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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 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!
August 7, 2012
I tried all my old tried-and-(mostly)-true methods of breaking a block. I assumed the cause stemmed from some lazy habits I picked up in 2012.
I just needed to crack down on myself, right? Whip myself into shape!
Things I Tried That Failed
I tried. Honestly, I did. I used the Promodoro Method of writing for 25 minutes and resting 5 minutes. I tried changing locations, cutting distractions by writing in the library study where I had no access to the Internet or TV.
I worked in the mornings, my optimal writing time. I got back on the treadmill, exercising to clear my foggy brain. I made elaborate spreadsheets of long- and short-term word quota goals to hold myself accountable.
None of these ideas worked. Panic threatened.
How had I ruined my writing discipline in less than a year?
Wrong Diagnosis Equals Wrong Solution
This past year as my health got worse, I tried to diagnose the cause. I ate much better, I exercised, I limited time online, I limited social outings… Nothing worked. Why? None of those things actually addressed my night-time severe headaches, which turned out to be caused by “acute angle glaucoma.” The solution was laser surgery on both eyes to eliminate the pressure. Voila! Problem solved!
What does that have to do with writer’s block? Just this.
Writer’s block creates a similar problem. It has many causes, so a one-size-fits-all solution…doesn’t fit all. (I should have known this! My article “A Block by Any Other Name” deals with this very subject.)
Writer’s Block Outside the Box
One author gives a very interesting twist to the problem. Cec Murphey in Unleash the Writer Within says writer’s block can be your friend. He poses a couple of questions:
• What if writer’s block is a symptom and not a cause of the problem?
• What if writer’s block comes from some wise, inner part of myself that wants to help me?
Writer’s block is a blockage you can’t seem to push past. Cec Murphey suggests that you ask yourself: What is going on inside me that stops me from writing? (Then wait for the answer.)
Think of writer’s block as a gift, Murphey says, a powerful force to help you regulate the creative process. It comes from within and has something to teach you.
Pay attention, wait, and listen.
The “Friendly” Writer’s Block
So how did that idea work for me? Beautifully, actually.
I tried it, and it took a couple days of waiting until I realized the problem. I had done tons of character and theme work on my novel outline, but my plot was thin. And since it is a mystery, the weak plot is a big deal.
There was no point in pushing through the block and forcing myself to write. I had a fully clothed mannequin of a novel outline, but much of the underlying skeleton (structure) was weak.
Right Diagnosis = Right Solution
Once I realized the reason for the block, I knew what to do. It took a week, but additional research provided a great plot twist and another subplot. Writer’s block was my friend, as it turned out.
It’s a new way to look at a writer’s age-old problem. And I think it’s going to be my first line of defense after this.
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.
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!
January 25, 2012
Do you imagine writing for hours at a sidewalk cafe in Paris? Maybe your ideal is scribbling in a journal beside Walden Pond…
A couple of years ago, when I visited the homes of C. S. Lewis [his writing room is below] and Jane Austen [her writing desk is above], I think I left with a MISperception. Homes turned into museums are clean, uncluttered, and very quiet. People move about slowly, and they almost whisper, as if they’re at a shrine.
I think that I left their homes believing that Lewis and Austen had it easier than we writers have it today. Just think of the interruptions alone that hadn’t been invented! In Oxford (Lewis) and at Chawton (Austen), neither writer had Facebook, the Web, Twitter, YouTube videos, email to answer, or newsletters and spam to wade through.
They also had peace and quiet. Jane Austen was living in a small village, and Lewis’ home was, at the time, situated in the middle of eight acres (which included a pond and woods). Bliss!
And they weren’t hurried in their writing. Neither author typed, but wrote everything by hand. Think of the satisfying scritch-scratch of pen on paper, sitting alone in a quiet office, with no demands on their time at home except to write.
As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children. I was reading a rather apologetic letter he wrote to one girl in late December, 1956.
“…I’ve really been snowed under. All domestic help was away for its holidays. I have a very sick wife to visit daily in hospital. [Joy Lewis had cancer, and he went by train.] At home I had to look after a sick brother, 2 schoolboy stepsons, one dog, one cat, four geese, umpteen hens, two stoves, three pipes in danger of freezing; so I was pretty busy and pretty tired.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had to deal with distractions like daily train rides to the hospital, hens and geese, literally keeping the home fires burning in a house with no central heat, frightened stepchildren… Not exactly the life I had been imagining for C. S. Lewis.
And Jane? She never had a room of her own in which to write. She shared a bedroom, as she had her whole life, with her sister. The frugal manner that she, her sister, and her mother were forced to live meant that servants were at a minimum. The physical tasks of running a home in the early 1800′s was back-breaking labor compared to what we do today to cook, clean, and launder. The Austen ladies also raised much of their own food and kept huge vegetable gardens, a big orchard, and chickens.
Finding time to write was NEVER easy.
Like all writers, past and present, C. S. Lewis and Jane Austen had to find the time to write in the midst of difficult, busy lives. Yes, it was different back then. But it’s never been easy.
“The sober truth is that any of us can find the time to write a book, no matter the schedule of unstoppable events in our life,” says David Whyte, author of The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationships. “The greatest, most prized excuse for a writer is the lament over our lack of time in which to write. It is a false and paper-thin defense against another more difficult, underlying dynamic: the inability to have the will to find the time. It is quite sobering to find with experience that if we write only a hundred words a day–a normal paragraph–we will have a book of ninety thousand words in three years.”
On the busy days when I’m grabbing fleeting moments to write, I need to give up my “it shouldn’t BE this way!” moaning and groaning. We can set boundaries on our time and make schedules–both excellent ideas–but real life happens. And when it does, remember Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis. We’re in good company. Thankfully, they wrote anyway.
January 11, 2012
If you want a writing mentor, you need look no further than Cec Murphey’s Unleash the Writer Within. The subtitle calls it ”the essential writers’ companion.”
I would have to agree.
What’s Different About This Book?
It’s honest, it’s transparent, and it comes from the heart. It also made me laugh on more than one occasion because the author had the guts to say some things that need to be said about the writing life, how we market, and so many other topics dear to a writer’s heart.
Before you get stressed out and caught up in all the things “they say” you have to do and be and write about to be successful, I urge you to get a copy of this book. It will help you discover your own personal voice and style so you sound authentic. It will show you how to actually make friends with your inner critic and writer’s block–and eliminate them. And the author deals so honestly with a writer’s fears–and how to use them and learn from them to grow as a writer.
Who Is This Man?
So who is Cecil Murphey? Why should you listen to his advice? Well, he’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who’s written or co-written more than 120 fiction and nonfiction books, including the runaway bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages.
- “Too many want-to-be-successful authors get the idea that you must write in a certain way to succeed.”
- “Your most honest writing becomes your best writing.”
- “I don’t advocate rigid self-discipline. I tried that. For years, I held to tight schedules, refused to allow deviations, and castigated myself when I failed. I’ve since learned that true self-discipline flows out of gentleness and self-respect.”
- “How would it affect your writing if you weren’t constantly looking at your faults but focusing on what you can do?”
- “You write best what you know best. The better you know yourself, the higher the quality of your work.”
- What if you follow everyone else’s advice about your writing? “If you heed their words, you may end up trying to be somebody you’re not. To follow that advice not only weakens the power of your words, but the writing doesn’t ring true because it no longer comes from deep within.”
- “If it’s easy or simple to write, it probably isn’t what I’d call poignant or powerful.”
- “You don’t have to be productive every day….for compulsives (like me), it takes a major decision not to be productive and not to feel guilty. I remind myself that the best part of my writing takes place inside my head.”
- “Start within your comfort zone and write from who you are.”
- “I feel afraid when I bare my soul. I run the risk that others will despise me, ridicule me, or ignore me. That’s who I am. That’s all I have to offer.”
When Cec Murphey explained to his agent why he didn’t want to write a book for writers–that he actually dreaded it–this was her response: “Too many writers won’t acknowledge their fear, and when they eventually come to the place where they realize they’re afraid, they freeze. You need to write it for those still behind you on the pathway.” I’m glad he took her advice.
I hope Cec Murphey decides to teach a workshop or lead a writer’s retreat based on his book for writers. I would love to attend! Until then, I’m starting the book over–from the beginning.
November 7, 2011
I had two new students last week mention that they were probably too old to start writing. I’d like to debunk that myth. It’s never too late to get started! It’s always a good time to tackle a new dream.
What’s Age Got To Do With It?
Jessica Tandy won the Academy Award for Best Actress at age eighty. James Michener didn’t write his first novel until age forty-two, then produced a gazillion bestsellers before he died at age ninety. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first Little House book was published when she was 65. There’s a woman in my neighborhood who can out-run me, and she’s at least seventy. I started biking last year (that’s me in the picture), and while my no frills bike (foot brakes, one speed) marks me as old, I can pass younger people going up hills.
Youth isn’t everything–not in physical endeavors, nor mental ones. Certainly not in writing!
Become comfortable with your current age, even if it’s not what you wish it were. You have tremendous writing potential because you’ve lived long enough to have learned a lot. You have life experience! By now you’ve been in the work force in one career or more. You’ve raised children–enough material there alone to last a lifetime!
Some years ago I had an elderly student (70′s) who wrote beautiful historical fiction lifted straight out of her childhood–a la Laura Ingalls Wilder. She loved doing it! She didn’t have to do any research, yet her descriptions were superb and rich with detail because she drew on her personal experiences.
Time’s a Wastin’
If writing and publishing are aspirations for you–but you’ve come to it later in life than others–please don’t let that stop you. If you come to the end of your life, will you be disappointed that you didn’t try? I think you will.
You have the same qualities that drive younger writers: creativity, perseverance, and a passion to succeed. You may not have as much energy, but you probably have a much larger pool of ideas and experiences to draw from. You may also have more time to choose what to do now that children have grown and flown the coop.
Don’t be afraid to start something new at any stage of life. Chances are good that, if you apply yourself like any other writer, it’s not too late to succeed.
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
October 7, 2011
I very rarely read an e-book and then buy the hard copy–but I did in this case. I have to mark it up, add my colored flags and post-its, and turn down page corners.
Why? Because it is so very full of practical, usable, frugal marketing advice. (And I mean frugal in terms of both money and your time.) I already owned the 2004 first edition, but publishing times have changed so much–and this 2011 updated version reflects that.
Why a New Edition?
We all know that book promotion (and life!) has changed since The Frugal Book Promoter was first published in 2004–particularly in ways that have to do with the Web, but in other ways, too. As an example, the publishing world in general is more open to independent publishing now than it was then. So, this update includes lots of information on ways to promote that were not around or were in their infancy a few short years ago.
So here is what is new:
- A simplified method for making social networks actually work–without spending too much time away from my writing
- How to avoid falling into some of the scam-traps for authors
- The best “old-fashioned” ways to promote–the ones I shouldn’t give up on entirely
- How to write (and publish) an award-worthy book
- How to promote your book to mobile users and others
- The pitfalls of using the Web and how to avoid them
- Unusual methods of getting reviews–even long after your book has been published
Today’s technology, social networking and marketing techniques are covered. Updated web resources abound. Advice in sync with today’s Internet are incorporated:
* Blogging tips and pitfalls
* Obtaining reviews and avoiding scams
* Finding places to pitch your book
* Using the eBook explosion to promote sales
* Using Google alerts to full advantage
* Staying on top of current trends in the publishing industry
* Writing quality query, media release letters and scripts for telephone pitches
* Putting together power point and author talk presentations
This is just a tip of the iceberg too. I highly recommend Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s updated Frugal Book Promoter. (NOTE: Be sure you get the new 2011 edition with the cover above.)Newer Posts »