Morning Writing Challenge Tips 9 & 10

Welcome back to the Morning Writing Challenge Tips series.
 
Regardless of whether or not you’ve participated in the challenge, these tips are useful for building and sustaining a lasting writing practice. 
 
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips #9 & #10

Today I’m sharing two new tips, #9 & #10.
 
 
And here are today’s tips:
 

Tip #9: Create “sacred writing time.”

 
Now that you’ve had some experience with writing in the morning, I want to encourage you to create ongoing “sacred writing time” for yourself. 
 
Sacred writing time is time you specifically set aside for writing each day, and nothing else. It’s an appointment you keep with yourself, and hold as highly important. You treat it the same way you would as if you had an appointment for a job interview or a meeting with an esteemed mentor. You wouldn’t dream of not showing up for those, right? The idea here is to mentally establish the value — the sanctity — of writing in your life. 
 
Creating sacred writing time involves making both mindset and logistical shifts.
 
Sacred Writing Time Mindset
 
In terms of your sacred writing time mindset, this is about deeply internalizing how important writing consistently is to you. Your reasons may vary from mine. I encourage to reflect on this or even make your own list.
 
Here are some examples of why writing regularly is so important:
  • It keeps us grounded in who we are as writers, even (especially) in difficult times.
  • It helps us move our writing careers forward (if we’re not writing, we can’t produce or advance).
  • It creates a sustainable path to developing and finishing work we can then put out into the world.
  • It makes us happier; when we’re writing, we are more fully actualized, happier human beings. Which makes it good for us, sure, but ALSO for the people around us and the greater world.
  • It fulfills our call to write. There’s nothing like writing regularly to help you know, in your bones, that you are a writer.
  • It’s a way to say YES to yourself and your hopes, dreams, and desires. 
 
Sacred Writing Time Logistics
 
In terms of practical applications, creating sacred writing time also involves some logistical considerations. Here are some things to consider implementing to help create sacred writing time in your life. 
  • Create regular appointments on your calendar dedicated to writing time. Don’t schedule anything else in those hours. No appointments, no errands, nothing.
  • Let your household members know you’ll be writing within those hours and are not available for chatting, dealing with issues, etc. ALSO let them know when you WILL be available and make sure that’s true. If you tell them you’ll be available again after your writing time, be available then. Don’t keep writing, even if you’re in the flow. This lets them know they can trust you, and makes them less likely to interrupt you while you’re working.
  • Similarly, let your close friends and family members who might expect fast responses from you via phone, text, email, etc. also know you’re not available during certain hours. Ditto on being available afterward.
  • And, set limits with yourself, too. Using the tools I shared yesterday, block out distractions. You also have to keep yourself from interrupting your own writing time. No checking email, texts, etc. If you find yourself faltering, shore up your writing boundaries, and protect your sacred writing time like a mama lion protecting her cubs.
Having said this, don’t beat yourself up if you get off track. Learn from it, and start over the next day.
 
Putting this into practice: Consider writing out a list of reasons why writing regularly is important to you. :) When you write tomorrow morning, have a planned start time, and see how it feels to hold that time as sacred for just you and your writing.
 

Tip #10: Set yourself up for success.

 
Writing consistently in the long term is easier when you set yourself up for success. Something I’ve noticed as a fun side effect of the Morning Writing Challenge is that because I’m taking a picture of my writing spot each morning, I’m straightening up and getting all my tools ready before I begin. This makes it easier to get started.
 
I’ve also gotten in the habit of making sure whatever I’m going to be working on is the first thing I see when I come to my computer. For example, I’ll make sure I have my script file open on my laptop and the Forest App open on my phone even if I’m going to grab my cup of tea first. That way, when I come back and sit down to write, I’m far more likely to just dive into it than get distracted by anything else.
 
I’m reminded here about a story I came across about a man who wanted to stop watching so much TV and start reading more. He took the batteries out of his remote control and set them next to a stack of magazines. Every time he sat on the couch and reached for the remote control, he was forcing himself to make a choice: go to the trouble of putting the batteries in and succumbing to watching TV, or take the easier path to reading and fulfilling his true goal. (James Clear references this idea also in his book Atomic Habits, excerpted here.)
 
The idea here is to make it easier and easier to keep writing, and harder to do other things.
 
Here are some ways you might experiment with doing this:
  • Keep your current writing files open on your computer at all times. (I make sure to save frequently though, and close them over the weekend so I’m certain my backups are happening).
  • Strive to always know what you’re going to be working on tomorrow. If I’m in the middle of something when my writing sprint ends for the day, I’ll leave myself a note about where to pick up and what to do when I come back, right in the draft.
  • Leave a “ragged edge” in your writing. When you finish with your day’s writing, it’s almost preferable to leave something undone, even stopping in the middle of a sentence. That way, your subconscious mind knows what it’s going to be picking up the next day.
  • End on a high note. Rather than pushing to keep writing, even if you’re in the flow of writing, I recommend stopping when you planned to stop writing. Ending while you’re in place of flow and inspiration (rather than wrung out or exhausted) reinforces your energy for writing and makes it easier to come back to tomorrow.
  • Aim to know what you’re going to be working on next. I typically have both daily, short-range, and long-term plans for my writing. I tend to focus on increments of work for my short-range goals, like completing the next 15 pages of my screenplay. In the longer term, I have a mental queue of which project I’ve got lined up to work on next. While I can always adjust it, it helps me to be tracking ahead into my future so I don’t get lost when I finish something.
  • Strive to keep the gap between your writing sessions to no more than 20-24 hours, at least 5 to 7 days per week. The longer you go between writing sessions, the more resistance has time to build up, making it harder to write. Keep it shorter to make it easier to get right back to it. No warming up required. :)
  • Always know when you’re going to start writing again, if you take time off for a day, weekend, trip, vacation, illness, etc. I take weekends off, which means I have a longer gap of 70-72 hours from Friday writing to Monday morning writing, so I make sure I’m committed to a writing sprint first thing Monday morning to keep me on track.
  • Have a dedicated space (or spaces) for your writing. The more you regularly write in a specific spot, the more being there becomes a trigger for you to write.
  • Consider using short writing rituals to spark your writing time, like lighting a candle, making a cup of tea or coffee, or reading an invocation aloud. (Even setting your timer counts!) These co-habits reinforce your writing rhythm and routine. This is a bit like always brushing your teeth before you go to bed. They just go together.
  • Write in timed, group writing sprints, as we’ve discussed.
  • Write while using distraction blockers, ditto.
Putting this into practice: What might you experiment with tomorrow morning? Is there anything on this list that speaks to you? Something else?
 
Cheers!!
 
 
 

Thank you for following along with the Morning Writing Challenge!

Morning Writing Challenge Tips 7 & 8

Welcome back to the Morning Writing Challenge Tips series.
 
If you haven’t joined the challenge, it’s (really!) not too late to join us. You can still find benefit in participating for the next two days. Find all the details here. 
 
Either way, these tips are useful for building and sustaining a lasting writing practice. 
 
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips #7 & #8

Today I’m sharing two new tips, #7 & #8.
 
 

Tip #7: On tougher days, try focusing on “ebb writing.”

 
When the going gets tough, sometimes we need a back up plan for writing. A way to keep writing, keep moving forward, even when our minds and hearts are not quite in the game.
 
On days like these, I focus on “ebb writing.” (Hat tip to Naomi Dunford, formerly of IttyBiz, for this idea.) 
 
Ebb writing is about doing the easier writing. On days when I’m distracted, stressed, frustrated, extra resistant, or tired, I might do something like check my script’s scene headings for continuity, run spell or grammar checks, or make simple edits. I made a point yesterday to do heavier lifting on my script revisions (redlining the draft of my current section, which required more focused thinking) so I could make those changes in the draft today. Easy peasy lemon squeezy 🍋, as my niece would say. Then, because my brain got deeper into writing mode, I was able to begin a slightly harder revision of a scene I’d flagged yesterday. I’ll finish it up tomorrow.
 
As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” So if I can get myself to my computer, minimizing distractions and other inputs along the way (more on this in Tip #8, below), and start with something easy, I can get off and running. On the other hand, if I don’t find myself rising to the challenge for the day, I can stick with ebb work, and feel good about having moved my writing forward, no matter what, free to begin again anew the next day.
 
Ebb writing can also look like simply putting your focus on ANY writing for the day. Want to write a poem today? Go for it. Need to vent about the state of the world? Awesome, get it on the page. Write your way through it. 
 
Here are some examples of ebb writing you might consider, in no particular order:
  • Doing administrative writing tasks like organizing you writing project files on your computer (this is a great time to figure out which “New Final Final” is the real current draft).
  • Running spelling and grammar checks on work you’ve already written (assuming you have a work in progress).
  • Formatting chapter/section headings and checking their numbering.
  • Checking for continuity with your scenes, like time of day. 
  • Reviewing your outline or story development work. 
  • Reading over sections you’ve already written and making notes about what’s working well and what needs revision.
  • Writing intuitive dialogue exchanges with your characters to find out what they think.
  • Freewriting scenes “outside” your draft (like backstory scenes that won’t make it into the final draft but teach you about your characters or story).
  • Making simple edits.
  • Writing morning pages.
  • Bullet journaling.
  • Freewriting about anything.
A bonus tip: Sometimes you just need to START. When I’m feeling particularly resistant, I’ll often tell myself, “you only have to write for five minutes.” Then I’ll set my timer, and open my script files and start reading through where I left off. Next thing I know I’m tweaking a few words and lines and then I’m off writing the next scene in my outline, writing to meet my original goal (usually 50 minutes). Just starting works wonders.
 
Putting this into practice: Think about what kind of ebb writing you might be able to do on hard days. Just having a mental catalogue of possibilities really helps you be able to think about what you CAN do, instead of what you can’t. :) 
 
 

Tip #8: Block out the distractions.

 
On tough days and regular days alike, writers need to find ways to block out distractions. (Sometimes the distractions are good things too!)
 
Remember today’s quote from Austin Kleon? “The biggest task in the morning is to try to keep my headspace from being invaded by the outside world.”
 
Here are some my current favorite ways to block distractions and keep your headspace clear:
  1. Use app and website blockers to keep yourself from getting distracted. (My list of current favorite apps is below.)
  2. Put your phone in Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode to prevent interruptions and distracting messages from popping up while you’re working. (I’ve set my phone to allow emergency interruptions in DND mode if needed.) If you’re writing first thing in the morning, you might sleep with it in airplane or DND mode and just leave it that way until you’re done with your morning writing time.
  3. Turn off most (if not all) notifications on your devices. I have a few I leave on, but I periodically go through and turn off app notifications so they don’t steal my attention from my work.

    This includes laptops and desktops too. On my Macs I have notifications disabled between 10 p.m. and 9:59 p.m. ⏰ (Yes, you read that right.🙂 I couldn’t find a way to disable them all quickly so I just turned on Do Not Disturb for essentially 24 hours.)

  4. Remove addictive apps from your devices. Just take ’em right off there. You’ll be surprised how quickly it calms down addictive behavior. Yes, you might miss them. But most of that same content you can access on a computer, and changing up how you access it breaks the addiction cycle. You may find that you can put them back on later, or you may find that you take them off/put them on periodically. In my case, I’ve taken off Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, though I allow Twitter back on during fire season for up-to-date news. If I start addictively perusing anything though, off it comes.
  5. Write in writing sprints with a timer running, as I mentioned yesterday, preferably a timer that makes it hard to use your phone, like the Forest app I also told you about. (No one wants to be killing trees!)
  6. Limit yourself to news reading AFTER your morning writing sprints. If you cannot resist, ONLY allow yourself to read trusted, grounded news sources.
  7. Stay out of email (and texts if needed) too. Don’t let other people’s desires, demands, and needs hijack your attention. Keep your field of focus as small as you can until you’ve finished writing for the day (another good reason to write first in the day).
  8. Stay away from social media until after you’re done with your writing (I know I’m steering us to post on social media for this challenge; my method has been to quickly post from my phone, then get to work writing, then come back later to check on other writer’s posts. It’s worked well, so far, with only minor dalliances putting hearts on a few extra Instagram posts this morning 🙂).
 

Focus Apps & Tools

 
During the pandemic, I’ve found that I have had to increase my use of distraction blocking tools to help me stay on track. I keep an eye on myself, and if I find myself straying, I ramp up my blocking efforts until I’m on track. ;) 
 
Here’s a list of my current favorite apps and supports to help me focus.
  • App blockers like the Focus App (Mac) allow me to block social media websites and other rabbit holes like Quora during scheduled hours. I can also block apps on my computer from running as well, like Tweetdeck. Focus also makes it so I can’t access my email until my scheduled focus time is over (5 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. is my scheduled block ⏰).
  • (The Freedom App is an alternative to Focus for PCs and works across multiple devices as well. They seem to have a November special running right now too.)
  • Screen blockers like HazeOver (Mac) is another current favorite of mine, which I use to make everything disappear except the current window I’m working in. (Not sure about a PC alternative.
  • Full screen mode in writing apps. Most apps we write in have a full screen mode or composition mode to make everything else disappear, as an alternative to something like HazeOver.
  • Timers that block phone use. I use both the Forest App and Block & Flow App for my phone, which I know I mentioned yesterday too. These timers stay on the lock screen on my phone, which stops me from picking it up to “check” on things. See also Freedom, above, which apparently has a way to block apps on devices too. I use one exclusively for script work and the other for various other writing projects.
  • Group writing sprints with my Called to Write community. The more sprints I attend, the stronger my writing habit and focus, and the less likely I am to get distracted. I know it’s not an app, per se, but it’s a huge anti-distraction tool for me so I’m including it here. 
Putting this into practice: See if there’s something in Tip #8 you might use to shore up your writing boundaries and limit distractions. Even picking one thing could be huge!
 
 
 

Join the Morning Writing Challenge!

Sign up for details, tips, and prizes, here:
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips 5 & 6

Welcome back to the Morning Writing Challenge Tips series.
 
If you haven’t joined the challenge, it’s not too late to join us. Find all the details here. 
 
Either way, these tips are useful for building and sustaining a lasting writing practice. 
 
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips #5 & #6

Today I’m sharing two new tips, #5 & #6.
 
 

Tip #5: Boost your focus with timed writing sprints.

 
If you haven’t tried timed writing sprints, please give this a try.
 
A timed writing sprint is a short, focused period of writing time, tracked with a timer. In advance, you’ll decide on a length of time you’ll be writing for (and ideally a start time like we’re doing with the Morning Writing Challenge). Then, you write, doing nothing else, for your planned duration of time.
 
A timed writing sprint can be as short as one minute and as long as about 90 minutes (we need to get up and move our bodies periodically after all). You get to decide. If you’re not sure how long to sprint for, try 15 minutes as an experimental place to start.
 
Since the pandemic began (and writing seemed to get a whole lot harder), I started writing in 25 minute increments rather than in 60 minute sprints. Oddly enough, I usually do two 25-minute sprints back-to-back. It’s just a Jedi mind trick, but it works for me right now because my brain trusts that I can handle 25 minutes of writing without getting distracted. Then I’m usually in the flow enough that I just hit the timer button again for another 25 minutes, until I’ve put in a total of 50 minutes. I also find that when I participate in group writing sprints (more on this in Tip #6, below), which are often 60 minutes long, aiming for 50 minutes gives me a little wiggle room for getting an extra cup of tea, taking a bathroom break, or things like dealing with unexpected kid interruptions without feeling “behind.”
 
The VERY cool thing about using a timer is that there’s this sense of hitting a “Go” or “Start Now” button when starting it. And it makes it harder to stop when you know there’s a clock counting down your writing minutes!
 
Ready to give this a try? Next time you sit down to write, decide how long you’ll be writing (suggestion: 5 to 15 minutes for your first time out), set a timer, and write!
 
Pro tip: This gets even more powerful when you also TRACK your writing time, which means logging and paying attention to how much time you’re investing in your writing. I’m currently a fan of the Forest App for both tracking and timing. Another good one is the Block and Flow App
 
 

Tip #6: Supercharge your writing with group writing sprints.

 
If you want to quintuple your writing sprint experience, try participating in group writing sprints. 
 
We run group writing sprints in our Called to Write community several times each day on weekdays and have weekend sprints too. You may also sometimes find on-the-fly group writing sprints happening on Twitter. (John August periodically leads them and I’ve seen others doing the same.)
 
With this Morning Writing Challenge, we’re experiencing a variation on this idea; a kind of asynchronous group sprint where we’re all writing based on our own local morning time, and cheering for each other by finding each other’s posts online.
 
Inside Called to Write, the way our group writing sprints work is that we gather in on online private chat room at the same time, tell each other what we’re going to do, kick off at our official start time, and all go write on our own. At the official end time, we come back into the chat room and celebrate what went well together (even if what went well is simply showing up). Note: We aren’t sharing our writing with each other but rather the camaraderie and support for each other’s writing.
 
Our members tell us that these sprints are grounding and have been simply life-saving during the pandemic. 
 
At Called to Write, we’re currently writing together at 6 a.m. PT, 7 a.m. PT, 9 a.m. PT, and 3 p.m. PT on weekdays, and 9 a.m. PT on weekends. 
 
Ways to try group writing sprints: Whether you join us, find group sprints on Twitter, or create your own writing sprints with your writing buddies via text or Zoom, I encourage you to try this! The shared group energy is incredibly motivating, fun, and inspiring. Plus when you do them consistently, you can create a regular writing habit almost without even trying. :) 
 
 
 

Join the Morning Writing Challenge!

Sign up for details, tips, and prizes, here:
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips 3 & 4

Welcome back to the Morning Writing Challenge Tips series.
 
If you haven’t joined the challenge, it’s not too late to join us. Find all the details here. 
 
Either way, these tips are useful for building and sustaining a lasting writing practice. 
 
 

Morning Writing Challenge Tips #3 & #4

Today I’m sharing two new tips, #3 & #4.
 
 

Tip #3: Be ready for the “day after perfect.”

 
In Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (affiliate link) he describes how the “day after perfect” is the make-or-break day. 
 
Acuff says this “day after perfect” issue often turns up as soon as day two of pursuing a goal. I see this happening with writers who put in a big burst of enthusiastic writing for their first day, then crash and burn the next day by going into massive writing aversion and avoidance… or flat out despair and giving up. Often this is because they’ve either written so much they’ve tired themselves out or exceeded their target writing time for the day, triggering fear and resistance as a result. 
 
Here’s what this means for us in the Morning Writing Challenge right now: If you succeeded in writing today for the challenge, don’t be surprised if you bump into EXTRA resistance tomorrow morning. Just don’t make it mean anything. It’s really just fear cropping up because you’re taking your call to write seriously. :) Just get up, and write anyway.
 
In the future, just remember that first days of writing (and big bursts of writing) often have a backlash, and the next day is likely to be harder. 
 
Pro tip: If you wrote for longer than you’d planned today, you may also find that you’re feeling averse to performing at the same level. That’s okay! You don’t have to. Remember the goal here is to WRITE. Writing at all = winning. :) Go ahead and go back to a smaller amount of writing for tomorrow. 
 
 

Tip #4: If you didn’t write today, start over tomorrow.

 
If you didn’t write today, notice how you feel. Sometimes when we plan to write, but don’t, we walk around with a low level of guilt or anxiety ALL DAY which just… sucks.
 
👉 Here’s the good news: You can 100%, guilt-free start over tomorrow, jump in, and write. 
 
In fact, this is a skill I want you to take forward with you into the future too. In writing, as in life, STUFF HAPPENS. The only real problem is if we let it stop us indefinitely. I used to be someone who would set a New Year resolution and then “blow it” on Day 2 or 3 or 14 and then write it off for the rest of the whole year! When I look back on that I see how silly it is; so all or nothing, black or white, and perfectionistic. 
 
Instead, as Acuff says, we have to focus on “moving forward imperfectly,” and if that means “trying again… today, tomorrow, or next week,” we do it.
 
So, if you don’t write one day, don’t make it mean anything bad, just start over the next day. :)
 
 
 
 

Join the Morning Writing Challenge!

Sign up for details, tips, and prizes, here:
 

7 Creative Strategies to Survive Distance Learning and Keep Writing This Fall — on the Final Draft blog

Last week I wrote a piece for the Final Draft blog about 7 creative strategies to survive distance learning AND keep writing this fall.

Like many parents, school is majorly on my mind right now, so I’ve been thinking about how best to work with the situation as best I can. One thing I didn’t include in the article (and maybe should have) was how my husband and I are already dividing up the week into a split schedule so we each have solid chunks of protected work time. We’ll adapt that more as we move into the school season. 

“The goal is simply to move forward. The goal is to progress, however slowly, in a productive direction. It is the realization that this is, now more than ever, a game of inches and not of miles.”
Chuck Wendig

With many school districts here in the U.S. planning to open this fall with “full distance” or “hybrid” learning in short order, many writer-parents are anxiously wondering how to keep working their day jobs — let alone keep writing and preserve our well-being — on top of being full-time educators. (And even if you’re not in the U.S., let’s face it: writing and parenting always requires creative planning to pull off, so hopefully this is useful to you, too.)

As someone who has been working from home since 2002 (I’ve kept my business running through my two boys’ early childhoods; they’re now 6 and 12), I’ve come into this situation knowing firsthand how frustrating it can be to try to eke out time and space for work and writing in the midst of taking care of children. And managing distance learning only complicates the care.

Having said that, I also know it’s possible to continue to write, even when pressed for time, energy, and mental bandwidth.

Let me share with you a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Read the article on the Final Draft blog here —> 7 Creative Strategies to Survive “Distance Learning” and Keep Writing This Fall

Image credit: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

5 Tips for Making the Most of Summer Writing

It’s that time of year again… summer!

The days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, kids and teachers are out for the summer, and vacation season is here. There are so many reasons to put down your pen and turn off your computer and go outside… which I highly recommend.

All work and no play isn’t good for a writer’s soul, after all. 

And, at the same time, you’ll want to keep writing so you don’t lose your writing momentum or end up finishing summer feeling disappointed about where you are in your draft.

Here are five tips for making the most of your summer writing, while still enjoying the play time you need and deserve.

#1. Remember Why You Love Writing

While it’s highly useful to treat your writing with as much care and attention as you would a professional job… when we’re in the middle of this expansive summer energy, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we’re also doing this because we LOVE it.

This helps create a more natural fit between the part of us that wants to have delicious summer adventures and the romantic side of our writing dreams. To that end, even while you’re putting your head down to write, play with matching your summer energy to your writing energy. You might light candles while you work, write in a café, or take your notebook to the beach. This is a great time of year to indulge your most vivid writing life dreams and make it fun.

#2. Be Aware of Magical Thinking

Over the last couple of weeks as I’ve developed our summer plans, I’ve found myself imagining doing a big chunk of writing on one of our vacations… And doing a big chunk of studying on one of our vacations… And maybe writing some promotional copy on one of our vacations…. and all of these on the SAME vacation. Talk about magical thinking! Even if I actually wanted to write and/or work during a trip (I don’t), I certainly can’t accomplish all of those things and have the time I want to have with my family. Sure, I could probably finagle an early morning writing session before they awaken, but I want my vacation for vacationing. 

Similarly, it’s easy to imagine that you’ll have so much extra time during the summer that you’ll be able to make wild progress on your work. I think this might be a holdover from when we were all in elementary school and summers seem to last forever and we have nothing to do… just the way we imagine that a new year will suddenly have so much more free time than we had in the last one. But we don’t. Even if you’re a teacher with the summer “off,” your days will quickly fill with all the things you’ve put off doing during the school year unless you’re mindful about it.

Instead, be realistic about what you can actually accomplish over the course of a summer. See how many days you have to write, and schedule them accordingly with your summer writing goals.

#3. Give Yourself Time to Play

We’re way more likely to do our work when we’re also giving ourselves time to play, rest, indulge, and enjoy. And since summer naturally lends itself to those things, it helps to set up a nicely balanced bargain between the two.

I find that writing as early as possible during the day allows me to have guilt-free down time and playtime in the afternoons, just as I find that when I’m writing when I’m home, I feel good about enjoying my vacations fully while I’m away instead of feeling guilty that I “should” be doing more.

Work hard, play hard, is an adage that fits the bill here… but you have to actually deliver on the play time to make this work.

#4. Plan for Reentry 

Taking time off from writing — generally anything more than 1 to 2 days off — tends to create a bumpy “reentry” back into it. So if you go away for a long weekend or a vacation, think about how you’ll reboot yourself with your writing when you get back.

In my Circle, we advise our writers to “go back to the beginning” of working in small increments of writing time if resistance kicks in when it’s time to pick the writing back up. A little accountability goes a long way here too (we offer this in the Circle if you need help).

So if you return from time away and find yourself struggling to get back into your book (or script), try writing for just 5 to 15 minutes to jump start yourself again. You can increase the time over the coming days as rapidly as feels doable to you until you’re back to your normal routine.

Use this guideline: The more resistance, the smaller the amount of writing time. 

#5. Have Fun, and Be Ready for Anything

Summer can be an “all bets are off” season. Between kids at home, weather variations, vacations, out of town guests, extra summer projects, and our own impulses to celebrate the summer, a lot can get in the way of writing.

The more you can be ready to roll with it — to have fun with it even, like you’re playing a “I wonder how much writing I can pull off this summer” game — the easier it is.

I find that a lot of this is about your mental attitude — if you’re expecting your summer to be just like the rest of the year, you’re more likely to get thrown off track. On the other hand, if you take an attitude that things are going to be more up in the air,  you’ll be more ready to take the writing time when it comes and just run with it. You’ll also be more likely to have contingency plans ready to go if something comes up, like having a portable writing kit, a flexible schedule, or a backup writing time slot later in the day if your morning writing gets interrupted. 

Have fun, writers, and happy summer!

You may also like:

Upcoming Programs

This Writer’s Life: A Berkeley Mama Writes a Historical Fiction Trilogy in 15 to 60 Minutes a Day

It’s December, the end of the year. In a continuation of my goal to help you Start 2017 Off Write, I thought you might like to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and get a look inside their writing lives. We’ll kick off this series with Rebecca Brams, a local Berkeley writer and longtime Circle member.

Meet Rebecca Brams: Mama, Grant Writer, & Novelist

Rebecca is a Berkeley mom of two boys (we have both of those in common!) and she’s writing a novel alongside parenting and the grant writing work she does. She has been a Circle member for three years. I invited Rebecca to tell us more about her writing and her writing life. 

rebecca-bramsWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

I do several different types of writing, including grant writing for non-profit clients, personal essay, short fiction and blog. I mainly use the Writer’s Circle for my novel work — I’m writing a trilogy of historical fiction novels set during the Inca Empire, in what is today Peru. Since I joined the Writer’s Circle three years ago, I’ve written a draft of the first book in the trilogy and put it through a story analysis process including reverse outlining and mapping. I used two story analysis methodologies: Save the Cat and The Story Grid. I’m now partway through revising the novel. (If you’re curious about the novel trilogy, you can learn more about it in an essay Rebecca published here.)

How has your writing practice changed since you’ve been in the Circle?

I’ve become much more productive and stay on track more easily. I’ve been part of different kinds of writing communities over the years, including when I got my MFA degree, and I’ve found different types of value in each experience. The Circle is unique because of the daily check-in and because of the focus on process, not content. I know that if I get stuck, my coach will offer me a different perspective, and I often use the coaching calls to help me work through issues that come up. Being in the Circle makes me feel like I’m part of a writing community that’s “got my back” and will help get me back on track when I become overwhelmed or lose focus.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I’ve learned to trust the ebb and flow of the creative process. Recording my progress on a daily basis (and seeing my fellow Circle members do the same) has shown me that I can have a fabulous writing day, followed by a humdrum day, and then get back into the flow again in my next writing session. Now when I have a tough day or hit one of those “stuck” spells, I worry less because I’ve realized it’s a normal part of the creative process.

Also: This is life. This is it. Every day we create it with our choices. Every day we choose to write even though urgent things are calling us, we honor our creativity, the Muse, and the unique voices that can only speak through us. Every day we choose to be gentle with ourselves, we create a life of compassion and peace. These two elements can feel in opposition to each other, but perhaps allowing for the coexistence of opposing forces is necessary for a rich artistic life.

How much do you write and where do you typically write?

I try to write early in the day, usually right after I drop my kids off at school, before lots of other to-dos pop up. That probably happens three to five days per week, depending on whether there are school holidays, my husband’s work travel schedule, or if I have a lot of client work. I usually work at home, but sometimes I mix it up by going to a café. About once a week, I go to an in-person writing group.

When I’m at home, I often work at my secretary desk in my bedroom, but when I’m deep into line-edit revisions, I find I work better sitting in bed or on the sofa — it gets me more into the mindset of a reader. When I’m strapped for time and trying to get in a sliver of writing, I will sometimes even write in my car. My coach has called me a “time-stealing ninja” for the different ways I’ve managed to slide writing into a busy schedule over the years.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

It used to be that 15 minutes a day was all I tried for. Now my minute goals range a lot more depending on what else is happening in my life. I’d love to work for an hour a day or more, but there are so many different elements in my life that it really depends. Locking myself into a rigid schedule tends to lead to stress and guilt. I try for consistency and keeping up momentum more than getting the same amount of time in every day. And I do writing retreats — often solo weekend retreats — to immerse myself and get in big chunks of time.

What’s next for you with your writing?

My big writing goal for 2017 is to finish the second draft of the first book by the beginning of the summer when my kids get off school. It’ll be a stretch, but I’m going to give it my best shot with the help of the Circle.

Circle Profile

rebecca-bramsName: Rebecca Brams
Roles: Grant writer, novelist, blogger, essayist, mother of two boys
Location: Berkeley, California
Genre: Historical fiction
Current writing goal: Finish second draft of novel by June 2017
Biggest writing challenge: Juggling priorities, the unpredictability of young children
Biggest writing ah-ha: Starting is almost always the hardest part.
Go-to writing platform: Scrivener
Favorite writing spot: In bed!

Bio: Rebecca Brams is a writer and mother to two young boys in Berkeley, California. She grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and has traveled extensively in Latin America. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of California. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Carve Magazine, Literary Mama, Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and on blogs, including her own, www.thismamawrites.com.

diamonds

Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and register here.

 

How to finally make it as a writer, part four (plus, an announcement)

Today we’re finishing our four-part series designed to get you on track for the writing career and life you want.

If you haven’t seen the earlier parts of this series, you can read through exercises on how to write more easily, how to overcome resistance, and how to quickly build self-confidence as a writer.

In today’s exercise, we’re going to tie it all together and get you moving towards “going pro” – whatever that specifically means for you.

Whether you want writing to be your full time career or you just want to consistently finish your own personal projects, this exercise will move you forward.

A quick announcement before the exercise

If you like what you’ve been seeing in these exercises, there’s even more in store for you inside Design Your Writing Life – my complete guide to custom-creating the writing life and writing career you’ve always wanted.

For the next few days (through Tuesday, May 13th), the Design Your Writing Life home-study course will be available at a special launch discount of 40% off – and you can find all the details about what’s inside right here.

Now, on to the exercise!

Exercise #4 – Write down your “next steps” for making your writing life a reality

You already have a vision in your head about what your “writing life” looks like – what kinds of events, activities, and environments will be present in your life when you’re working on and completing your creative works.

However, as long as it’s just a vision, it can’t become real. And what can so often hold you back is when that picture in your mind is just blurry enough that you don’t have a sense of how to create it.

After all, you can only hit a target you can see.

So today we’re going to sharpen your focus so you can clearly identify some of the next steps that have to happen to take your writing life from vision to reality.

Here’s what we’ll have you do:

  • First, think of the next creative project you want to complete and define its closest concrete milestone. If you already have a project in the works, what’s the next checkpoint you have to get to? Is it a completed outline, or a list of major characters, or just getting to the end of the next chapter? Is it hitting a particularly meaningful word count? We’re looking for the closest, most easily attainable thing you can check off the proverbial checklist.
  • Next, write down what it will take to reach that milestone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Maybe it’s to guesstimate how long the task will take. Maybe it’s to make a list of the steps remaining to reach that completion point. Maybe it’s creating a folder on your computer with a blank document for each character in your book, or a folder for each chapter so you can keep them organized and separate. Maybe it’s getting a tool like Dropbox to allow you to do your writing from multiple devices.
  • Finally, carve out time to reach your milestone by putting it on your calendar. It’s so easy to get distracted from writing – whether it’s by doing “research” on the internet, clicking around on inspirational blogs, or thinking about all the decisions you might have to make for future milestones that you aren’t in a position to act on today. But your next step is the milestone closest to you now. So be 100% clear on what it will take to get there, and put it on your calendar, even if you’re “just” blocking out 15 minute increments of time every day for the next week. Bit by bit, you WILL get there.

Don’t overcomplicate this – just think of your next milestone, the very simple things you’ll need to do to get there, and set those as the “next steps” you put onto your calendar.

Here’s why this works so well at making your writing dreams become your daily reality

Writing gets done – and done consistently – when you put one foot in front of the other and you have a concrete goal to work towards.

If you don’t have that “next” concrete goal, you’ll be pulled in a hundred different directions and you won’t make the forward progress that builds your writing life from the ground up.

Remember what we said in the other exercises – every time you start with a small step, it lets you fly in under the radar of resistance, and that small step grows organically until it becomes a larger and larger force.

Just taking those first small steps is what gets you taking larger and larger ones, and soon you’ll be writing more each day, writing more easily, and getting more of your writing projects done.

If you’ve enjoyed these exercises so far, take a look at what else you’ll find in Design Your Writing Life!

From now until Tuesday, May 13th, you can get Design Your Writing Life at a 40% discount by clicking here.

What you’ve seen in this series are just a small sample of the steps, planning exercises, and activities that will help you make the shift from “trying to write” to “becoming a writer.” There’s so much more on the inside, and I’d love you to see all the details while it’s available at this special savings.

Everything you need to know is here – and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the years (and what I’ve taught others over my career) with you today.

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

Today we’re continuing our four-part series designed to help you get your writing career moving, even if you’ve been stalled out or had a few setbacks along the way.

We’ve already talked about expanding your options for writing and a very simple way to overcome resistance, and now we’re going to move into boosting your confidence as a writer.

Do today’s exercise, and you will begin to experience the growing confidence in yourself that comes from writing consistently and being connected to safe people who see you take your writing seriously each day.

Why I’m taking you through these exercises now

I’m releasing a new product tomorrow – Design Your Writing Life – that will walk you through a series of steps, planning exercises and activities that will help you make the shift from “trying to write” to “becoming a writer.”

It will be available with a special launch discount starting tomorrow, 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 #3 – Use “Safe Accountability” to create momentum and trust in yourself

Accountability can sometimes be a scary thing to step into – the idea of keeping to a deadline as well as showing your work to others can be just intimidating enough to keep you from doing it. (And even if you’ve successfully navigated that hurdle, you remember how it felt!)

We’re going to make accountability easier today by baby-stepping into the safest possible method of making it happen, so you can feel more comfortable getting started.

There are two parts of writing that are intertwined – the practice and the craft. You get better at the craft through practice, but often it’s difficult to practice because getting the craft “right” when other people are watching can activate resistance.

So we’re just going to sneak in like we did yesterday and take a small step designed to fly under the radar of resistance and get you feeling good about yourself as a writer.

Here’s what we’ll have you do:

  • Pick the simplest form of daily accountability you can imagine and choose that as your starting point. If you’re following along from yesterday, that could be writing for five minutes in the morning. If you already have a semi-regular writing habit (like you sporadically write on your lunch one or two times a week), then let’s step it up by making it every day – even if it’s only five minutes of writing.
  • Choose someone who is safe and cares about you to report your practice time to each day. This could be a writing buddy, your partner, or anyone else that you trust to hold you accountable and celebrate your successes. You don’t have to send them your writing for critique – you’re just telling them that you followed through each day.
  • Contact them today and say you’d like to have them help you keep accountable.

This seems like a pretty small step – but as you saw yesterday, a consistent small step almost inevitably grows into a larger habit.

Just choose one person to report your consistent progress to. That’s all you have to do to start.

Here’s why this works so well to make your writing career develop faster

If someone has been a professional writer for years, when another person asks them what they do for a living, they’ll say “I’m a writer.”

Before you get to that point, it can be hard to give the same response. Somewhere inside you’ll either be thinking “I’d like to be a writer,” or “I’m trying to be a writer,” or the dreaded “I should be writing more but oh, I just don’t know why I’m not.”

As you go through this first baby step, just the simple daily accountability for your morning writing, you’ll be telling someone “I wrote today” every single day.

The act of communicating that verbally (or via email, if that’s how you do it) does a few very important things to your brain:

  • First, it reinforces your identity as someone who writes because you’re saying it every day to another person.
  • Second, it builds self-trust because after a short while you’ll realize you’re getting very good at following through (which makes it much easier to see your writing career as a reality instead of a dream). You’ll know, both subconsciously and consciously, that you can trust yourself to keep your promises.
  • Third, it helps you internalize your growth as a writer, because over time you’ll be telling your accountability partner that you wrote more each day. It doesn’t take long for 5 minutes to become 10, then 20, and more … and you’ll begin to see just how much you’re growing, faster than you could have expected.

This one simple exercise can get you on the path to being able to tell other people “I’m a writer” without a moment’s hesitation. Even simple accountability can make a bigger difference than you might think.

We cover more advanced accountability strategies in the Design Your Writing Life program, but every journey starts with a first step.

This is your chance to take that first step today. :)

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 and get in touch with someone you can be accountable to. Remember, we’re flying under the radar of resistance here. All you’re doing is agreeing to say “I did it” each day.

(In reality, you’ll probably be telling your accountability partner things like “Wow, I can’t believe I ended up writing for 20 minutes” or “It feels so good to finally be writing every day”, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.)

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. :)

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!