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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.
May 9, 2012
About every two years, I get a wake-up call when some form of exhaustion sets in. Without noticing, I have fudged on bedtimes, let boundaries be way too flexible, or simply taken on more than I should have.
Time to Re-Group
Then I have to sit down and play the game called ”Where’d My Time Go?” Usually I find that other people’s expectations have taken over my writing time. Nearly always I was at fault. I offered to do something I didn’t really have time for, or said “No problem!” when I should have said, “Sorry, I just can’t.”
My schedule is under control again, but I’d like to step out of this cycle once and for all. The best way I’ve found to save my writing time is to set policies. Remember, you’re the boss in your office! You have the authority to set whatever policies you need.
After you’ve spotted some of your weakest areas, develop policies to cover future requests. For some reason, stating that you have a “policy” about certain things carries more weight with people. Very few people argue when you have a “policy.”
Target the areas where you have the most trouble setting–and enforcing–boundaries. It might have to do with overtime on your day job, expectations from the neighbors, or any organization where you volunteer.
Some “company policies” might include:
- I have a policy about home business parties. I don’t attend them, and I don’t give them.
- I have a policy of not returning phone calls until the noon hour.
- I have a policy that says I don’t make doctors’ or dental appointments until after 3 p.m.
- I have a policy that includes no drop-in baby-sitting. I need a minimum of 48 hours notice.
- My policy states that I don’t commit to any event more than (X) months away. (Fill in your personal limit.)
- I choose to help with one party each year at my child’s school. That’s my class contribution, so what party would you like me to help with?
- My policy states that I charge $5 for each ten minutes that parents are late picking up their kids from my day care.
Sometimes our commitments get out of hand because we want to do such an excellent job everywhere. So learn to under-promise, and later you can over-deliver if you have extra time.
For example, instead of volunteering to help at school the entire day, say you can come and read for one hour. If it turns out that you have extra time when the day rolls around, you can use the time to write or you can “over-deliver” on your promise and stay two hours. You’ll earn a reputation as someone who delivers even more than promised—and yet you’ll have saved time for yourself.
Time Credit Cards
Some of us (I’m guilty!) promise to do things months and months in advance when our calendars are still pristine white. Then six months later, when the event rolls around, our calendars are more jammed than we had anticipated; we regret that we ever agreed to that event or favor that really isn’t that important.
Too often we commit future time that we believe we’ll have, only to be caught up short later (like a credit card junkie who charges now and is just sure he’ll have the cash to pay it off later.)
Stop charging your time ahead! Cut up your time credit cards. Pay off whatever “time debt” you’ve accumulated at this point, but don’t charge anymore.
If people want you to commit to some volunteer thing more than a month away, simply say, “I have a policy that I don’t commit to things so far ahead. If you want to call me back in (X) months, I will be able to give you an answer then.” At that point, you’ll have a realistic idea of what your month’s schedule looks like.
If you are pressed for an answer (“I need to know now!”), then regretfully tell people that the answer will have to be “no.” (Given that choice, people will usually wait.)
E-mail, Social Networking, and Web Surfing
Limit your Internet time to two periods per day, before and after your writing. Keep it short. Answer crucial e-mail, but skip all the forwarded jokes and poignant stories till later. Unsubscribe from all but the best two or three e-newsletters you receive. Delete the junk without reading it. Check the social networking sites you use for marketing, and then close down. According to current workplace statistics, conquering e-mail/surfing/Facebook addiction can save you a full two or three hours per day.
Assignment: Where is your time going? Do you know? Keep track for a few weeks and be sure. Then begin to implement whatever policies you need in order to safeguard your time.
Write your company policies down and review them daily. As you use these policies, they will become second nature. Just remember that nature abhors a vacuum. Be ready to fill your new-found time with activities that can further your writing career.
***Speaking of furthering your writing career, in response to several emails, I’ve updated my critique service page. I am now reserving spots for July, August, and September. Just FYI!
September 26, 2011
I was wrong–again.
For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.
Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.
“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.
You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.
Energy Drains in Disguise
Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.
What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.
It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)
NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate
Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.
Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)
Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.
September 7, 2011
My good writing friend, Sherryl, and I were Skyping about a seriously time-consuming writing project we’d like to take on together. Since we both spend our lives constantly trying to squeeze out five more spare minutes, we realized that something in our schedules would have to give.
“Where’s the dead wood in your life?” we asked each other. “What can be cut?”
Take a Closer Look
I thought about it a lot last night and couldn’t come up with much of anything. I have a couple of writing jobs, I hold offices in a couple organizations, and I lead a couple of church groups. Some are new responsibilities this year, and some I’ve helped with for years. I was clueless about what to cut.
Then I heard someone on the radio this morning say:
“If the horse has been dead ten years, it’s time to dismount.”
Put It Out to Pasture
I made a list of my paid and unpaid jobs then. Which lifeless “horse” was I still trying to make gallop? Which job or position that once was fun and satisfying and productive was now just an unproductive time drain? Which things had run their course? Where should I “dismount”?
Some of our time drains are just habits we’ve had for years. Or they’re community or school obligations we took on, and somehow we feel they’re life-time commitments.
Take a close look at your stable of horses. I hope this month to dismount a couple of dead horses so that I have time to ride a new one!
This is a re-posted blog–and here’s the follow-up. I did resign from two of my long-term volunteer activities. In both cases, people who were on the sidelines stepped forward to take the positions. I stopped doing free book critiques too.
The changes took nearly a year, but I now have five hours per day to work on my writing, compared to the one hour I had when I first wrote this blog post. It was hard saying “I can’t” and “no, thanks” many, many times. But I love the outcome! I love looking forward to my work days now. Our lives are all different, but I bet you could get rid of some dead horses too.
Can you name ONE that could be eliminated from your over-crowded life?
August 31, 2011
When re-reading Getting It Done by Andrew J. DuBrin, PH.D., I came to a section on dealing with procrastination. One suggestion is something I’d like your feedback on.
He said you can make progress with procrastination if you “compartmentalize spheres of life.” He says that if you have multiple demands on your time that seem overwhelming, “mentally wear the same blinders placed on horses so they can concentrate better on the race and not be distracted.”
Box It Up!
I would love to be able to do that on a regular basis! Are you able to compartmentalize? I agree with the author that procrastination is more tempting when multiple demands are swirling and competing in your mind.
I think that male writers have an advantage here. They seem able to put things in boxes, tape the lids shut, and then deal with one box at a time. (I know this for a fact because I can tell when I am being put in the “wife” box!)
Women, however, mix things up. Our concern for our child’s health or marriage problems or a sibling’s financial crisis “bleeds over” into our writing time. And we tend to feel guilty if we’re happily typing away while a member of our family is in trouble or needs us.
So…please share your wisdom with me. Men, if you can explain how to put things in boxes or make blinders work, please advise. Ladies, if you’ve figured out how to push aside your other concerns while you write, please share.
I bet we could all use some tips!
August 19, 2011
Back in March, I wrote about pruning some things from life in order to have more time to write. (See my former post “The ‘Not To-Do’ List”.)
In order to make time for anything new in your life, it requires some necessary endings.
Help Is on the Way
So I was thrilled yesterday when my son-in-law loaned me a book by a favorite author of mine (Henry Cloud of Boundaries fame). It’s called Necessary Endings. It’s the best “how-to” on this “pruning” subject I’ve ever seen. It covers both personal/relationships and business. [Remember: if you're a writer, you're in business.]
I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty cutting things out of my life–even when doctors say, “Cut back or die!” (or the equivalent). This book has already helped me identify more clearly what needs to go. And, as Cloud shows, it all starts with having a clear idea of what you’re pruning toward (your goal or vision.) Only when you know that can you know what/who has to go.
You can download a free chapter from Necessary Endings called “Pruning: Growth Depends on Getting Rid of the Unwanted or the Superfluous.” Go to Facebook, do a search for “Henry Cloud (author)”, and you’ll find it. Just click the “Like” link, and you’ll have access to the free chapter and dozens of excellent short videos he’s posted.
Also, in the “Notes” section of his Facebook page, you’ll find a group study starting today on how to do this whole process of “necessary endings” in work, relationships, outside interests, and everything else (even good things) that keep us from being able to pursue the best things.
August 8, 2011
In the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)
Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.
Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)
In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.
In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.
If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.
July 1, 2011
When you take a break on this hot Fourth of July weekend, try some of these articles. They’ll keep you in a writing frame of mind!
What If You Think You Might Be a Mediocre Fiction Writer? Every novelist hits the point, sooner or later, where they think they just might not actually have any talent. What do you do in that case? Should you just throw in the towel? Or muddle forward? How do you know if you’re any good?
Book Marketing Methods That Don’t Work (from Writer Beware! blog) For any author, whether self-, small press-, or big house-published, getting noticed is one of the primary challenges. Larger publishers provide marketing support for their authors (yes, they really do, despite popular wisdom to the contrary), but with smaller publishers, and if you’ve self-published, you may be mostly or entirely on your own.
The Internet and Procrastination If you have trouble wasting time on the Internet when you want to be writing instead, read this article. Some good tips–as well as information about a program called “Freedom”–just might get you past this modern-day obstruction–and back to writing!
Do Publishers Market Books? Do publishers still market books? Or don’t they? Should you go ahead and self-publish since you’ll just have to do the marketing yourself anyway? Before you go that route, read this article. It’s true! And are you willing and able to do all those things for your book? Pays thinking about.
Tension on the Page, or Micro-Tension Tension! Tension! Tension! Great books have tension that keep us involved in the story. Micro-tension involves a diverse set of techniques.
May 9, 2011
All writers are looking for time-saving strategies and tips to increase their productivity. With school getting out in a month, many writers need to streamline both their writing life and personal life. If this is YOU, you’re in luck!
If you have June’s The Writer magazine, read Kelly James-Enger’s article called “10 ways to work more efficiently.” And for some free articles on this subject…
Other Writer articles online filled with tips to improve your efficiency–and give you more time to write–include:
- “5 ways to juggle your writing, your job and family responsibilities” by Shirley Jump
- “A matter of time” by Guy Stewart
- “Setting up a productive work space” by Sharon Miller Cindrich
- “Quiet! Writer in the house” by Connie Heckert (my writer friend from Iowa!)
- “Writing on the Fly” by Sandra Hurtes
Reading these articles should give you several ideas to try. I found a couple I intend to put to work immediately!
April 18, 2011
Creativity is a mysterious concept to most of us. We don’t really understand what it is, where it comes from, why it leaves us, and how to make it “work” consistently. We give it a lot of power because of this.
However, says the author of The Soul Tells a Story, “if I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work.”
After our vacation took an unexpected turn, I’ve had more time to reflect this week than the past five years combined. For four blissful days, I had no Internet connection, nowhere we had to be, plenty of books to read, places to walk, and time to think. I hadn’t really realized what an incredible luxury this is in the fast-paced world in which we live.
How Things Have Changed…
Because of marketing demands the last five years–both online and elsewhere–the writing life has been a bit frantic. I don’t know about you, but frenetic activity is not conducive to coaxing out my creativity. That much I already knew. But I hadn’t given much concentrated thought to what things did work for me.
Each writer is different. I know writers who must be surrounded by noise and people or loud music in order to write. I am just the opposite, preferring quiet and solitude when I can get it.
If you’re not sure what conditions are best for you, think back to when you started writing. How did you work best then? What conditions did you just naturally create for yourself? What are the non-negotiables you must have for your creativity to flourish?
Take a Self-Inventory
Here are some things to consider:
- Before writing, do you need some quiet time to think, meditate, or pray?
- Can you write at any time of day–or only at certain times?
- Can you write any place–or do you need your “office” to be the same each day?
- Can you write in tiny bits of time–or does your creativity absolutely require large chunks of time? Does it vary depending on the stage of your book?
- How much socializing do you need in order to be your most creative? (This includes time with writers and non-writers alike, time to “talk shop” and time to just have fun.)
- When you are stuck, does it help to read a book on craft (viewpoint, research, inspiration, etc.) to get your creativity flowing again?
- Does reading other writers’ books help you be more creative–or does it make you feel anxious as you compare yourself to them?
- Do you need a healthier diet or more sleep for your creativity to be at its peak? Or do you work best on short naps and skipping meals?
- What kind of critique at what point in your project is helpful? What kind is the kiss of death to your creativity? (When is your ego more fragile?)
- Do you work best with a deadline, or do deadlines make you freeze up? Do you do well with six-month deadlines but choke on series deadlines set every two months?
- Can you be creative when dealing with emotional upset? Do you need to solve family problems before you can settle down to write?
Take Time to Know Yourself
As we’ve said before, just because conditions aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. We’ve all had to produce work under some appalling conditions. But if you have a choice, it’s lovely to set up your life and home and schedule and diet and social life so that it most benefits YOU and your creativity. (And you probably have more choices than you think.)
Take time to answer the above questions. If you’ve been writing a long time, you may have forgotten what conditions kick started your writing in the first place.
I started writing when my oldest three kids were babies and toddlers. We had a farm in Iowa, lots of pets, big vegetable gardens, no Internet, few neighbors, lots of room inside the farmhouse and outside, lots of quiet and fresh air. It can’t have been as ideal as my memory makes it out to be, but it was very conducive to thinking and pondering and reading and writing.
It also bears almost no resemblance to my life today–although I’m planning and plotting ways to bring back some of those elements into my daily life. I loved having my children around me. I’m happiest now when I’ve had plenty of contact with my three grandchildren. I loved living in the country then; now we live in town, but next door to a park and greenbelt, so it is much the same if I just got outside more and enjoyed the fresh air. I’d like to have a vegetable garden again, but I’ll skip the pets.
The biggest change I see is having the Internet. I’m an introvert–preferring solitude and quiet when it’s time to write. Being online for any length of time is agitating to me, for some odd reason (even though I view very benign websites!) Afterwards, I find it hard to settle down and write.
I’ve been staying offline until noon recently, and it’s been helpful. After having five days of “no Internet access” on this trip and seeing how much more creative and productive I’ve been, I’m thinking of pushing back the Internet time to 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. only. [This isn't some rule I'm advocating for all of you. This is just a case of getting to know myself--what helps me and what hinders my own creativity.]
I’ve also noticed how much better I’m sleeping. Being offline in the evenings is a big help there too. It’s so tempting to deal with email while watching TV in the evening, or check the blog comments, or see what the kids have posted to Facebook (usually grandkid pictures).
But when I get home, I think I’ll make the Internet off limits after 5 p.m. and see if I sleep better there too. I may have to close the door to my office and pretend that I punched out on a time clock. Most people who work at home have trouble quitting at supper time and not going back to the office at night. It’s a habit I’m going to try hard to break.
Now It’s Your Turn
What about you? What things do you suspect would help you coax your creativity out of hiding on a more regular basis? What changes are the hardest to make? What one change could you make today?Newer Posts »