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January 1, 2013
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Remember that our “31 Minutes for 31 Days” challenge starts today! Get the new year off to a great start.
You’re well on your way to achieving your major 2013 goals at this point, and you’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!
You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.
Change and Maintain
In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:
- Learn to recover from setbacks
- Get mentally tough for the long haul
First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.
However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.
Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)
Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.
Maintaining: A Better Way
I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day, I would begin again on Day #6.
I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.
In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)
Coping plans have this basic structure (according to Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self):
“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”
When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.
When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.
Retrain Your Brain
Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.
Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:
- I am equal to any writing challenge.
- I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
- I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
- I take breaks every 90 minutes or so, using the break to refresh.
- I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
- I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
- My writing gift is unique and the expression of that gift is unique.
- I don’t need to be like any other writer.
- I never give up on my dreams.
I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. (And yes, I use them myself, broken down into several categories: spiritual life, health, writing, children/grandchildren, and my marriage.) I guess I have a lot of areas where I want to rewire brain patterns!
Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place. It’s time we stopped yo-yoing up and down and created stable, permanent writing habits.
December 25, 2012
First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.
Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.
You’re primed for success.
As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:
- You must decide when, where and how to start.
- You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
- You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.
This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.
Create Action Plans
An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.
Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.
To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:
- When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
- Where will you start? (time and place)
- What specific action step will you take at this time?
- How will you keep this commitment?
Time to Show Up
Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause.
There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed dealing with fears.
I also keep several books on my shelf such Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.
Focus on the Present Step
Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!
The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”
Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.
One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.
Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.
NOTE: Don’t stop here. On New Year’s Day we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.
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.
December 11, 2012
(If you haven’t already, read the overview, The Dynamics of Change.)
You want to make changes in your writing life that will last?
Let’s start at the beginning, with Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind. As I said last time, this stage involves several things, including the following:
- feeling the pain that prompts you to change
- evaluating the risks and benefits of the goals you have in mind
- evaluating your current ability
In this stage, you do not make any changes. Not yet. As tempting as it is, do not jump in and “just do it!” Remember how far your willpower has taken you in the past–and wait.
Resist the temptation to cycle through another try–>fail–>try harder–>fail–>discouragement episode. Instead, lay the necessary groundwork to make permanent changes.
The Pain of Not Changing
Wanting to make a change–but never making it–is exhausting. It hangs over our heads, constantly reminding us of some incompleted task. When you really feel the pain of not changing, you’re on your way to making up your mind. (And if you’re willing to live with the pain of not realizing your writing dreams, that’s your choice as well.)
Actively and colorfully imagine staying the same the next five years. Imagine that it’s 2018. You’re still trying to implement the “write daily” habit, you’re still trying to finish that novel, you’re still too afraid to talk to agents or editors at writer’s conferences, and you’re still unpublished. When writers’ block hits–or simply a normal writer’s frustration–you still reach for doughnuts or a cigarette or settle in for an hour of mindless TV.
It’s 2018, and nothing has changed–except you have gained fifteen pounds, you’re still stuck in a day job you hate, your baby is in kindergarten, (and you never did get to work from home), or your military spouse has moved the family again (and you still don’t have a career that can move with you.)
Write out the “future” scenario in vivid color based on nothing changing. A clear image of future pain strengthens our determination to face our current fears about changing.
Risks and Benefits of the Change
Explore (either on your own or with a friend/counselor) the benefits of making the short- and long-term writing changes you are considering. Follow the changes five years into your future and see the benefits of having written steadily for five years, submitting steadily for five years, getting five years’ worth of critiques, etc.
The risks? Most of them have to do with facing your writing fears. For a week (two is better) observe yourself and your thoughts when you sit down to write (or when you avoid it.) You’re not trying to change here–just observe your reactions when trying to write.
Do you feel anxiety? What do you think? (“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this!”) What do you do? (Write half a paragraph, then reach for chocolate?) The risk is being honest with yourself, which is necessary if you’re going to honestly evaluate your current ability…
Current State of Affairs
After spending a couple of weeks observing your writing habits, you may have uncovered a few issues to address (procrastination, feeling isolated, self-doubt, self-sabotage, fears of failure or success, etc.) Maybe you just lack motivation; whatever the issue(s), this is the time to work on them.
How you deal with them (and a combination of solutions usually works best) will vary from writer to writer. Some ways to motivate yourself and work on various writing fears include:
- counseling or career coaching
- reading self-help books for writers like Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write
- reading inspiring books for writers like Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul
Remember, all this thinking and journaling and dreaming is still Stage One. You haven’t committed to making any changes yet. You’re still making up your mind. You’re thinking things through thoroughly.
And you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed–permanently.
I’m curious. Do you find this thinking stage comforting? Threatening? Discouraging? Encouraging? Share your thoughts!
December 4, 2012
Are you thinking about your 2013 writing goals yet?
Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? There’s a reason for that.
I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help as we head into a new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.
How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of those 25% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?
Change in Stages
One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed, you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.
Most writers won’t be able to do it.
Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.
Making Change Doable
All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.
However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.
Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.
Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.
Stages of Change
- Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
- Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps, building up your motivation, and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
- Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
- Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.
(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)
So…that’s the plan for the next few Tuesday blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way.
The “Stage 4″ article will be posted on New Year’s Day–just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions!
July 10, 2012
“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I’ve been re-reading James Scott Bell’s excellent book The Art of War for Writers, and he says that “the biggest mental obstacle–in writing, in war, in life itself–is fear.”
I would agree 100%.
How do we fear writing?
Let me count the ways… Bell mentions several kinds of fear that plague writers. Do you find yourself in this list? Do you have additional fears?
- not being good enough
- not getting published
- getting published but not selling
- getting published once but never again
- getting stomped by critics
- getting stomped by family members
- wasting your time
The Quality of Fearlessness
Bell wrote about the young Teddy Roosevelt who was a sick, frail, fearful child–and what changed him into the fearless leader of history. Basically, he learned the old adage of “fake it till you make it” or “act as if.” Bell says that fearful writers become fearless writers in the same way.
Sure, you will set goals and get prepared. And (if you’re like me) you’ll pray for help. But in the end you will need to act as if you’re a successful, fearless writer until (over time) your feelings catch up with your behavior and you actually become one.
When fear in some form hits you today, what immediate action step could you take in the face of that fear? How would a professional, successful writer deal with that fear?
What is one way you can channel that fear into energy for your writing?
Be fearless today and, as battle buddies, share one tip you’ve used successfully to win the war on the many fears of writing.
July 3, 2012
After receiving a couple of pieces of very unwelcome news early last week, it took me several days to regain my writing focus.
Most mornings were spent getting my mental, emotional and spiritual act together, which resulted in having to work till very late at night to meet some deadlines. I got the work done, but I didn’t enjoy any of it.
Today something else happened. This time I found myself very mad–at ME.
Time for a Change
None of the situations were my fault. I didn’t cause them, I couldn’t cure them, and I can’t control what certain people are still doing. So it really, really irritated me that I spent so many hours this past week thinking, reading, praying, and journaling about it.
I’ve always been this way, as far back as age four, the earliest I can remember. Obsessive thinking doesn’t help the other person, and it sure doesn’t help me. It robs us of hours and hours of productive, HAPPY times. And for writers, it steals our time to write, our relaxed ability to create, and the focus so necessary for our projects.
Enough is Enough! Focus!
Yesterday I read a quote that really got me to thinking. In The Little Book of Letting Go by Hugh Prather, it said: “We talk to children about the ‘power of the imagination.’ We attend seminars that tell us our minds have immense reserves of untapped capacity. All in all, we have done a superb job of kidding ourselves that in our roomy ‘attic’ all is useful, worth keeping, and in good repair. But if we observe our minds closely for just one hour, we see that instead of a boundless chamber of magic and wonder, our minds are more like stuffed and stodgy refrigerators that emit peculiar odors.”
It’s time to clean out my refrigerator. I’ve come to realize that all this obsessive thinking and worrying is a life-long bad habit. It’s not a mental illness that needs a pill. It’s not an emotional illness that needs counseling. It’s a bad habit–and habits can be broken.
Identify the Culprit First
I’ve broken lots of harmful habits in the past, and nearly every time it involved discovering the lie I was believing about something. We all have them. (The obese person may believe the lie that “gorging myself will bring comfort.” The procrastinator believes the lie that “I work better under pressure.” The rescuing mom believes the lie that her grown children shouldn’t/couldn’t be responsible for themselves.)
Time to dig into this stinky “mind” refrigerator and find the spoiled junk emitting the odors. Look out! Don’t stand behind me. There’s gonna be some bad stuff chucked outta here!
October 26, 2011
Any writing day can feel overwhelming if you’re trying to juggle several projects. Right now, I’m proofing a book due next week, finishing one not due for a while, and plotting a novel to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I blog and Twitter and do Facebook. I have a novel critique to do. EEEEEEEEEEEK!
Bouncing Off the Office Walls
My own writer’s personality prefers working on one project at a time. I like to fully immerse myself in the characters and plot, writing and rewriting, rethinking and editing, polishing and submitting. In the early years, before it was my career, I could do it that way. Everything was written and submitted “on spec,” and no one was waiting for my prose, so I could take my time–and do one thing at a time.
Just thinking about what needed to be done today put my brain in a cramp. I could almost feel the neurons short-circuit.
Is It Possible to Focus?
First, today and every day, I need to accept the fact that (except for the critique), none of the other things will get finished today. I need to make my “to do” list reflect this, and yet move each project closer to completion. (I’ve tried just working on one thing at a time before, but I found I lost mental contact with my fiction characters and had to keep starting over. Working on the books daily helps me “remember” who everyone is and what comes next.)
I’ve discovered that if I make a “to do” list that says I will write for one hour on each project that needs to be moved along, then I will do that. I set my kitchen timer for one hour, get my project papers out and ready to go, put on blinders, start the timer, and then focus on that one project for an hour.
I don’t get up during that time or think about any of the other projects (which are out of sight–very important). I work on the computer that will NOT connect to the Internet, so there is no temptation to check email. I let my answering machine take calls. [NOTE: This is me on a good day like today. The "yesterday" me made the mistake of getting online early in the morning, and it was downhill from there! Will I never learn?]
Just One Hour?
Can you get much accomplished in an hour? An amazing amount! In fact, I am constantly surprised how much just fifteen minutes of concentrated writing time can produce. At the end of a writing day where I’ve focused one hour on each project, they all have moved along significantly toward the finish line.
Do I like writing this way? Not really. But there’s one big plus: I’ve discovered that I can write many more hours in a day when I change projects–six or eight hours, as long as I stretch frequently. Writing on the same novel, I am fairly burned out in three of four hours of writing (four hours total, usually a couple of two-hour sessions.) So productivity is higher when I have to work on multiple projects with multiple deadlines.
Maybe–in the end–I’ll enjoy working this way for that very reason. In the meantime, it’s a good way to get the work done.
Just curious… What is your own preferred way to write? One project at a time? Multiple projects?
October 24, 2011
Over the weekend I spoke with a writer dealing with some worries that are daily robbing her of her hours of creative time. It reminded me of an earlier post on Fighting to Focus.
Where’s Your Focus?
From studies I’ve read, when you’re going through a crisis (yours or someone else’s), there is a single-minded focus that will help you regain your peace. And there’s a (more common) split focus that won’t help you at all. In all likelihood, it will make it worse. If your goal is to keep hold of your creative hours when problems hit, then staying calm is paramount.
Studies were done on people facing severe problems ranging from the terminal illness of a child to divorce (yours or someone else’s). The people under strain who re-gained and maintained their peace and continued to be productive did one thing very differently from those who fought desperately to be peaceful, but failed. This is a truth that can also apply to even the simplest worrisome problems you’re facing–worries that are stealing your writing time.
A Healthy Single Focus
The people who regained their peace and rode out the storm were those who had one focus: regaining their peace of mind. Once they did that, they were able to offer comfort and aid, but without worrying about the outcome of their help. And they could then focus on their own work.
A Split Focus
The people who continued to worry and obsess and eventually get sick had a split focus: they tried to regain their calm mind too, but they also tried to control some aspect of the outcome. They were trying to control another person or an event that was beyond their control. There is nothing quite so crazy-making as trying to control something outside your control.
Regaining Your Focus
The quickest way to stop worrying is to give up trying to control something you have no control over. Instead, pour all that wasted energy into regaining a calm mind. I use a variety of things: prayer, surrender, running, a bike ride, meditation, talking to a trusted friend, and watching uplifting movies. Find what combination works for you, and make that your single focus.
Get calm. Give your aid, if it’s healthy to do so. Then get on with your life.
If you’re consistent with this, you’ll find your emotions coming down out of the rafters and settling in nicely. And then you heave a sigh of relief, rest a moment or two, and head to your writing room.
September 30, 2011
A couple weeks ago I encouraged you to get ready for NaNoWriMo–the writing group that produces a book in November. I hope you have an idea for it now.
I also encouraged you to spend October getting organized so that you have the best chance of succeeding. To me, success includes having a really good rough draft done at the end of November (as opposed to 50,000 words which you throw out later.)
I Hate to Outline!
If you hate outlines, maybe you don’t understand the various kinds–and their purposes. If so, read these two articles and you may well change your mind:
“The #1 Reason You Haven’t Written the Book You Want to Write” talks about misconceptions around outlining a book–plus all the benefits. (I never sold the two books I wrote without an outline. I’ve sold 95% of the books I wrote where I used an outline, even if it wasn’t very detailed.)
“Outlining a Novel Step-by-Step” is a practical guide to this process. It can feel overwhelming when you start.
I Have No Time!
If you need help organizing your hectic life so that you can write, here’s another good article with practical advice for very busy people: “Organizing Schedules So You Can Find More Time to Write.” Although my kids are grown and married, I coordinate around babysitting grandbabies, going to a grandson’s soccer games, overnights, and my husband’s changing work schedule. Every season brings different changes, and we writers need to go with this flow as well if we expect to write through all the seasons of our lives.
I hope you have time this weekend to read those articles. Whether you are getting ready for NaNoWriMo or not, they’re full of valuable information. Make it a terrific weekend, everyone!Newer Posts »