How to finally make it as a writer (Part two!)

Today we’re continuing our four-part series designed to help you get past the roadblocks and obstacles that hold you back from fully moving into the writing life you want.

(If you haven’t seen the first part, you can take a look at it here.)

My goal for you in this series is to help kick-start the process through a few proven exercises so that your professional writing career takes shape sooner rather than later.

Do these exercises, and you will experience positive results that will make becoming a professional writer more attainable for you.

Today’s exercise worked so well for one of the people in The Writer’s Circle, he was able to write 75,000 words in four months … after struggling with writing for years.

Why I’m taking you through these exercises now

I’m releasing a new product this week – Design Your Writing Life – that’s essentially a step-by-step blueprint for how to go from where you are now to the writing life you’ve always been looking forward to.

It will be available with a special launch discount on Thursday, May 8th, and I wanted to share a few select parts of what I teach inside it so that you can get a taste of what the course is all about.

Your next exercise is below!

Exercise #2 – Break resistance by tricking your brain

We cover a number of “writing myths” in Design Your Writing Life that are the common things that hold people back from developing a consistent writing habit, but one of the common threads in these myths is making the act of writing a bigger deal than it is – and giving your power away by thinking conditions must be ideal – either inside you or in the outside world – in order for you to be “able” to write.

Of course there are some circumstances in which writing is easier than in others – but by no means should they dictate your ability to write in the here and now. But the belief that now – any given now – isn’t the right time to get some writing done is a career killer.

In this exercise you’re going to have the chance to interrupt your normal patterns around writing and sneak in under the radar of any resistance to writing.

All you need to do is this:

  • Schedule 5 minutes in the morning to write, and don’t put any expectations on writing well. Then do it again each day.

That’s it. Just 5 minutes, preferably as close to first thing as you can, but if you need to integrate it with your first coffee of the day (or something similar), that can work, too. Just five minutes, at a time you won’t “forget.”

Scheduling it makes all the difference.

This is how Rikard Berguist managed to write 75,000 words in four months and changed his writing life forever. And you can do it, too.

Important Note: The more this idea seems like it won’t work for you, the more likely it is that it is exactly what will change things for you as a writer.

I’ll explain.

Here’s why this works so well to make writing easier for you

The act of taking just five minutes can help you side-step your resistance because your brain won’t quite take the exercise seriously. After all, it’s just five minutes, and it’s in the morning. As far as your brain is concerned, it will be over with soon enough.

It’s almost like it’s not a threat to any ingrained beliefs you have about writing being difficult. (It doesn’t hurt that you’re also not trying to do your “best” writing, so the pressure’s off.)

This does a few things for you:

  • One, it breaks your normal expectations around writing – instead of striving to “do it right”, you’re “just doing it.”
  • Two, it begins the process of normalization – your brain begins getting comfortable with the idea of writing being a planned part of your daily routine, like a coffee or a shower.
  • Three, it helps reinforce your identity as a writer, because it’s something you’re doing more often. Writing will start feeling more like something you “do” rather than something you “should be doing.”
  • Four, it can rapidly improve your creativity. David Boice, a well known researcher in the realm of academic writing, has found that writers who write on a daily basis are twice as likely to have frequent creative thoughts as writers who write when they “feel like it.”
  • Fifth, it can rapidly improve your skill as a writer. There is mounting evidence to show that “spaced practice” can lead to faster skill building than “massed practice” – meaning that the more little practice sessions you have, the more your brain can strengthen long-term memory associated with the writing process. So those 5 minute sessions each day will trigger and re-trigger the brain to get into “writing mode” more easily over time.  

The wonderful side effect of this exercise is that it doesn’t take long for those 5-minute writing bursts to get longer. Without resistance slowing you down, you’ll find yourself wanting to write for 10 minutes, then 15, and beyond. Rikard worked his way up to an hour a day “sneaking under the radar of resistance” and had this to say:

I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself “I am writing crap,” and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn’t all crap.

Four months later, he was typing the last words on a completed first draft.

Take 5 minutes now and do this exercise, and let me know how it goes!

Now is as good a time as any to give this exercise a try – just take 5 minutes now to break the ice and see what you can get written – and then decide when you’re going to do your daily 5 minutes from now on. Remember, you’re not going for your “best” writing in this space – we’re simply getting the habit in place.

Writing for 5 minutes won’t feel normal yet. Soon it will, though, and you’ll begin to feel your identity as a writer strengthen and solidify.

Once you’re done, take a moment to tell me how you feel at the end of the exercise! I look forward to cheering you on. :)

So go set your timer, and write!


Getting back on the writing wagon

Between being pregnant and having the flu shortly after my Design Your Writing Life class series and the holiday whirlwind, I found myself flat out not writing for much of January. As someone who pretty much always writes six days per week (with the exception of vacations), I was surprised that I actually couldn’t write.

The flu this year is a particularly bad one, and I was in bed for two weeks straight, between fever, exhaustion, and a “bonus” sinus infection and massive headaches. And since my immune system is busy doing other things (like not attacking the baby), it’s taken me an extra long time to get better, let alone “get back on the writing wagon”. (And even longer to get back to blogging, which I’ve been missing.)

Here’s the thing.

Even once you have a solid writing habit established, major life disruptions CAN come along and throw you off your game. And when that happens, what can you do about it? Resistance is a tricky, stealthy operator, and it can concoct all sorts of bizarre reasons and excuses not to start writing again.

So how do you tell the difference between being too tired to write and being “too tired” to write?

What I tell the writers in my Writer’s Circle is this: The only person that can ever really know the answer to that is you.

And interestingly for me, that answer has been, “Yes.”

In other words — BOTH. I’ve been truly exhausted and unable to do much of anything other than feed myself, take care of my son, keep my business running, and do the minimum amount of work to keep participating in the classes I’m taking. But I have ALSO had days where I’ve been in a resistance pickle over not wanting to write — not wanting to face the challenge, being afraid I won’t be able to do the work “properly” (perfectionism alert!), and otherwise just avoiding the writing. Plus my regular writing routine (and schedule) have been disrupted by my desperate need for sleep and rest at weird hours. So it’s all been tangled up together into one confusing lump of writing, exhaustion, angst, resistance, and not writing.

These kinds of situations can result from all sorts of things, like suddenly having a crushing deadline at work, losing a loved one, a relationship ending, losing a job, other major illnesses, pregnancy, birth, long vacations, etc. Major life transitions can wreak havoc with our regular patterns and we’re suddenly back to square one — having lost our writing habit and feeling resistance to getting back on track.

Getting back on track

So let’s talk strategy — how to get back on board:

1. Step One: Acknowledge what’s going on.

Pay attention to the realities of the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs that are coming up for you. Also notice what’s coming up on the writing front in terms of resistance. Are you avoiding it? Does it feel scary? There’s no need for judgment here, just compassionate observation.

Acknowledging what’s going on will help you make new choices about how to best support yourself through it.

2. Step Two: Coax yourself through the resistance.

If you’ve gotten off the writing track, there WILL be resistance. It’s normal, it’s nothing to worry about, and it can be hard to overcome. So coax yourself through it.

At times like this, I tell myself, “How about writing for just 15 minutes? I bet you can do just a little bit.” And then once I get the ball rolling, I feel the tremendous sense of relief, accomplishment, and positive energy that I need to keep my writing habit going over time. (Actually writing instead of resisting is anxiety relieving. For more about why, see this article here.)

3. Step Three: Make an “ease back into it” plan.

One of the principles we use in the Writer’s Circle is goal refinement. Start with what you think is an attainable writing goal for yourself, given all of the above in steps one and two. Then test it. If you achieve it, great! Do it again the next day. But if you find yourself NOT able to hit your target, make it smaller. Keep making the goal smaller until you KNOW you can and will do it. You can — and will — build back up to more writing time later on.

My choice was to start very simply, with morning pages. Once I had the minimum amount of energy I needed to actually get up more or less on time, I made a commitment to spend my first 20 waking minutes (approximately) writing in my notebook, stream of consciousness. It was a wonderful way to ease myself back into writing regularly.

4. Step Four: Begin building back up to your regular writing routine.

Then, over time, begin building your writing habit, schedule, and routine back up to where it was before you got off track. It’s okay to make downward adjustments here too. For instance, if you were writing for two hours a day, but now you’ve been ill or had a major loss that you’re dealing with, you may find that aiming that high just doesn’t work anymore, at least not in the short term. So perhaps you’ll aim for one hour now, and work up to it incrementally.

Before I got sick, I was writing between three to four hours a day. Over the last few weeks I’ve been hitting more like one consistently. I’ve also found that my normal six days a week schedule just isn’t working for me, and I’m needing to cut it down to five days a week. Starting this week, I’m working on ramping back up to two hours a day. And I’m being extra gentle with myself about it. Aiming for it, but not self-flagellating if I don’t make it.

5. Step Five: If you can, get support.

Having people around you who believe in you and support your writing is a powerful tool to get back on track as well. I’m so grateful to have my Writer’s Circle group members cheering me on, each and every day, helping me observe my writing choices and keep my writing top-of-mind, even when the going gets tough. I also have my screenwriting pals to commiserate and celebrate with in equal measure. It helps to have people who “get it” — how hard it is, how much joy it brings, and how much it means to us. So surround yourself with people who can help you keep the dream in focus, even when you’ve lost your way.

Thanks for reading!

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



Writing support from the Writer’s Circle

If you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon! You’ll be surrounded by other writers who are serious about making their writing happen over the short term and the long haul. Find out more and register here:

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Design your writing life as a mom (or dad!)

If you’re a parent, having a regular writing routine takes on an additional layer of complexity — especially in the early years. It’s hard enough to handle being a parent (and even more so if you’re ALSO highly sensitive or introverted as many writers are), and if you’ve got a career on top of it, it’s easy to let writing take a back seat to the more pressing day-to-day demands.

The funny thing is that in some ways it’s EASIER to design your writing life as a parent because it requires quite deliberate attention and focus, or it simply won’t happen at all.

Many writers — parents or not — tend to dream of having long, uninterrupted blocks of time to write. What’s fascinating to me about this dream is that 1) it often stops people from writing if they DON’T have it, and 2) it often stops people from writing if they DO have it.

For those you fondly cherishing the dream of long stretches of time to write you might be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”

But here’s the thing. What we see quite consistently in the Writer’s Circle is that writers who aren’t writing regularly don’t tend to benefit from having MORE time to write. If anything, they just tend to go into greater paralysis and procrastination.

Why on earth would something like this happen?

We’ve talked about this a lot here, but it’s worth saying again. (And again.) Fear is why writing doesn’t happen.

Big blocks of time simply INCREASE the pressure on writing. Which increases the fear. Which increases the resistance and procrastination. Entire days and weeks can go by and no writing happens.

Looking for big blocks of time is one of the fastest ways into paralysis I’ve seen.

So, writers, and particularly parent writers, let’s just give up that fantasy for now, shall we? At least until your writing habit is so firmly ensconced in your daily routine that expanding your time won’t send you into fits of terror. Or procrastination. (On a side note, that still happens even with the most experienced of writers, so don’t worry too much if it crops up. Just find a way to get back to the writing as quickly as possible.)

The bottom line for all writers — and particularly for parents — is that creating some kind of routine around your writing is key. Reduce the variables, reduce the amount of time available, and create parameters around your writing so that it HAS TO GET DONE at a certain time or it won’t get done at all.

The reason that this is easier for parents, in my opinion, is that it is actually TRUE. It isn’t fabricated quite as artificially for non-parents. For writers who aren’t parents, it’s easier to tell ourselves we’ll just write before bed or after work or some other random opportunity that comes along but often gets swallowed up by television or internet browsing. For parents, there’s a cold hard reality that stares us right in the face. Those kids are coming home at a certain time and the chances of pulling off any kind of writing after that point in time are slim to none unless we have some kind of pre-arranged plan with our spouses or co-parents to make it happen.

For non-parent writers, particularly those entrepreneurial types who work from home (like me, pre-kid), it’s SO MUCH HARDER to find something to “bump up against” in your schedule because so often your time is entirely self-directed. This is part of why we run so many writing sprints for my Writer’s Circle — it provides a scheduled opportunity to write for an hour that’s both fixed in time and fun to participate in.

On the other hand, the challenges for parents can be trickier too. Honestly, I didn’t even know what busy was until I had a child. I really thought I did. Truly! I was so wrong. Being a parent takes so much of my attention bandwidth and energy, I have to be exceedingly deliberate now about making time and energy available for writing too, in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’m taking it overly away from my son or from my work. A dicey balance to say the least.

Here are a few tips for parents — that ultimately translate for all writers — into a designing a writing life that works:

  • Get clear about the assumptions you’re making about writing. What are you telling yourself about what you need to write that might be getting in your way of actually doing the work? (See also my article about “Buts” here.)
  • Get clear about WHY you want to write. What’s important to you about it? For me, it has a lot to do with my identity that’s totally separate from my role as a mother, and I firmly believe is part of what keeps me sane.
  • Make a decision that writing for SOME amount of time is better than NO amount of time. Let go of the idea that writing for long blocks of time is the only way to do it. If you target 15 minutes a day, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of writing over time if you show up and do it consistently.
  • Get out your calendar and take a both ruthless and creative approach to carving out the time to write. Think about when the kids are occupied or when you can talk your spouse into watching them for you. Give yourself the gift of protected, uninterrupted writing time, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
  • Be aware that IF you have any kind of resistance to writing or tendencies to procrastinate (this is most of us!) it’s easiest to write first thing in the morning before you have time to think about it or talk yourself out of it. For a few months I tried writing every day after I dropped my son off at preschool but found that because it felt like “work time” I had a hard time focusing on writing. So I started getting up at 6 a.m. to write everyday — and knew that I had to be done by 7 a.m. when my husband would leave for work — so I had to get it done then. It changed my life. (See my articles about writing early in the morning here and here.)

Join me in Berkeley this Friday for more on this subject

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the Mothership Hackermom’s hacker space on “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom” in Berkeley. Dads and all writers are welcome too. I’ll be talking about these tips and more — including brainstorming with parents whose little ones are so little that preschool isn’t an option yet. This affordable workshop runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and onsite childcare is available if you register in advance here:

Thanks for reading!

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



You may also be interested in:

Coming Attractions

~> Friday, November 8, 10 to 11:30 a.m., an in-person workshop in Berkeley at Mothership HackerMoms. “Design Your Writing Life as a Mom.” I’ll share some parent-specific strategies for finding time to write. All writers, including mothers and fathers, are welcome to attend this workshop.

~> WEDNESDAY, November 27th, Last day to register for the Writer’s Circle. Register by November 27th for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts December 2nd). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects:

~> My annual birthday sale is COMING SOON! Stay tuned for details about getting some great savings on some of my favorite products.


What I'm Up To

~> Writing. Daily writing on various projects. Primarily LUMINAL, a supernatural thriller based on a true story. Follow the project on Facebook here, and on Twitter here (and be sure to let them know I sent you. :) ).

~> Learning. Continuing to study with Corey Mandell and ScreenwritingU.

~> Unplugging. Back to unplugging one day per weekend, usually Saturdays. Such a relief!

~> Reading. Ready for something new!


Thanks for reading.

* Affiliate link

Adventures in publishing with novelist Aaron Cooley

AaronCooley2I had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Cooley earlier this year in Los Angeles and I was instantly intrigued by his story of not only how he came to write his first novel, Shaken, Not Stirred*, but also how he went about publishing and promoting it. So much so that I’ve invited him here to talk about it with us today.

Aaron is a both a screenwriter and novelist and works in film development for Joel Schumacher Productions. His knowledge of the film industry has influenced his approach to his novel, as you’ll discover, and given him a leg up in creating a pretty bad-ass book trailer. He’s shared some real gems of wisdom all writers can benefit from, including tips on e-publishing, what to write, and how to reach your audience.



Aaron, thank you so much for being here with us. Would you start off by telling us what inspired you to write your book “Shaken, Not Stirred” and a little bit about what it’s about?

SNS-jacketWell, I didn’t intend to write a book at all. I’ve been working in Hollywood in film development and doing some screenwriting on the side for over ten years now. In 2007, while researching a movie I had been hired to rewrite, I came across a little blurb about a World War II-era Yugoslavian spy named Dusko Popov who Ian Fleming had met and upon whom he had probably based aspects of James Bond. (I now know there are dozens of people who have claimed to be his inspiration.) I thought this would make a fantastic buddy spy action film, so I started pitching it around town. What I found was that although no one had explored my particular Popov take on the story, there were already at least 3 or 4 “Young Ian Fleming” projects in development — one of which finally got made for television starring Dominic Cooper and comes out next year. So I put it on the shelf. Two years later, I still couldn’t get the idea out of my head and as I started to notice how popular and successful e-books had suddenly become — I think Wool had just sold to Ridley Scott — I decided to take a crack at it. I always dreamed of being a fantasy novelist when I was a kid and this was my chance to see if I could actually write a book start to finish.

I think the world of e-books is an exciting way for struggling screenwriters to get their work out there; screenwriting can feel like a very unrewarding career in which no one’s reading your stuff, and nothing’s getting made. Even many of the highest-paid names in the business feel this frustration. I’ve had three separate paid writing gigs that were read by probably about 20 people combined because those producers had money, but not the connections to do anything with the scripts. Whereas my book’s being read by thousands of people I’ve never met. That’s the real dream of a writer, isn’t it?

It seems like you had a well-thought-out strategy for how and when you launched the book. Can you give us some insight into how you executed the launch and how it went? Is there anything you’d do differently in hindsight?

We tried to do this big movie-type build-up to the launch that started weeks in advance. The main thing I would do differently is to get the book on sale as quickly as possible, much earlier in the process. Because Amazon only allows “big” publishers to do pre-sales, I will always wonder how many people saw my trailer or started following me on Twitter in May or June or July of 2012, discovered they couldn’t buy the book yet, then completely forgot about it. I do think the main thing we did well was tie my book into the opening weekend of SKYFALL — there were a lot more people searching online for Bond stuff in the weeks leading up to that, and a lot of online bloggers and journalists came out of the woodwork asking to interview me because they wanted to write something about 007 but didn’t have access to the Broccolis or Daniel Craig. I think that helped with the great sales results I had in the first couple weeks.

Would you speak to your choice to publish an e-book only, versus going for a printed version or a combination of the two? Would you consider offering a printed version through something like Amazon’s CreateSpace or or do you draw the line with an e-book, and if so, why?

It’s funny you ask — the paperback of Shaken, Not Stirred is finally going on sale starting Black Friday, mainly so my mom can use it as a stocking stuffer for Christmas. We started with an e-book-only release because when e-books exploded, it seemed like this thrilling, completely new medium — like when people first started posting things on YouTube — and that’s what I was initially drawn to and wanted to be a part of. But I started to wonder if I might have made a mistake at last year’s Thanksgiving. I’m from a huge family and celebrate Thanksgiving with 70+ people. Last year, it was 3 weeks after the e-book had been published, and all my older aunts and uncles and even cousins my age and younger were coming up to me and complaining that they couldn’t read my book because they didn’t have an e-reader. But when my 92-year-old Grandpa Harold cornered me about it, I knew I better do something about it. Since then, I’ve just been waiting for the right time. The next Bond movie is way too far away (2015!), so Christmas 2013 it is.

Tell us about your writing habit. When do you write and how do you stay motivated? Do you ever find yourself procrastinating or resisting writing, and if so, how do you get yourself back in action?

Aaron-writingI have a full-time job — but I actually think that’s a good thing for writers. I can only devote two hours a day to writing, but if that’s the only time you have, you really have to be focused in those two hours and it makes you more productive. I think if I had 8 hours I’d still only get 2 or 3 productive hours in each day. I actually set an alarm and turn off email and social media until that alarm goes off. The hardest time to motivate is when you don’t know what your next project is, and you have to spend that 2 hours brainstorming and going through old idea docs and banging your head against your walls. I’ve spent weeks outlining an idea and reading thousands of pages of research on it only to realize, “This isn’t the one.” When you’re supposed to be writing something, you know it. But make sure you pitch it to a couple people early on. To this day, my 3 or 4 best-received scripts (and the novel) are things that I pitched to people early on and kept getting, “Wow, that’s awesome, you’ve got to write that,” as a response.

Is there a particular strategy or method you use to approach a writing project, in terms of story development? Was it different with the book than with a screenplay?

I’m from the movie business, so I still always start with the three-act structure. Even my book has a classic three-act structure — but I think it’s perfect for it, since it’s supposed to read like a prototype Bond movie. A lot of screenwriting books go into even greater detail about this structure; my favorite is Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat*. There have been articles just this summer specifically ripping this book saying that movies are now too married to this structure. I have found my tastes drifting more and more to TV, so I can’t argue with that. But it’s good to have a map to get your story started early on in the process. I always try to put my story in Blake’s structure beat sheet very early on, just because it gives me ideas for scenes I really need to get my characters from A to B. But then I throw that beat sheet away and never look at it again. Screenwriting rules are meant to be broken.

And ultimately it’s all about the characters. I still use a worksheet of 30 character questions that my college screenwriting professor Marc Lapadula gave our class in 1997. It’s detailed questions you should ask of all your main characters, from their relationship with their parents to how many sexual partners they’ve had and who they were. Characters are always the most important thing, and I think they’re becoming more important again as people gravitate toward shows like BREAKING BAD. For the book, I filled out all 30 questions for my two male leads and Christine, the femme fatale. As I’m filling these out, almost every answer sends me right back to my story outline to add a scene or even just a line of dialogue based on what I now know about the characters’ backgrounds.

You made a very cool trailer for Shaken, Not Stirred. Can you tell us about how you created it? Is it something you made yourself? What do you think it takes to make a high quality book trailer that really works?

Look, I had some obvious advantages working in this business. We shot the trailer on the Fox lot. My cinematographer has been our 2nd Unit DP (Director of Photography) on some of my boss’s movies, and shot that submarine movie that came out earlier this year, PHANTOM. My editor gets paid a ton of money to direct and edit commercials, so he really knew how to make it the perfect pace and length. My composer apprentices under a living legend, Hans Zimmer. It was my idea, I wrote it and “directed” it, but these guys are pros who do this everyday and they made me look good. An author in Iowa unfortunately may not have the same resources and a weak trailer can potentially hurt you more than not having one at all. I think the main things that work about mine are that it’s short and that there’s no “acting” in it. I think unless you have real pros acting for a talented director, you’re really rolling the dice on how professional the acting will come off. The best book trailers I’ve seen are quick, to the point, and don’t have actors.

Do you have any tips about e-publishing you think writers should know about?

  • Don’t wait, do it yourself, and do it now. The chances of getting an agent or publisher when you’re first starting out are so slim these days — there are just too many writers out there. So prove you can do it, and they’ll come find you when the time is right.
  • Write something only you can write. If you write something because you’re sure it will sell, that probably means 25 other people out there are writing it simultaneously, and half of them are better connected than you. Write something that no one else is smart or crazy enough to write.
  • Find a friend who maybe is interested in marketing or publicity and partner with them — offer them a percentage of your profits to do everything they can to get your book out there. My book release was definitely a team effort.
  • Think about who your audience is, and really go after them. If you’ve written a dystopian YA novel, you’ve got to find a way on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and GoodReads to get your book in front of Hunger Games fans. I was able to do that with the Bond audience, but now I’m scared as hell about how I’d do it if I write a totally unrelated book!
  • Don’t worry about making money. If you publish exclusively on Amazon, they offer you a certain number of days during which you can sell your book for free. Do it! This will get your book in the hands of so many people who never would have bought it, even for 3 or 4 bucks. I will be doing this on future books. Amazon sold 20 times the copies Barnes & Noble sold of my book, literally 20 times. As a Portlander who grew up going to Powell’s, it pains me to say it, but Amazon rules the universe now. So I wouldn’t hesitate about just going exclusively Amazon on the next one.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I think my Blazers might have a playoff team this year.

:) Thanks, Aaron!


About Aaron Cooley:

AaronCooleyA former child actor, Aaron Cooley has been living on film sets since the age of three. Upon graduating from Yale, Aaron migrated to Los Angeles, where he has apprenticed under director Joel Schumacher, most recently serving as his head of development and Associate Producer. As a screenwriter, Aaron has developed projects for the companies behind PULP FICTION, TRANSFORMERS, ROCKY, SAW, and THE BREAK-UP, as well as helped create advertising for various MTV Awards Shows and public service campaigns. SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED is Aaron’s first novel.

You can find Aaron on Twitter here:, where he tweets about all things Bond plus intriguing TV and screenwriting topics. Or “Like” his Facebook page at for updates on the upcoming paperback release and his future writing projects.

Find Shaken, Not Stirred on Amazon here*.

Thanks for reading!

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



* Affiliate link


This Writer’s Life: How 5 Minutes of Daily Writing Can Change Your Life

Writers who tend to join the Called to Write Coaching Circle — and get the most out of it — often have both a deep call to write (whether they’re doing it consistently or not) and a specific project they want to work on, perhaps one half-completed, languishing on a shelf for a couple of years. And when they find out about the Circle, they’re eager to move past the dreaming or stuck stage into action.

This is the story of a man who has done just that.

Rikard-BergquistWhen he joined the Circle all the way from Sweden, Rikard Bergquist had been working on his novel intermittently, struggling to find enough time to write and to move past the outlining and preparation stage into writing actual New Words. And he had a little two-year-old daughter at the time too! (She’s three now.)

After being in the Circle for a session or two, continuing to write intermittently, and listening to me (harp on about :) ) advocate for early morning writing and small writing sessions as a powerful way to jump-start a writing habit, one of our other members “threw down the gauntlet” and challenged him to try writing for 5 minutes every day and logging in every day on the site to report about how it went for him. He took her up on the challenge. It changed his life.

In less than four months, after building from 5 minutes a day to a solid writing habit of 60 minutes a day, he knocked out 75,000 words and completed his first draft. He’s still with us in the Circle now, working on revisions. He is one of our most dedicated and consistent members, showing up to write and log in on the site even while traveling — he even met me for coffee in Berkeley here the other day to talk shop while on a trip to the U.S. from Sweden. It was great fun. :)

I asked “Rick” (as we affectionately call him in the Circle) to talk to us today about his experience with finishing his novel, how he got there, and what’s he’s learned about his writing process along the way. You may be surprised to find some ideas and inspiration you can adopt for yourself.

1. Rick, first, welcome and thanks for being here. Let’s start off by having you tell about your recent major milestone — finishing the first draft of your first novel. What was that like for you?

It was one of the most empowering and surprising experiences I’ve had. Empowering because finally this dream of a novel I’ve had for a couple of years was becoming a reality. I escaped the terror of the first draft and actually produced 75,000 words. Instead of laboring and trying to make early parts of the story perfect, writing and rewriting, outlining and rearranging the order of scenes, as well as reading the latest book on craft and thinking I finally got it, I did the work and now have a substantial number of written pages to show for it.

It was surprising because I did it by writing for about an hour every morning during four months — I never thought an hour a day would amount to anything. I surprised myself weekly when I saw what I had accomplished with just an hour every morning. I surrendered to the process, allowing myself to write badly, knowing that it was only the first stage in a big adventure. Overcoming that editor inside of me, who kept telling me it was crap, was a big victory. And my first draft is the result. Now I know that first drafts aren’t supposed to be outstanding perfect novels, they’re just supposed to be written.

2. Can you give us a soundbite about what the story is about and about who you are?

The story is set in the 1570s of Stockholm, Sweden. In a power struggle for the crown our hero supports a new queen for the throne, who turns out to be a murderer, poisoning her competition. When his secret love interest is surprisingly accused and imprisoned for the murder, without any hope of pardon, our hero has to choose between his career or saving her. And what price will he pay for the choice he makes?

I work in the financial industry, for a private equity company, with business development. It’s hands-on management in selected individual companies in a wide range of industries. Writing is for me a creative outlet and a possibility to follow a totally different path.

3. What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the  Circle?

Consistent daily work is key to my process. Being consistent means that I stay in touch with my writing, even though I might be working and doing other things during the day. The story evolves and develops in my subconscious, waiting to be served up during the next writing session. Setting goals and being accountable within the Circle, giving and receiving feedback on each others’ processes — in short, knowing that my efforts are noticed by others is a big motivator for me.

Focusing on the process rather than the craft, is a very important difference from other writing groups I’ve participated in. For me, this group is about focusing on getting the writing done, every day. What you write, how you write, and when you write is up to you. But do it every day. The accountability and support of the Circle is key to making that happen.

4. What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed?

My biggest challenge was finding time to write. I kept telling myself I needed chunks of at least 3-4 hours of undisturbed concentrated time to get anything done. I used to laugh at friends telling me how someone they knew had finished a novel by coming in 15 minutes early to the office and using that time to write. “It just isn’t possible,” I used to say, but now I know better. I kept on trying to find my big chunks of time, getting them here and there. It was a constant struggle. Looking back, I feel like I wasted a lot of time thinking about how to find time to write, but never doing the actual writing, and instead ending up feeling frustrated and lost. I knew I wanted to write, but why didn’t I just do it? I wrestled a lot with that question. With the help of the Circle I established a habit of rising early and writing for an hour every morning. Consistently.

5. When you first joined the Circle in May 2012, what was your writing habit like and how did it evolve? Were there any key moments where you shifted your habit? Was there a particular trigger or did it build over time for you?

At first my writing consisted of sporadic big chunks of time, where I spent the first part of each writing session reconnecting with my story and the latter part coming up with some new tweaks to my outline, synopsis, and characters. I always felt happy and satisfied afterwards, but not continuing to work on it over time always made me question my earlier work when I got back to it. And I was never moving into writing actual words, paragraphs, and chapters of the book, just staying at the outline stage.

There were two key moments for me — One: I followed the advice from you, Jenna, and fellow members of the Circle to adjust my target amount of writing time downward until I found a suitable amount that I could do consistently every day. For me that was five minutes. How amazed and surprised I was of the power of those five minutes. It changed my world — I connected on a deep level with my story and gradually increased the five minutes to sixty minutes per day. At first outlining scenes and then actually writing the first draft.

And this is where my second key moment occurred — Two: I could not get myself writing. I stalled. I reworked. I was stuck. Again following advice from the Circle I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself “I am writing crap,” and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn’t all crap.

6. What advice do you have for other writers?

The only way to do it, is to do it. Complete the journey from the first page to the last page. If you can’t do this, it’s game over. Because without the first draft, you have nothing. You need a lot of faith to do it, faith in your unproven ability to write a novel. But give yourself permission to fail, to write crap, to make mistakes, to forget your outline and synopsis and before you know it, you will have your first draft.

7. What’s next for the novel and for your writing?

Right now I am revising the draft. Aiming at having a first rewrite done in a couple of months. There are times when I feel like giving up, but I now know that that’s only part of the writing life. It’s a constant flow of ups and downs, you just have to trust the process and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finishing this first draft, I will turn it into my second and then my third, or as many as I need to finally hold an amazing novel in my hands.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Have faith, never give up, and know that in the end you’ll succeed. Once you’re in the habit of writing, trust the process to bring you to the finish line. If you feel down and lost during the journey, just tread water and wait for the next creative wave to come. It always does, have faith.

Thanks, Rikard!

Your turn

Join me in congratulating Rick on his big accomplishment and help cheer him on for his revisions! Leave a note for him in the comments. Feel free to ask questions too. Tell us what you think about writing for 5 minutes a day.



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Join the Circle







Set your truth free

One of the struggles writers often face is the fear that comes up around sharing the truth through our work. It might be the truth about what we think or about who we are. Or perhaps it is about actual experiences we’ve lived, like those we might share in a memoir.

I’ve talked to so many writers who are afraid of what will happen when they tell their personal stories or write their memoirs. Fears about hurting people we care about, fears of being rejected or disliked for speaking the truth. These fears can become real impediments to seeing the project through to completion — and sometimes to even starting it at all!

Mary_Montanye_8.12When Mary Montanye joined the Writer’s Circle on a colleague’s recommendation, she was almost done with her memoir — but not quite. She was feeling stuck around moving to the final completion point with the project — a tough moment for any writer — particularly because her memoir would set some deep and personal truths free into the world. We were proud to help her cross that finish line with the support of the Writer’s Circle.

I asked Mary to share with us about her experience of completing her memoir and of participating in the Writer’s Circle.

Perhaps you will be inspired by her story to complete your memoir also. :)

Mary, welcome and thanks for being here.

First, let’s talk about your accomplishment — finishing your memoir! You joined the Writer’s Circle and finished your memoir in your first session, right? What was that like for you?

I did finish it in my first 4-week session. I was very close to the end when I joined the Writer’s Circle. I had been working with a published memoirist/writing coach/teacher for quite a few years and had learned how to write a memoir. She’d helped me dive deep, find the truth and the emotion beneath the “facts” of what had happened. This was good and it made for a meaningful story. However, because I was sharing my truth and some lifelong secrets, I also found it very difficult to push through to the end. Regardless of how often I was told that I didn’t have to “put it out there” if I didn’t want to, I knew the next step after finishing a piece of work was trying to get it published or, if nothing else, to share it with family and friends. This terrified me and, as I closed in on the finish, stopped my writing altogether. Getting over this hump and writing “The End” on the final draft felt great! I have to say this was a highlight of my life.

How long had you been working on the memoir prior to joining the Circle? In what way did the Circle help you get over the hump to completing it?

I’d been working on the memoir off and on for five years before joining the Writer’s Circle. The Circle provided not only accountability and structure but also a connection to other writers who were putting aside their fears to do what they felt called to do. My writing teacher did provide accountability, but her function was to help me become a better writer. Sometimes when you’re always looking to improve, you never get to the place where you can declare something done, especially when you’re afraid to declare a piece done, as I was.

What can you tell us about yourself and about the focus of the memoir?

When my husband and I were living and working in Orange County, CA, I bought — on the spur of the moment and by myself — a cabin in a mountain canyon in Colorado. My grandmother had lived in that same canyon when I was a child and I had fond memories of it. That action changed not only my life, but my husband’s and my mother’s lives. The memoir is based on that. How we all got to the point of living in this beautiful mountain canyon and how it affected our relationships with one another. It is also a story of healing from physical illness and childhood abuse.

How did you find out about the Circle and what inspired you to join us?

I was taking an online class — not sure which one it was now — when one of the other participants mentioned you, Jenna. She loved your newsletters and commented that she was learning a lot from you and thinking about joining the Writer’s Circle. I checked out your website, was very impressed, noticed that another Circle session was about to begin, and decided to join. I was feeling stuck in the memoir, but had decided it was time to stop working with my writing coach. I was ready to go out on my own, so to speak, and liked the idea of connecting with a group for accountability. Because I travel a great deal, it was important that the group meet online. First, I signed up for one session to see how I liked it. I am now on my second 4-month round. I liked it a great deal!

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I learned that, personally, I need structure and accountability. I’ve always been the type of person who follows through with her commitments. If I declare to the group that I am going to participate in a sprint or be on a coaching or welcome call or write for half hour that day, then it’s likely I’ll do it. The Writer’s Circle gives me a place for that kind of accountability. And the Circle gives me a connection to other writers and coaches who are writers themselves so I don’t feel so alone or unique in my creative struggles. I also discovered that there is an ebb and flow to my creative output. Jenna, her coaches, and the other writers in my small group accept that and honor it. This has normalized for me my way of creating and how my day-to-day life can affect my writing.

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed? What’s different now about your writing habit?

The biggest challenges I faced before joining the circle were (a) believing that my desire to write was not a valid reason to give it time; and (b) that I was a writer at all! Both these challenges disappeared almost completely in the first month, and that’s pretty amazing given that I’ve held onto those opinions for most of my life. Before joining the Circle, I would go long periods without working on the memoir. During those periods, I struggled with depression because I wanted to write but was always talking myself out of it. I know it sounds strange, but that’s what was going on with me. Participating in the Circle gave me a reason to show up to the page and for me, that’s huge. Once I’m actually writing all the excuses and fears fall away for a bit and I know I’m in the right place doing what I need and want to do. These days I rarely miss a day when I’m not writing something and therefore I am also much happier.

What advice do you have for other writers?

My advice to other writers is: Don’t underestimate your desire to write. If you have that desire this is something you are supposed to be doing. I compare it to singing for me. I have absolutely NO desire to sing in a band or a choir or even alone in the shower and that’s a good thing, because I also have absolutely NO talent for it! I believe we are given desire to accompany the talents we have. This isn’t to say that there won’t be times when we won’t want to write. Jenna, her coaches and the other participants of the Circle have shown me this happens to all of us at one time or another. Still, we return to the work because that’s who we are — writers.

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m not sure what’s next for me. I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll publish the memoir. I think I might publish a small printing through a self-publishing venue and let my friends and families read it. Then, after their input, I’ll decide if I want to try to market it. But I do know I will stay on in the Writer’s Circle (I’ve just committed to another four sessions) because they are my people and my life feels fuller when I’m connected to them. And I’ll keep writing … whatever it is I feel to write on any given day.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I’d like to add that I truly believe that we need to be doing what we feel called to do and to find whatever help we need in order to do it. If we do so, we will be happier people and therefore so will our families, friends and communities. There IS time. Whether or not our work is ever published is not the point. The point is that as writers, we write.

Thank you, Mary!

Your turn

If you’d like to celebrate with Mary, please leave a note for her in the comments on the blog. And if YOU’RE dreaming of writing a memoir, tell us about it too and we’ll cheer you on!



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Two conversations about taking a day off from writing

Two inner conversations about taking the day off from writing, in which we explore the inner workings of the procrastinator and the recovered procrastinator. :)


Conversation 1. The Procrastinator


“Oh god. It’s too early. I don’t want to write. Besides, I need a day off. I mean, I’ve been pushing myself so hard and everything going on right now is just so stressful. Plus I couldn’t sleep well last night. I really just need some down time to regroup and get in the mood to write. There’s no point otherwise, right? I’ll just take the morning off and write in the afternoon.”

Later that morning.

“This is great! See, I really just needed some time to goof off. I can write later, it’ll be fine.”


“Okay, wow, that was great. Maybe I should start writing now. But I better check my email first. And I’ve got to call Kathy too. Plus my desk is disorganized, I’ll never be able to concentrate on my writing, I better clear it off. THEN I’ll really be able to focus.”


“Where did the day go? I’m exhausted. There’s no way I can write now. I better just start over tomorrow. I can write early, when I wake up. That’ll get me back on track.”

And, repeat.

Conversation 2. The Recovered Procrastinator


“I get to take today off! I hit that major milestone with my draft yesterday. I’m going to celebrate today by putting my feet up and savoring a full, glorious day of guilt-free indulgence and enjoyment. Then back to the writing tomorrow, until I hit the next milestone.”

And, repeat.

What a difference, right?

And the best part is how it FEELS inside. So. Much. Better.

Your turn

What do you think? How does procrastination FEEL to you? How does truly rewarding yourself feel when you’ve made a major accomplishment? What’s that worth to you?

Share your comments on the blog.



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The awkwardness of building a new writing habit

When you first start a new habit, it’s awkward.

I’ve made the mistake more than a few times in my life of throwing in the towel if I “blow it” early in the process of building a habit.

Over time, I’ve come to see a misstep like that as a little “Oops!” and either go for a do-over or a promise myself to start again tomorrow.

This is part of why we make sure to hold our Writer’s Circle as a guilt-free zone. Yes, we’re encouraging people to write every day (and when I say we, I mean me and the other coaches for the Circle). And we also keep in mind that we are doing deep, hard work, and there will be missteps and challenges along the way. We’ve ALL struggled to create habits, and it’s no good punishing ourselves when we get off course.

I’ve seen some terrific examples of people who started out just focusing on writing 5 to 15 minutes a day and now have completed novels and scripts they can call their own. It’s very exciting!

As you embark on a new habit, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Remember that building a new habit can be awkward — be gentle with yourself about it.

Give yourself lots of space to make mistakes and get back on track. Don’t throw in the towel too early like I did. Instead, see anything that doesn’t work as information about what you might want to adjust as you go forward.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with increasing my daily writing time and shifting my schedule so that my writing takes an even more central role in my life. As I’ve been doing so, I’ve found myself fumbling my pretty-well established gym habit and getting caught in some awkward procrastination moments. Instead of deciding, “This isn’t working,” I’m tweaking my approach and studying my results every day to see what I can learn about what might work better for me tomorrow.

2. Approach habit building with an experimental mindset.

Along these same lines, if you approach your writing — or ANY habit — with the spirit of experimentation, you can give yourself some freedom to keep exploring until you find something that DOES work, instead of feeling like a failure for what doesn’t.

For instance, let’s say you’re trying to build a habit of writing daily and you start by committing to 5 minutes a day. But every day you find yourself not getting around to it at the end of the day and feeling too exhausted to do it. That’s good information, right? Waiting until the end of the day isn’t working. What else could you try? Morning writing? Lunchtime writing? Committing to write for 5 minutes at a specific time of day with a friend who will also write for 5 minutes at the same time?

3. If you have a rebellious nature, factor that into your plan.

If you tend to rebel against schedules and structures, try to factor that in as you plan for your new habit.

I find myself “getting all tragic” if I try to force myself to write seven days a week. (My Writer’s Circle members got a real laugh out of me saying that on one of our live coaching calls once.) Instead, I’ve committed to writing six days per week, always giving myself one day off from writing. It feeds my inner rebel and helps me feel refreshed for jumping back into writing the next day.

4. Know your procrastination tipping point and adjust accordingly.

On the other hand, you’ll also want to pay attention to when it starts to get hard to restart if and when you take days off. I’ve found that if I don’t write for a stretch of time, it’s HARD getting back on track. Up until now I’ve found that taking two days off is the point at which it gets hard for me to restart the next day, but I’m going to experiment with it further now that I’m increasing my weekday writing time.

So notice the point at which it becomes hard to restart and consider not exceeding that point whenever possible.

5. Know that it’s better to start small and start now — something is more than nothing.

Most of us who work with building regular writing habits are here for a reason — we struggle with procrastination and perfectionism more often than not (they feed each other in an endless cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis).

An important mindset shift you’ll want to make is recognizing the value of SOME progress versus NO progress. If I had written for 15 minutes every day for the last 10 years, I’d have at least 8 to 10 scripts under my belt at the same rate I’ve been developing my current one. No guilt or blame though, just a fact.

Also, know that when you’re habit building, you’ll want to go for doing ANYTHING first, then work up to more. We like to have our writers in the Circle write even for just five minutes a day or just focus on logging in to our online site every day for the first week — simply to put the focus and attention on the writing on a daily, regular basis. After that, it gets easier to bump it up to more over time.

So remember, frequency and consistency, not quantity, at least to start. Later you can go for consistency AND quantity. :)

Join the Writer’s Circle

Join the Writer's CircleThe next session of the Writer’s Circle starts soon. Yep, we DO keep writing during the summer and year-round. If you’re struggling to write consistently or feeling alone with your writing, you’ll want to join us for inspiration, support, accountability, and camaraderie. Register and find out more here:

Your turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on the blog.



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The biggest summer writing stumbling block

This week I taught a class called “Get Ready For Summer Writing” with an eye toward looking ahead to the summer and getting a writing plan in place to deal with the various obstacles and opportunities that arise around the summer time, like the kids being home, schedules changing, more traveling and vacations coming, and dealing with weather changes like it being unbearably hot (or suffering through the summer fog here in the Bay Area!).

(If you missed the live class, you can check out the recording by signing up here.)

We walked through a planning exercise to give some thought to where we want to be at the end of the summer and how we’re going to get there in terms of words or pages per day over the specific duration of the summer.

I also shared some tips, tricks, and strategies to keep writing during the summer, deal with the challenges, AND have the summer fun we’re all longing for.

The biggest stumbling block

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when it comes to summer writing (or writing at any time, for that matter) is taking an all-or-nothing approach. Many people think that if they want to travel or be outside or take care of kids or even deal with major life transitions, that means they can’t write.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The key is being willing to adjust your writing goals to match to your circumstances, not give up writing altogether.

Binge versus balance

While I know that some writers have a tendency to binge-write (and some people even advocate for it!), I remain highly skeptical of its sustainability in the long term, particularly for more sensitive types. I put in an extra effort a few weeks ago to get my script to my mentor in anticipation of submitting to a contest today (gulp) and even that extra effort set me back a bit.

It’s all a system of checks and balances, and while there are people who will tell you that balance is a myth, to that I say, are they highly sensitive or introverted types who need careful energy management? And are they finding themselves settling into long term burnout? I’ve talked with more than a few writers who feel burned by their own efforts, have started to feel like they hate writing, and even question why they’re doing it in the first place. Why wouldn’t they, when they’ve committed (consciously or unconsciously) to a program of writing aversion therapy?

Try small doses of daily writing instead

Instead, I like to see people writing in a long term sustainable pattern, including taking regular days off (I’m not a fan of “don’t break the chain“). It’s easier to maintain in the long haul, and helps keep your momentum and ideas flowing.

So if you’re looking ahead to the summer and asking yourself how you’ll get your writing done AND do the other things you’ve got your eye on, give some thought to a highly achievable small increment of writing you can commit to on a small scale. Even five to fifteen minutes a day will keep you in touch with your project and keep you moving forward. I’ve seen more than a few writers in my Writer’s Circle move to completion with projects again and again, using just small increments of time and showing up regularly to do the work.

You can do it too.

Your turn

What’s your biggest summer writing stumbling block? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

If you want more on this subject, make sure you check out my free teleclass recording, “Get Ready For Summer Writing“.

You may also be interested in my article on “Thinking ahead to summer writing“.

Join the Writer’s Circle

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’d like to experiment with writing in small increments of time, get a solid writing habit in place, and stay on track with your writing this summer, join the Writer’s Circle. The next session starts soon! Go here to register and find out more:




Write first thing in the morning? Are you crazy?

Back in November 2011, I wrote a post about why I’ve been getting up at 6 a.m. to write. It’s something I often encourage writers to try, especially those that are struggling with resistance and / or struggling to find time to write.

In my Called to Write community, one of our writers found a study showing that your optimal creative time may actually be the opposite of your peak cognitive time. It’s sparked quite the discussion and has inspired some of our members to give morning writing a try. I have it in my mind to write a guide to morning writing, and I thought I’d start off with an article about it first.

The basic principle

The basic principle of writing first thing in the morning is that it’s about doing the hardest work first.

And by “hardest,” we don’t necessarily mean the most difficult, though it may match up.

We’re talking about doing the work that triggers the most resistance at your first available opportunity.

What does “first available opportunity” mean?

When I first started writing daily with Called to Write, my routine was that I would take my son to preschool, get back to my desk around 9 a.m. — my theoretically first available opportunity — and then write. Except not. Because I kept getting sucked into email and work. It was during work hours, and I felt hard pressed not to be focused on income-generating activities.

At least that was the story I told myself.

The deeper truth is that once I was awake for that many hours, my fear — as represented by my inner critic — was a heck of a lot louder by that point in the day when I was fully awake.

So I decide to try the morning writing gig and see how it felt. As an experiment.

Why it’s advantageous to write first thing in the morning

I first came to the notion of morning writing after reading about several writers that swore by it. Since they were pros, I figured they must know something that I didn’t. So I thought I’d give it a whirl and see how it went.

Here’s what I found:

  • The longer I’m awake, the more opportunities I have to procrastinate. Writing first thing helps me circumvent my natural tendency to avoid the very work I’m called to do.
  • My inner critic is much, much more quiet first thing in the morning. I don’t have to work so hard to keep those gremlins at bay when I’m still sleepy.
  • Because I’m writing regularly, it doesn’t take more than a minute to find my place in my work from the previous day and start writing again.
  • I spend the rest of the day in a greater state of calm because I’ve met my goal for the day. It doesn’t hang over my head, nag at me, or make me feel guilty if I haven’t done it yet.
  • I’m wasting a lot less time doing meaningless things at night because I’ve adjusted my sleep schedule to get up earlier.

Common objections to writing in the morning

Whenever I mention this idea to writers — usually the ones struggling most with resistance and procrastination or time management — the most common objection I hear from people is that they are “not morning people.” And it seems like people have natural rhythms they’re naturally drawn to.

The funny thing is that I can tell you truly, I am not a morning person. When I first started my coaching practice, I was delighted to realize I could start my days whenever I wanted to — which was late. I loved the fact that I didn’t have to set an alarm clock and that I could schedule my first clients at noon. I loved sleeping in late and staying up late. It fitted with my natural rhythm.

Now, however, I love being up earlier in the day.

I love the fact that I can get so much done before 10 a.m. and feel like I have the whole day ahead of me.

I also love going to bed earlier (lights out by 9:30 is the target), because I use my awake hours much more wisely. (And by the way, I suspect there wouldn’t be so many night owls if we weren’t “biased” by electric lights.)

Things to keep in mind as you shift your schedule

If you decide to give morning writing a go, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Start by setting an alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier than your standard wake up time, then push it 20 to 30 minutes earlier each day until you hit your target.
  • Also give some thought to how much writing you want to do each day. You’ll be able to gauge how early you want to get up depending on your writing goals for the day (and remember, as we teach in my Writer’s Circle, it’s perfectly okay to work in small increments — even 5 to 15 minutes a day is great, especially as you’re building the habit.)
  • I’ve found that it’s easier just to be tired for the first few days and to go to bed early those nights to help myself make the shift. At least for me, it just prolongs the discomfort if I decide to sleep in a few days, take naps, or otherwise try to make the change gradual.
  • Be clear that you will need to go to bed earlier to make this work. I’ve seen other writers still trying to burn the midnight oil AND get up at dawn. That’s ultimately a drain on your creative well, and you won’t be able to run on empty for long. So determine how many hours of sleep you need, and do the math so you know what time you need to go to bed.
  • Give yourself about one to two weeks to get used to the change. It doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a grand experiment

As you embark on this, think of it as an experiment. See what you notice about how you feel about your work and what you notice about your stress levels during the day after you’ve done your writing. You won’t really know if it works for you or not until you try it.

Join us for the ongoing journey

Called to Write is an ongoing monthly membership community where you can experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and end your isolation as a writer by writing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here:

Your turn

I always love to hear from you. Have you ever tried writing (or working) first thing in the morning like this? What did you discover? Share with us in the comments area below.