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December 18, 2012
Okay, we’re ready for Stage 2: Committing to Change. This is not taking action yet. Instead, this stage involves:
1) Planning the necessary steps
2) Building up your motivation
3) Considering possible distractions and/or discouraging things that might cause a setback
The change you make at this point is to shift from “passively wishing to achieve your goal to actively committing to make it happen.” (Neil Fiore in Awaken Your Strongest Self.) If you did the work in Stage 1 (thinking through the risks and benefits, plus evaluating your personal abilities), you should have fairly realistic expectations of what does–and doesn’t–work for you at your particular stage of life.
Time to Experiment
Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.
- Try writing for 15 minutes upon awakening or right after your morning coffee.
- Stay offline until 10:00 a.m. for three days.
- Try writing at the library during two lunch hours this week.
- Read a writing blog before you get on Facebook or Twitter.
Record your thoughts and feelings when you introduce these writing changes. How do you feel? What works and what doesn’t? You can’t fail at this stage. You are only gathering information.
Some of these changes you’ll love and find so easy! Others you won’t find helpful at all. But as you succeed with certain writing changes (writing 15 minutes each evening while supper cooks, reading 5 pages per day of a writing book), your motivation will rise. You’ll feel more like a writer automatically.
During this stage you also need to think through strategies for dealing with obstacles, distractions and setbacks. One of the most effective (and fun!) ways to do this is using what athletes call “mental rehearsals.” They imagine how they’ll handle challenges at each step along the way. [NOTE: This is not just wishful thinking. Current books on brain chemistry show incredible studies and brain x-rays, revealing changes made in the brain after "mental rehearsals."]
Envisioning how you will handle writing distractions (toddlers wanting to be entertained, friends calling to chat, school vacations) and setbacks (an editor rejects your novel after two revisions, computer crashes) helps you build stamina or mental toughness.
Use mental movies to confront each setback or distraction. Instead of your usual reaction (chocolate, TV, surfing the ‘Net), clearly envision yourself sitting tight, working methodically through your writing problem, piling up a stack of new pages, and keeping to your deadline with ease.
Not all interruptions and distractions happen to us. Be aware that you often seek out distractions as well. In order to escape writing blocks or manuscripts that just aren’t working well, we often attempt to escape the anxiety or boredom or agitation by looking for distractions.
Are You Ready?
The final part of Stage 2 is actually committing to the change. Take time to think and journal about the strength of your commitment. If you want to succeed–and make the success permanent–it needs to be more than a wish. It needs to be a strong intention.
So, what do you intend to do? What change(s) in your writing life do you intend to make? Now is the time to commit.
August 9, 2010
Time pressure and interruptions–they’re always with us. Right? To a certain extent, yes.
I have several appointments coming up that will take three hours out of several different days and a couple of favors I didn’t have the nerve to say “no” to. I was bemoaning the chunk of work time that would be deducted from my 40-hour work week.
How would I get my writing done?
Then I realized that my husband hasn’t missed an hour of work in months, yet he keeps his doctors’ appointments and other special commitments. He does what I need to do myself–he makes up for lost time. Usually he works days. If he has a morning doctor’s appointment, he switches shifts, goes to his appointment, and works 3-11.
Yes, he gets less sleep that night. Yes, he’s a bit tired the next day, but he just goes to bed earlier. He doesn’t moan and groan about time pressure, he doesn’t miss any work, and he takes care of important appointments.
Keeping Office Hours
I need to follow his example in that area. If I’m going to say “yes” to a favor or a long phone call with a friend, I need to “clock out” of the office for that time, and then make it up in the evening. Or, better yet, I need to get up earlier that day and log in the extra writing time before my appointments.
If I diligently make up the writing every time I quit work for some reason, I bet I will get better at saying “no” to some requests. In fact, I can almost guarantee it! While my husband works late to make up for important things (eye exams, yearly physicals, occasional volunteer projects), he doesn’t switch shifts and work late for every little thing someone might want him to do. And I can’t ever recall a time he was stressed about finding enough hours to get his work done.
Home Office Hours
Yes, it’s easier if you work at an office with a boss. None of your friends or family members expect things from you during the day when you work outside the home. So your only option is learning to say “no.” I’ve been working in my home office (mostly full-time) for thirty years. People still half-assume that since I’m at home, I’m not really working.
So, as usual, it comes down to this. *I* need to take my writing schedule seriously before anyone else will. It’s not about convincing the people in my life that I’m serious about my writing. It’s about convincing me.
Once I do that, I suspect the schedule will fall into place.
July 30, 2010
Over the weekend, I hope you’ll have time to check out some very helpful and thought-provoking blogs I read this week.
Kick back, relax, and enjoy these gems!
Gems of Wisdom
**Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a series called “Career Killers.” Full of wise advice! One post is on speed writing. Other “career killers” included impatience, playing “around the edges,” sloppiness, and skipping the apprenticeship. If you avoid these mistakes in your career, you’ll be miles ahead of the average writer.
**Are you trying to combine babies with bylines? Try “Writing Between Diapers: Tips for Writer Moms” for some practical tips.
**Is your writing journey out of whack because you have unrealistic expections? See literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s post “Managing Expections.”
**Critique groups are great, but you–the writer–must be your own best–and toughest–editor. See Victoria Strauss on “The Importance of Self-Editing.”
**We’re told to set goals and be specific about what success means to us. Do you have trouble with that? You might find clarity with motivational speaker Craig Harper’s “Goals and Anti-Goals.”
**And finish with Joe Konrath’s pithy statements in “A Writer’s Serenity Prayer.” You may want to print them out and tape them to your computer!
Share a Gem!
What have you read lately–online or off–that you felt was particularly insightful or helpful or thought-provoking? I’d love to have you share a link of your own!
July 26, 2010
Does your mind ever go ’round and ’round like it’s on some infernal hamster wheel? Mine does–and I waste so much time I could be writing.
I try to stop because I assumed obsessing was a negative thing. It doesn’t have to be, though, not according to Eric Maisel in Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions. Maisel is a psychotherapist who works with writers and artists, and author of another most helpful book, Fearless Creating.
The Life of Obsessing
First, does the writer below sound like you? (Frankly, Maisel could have been eavesdropping on my brain waves and transcribed my thoughts!) This is what one of his writer clients shared.
“I have always wanted to make a living as a writer. But I always let things hold me back. I let having a day job sidetrack me; I let fear sidetrack me. I procrastinate wildly; and yet the less I write, the unhappier I become with everything. I can’t let go of the desire to write, but I need to let go of the unproductive obsessing I do about writing–the worry about not being good enough, the worry that I won’t be able to make a living, the worry that I won’t be able to think of anything wonderful to write about.”
And the result of all her obsessing?
“I get more and more stressed out, and I write less and less, and it becomes a particularly nasty downward spiral.”
The author’s book isn’t about stopping the obsessions. In fact, Maisel encourages them! His idea is about harnessing all that brain power you’re using in a negative way and turning it into a positive brainstorm of ideas.
A productive obsession is an idea that you choose for good reasons and pursue with all your brain’s power. It might be an idea for a novel or the solution to a personal problem.
According to Maisel, the super focused productive obsession is the mind-set of the creative person. It sounds wonderful to me! I’ll be writing some more about this throughout the week, I think.
Tell Me I’m Not Alone
Do you have trouble focusing that prevents you from getting in the flow of your writing? Do you ever have the above-mentioned “hamster wheel-itis”? I sure hope I’m not the only one! Maybe we can find an answer to it together!
July 12, 2010
Most of us start out writing because we feel a yearning, a call, a really strong desire to be a writer.
We have stories inside us burning to be told. We see the world in a slightly different way, and we want to share how we see people and events, all wrapped up in a spell-binding story.
Then What Happens?
Somewhere along the way, I’ve noticed, the calling often becomes a career mindset. It might happen with the first sale, or it might not happen until years into publication. With me, it happened after I’d had two or three novels published by Atheneum. Status became more important than telling a good story.
Warning: this can happen to you too! Be aware of the signs and what can trigger it.
A Common Story
With me, it was financial need. It was the 80s during the farm crisis, and we were in danger of losing our Iowa farm. Suddenly sales were crucial. Advances had to be bigger and bigger. I began to worry more about whether I needed an agent than if my current book was better than the last one. Achieving excellence took a back seat to making money.
I wish I had seen it coming. Getting back to your calling-your love of storytelling-is a lot harder than maintaining it in the first place.
An Agent’s Perspective
Literary agent and author Donald Maass (in The Fire in Fiction) suggests that writers are either those who desire to be published, or those who desire to tell stories. They may start out the same, committed to making it as writer, to being the best storyteller he/she can be. He says that over time a writer’s real motivation will emerge.
Admittedly, I took the ICL course with a hopeful eye of staying home with my children and having a career too. But did that necessarily mean that I had to change from being a storyteller to a status seeker? No, I don’t think so. I think your calling and career can co-exist within you-but only if you guard your writer’s heart carefully.
What needs to stay in the forefront? A pursuit of excellence, for one thing. Keeping the writing fun for another.
What are some signs that you’re moving from a storyteller to a status seeker? Maass gives some insightful signs:
- The majority of status seeker writers seek agents and publication years too soon.
- When rejected by an agent, the status seeker writer immediately offers the agent something else from his desk drawer. (Not something better-just something else.)
- Status seekers grow frustrated with rejections, thinking landing an agent is a matter of luck. Storytellers know that something is missing from their writing and they work on it.
- Status seekers ask how they can just make their stories good enough to sell. A storyteller is more concerned with making his story the very best it can be.
- With a first contract status seekers are very concerned with what they are getting for blurbs, advertising and promotion. Storytellers have a more realistic grasp of retail realities; they promote some, but then get to work on the next book.
- Status seekers go full time too soon, relying on advances for their living. Storytellers keep their day jobs for as long as it takes.
More details are given in his book to distinguish status seekers intent on building a career and storytellers who are called. You can also download (free) the author’s earlier book The Career Novelist by going to Maass’ website.
Do you think you can have a career–yet keep your “calling” as a storyteller the most important? How can a writer keep his priorities straight? What do you think it would take?