6 Tips To Keep Writing When It Feels Like the World Is Falling Apart – on the Final Draft blog

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep writing when the world is both literally and figuratively on fire, which led to this week’s article on the Final Draft blog. It was in part inspired by a Twitter conversation I stumbled across where writers were sharing how unproductive they were feeling. Since I’m finding that the more I lean into writing and our Called to Write community, the more stable, grounded, and productive I feel, I was inspired to write this article about what I’m doing in the hopes of helping you keep writing too, even when things are in such a state of upheaval.

 

“…your desire to write comes from the urge to not just be “creative,” it’s a need (one every human being on earth has) to help others.” 
— Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
.

Right now it feels like, one way or another, the world is falling apart. As a result, writers are more vulnerable to distraction, stress and anxiety than usual. I’m seeing threads, articles and discussions running the emotional gamut; from despair and rage, to hope and determination, while simultaneously making it clear how hard it is to write or do anything other than scroll the news and social media—at least for those of us willing to say so publicly.

Now more than ever, we need our writing community. In that spirit, here are six tips to help you keep writing, even when it feels like things are falling apart.

Read the article on the Final Draft blog here:
6 Tips To Keep Writing When It Feels Like the World Is Falling Apart

 

 

Image credit: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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

The Magic of Creating a Writer’s Schedule

Many people think writing is something that happens when we’re inspired — struck by a lightning bolt of ideas, if you will. That when we’re inspired we just naturally “find” time to write.

And in a perfect world, that’d be true. (And in a perfect world we’d all have mentors and patrons supporting us to fulfill our creative callings!)

The truth is though, most of us are busy with day jobs, families, and other commitments in addition to our writing, so we have to take a different approach.

Creating Your Writer’s Schedule Is About Intentionally Making Time to Write

We don’t find time to write. We make time to write.

And making time to write requires being intentional. Writing doesn’t “just happen.”

When a writer comes to me with a book or script to finish, first I find out about their deadline, and whether it’s a self-created deadline or an industry deadline. Then I ask about when they have time write.

Sometimes they have answers, sometimes they don’t. Usually it’s in the form of some general notions about when they could write or how and when they are already writing (if they are), which is a terrific place to start.

From there I ask a lot of questions about their ideal writing times, other habits, routines, and obligations and we co-create a weekly Target Writing Schedule. We use a weekly schedule because it’s a repeatable model writers can carry forward with them throughout the whole year, adjusting as needed when major schedule changes or variations occur. (My Ultimate Writer’s Toolkit includes a simple step-by-step process to walk you through creating your personal Ideal Writing Schedule and Target Writing Schedule.)

We call it a target schedule because we know that sometimes life goes awry and we don’t hit our targets, but this way we know what to do when that happens — just flow back into the plan the next day or at the first available opportunity. It’s like having a regular work schedule. You get sick and miss a day, and then go right back to work when you get better.

The Magic Happens When You Make a Writer’s Schedule

So much magic happens when you make your writer’s schedule:

  • You become more intentional about writing, and more aware of any choices you make that stop you from writing.
  • You make writing a priority in your life, and validate that priority as you put it into action.
  • You have an easier time keeping writing appointments with yourself when they’re planned into your day.
  • You raise the bar on the professionalism you’re bringing to your writing. There’s a chasm between hoping to write and scheduling writing, and putting it on your calendar helps you bridge that gap. It’s about turning pro.
  • You become far more likely to protect your writing time from scheduling other meetings or events during those time slots.
  • You create a container for your writing, so when you have a project you want to complete, you know just how and when you’ll do it.
  • You become much more likely to stay on track with finishing your project without getting burnt out, or ending up in binge-writing mode struggling to meet a deadline at the last minute. 
  • You know when and how to reboot yourself if you get off track one day — you go back to the schedule the next day.

If you’re looking ahead to writing seriously in 2017, start by setting up your writer’s schedule, so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the clock turns. 

diamonds

You may also like:

 

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!

 

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: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

Your turn

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

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

 

5 secrets to harness the power of your calendar

If you’ve got a calling (a Big Dream, vision, goal, or project) that you’re not getting to — put it on your calendar.

Simply scheduling time for the thing you SAY is important to you is how to make it happen.

(And by the way, this is true even if your project is getting clear on what your big project IS.)

Here are 5 secrets you may not be aware of when it comes to the power of your calendar and how you use it.

Secret #1: Commitment isn’t enough.

Simply deciding to do something and hoping it will happen doesn’t fly. Yes, it’s important to DECIDE and COMMIT — but you also have to actually do it.

Show me the money, baby!

There’s far too much talking about what we want, and what we’re going to do (or why we can’t and it’s too hard). At the end of the day, doing it is what counts. 

Put it on your calendar.

Secret #2: “Your calendar never lies.”

. . . as Tom Peters says in his essay, “Pursuing Excellence” in the inspiring compilation book End Malaria, piloted by Michael Bungay Stainer.

What you SAY is important versus what you actually DO is telling about where you’re focusing your energy and setting your priorities.

If you want to learn to paint, for instance, you’ll need to make time for it. If you say that business development is key to moving forward with your creative entrepreneurialism, you’ve got to make a concerted effort to make that happen. If you want to write, you must make it a priority in your life and on your calendar.

If you’re not scheduling time for it, you’re not serious about making it happen. At least not yet.

Look at your calendar and see how it reflects your priorities — or not.

Secret #3: Make a divine appointment with yourself.

There’s something miraculous about scheduling time on your calendar for something important — it’s like making a sacred appointment with yourself. If you don’t show up, there’s a nagging sense inside that you’re supposed to be doing something else.

While nagging might generally not be a good thing, when it comes to your soul pestering you about fulfilling your divine calling, I’m okay with that.

Use your calendar as a tool to help you to get back on track with what you were put here to do.

Secret #4: Learn from what you don’t do as well as what you do.

When you don’t show up, you learn something about yourself and your project. You can test your commitment and ask, “Is this something I truly want to do, or is it something I think I should be doing?”

If it’s the latter, it’s time to reevaluate. A true calling is never a should.

If it’s the former, treat your lack of action as information and explore what would make it easier next time. Take a look and see where and how you’ve scheduled it — is it in the right place on your calendar? Is there something you’re doing beforehand that’s spilling over?

For example, I’ve learned that I have to write first before I do anything else. I’ve also learned that I have to go to the gym on the way home from taking my kid to school, or it’s never going to happen. This is about smart scheduling.

Pay attention to what’s working and what’s not — then make adjustments to make it easier.

Secrets #5: Discipline isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I know I look disciplined to the outside world, writing weekly blog posts, consistently offering classes and programs, and screenwriting regularly. I gotta tell you, it isn’t discipline.

It’s a weirdly fascinating combination of calendared deadlines that are publicly announced and an inner knowing that unless I say I’m going to do something and make time for it, it ain’t gonna happen. I also make it much harder NOT to do it than it is to do it. More on that next time.

Use your calendar to inspire you to take action. 

Your turn

Share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> June 5th. My Spotlight Study Group completes. I’ve heard that there’s interest out there from others in participating in such a group — if that’s you, please email us to be notified about when/if I offer it again.

~> June 7th. Last day to register for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle. This is for writers who want help staying on track and consistent about doing their writing, day in and day out. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Mentoring with screenwriter Chris Soth through ScreenwritingU. Working away on a new project before I tackle the rewrite of my first one.

~> Fall. Heading to Hollywood for a ScreenwritingU event to meet with producers and agents.

~> Sacred writing time. Early mornings and Fridays.

~> In between shows and books right now. I think I have Sex and the City: The Movie and Another Earth hanging around to be watched, but Scott Myers has me interested in watching (500) Days of Summer. So we’ll see what happens next. :)

 

 

 

How to make writing a whole lot easier

To celebrate the start of the next session of my Writer’s Circle this coming Monday, I’m sharing a free series on “How to Find the Courage to Tell the Stories You Are Longing To Tell.”

Today’s fourth and final post completes the series with thoughts on “How to Make Writing A Whole Lot Easier.”

  • To read the first post in the series, “Why It Requires Courage to Write”, click here.
  • The second post, How to Spot the Stealthy Smokescreens that Stop You From Writing, is here.
  • Yesterday’s post, “How to Find Your True Stories”, is here.

How to make writing a whole lot easier

It can sound like the easiest thing in the world to write. But when it comes to sitting down and facing the blank page, writing can be downright terrifying. Perhaps surprisingly to some, it takes a lot of courage to overcome all the fear, self-doubt, stories, and resistance to making it happen.


What I’ve seen is that when you take action to do the following things for yourself, writing becomes much much harder NOT to do. And that makes it SO much easier.

  1. Find peer support.

    Connect with other writers. Be part of a community. Live and breathe writing and talk about it with other people who are actively engaged in writing and are firmly committed to their writing, come hell or high water.

    Personally, I’m part of several writing communities, including my online Writer’s Circle, my screenwriting class, and the online Scriptchat community. I make it a priority to hang out with writers who are writing regularly — and not just talking about it.

  2. Create social accountability.

    Give yourself public deadlines and set public goals to use the tool of social accountability. When other people know you are promising and intending to do finish your writing project by a certain date and you know they are watching, it’s a LOT harder not to do it.

  3. Create solid writing habits.

    Make yourself a writing schedule, use a timer to write in sprints, start early in the morning or write late at night — what matters is that you write and that you write regularly. And by the way, regularly means as close to daily as you can muster (my preference is 6 to 7 days per week).

    Writing regularly, and sticking to it, surprisingly makes writing much, much easier. Back in the days when I used to write my newsletter on a monthly basis, it felt like scraping my fingernails over a dry chalkboard just to get myself going. But now that I’m blogging on a weekly basis and screenwriting on a daily basis, I find that I’m always running article ideas and story lines through my mind, which makes it oh-so-much easier to jump into when the writing clock chimes at 6 a.m. (actually it’s 5:45 a.m. these days, but who’s counting?).

  4. Have a willing spirit of adventure.

    Enjoy the ride — have a willing spirit of adventure. Writing is an up and down journey. I LOVE it, AND, there are days when I feel like being run over by a truck might be a little bit easier. Thank goodness I have my writing communities to cheer me up on those days. Ride the highs and surf the lows, knowing you’ll make it to the other side.

  5. Be deeply honest with yourself.

    You want to write, right? Be honest with yourself about that and what it will cost you if you don’t write. Also be honest with yourself about how scared you are to do it and about how you are creating obstacles to your writing. Only then can you face and overcome them.

  6. Make a commitment to write.

    Decide, right now, that you are going to write, no matter what. Then do it.

    Make a “Life Decision” about this, as Dr. Phil calls it, to follow your dream of writing. Once you’ve made that decision, there’s no turning back. Stop dipping your foot in the pond of your dream and start making it a reality. There’s no way to do it but one step at a time, even if it’s two steps forward and one step back for a while.

  7. Have the courage to write regularly.

    Having the courage to write means doing it without fail, even in the face of fear, self-doubt, and those savage attacks by your inner critic telling you that you won’t succeed.

    One day when I came home from dropping off my son at school, I realized that I was terrified to work on the next scene in my script, and I felt like I was frogmarching myself to the guillotine as I approached my computer. I said to myself, “I see you, fear, and you cannot stop me. I can at least write out the scene heading. I can at least chose the characters for the scene. I can at least brainstorm what I’d like to see happen.”

And with a little coaxing and a lot of courage, I was off and writing.

This concludes our series on How to Find the Courage to Tell the Stories You Are Longing To Tell.” If you enjoyed the series, I’d love to hear from you in the comments on my blog. Thanks for reading!

About the Writer’s Circle

I inspire writers to find the courage to share the stories they are secretly longing to tell but are afraid won’t be heard or welcomed. If you’d like company on your writer’s journey, I want to invite you to join the next session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle, which starts this coming Monday, February 20th. In the Writer’s Circle, you’ll find all the peer support and accountability you need to have the courage to write regularly.

Registration closes TODAY, February 16th.

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

“I’m now working on a manuscript that has haunted me for 5 years…and there’s nary a chain rattle anymore.”

“This Writer’s Circle is such a wonderful experience, and it’s changed the way I look at writing…in a GOOD way! I’m now working on a manuscript that has haunted me for 5 years…and there’s nary a chain rattle anymore. I’m finally putting myself and my writing on the priority list. I’m also excited and inspired by the sense of community with other writers that was wholly lacking from the rest of my life. If you’re looking for help with your writing, join the Writer’s Circle now!”

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