address getting it organized. I recommend you start by cataloguing what you have and where it’s located, along with a single sentence summarizing each section. While you’re at it, you may want to develop a numbering or naming scheme for your digital and paper files. Once you know where everything is, and what it is, you can move into developing a plan for adding additional writing or moving into the revision stage if you have everything you need (writing additional scenes or chapters can be a natural part of a revision plan, after all). Organizing is a great thing to tackle in an intensive because it’s one of those onerous tasks often best handled in a big burst of work.
  4. Story Analysis Intensive. If you’re at the stage where you have a draft, but you’re not ready to begin revising because you know your story needs more in-depth work, you may want to check out Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know * as a process for analyzing your work. Tackling this level of work could potentially become the entirety of what you do for a writing intensive, depending on how much time you have set aside, or it could be the first stages of a revision intensive.
  5. Revision Intensive. If you’re revising, I strongly recommend having a revision plan in place before you begin. You could use a Story Grid plan, or use a different approach. I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s revision approach in her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love,* where she has you make a to-do list, a reverse outline, and a timeline for your story so you can more efficiently dip in and out of your story to make corrections and revisions. It’s also worth prioritizing your to-do list from largest to smallest changes, so you’re not undoing work if you suddenly cut a large swath of text.  
  6. Polishing Intensive. If you’re at the final stage, you can do a polishing intensive to spine and proofread your final draft. This may involve first doing a pass through the manuscript to make small changes throughout the text, then printing and proofreading the draft, then making the changes in the final version.

In my own case, I’m currently working on revising pages for the screenplay I’m working on. Since it’s a fairly major revision, the steps I’ve taken to get to this stage include:

  • Meeting with the producer I’m working with and getting his feedback and notes on the prior draft.
  • Summarizing our notes so I could see what needed to be changed and what would stay the same.
  • Reverse outlining the prior draft.
  • Reworking the GMC for the characters.
  • Reworking my Story Grid Foolscap for the overall story (and all of the many things that entails).
  • Reworking the plot points and handling the ripple-effect changes they created.
  • Creating a new scene-by-scene outline for the story, including a scene event, goal, motivation, and conflict for each scene. 
  • Collecting all the scenes from the prior draft that are rework-able and adding them into my new draft in Scrivener.
  • Starting to rewrite those existing scenes and write new scenes as I move through the script — and this is what I’ll be continuing to do before and during the Deep Dive.

Got questions? Comments?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond. :) 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, 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 soon. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

* Amazon affiliate link

Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part II: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals

Welcome back to the second part of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In Tuesday’s post I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing. Today I’m writing about reverse engineering and revising (if needed) your writing goals. Next up we’ll talk about Boosting Your Progress and Setting Yourself Up for Success so stay tuned for those posts, coming over the next several days.

Part II: Reverse-Engineer and Revise Your Writing Goals

The first thing you’ll want to do, when it comes to meeting your writing goals for 2017, is to remind yourself of what exactly your writing goals for this year are. Hopefully at or near the beginning of the year you sat down and wrote out your writing goals. Go find them and see what they say. For real. I’ll wait. :) 

If you’re already on track, great! 

If not, here’s where we come to the reverse engineering and revising part.

Often times goal setting involves a LOT of magical thinking, as I wrote about last time. At the beginning of the year, it’s easy to be romantic about what’s possible. Then unexpected things happen and it’s time now to get really realistic about what’s possible. So you have some choices to make.

First, think about whether you can still meet your writing goals as they stand.

There are now 78 working days left in this calendar year (including today)(69 for those of us with kids home for winter break). If you do the math on what you were intending to accomplish, is that realistic and doable?

For example, if you had intended to revise the remaining 60,000 words left in your 120,000 word book, that means revising about 800 words a day. That’s moderately reasonable, right? Of course there are variables, like the depth of revision you need to do, too, so you’ll have to mentally make accommodation for that.

On the other hand, if you were wanting to finish a draft of a brand new 80,000 word book, that means writing 1,025 words per day. Also fairly reasonable. 

This is great news, right?

But it also means getting pretty serious about meeting those daily goals. Like now, so you don’t end up binge writing and burning out or giving up in despair as December 31 rolls around. 

And, there are additional variables, like what you’re specifically working on, your writing pace, available time, if you want to write on weekends, or can’t write on weekdays.

For example, with revision, there are what I’ve come to call “black hole” chapters, thanks to one of my Circle members. These are the chapters where once you get into it, it’s not just a matter of light editing, but reworking the content in such a way that it requires scrapping it and rewriting it entirely and/or has a ripple effect throughout the entire book. So maybe you’ve just revised the 2,000 words in the chapter, but it took you five extra days to re-plot it and then rewrite it, and it also means that you now have more work to do throughout the whole book. Such is the nature of revision.

So realistically, let’s say this means you can really only revise the equivalent of 400 words per day, on average. That doubles the amount of time to complete the revision, putting you well into next year. Are you okay with that?

If yes, great!

If not, revise your goal to a new more accurate date. But then also create a daily writing plan that reflects this new daily goal of 400 words per day. 

(And just to be clear, I know “revising” 400 words per day is something of a misnomer, because sometimes we end up cutting 400 words and then we’re at zero! But I think you can combine both a time goal, e.g. 60 to 120 minutes per day of revising plus working through 400 existing words in your manuscript as a way of handling it.)

Second, if you can’t meet your original goal upon analysis, you have choices.

  1. As I mentioned above, you can revise your goal to a new target date next year.
  2. Or, you may want to revise your 2017 goals to reflect changes that have come up this year and let go of your original goals, and decide on new goals for this year that feel more doable, like getting to a specific milestone in your draft. For example, to the end of a specific section or chapter.
  3. Or, you can design a brief writing “push,” or intensive burst of writing, to move you closer to your goal more quickly, to help you pick up your pace and increase your chances of meeting your original goal. This is part of what we’re doing in the Deep Dive writing intensive. You can also do this on your own.
  4. Or, you may want to both revise your goal and do a push to meet it. It’s up to you!

Your choice will depend on a number of things.

  • Do you have a hard deadline you have to meet?
  • Will you be terribly disappointed if you don’t meet your original goal?
  • Is it worth it to you to make an extra push with your writing so you can meet your goal this year? 
  • Is doing a push possible for you right now? Is it worth the extra energy required?
  • Is your goal more complex than I’ve used in the examples above? For example, maybe you not only wanted to write the 80,000 word book but you also wanted to edit and self-publish it, which may not be realistic at this point.
  • Are you dealing with other life challenges you need to factor in? 
  • Has your writing situation changed, perhaps because of new writing agreements or contracts?

Third, once you’ve made a choice, revise your goal, if needed, and then map out a plan to help you meet it.

I like to use SMART goal setting, which I’ll be reviewing with my Deep Dive participants in our Goal Setting Call next Wednesday. Here’s the overview:

  • Specific (What are you working on?)
  • Measurable (How much are you aiming to accomplish in terms of words, time, or pages?)
  • Achievable (How and when will you do it? Is it doable?)
  • Resonant (Why are you doing it? Why now, and is it in alignment with the Big Why behind why you’re working on this project?)
  • Time Bound (By when will you accomplish this goal?)

And here’s my example:

  • Specific/What: Screenplay
  • Measurable/How much: 70 pages of new writing and rewriting, approximately 5 pages per day in the 14 days of the Deep Dive.
  • Achievable/How and when: Approximately 2 hours per day in the mornings, and yes, doable — I can usually write about 2.5 screenplay pages in an hour.
  • Resonant/Why: To submit to the producer I’m working with, Big Why: To tell a story I’m passionate about — the tale of a boy building a relationship with his father in a post-apocalyptic world.  
  • Time Bound/By when: By October 4th when we finish the Deep Dive. 

Doing this work, while sometimes a bit annoying :), helps you get realistic about what you can and want to accomplish and help boost your motivation and energy for achieving 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 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

 

 

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

 

Free teleclass: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

The fourth and final class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and the recording is now available! 

If you missed the series, you can still sign up to get the recordings, which will only be available for another week, through Friday, April 8. You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register.

Here’s what we’ve covered in the class series:

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

  • Defining what being productive means.
  • 3 writing productivity principles.
  • 5 time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
  • 7 writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.

Part II: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It

  • Defining perfectionism and 5 thoughts about the role perfectionism plays in our writing lives.
  • The Anti-Creativity Cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis and a laundry list of ways it shows up.
  • Other creative blocks and obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, and more.
  • 15 solutions and antidotes for the Anti-Creativity Cycle and other creative blocks.

Part III: Keeping Your Creative Energy Vibrant for Optimal Writing Productivity

  • The trick to managing the emotional ups and downs of a long-form writing project.
  • Simple but important ways to take care of your physical body AND your creative mind.
  • 3 energy boosting strategies.
  • 3 nifty techniques to balance and recharge your energy.
  • 5 creative recovery skills for whenever (or if ever!) you get off track.

Part IV: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

  • 5 ways to set yourself up for success with your goals in advance.
  • Smart goal setting that works.
  • Reverse engineering your writing timelines.
  • The power of a plan for revisions.
  • Using intentions to supercharge your writing sessions.
  • How to set motivating rewards and celebrations.
  • BONUS: Managing distractions.

I’ve been getting terrific feedback from the writers who have participated and I’d love to have you take advantage of this opportunity too. You’ll find that the series is packed with practical tools and strategies you can put into place right away to help you boost your productivity as a writer.

 

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Reverse Engineer Your 2016 Writing Goals

We’re closing in on the end of the first month of the year. I can’t quite believe it!

Most of us started off the year with solid intentions to write. How’s that going for you?

If you’re writing less than you’d like to be, this is the perfect time to make a course correction.

In fact, in some ways, it’s the BEST time to make a course correction, because we’re early enough in the year that small adjustments will go far.

So dig out your end of 2016 writing goals and take stock. (And if you haven’t created your 2016 writing goals yet, here’s a great tool to help you — and no, it’s definitely NOT too late!)

Do the Math

If you haven’t done this yet, reverse engineer your goals so you can see where you’re wanting to be by the end of the month (and at any point along your projected timeline).

Example 1: Finish an 80,000 word novel by December 31.

For example, if you’re aiming to complete an 80,000 word novel by the end of the year, you can figure out your approximate daily word counts. The math for this tells us that you’ll want to be writing about 320 words per day, 5 days per week, all year, excluding holidays (there are 251 working days in 2016).

This means that by January 31, you’ll want to have completed approximately 6,080 words (19 working days in January). This assumes that you’re either writing by the seat of your pants (a “pantser”) or that you’ve already plotted the novel. It also assumes that you work on weekdays and take holidays and weekends off.

Example 2: Plot AND finish an 80,000 word novel by December 31.

Another example: If your goal is to complete an 80,000 word novel by the end of the year, but you haven’t plotted it yet, you can set a timeline for the plotting and the writing. You might allow two weeks or two months to plot; it’s up to you, your writing process, and your available time.

But once you know your timeline, you can break down the plotting into increments, such as chapters or plot points that you want to hit by a certain date. Then you can assess your progress.

Let’s say you’re aiming for two months for plotting, and we’re nearing the end of January right now. So you should be halfway through the plotting at this point, or ideally around the midpoint of your novel. Then, starting in March, you’ll have 212 working days left to write those 80,000 words, or about 377 words per day.

Tools and Adjustments

I love spreadsheets for this kind of calculating and planning. (In fact, I’m working on making a special one for you right now — stay tuned for that!)

Of course you can adjust these calculations for your project and schedule, such as if you prefer to write on weekends, for instance.

Or as in my case, if you’re writing screenplays, you might want to set a daily target page count rather than a word count.

Also, be aware that these calculations don’t include revision or editing time, which may not always lend themselves to a linear progression since deeper cuts and reworking tends to work better from a to do list method.

Assess Your Progress

Once you’ve reverse-engineered your goals, check in: Are you on track to meet your goals by the end of the year? Do you need to bump up your daily word counts or adjust your time table?

One of the smartest things I see writers do is get crystal clear on the math of their projects so they know exactly what to aim for and can pace themselves well. It’s all too easy to live in fantasy land, unclear on what you’re trying to accomplish, floundering in hope and optimism rather than grounded, practical reality. 

So check in on where you’re supposed to be, and make an assessment of what — if any — adjustments you need to make, and you’ll be good to go. 

diamonds

Need support to meet those goals? 

Coaching CircleMy Called to Write Coaching Circle will give you support, accountability, and more encouragement than you can shake a stick at to write on a regular basis and make sure you’re finishing all your writing projects.

If you’d like to join us in February, sign up no later than TOMORROW, Thursday, January 28th at Midnight Pacific Time here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

We can’t wait to write with you!