Tag Archives: creativity

Are You Making These 6 Mistakes That Lead to Writer’s Block?

Feeling stuck?

Sometimes writer’s block happens because there’s some aspect of your story that you need to stop and think about.

But if you’re feeling blocked on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you’re making one of these 6 psychological mistakes that writers often fall prey to.

Mistake #1:  You rely too heavily on inspiration to get started.

When you were young, you had to write a variety of things for school, and that felt like drudgery.

But if you had an inclination toward writerhood, you would sometimes feel inspired to create something wonderful for yourself.

You came to think of your own writing as something that happened when you were inspired.

That’s how we all start out.

But there’s an important truth that these childhood excursions into writing didn’t teach us:

Inspiration happens more often when you’re already writing.

When you wait for inspiration to get started, you spend a lot more time waiting than you do writing.

It’s better to write about the dumb thing that happened on the bus in your journal than to not write at all.

It’s better to do a writing exercise (google “writing prompts” to find thousands of them online) than to not write at all.

It’s better to write a scene of your novel that will need revision later than to not write at all.

The more you write, the better you get.

Writing exercises aren’t a waste of time–they’re a form of training that gets you ready so that when inspiration strikes with a great idea, you have the skill to actually write it well.

Mistake #2:  You only write when it’s easy.

There’s this myth in literary circles that if you’re a talented writer, writing will come easy to you.

It’s completely untrue.

Sure, there are times when the writing comes easy. Where the words just flow and the characters seem to be writing the story for you. Those are the times when writing is fun.

Many writers make the mistake of assuming that it will always be this easy. If they sit down to write and the words don’t immediately start flowing, they give up.

They think things like:

I must not be inspired enough.

I must not be ready to write this story.

I must not be good enough to write this story.

So they quit for the day.

In doing so, they’re essentially training themselves to only write when it’s easy. And the next time a challenge comes up in their writing, they’re more likely to quit.

It can become a downward spiral into fear, where eventually they go weeks without writing. Because they’re afraid that if today is a difficult day, it means they’re not as talented as they want to be.

A variation on this is that you assume that if the writing is difficult, you must be writing badly.

Not true. When the writing is difficult, it’s often the case that you’re stretching yourself.

I’ve done extensive tracking of my own writing, and have discovered through my tracking journal that how much editing a scene needs has no correlation at all with how difficult it is to write. In fact, some of the scenes that need the most work are the ones that felt easy to write. Because I wasn’t digging deep enough.

Of course, sometimes the writing feels difficult just because you haven’t thought the scene through. In that case, a bit of brainstorming is all that’s needed to make the writing go a little easier.

Other reasons the writing could feel difficult? You’re sick, you’ve exhausted your creative energies for the day on other things, or you’re just in a terrible mood. What you’re writing could be just fine, but your perception of it might be colored by what’s happening in the rest of your life.

Mistake #3:  You rely too heavily on your talent.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard new writers say proudly that they’ve never taken a writing course, because they don’t want to risk constraining (or diluting, or squashing) their talent.

Deep down, I think they’re afraid that if they learn the techniques of their craft, it will somehow mean they’re not artists.

This is so, so sad.

Because every time I read the work of someone who says this, I see them struggling to execute on a story that would be a thousand times better if the writer had more skill with dialogue, with exposition, with all the other techniques that they’re afraid to learn.

Art and technique are not opposites.

Techniques are tools that you use to create a piece of art.

The real art is in how you use those techniques to tell your story.

Mistake #4:  You won’t commit to a project unless you’re sure it will be successful.

Do you have a story you’ve been dying to write but have been stalling on starting?

I did, for years. I worked on stories that felt safer while my favorite story idea languished on the shelf. I told myself that I needed to do more research. I told myself that I needed to become more skilled to pull it off. I told myself that it was the kind of novel that required a more mature writer.

But the real reason I was procrastinating?

I didn’t see a clear path to success. And I loved that story idea so much, I couldn’t bear to see it fail.

It took me five years to get up the nerve to start it. I regret every second of that delay.

Everything worth doing brings not only the hope of success, but the possibility of failure.

If we hold ourselves back because we’re afraid to fail, we’ll never get where we want to go.

If there’s something you’ve been wanting to write, but have been stalling because you can’t bear to see it fail…guess what?

By not writing it, YOU ARE FAILING.

Mistake #5:  You won’t write unless conditions are perfect.

We all dream of a perfect place to write…a shabby apartment in Paris, or a cabin on a tropical island, or even a shed in our own backyard.

Maybe yours is a desk in a corner of a room where the kids aren’t allowed to leave their toys.

Or the window seat at Starbucks that’s next to the electrical outlet and the fake wall that muffles chatter to a non-distracting level.

We long for a place where no one ever bothers us.

Where the chair is so perfectly adjusted, our backs don’t ache even if we write all day.

Where someone brings us exactly what we want to eat or drink without talking to us and interrupting our thought processes.

Where our colored pens never run out of ink and the wifi zooms so fast that it only takes seconds to find out what kind of shoes children wore in the 16th century.

Yes. That would be awesome. If you can arrange for this, do so.

But if you can’t, WRITE ANYWAY.

Write even though you’re tired.

Write even though your spouse is watching CSI reruns in the next room. (Ear plugs are awesome, by the way.)

Write even though you’re on the bus and you only have time to scribble a quick page of dialogue.

Write standing up at the kitchen counter while you’re waiting for the ramen water to boil.

If you push yourself to write when things aren’t perfect, you are training yourself to be able to write when things aren’t perfect.

Which is a great skill to have when you live in a world where things are almost never perfect.

Mistake #6:  You want to be entertained by the writing process.

Our early experiences of inspired writing are often our happiest memories. The ideas come to us in an ecstatic rush. We’re eager to get the story down on paper (or disk). We laugh or cry as we live the story through our characters.

And we look forward to the next rush of inspiration, because inspired writing is fun.

There’s nothing wrong with being entertained by your own creative process. It’s wonderful, and you should enjoy it when it happens.

But if you insist that every day of writing be entertaining–that your Muse entertain you in addition to inspiring you–you’re putting an extra (unnecessary) constraint on your creative process.

Instead of just figuring out how to write the story that your readers will love, you now have to find an interesting way to write the story that your readers will love.

And as we all know from studying our craft–conflict is interesting.

So you’ll start finding ways to generate drama around your writing that actually impede your progress. Like writer’s block.

What’s the fix?

If you’re feeling blocked, and you suspect you might be unconsciously making any of these psychological mistakes, there’s one thing you can do that will cure all six of them simultaneously.

Start a writing habit.

It doesn’t have to be every day, it can be the three afternoons a week when your kids have after-school sports practice. Or your lunch break at work.

Whatever kind of writing schedule you can set up, do it.

Writing at regularly-scheduled times trains you to write when things aren’t perfect.

It trains you to start writing and trust that sooner or later, inspiration will hit.

It trains you to get into a writing mindset at will.

It teaches that you can write when you’re in a terrible mood, or when you’re sick, or when you’re not even sure you want to be a writer any more.

And most important, it’s how you master the techniques of your craft so you can use them to make art.

What’s the best way to get inspired?

get inspired get started-med-150

Know someone who could use a little inspiration?  Pass it on!

Paula Millhouse on Writing a Romance Novel in 30 Days or Less

Today I’m joined by Paula Millhouse, the romance author who field-tested
The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance by using it to write a novel about dragon-riding elves doing battle with the evilest sorceress you’ll ever meet!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you like to write?

Hello, Everyone, Paula Millhouse here, and I write Romantic Suspense and Fantasy Romance. I indie-published two novels in my series The Wishes Chronicles, in order to see what it’s like behind the scenes for publishers. I also signed contracts with a small press for two short stories in the fantasy romance genre.

How long have you been writing? How did you get started writing fiction?

At age 13 I wrote fantasy romance featuring the Rock Stars KISS as our Heroes (in makeup, of course), with a critique group of girlfriends in school. I moved on to poetry, then on to high school, and college, and then real life. In 2010 I focused on writing fiction with an eye toward publication.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ohh, good question, for sure. I call myself an organic hybrid now. I wrote as a Pure Pantser from day one, then realized I’d wound up with a computer full of stories, and half-finished humongous files too massive to tame. I needed a way to adapt. I’ve tried plotting stories, but honestly that stifles my creativity from the outset. Now I’m a mixture of both.

What was your writing process like before you tried the romance story blueprint in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance?

I’d sit down at the keyboard, review what I’d written the day before, and start off on a tear for the next few scenes.

What were your biggest frustrations? Where did you usually get stuck?

Biggest frustrations – my characters, the little darlings, would often follow rabbit trails down holes where I’d have to cut up to 15,000 words.

Now, I loved writing those scenes, and I still love getting caught up in the creative flow, but once I got 2/3 of the story down, my characters would go silent and refuse to speak to me. Often, I’d get stuck about 30,000 words in (The Wall), and start questioning the entire tale.

I think the problem centered around not asking them the right questions.

What kinds of brainstorming tools did you use before you started writing?

I keep a long-hand journal of conversations with my characters and ask them questions about their goals, motivations, and conflicts. One of my favorite brainstorming tools is Pinterest – I create story boards of my novels with images that springboard my imagination.

What other plotting methods had you tried before?

Dear Goodness, what haven’t I tried? Spreadsheets. Character profiles. Plot Whisperer. Dramatica, and its adaptations. Million Dollar Outlines. Save The Cat. Rock Your Plot. Fairy Tale Structure. Story Weaver. Hive World. Entangled’s NaNoWriMo Boot Camp.

While all these methods have great impact on the craft of writing, often revealing their author’s hard work, somehow I couldn’t make them fit me. It seemed like once I filled in all the details my stories lost their importance. It was as if my characters went on strike and carried signs that read, “The story’s already been told, so why bother?”

How long did it take you to write your novel, Dragon’s Promise, using the romance story blueprint in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance? Is this slower or faster than your usual timeline for writing a full first draft?

Dragon’s Promise was finished in full first draft in 25 days. This experience was significantly faster than most of my previous stories.

I did win NaNoWriMo twice, but I wound up with a hot mess of chaos still yet to see edits, or second draft.

What was it like to write Dragon’s Promise by plotting one day at a time?

First, I loved plotting one day at a time. Every day held a new set of questions to think about. Even with my self-imposed time-limit of 30 days to complete the first draft, I had new questions for my characters to answer every day. The brainstorming questions saved my story from stalling out.

What did you find most useful about the blueprint?

The daily questions were the most useful part of the blueprint for me. Knowing you based the questions on solid story structure–a verified path to follow, and not rabbit trails I’d have to fix later–gave me the confidence to meet my goal. I appreciate all you’ve put into designing the questions, Lynn. It’s a No-Brainer to use the blueprint. It’s loose enough that I don’t feel constricted, yet structured enough I’m staying on track.

How did you use the brainstorming prompts?

Ray Bradbury’s Dreamscaping must have helped because the next day I’d think about the brainstorming prompts all day at work, maybe answer a few of them at lunchtime.

When I came home to write after work during my designated writing time, the scenes were already in place. I swear, it was as if the movie of the scenes I wrote played out in my mind. It was all right there at my fingertips. On average I wrote 2,000 words/day because the brainstorming prompts led me to success.

How would you compare your earlier novel-writing experiences with your experience of writing with the romance story blueprint?

I wrote this story knowing if I kept true to the prompts the novel would hold water. I wasn’t wasting my time.

Did the romance story blueprint change your writing process in any way?

Yes. I still hold that I’m an organic writer, a Panster if you will. The Romance Story Blueprint helped me laser-focus the precious writing time I carve out of my day. It SAVES time. It doesn’t feel like I’m stifling my creativity at all.

Are you planning to use the romance story blueprint for your next novel?

I have an idea for a Romantic Suspense novella, the third in my Wishes Chronicles, up for first draft. My plan is to use the blueprint while writing during #NaNoWriMo2014.

What would you say to writers who are considering trying out the method described in The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance?

If you’ve got a hot mess of writing on your hands and you want to finish your novel give this method a try. It will focus your writing, and lead you to the finish with a product you can be proud of, ready for edits.

I’d also like to point out, if you’re a Plotter, you’ll be in Hog Heaven with this method.

I also think The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance will be instrumental in the editing phase.

Romance Author Paula Millhouse

Paula Millhouse grew up in Savannah, Georgia where Spanish moss whispers tales in breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, and the Intracoastal Waterway. As a child Paula soaked in the sunshine and heritage of historic cobblestones, pirate lore, and stories steeped in savory mysteries of the south.

She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, & the online Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal Writers specialty chapter.

In the southern tradition of storytellers, she loves sharing the lives of her characters with readers, and following her muse on the quest for happily-ever-afters in thrilling romantic fiction.

She lives with her hero, her husband of twenty-seven years at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their pack and pride of furry babies.

Website | Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon / Boroughs Publishing Group / Pinterest


CarefulCover8-10-14.1

CAREFUL…

Escape to Vermont with Romantic Suspense

Spend crisp Autumn evenings in Bradford, Vermont curled up with a romantic suspense novel crossed with a thriller’s twist. Careful…, by Paula Millhouse, deals contemporary romance a deadline with justice.

Author Evie Longfellow wants to stay alive long enough to write her fourth New York Times Best Seller. She accepts a blind date from hell that changes everything sane in her life.

Drugged, kidnapped, and horrified Evie escapes and runs for her life with evidence the FBI needs to nail one of their most wanted.

TV Psychologist Dr. Nick Franklin wants to help Evie with her goals. He hides her from a sadistic mafia kingpin, and even though he doesn’t trust his judgment when it comes to the diagnosis of love, he senses Evie may just be the story of his life.

Hit man Tony Aiello plans to do whatever it takes to protect Miss Aida Marino and her Fortune 500 company from disaster. He chases Evie and Nick from New York City to the wilds of rural Vermont to recover the stolen evidence threatening to take Miss Aida down, and faces off with evil in a showdown that brings hometown justice to life.

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BUY LINKS:  Smashwords / Kindle / Paperback/ Pinterest Board for Careful…

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 AYW.Millhouse.Ebook.8-16-14ALL YOUR WISHES…

Spend Christmas in Vermont with All Your Wishes…

Spend your Christmas wrapped up in a romantic suspense with a thriller’s twist.

From the Winter Wonderland of rural Vermont to the jagged spires of New York City, All Your Wishes, Book 2 in The Wishes Chronicles by Paula Millhouse, serves up harrowing justice with romantic flair that’s sure to leave you cheering for Nick and Evie’s Happily Ever After.

A Christmas Story to warm your heart.

Dr. Nick Franklin finds himself falling hard for the love of his life, Evie Longfellow. Hunted by a mafia princess, Evie’s terrified something’s wrong, and revenge won’t let her rest.

Tia Marino figures the person who killed her father is his last victim – Evie Longfellow – the only one that ever got away from Paulie Marino. Tia plans to kill Evie in front of her grandmother just before she takes Miss Aida’s place as the new queen of Marino Industries. Hostile-takeovers have never seen the likes of Tia.

Nick’s not gonna have it.

He’ll do anything to protect Evie, even if it means aligning himself with Miss Aida’s hit-man, Tony Aiello.

Follow Nick and Evie from their simple home in the winter wonderland of Vermont down to New York City in their race to stay alive, and out of the hands of a new generation of criminals intent on tearing them apart.

Christmas has never been so hot.

BOOK BUY LINKS:

Smashwords | Kindle | Paperback | Pinterest Board for All Your Wishes…

COMING SOON:  Don’t Say A Word

Syndicate Hit-man Tony Aiello and FBI Special Agent Janet Pierce each hold court on opposite ends of the spectrum of law and justice.

Death row inmate Dante’ Buccherri escapes from Supermax ADX Prison in Colorado and comes back to New York City on a rampage with Tony and Janet’s names on the top of his list.

But, when Tony and Janet are pitted together in a high-stakes man-hunt they must press the fringes of their chosen professions in order to take Dante’ down or fall victim to the mad-man’s blade. When sparks ignite between the two of them, the worst part of their conflict has nothing to do with the killer.

The Relationship Between Creativity and Willpower

Have you ever started the day determined to stick to your diet…and blown it by lunchtime?

There’s a reason that as the day went on, it got harder for you to live up to those good intentions. Psychological studies on willpower and self-control have revealed that we actually have a limited amount of willpower available to us each day–and once we’ve used it up, it’s gone.

Yes, gone. Self-control–the ability to make yourself do the right thing instead of the easy thing or the fun thing–is an exhaustible resource. Or, to quote Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: “What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”

How We Burn Willpower

  • Making choices
  • Editing or otherwise controlling our behavior (usually as a way of managing other people’s impressions of us)
  • Controlling our emotions, especially negative ones
  • Focusing on instructions given to us by someone else
  • Being careful or deliberate in performing a task
  • Forcing ourselves to push on with a task even though we’re frustrated
  • Engaging in creative thinking

In other words, any time you’re not on autopilot, you are burning up self-control. How many times per day do you bite your tongue, force yourself to choose carrot sticks over cookies, or come up with a creative solution for a problem on the job?

The energy that fuels your creative process is the same energy that fuels getting chores done and resisting the ice cream in the back of the freezer. That makes it even more important for us creative types to be good about managing the mundane aspects of our lives–so we’ll have more energy left over for writing that novel!

 How to Get More Willpower

The good news is that, while self-control and willpower are exhaustible, they’re also renewable, and there are things you can do to increase the amount you start the day with.

Take care of your body. One of the biggest factors in how much willpower you have is your health. Physical vitality translates into mental energy that’s available for making choices. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and other things that drain your body don’t just affect how you feel, they also affect how much self-control you have available. Getting a good night’s sleep, taking a fifteen-minute walk, a few minutes of deep breathing, eating a healthy meal: these are just a few of the small steps you can take to increase your physical vitality, and at the same time, your willpower.

Nourish your mind. Mental stress–sensory overstimulation, an environment that’s full of distractions, having too much on your mind–also reduce your available willpower. There are many small steps you can take to reduce mental stress too: meditation, journaling, talking with a good friend, losing yourself in a good book for a few minutes, listening to relaxing music.

Use Your Willpower Wisely. Here are some strategies for making the most of the willpower you’ve got.

  • Do the important things first. There’s a reason so many successful writers recommend getting up early in the morning and writing first thing.  At the end of the day, you’ve got much juice available to channel into your novel.  If your reserve is exhausted, you’re likely to skip your scheduled writing session altogether.
  • Make starting easier. Taking the first step on a project often involves overcoming many mental hurdles, and each of those hurdles requires a bit of willpower to get past. What’s the simplest first step you could take? A phone call? A google search? A quick-and-dirty list that breaks the project down into simple steps? Gathering all the materials you’ll need in one place? Anything that makes you feel like you’ve gotten a grip on the project today can make it easier to do the next step tomorrow.
  • Eliminate unnecessary choices. It’s hard to choose carrot sticks over cookies as a snack — but what if it wasn’t a choice? Bring healthy snacks to work with you. If you need help keeping portions in check, put an appropriate amount of your snack into a ziploc baggie, so you don’t have to think about how much you’ve eaten.
  • Simplify your routines and habits. For example, how many choices do you make every morning while you’re getting dressed? Laying your clothes out the night before or having your closet arranged by outfit could make getting dressed a
  • Plan ahead. Do you have to wrack your brains every night to come up with something you can make for dinner using what’s in the fridge? How many decisions and how much mental stress could you eliminate from you day by planning the week’s meals ahead of time and buying the necessary ingredients each weekend?
  • Arrange your environment to make the right choices easy. If you have to clean off your desk before you can start writing your novel, how likely are you to work on the novel? Would you channel surf less if your television was hidden away in an entertainment center with doors? Could you hide the junk food in the back of a cabinet and put the healthy food right up front? The more your environment supports the habits you’re trying to cultivate, the easier it is to stick to those habits.
  • Make a checklist. If you have to look around a messy room and decide what to do first, you’re squandering precious willpower. But if you have a cleaning checklist for each room, all you have to do is follow the list.
  • Set rules. This one sounds like a drag, but when you discover how much mental stress the rules can save you, you’ll be glad you did. One of my new rules is that every time I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I do a small kitchen chore while the water is heating, like loading or unloading the dishwasher. Stress eaters often reduce snacking by following the rule that every time they get stressed and want to eat, instead they take a minute to do a breathing exercise. Thinking about situations where your willpower often fails and coming up with a rule that guides you to the better choice can significantly reduce the amount of stress you feel when that choice comes up.

The better you get at using your willpower wisely, the more effective you will be in your daily life. And here’s how the kaizen approach can help: if you break your goals down into small steps, you only have to use a little bit of willpower each day until that small step becomes a habit (i.e. an action that does NOT drain your willpower).

And once that small step is a habit, you take the next one, and the next one…until you’ve got a whole repertoire of good habits that keep your life under control, so that you can focus all your willpower on achieving the big things.

Can you think of one or more ways you might reduce the daily drains on your willpower?

What’s one thing you could do to increase the amount of willpower available to you?

Keep the Ideas Flowing: Cultivate Inspiration with Active Incubation

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.”
– Peter DeVries

Great quote, right? But what if you sit down at the keyboard every morning at 9 a.m. and nothing happens?

How can you make sure that you’re inspired on a regular basis?

You’re probably already familiar with the technique of incubation, where you set a project aside and give your subconscious time to transform your ideas and experiences into something new. Sooner or later, your subconscious makes connections that your conscious mind didn’t, and voila, you’re inspired.

But waiting for inspiration–known as “passive incubation” to psychologists–wastes a lot of time. While you’re waiting, it’s easy to get frustrated and start worrying that the muse has abandoned you. Frustration and worry can block your creativity, delaying inspiration. The longer it takes to get inspired, the more frustrated and worried you get. Next thing you know, you’re in a downward spiral and haven’t written for weeks. Or longer.

Active incubation to the rescue!

Thomas Edison was a master of active incubation. He discovered early in his career that inspiration struck much sooner if he:

  1. Clearly defined the problem he was trying to solve.
  2. Examined that problem in great detail, absorbing as much relevant information as possible.
  3. Once he was sure he’d considered all the angles, he deliberately set the problem aside, ignoring it while he slept or worked on other things.

By pre-loading his mind with a clearly-defined objective and a mass of data, he was often able to incubate with a twenty-minute nap and wake up with the solution he was looking for. I can’t promise it’ll be that quick for you every time, but active incubation significantly shortens that frustrating waiting period.

So how can you apply active incubation to fiction writing?

Here’s the two phase process:

PHASE ONE

Start with whatever you know about the story. Maybe all you know is that you want to write a novel set in that castle you visited on your trip to Scotland. Or maybe you’re sure your heroine is a demon-slayer, but you’ve got no idea why or how she came into her unusual career.

Dig deeper. What captivates you about this idea? Is it the possibility of discovering secret passageways and finding ancient treasure sealed up in a castle wall? Are you fascinated Scottish history?

Do you have a yearning to write a kick-ass heroine who believes that she’s damned? Does your demon-slayer have a magic sword you’d give your left arm to own?

Are you dying to write about something that happened to you, exploring how you might have handled it if you were a different person? What emotions do you feel when you think about this idea? How does this character or setting relate to you and your life?

Now broaden your thinking. What other story elements might be appropriate for this setting/character/etc? Does your initial idea suggest a certain type of plot or theme? Have you read books with similar story elements, and if so, how would you like yours to be different?

Identify what you know and what you don’t know, but don’t worry that you don’t have a complete picture yet. When you feel as if you’ve explored the story idea as completely as you can right now, set it aside for the rest of the day.

Sleep on it. Your brain uses sleep time to process everything you were exposed to during the day, and this is when your subconscious gets busy.

PHASE TWO (repeat daily until inspiration arrives)

Keep your subconscious on track. Take a few minutes to review whatever notes you made, and if a new idea pops up, jot it down. As soon as you feel ready, pull out your usual story development tools—conflict grid, GMC charts, ten-scene plot diagram, whatever works for you—and fill in what you can without forcing it.

Reserve a few minutes each day for quiet time, to listen for inspiration. If your mind is filled to overflowing with the mundane details of your life, your thoughts can drown out the voice of inspiration. Schedule five minutes of “muse time.” Meditation, daydreaming, a contemplative walk, and freewriting are all ways to clear your head and bring messages from your subconscious up to the surface, where your conscious mind can access them.

Seek out new information related to what you already know about your story while you incubate. If your heroine’s major trauma is that she was molested as a child, read a book or article about the psychological effects of childhood molestation on adults. If your hero is a kendo master, watch videos of kendo tournaments on YouTube. Research how castles are built or take a class on life in medieval times. The more relevant information you can give your subconscious to work with, the richer your story will be.

Give yourself some encouragement. Before you go to sleep, thank your subconscious for working on your story overnight, and let it know that you’re looking forward to seeing what it comes up with. Don’t forget to keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so you’ll be ready if inspiration hits in the middle of the night or when you wake up in the morning.

Be patient with the process. Trust that inspiration will come, and don’t let yourself fall back into the old habit of passively waiting. The more consistently you practice the phase two techniques, the sooner your subconscious will have all the pieces it needs to construct that killer idea you’re looking for.

Make it a habit. Don’t wait until you get stuck. Incorporate active incubation into your routine now to keep your creative juices flowing and avoid future blocks to your writing success.

Is there any aspect of your work-in-progress that you’re stuck on or unsure about right now?  

How might you apply the process of active incubation to get clearer on that aspect of your story?

Interview: Jenna Avery on Procrastination and the Writing Habit

Please welcome Jenna Avery, screenwriter and founder of the process-oriented Writer’s Circle. Jenna’s here to share her insights about establishing a daily writing habit, overcoming procrastination, dealing with your inner critic, and more.

Jenna, what is the Writer’s Circle? How does it work?

The Writer’s Circle is an unconventional online site for writers based on simple principles of setting small, attainable goals, taking regular daily actions, dealing with procrastination and resistance, and being in community. We help writers build and stay on track with a regular habit of daily writing and get their writing projects finished.

The way it works is that every day our participants log on to our online site and their small group and answer questions about how many minutes they wrote that day, what went well, and what was challenging. We also have them clear out the crud of negative self-thoughts and reframe them into positive thoughts on a daily basis. In conjunction with every other week live group telephone conference calls, this work teaches writers that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, and concerns, which frees up a tremendous amount of energy that can then be used for writing and creating. Writing together teaches us that we have the support we need to show up and do the work, every single day.

What are the benefits of the Writer’s Circle approach to writing?

So many writers struggle with writing consistently and showing up every day to do the work. We procrastinate, we get afraid, and we invent reasons not to write (toilet scrubbing, anyone?). As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

The Writer’s Circle provides a kind of motivation to show up and do the hard work of sitting down to write, because you know that if you don’t check in at the end of the day on the site, the other writers in your small group and your coach will notice and miss you. You’ll get encouragement from them on the days when it’s hard and they’ll cheer you on when it’s easy. Having that kind of support reduces isolation, which is a huge issue for so many writers, and just seeing all the little green check marks for every day you write is so satisfying too.

We also teach the idea of writing for very small increments of time — with an inverse correlation between how stuck you feel and the number of minutes you spend writing. In other words, the more blocked you feel, the less you’ll want to aim for each day, at least to start.

This pattern of brief writing sessions sets you up to: 1) prevent binge-writing and burn out, 2) feel a daily sense of accomplishment, and 3) build a stronger sense of self-confidence, trust, and belief in yourself that you can and will do the work. All of these help you keep going in the long term.

What inspired you to start this group?

Although I’ve been writing regularly for my life coaching business for over 10 years now, despite my best efforts, I was not doing my heart’s true writing: science fiction. I knew that I needed to make a major change in my thinking about writing and when I saw this system — which was originally designed to help academic writers complete their dissertations — I just had to have it for myself and to share it with other writers who wanted help with their own writing accountability and follow through.

How long have you been running it? Has the program changed at all over time?

I’ve been running the Writer’s Circle since September of 2011 when we ran our first beta test group. Since that time, we’ve seen novels, ebooks, screenplays, poems, songs, memoirs, and non-fiction books completed. It’s been amazing. Over the course of the last year, we’ve added a few bells and whistles to make the program stronger, like twice-weekly group writing sprints, and the option to upgrade and add private coaching support. We’ve also split from one group into two, and we expect to keep adding more groups and coaches as demand increases.

What’s the biggest adjustment writers have to make when they first try this approach to writing?

The biggest adjustment for writers is in their mindset. When we start writing or want to write, we have a lot of limiting beliefs that get in the way of our actually doing the work. For instance, many writers believe they have to have long blocks of time before they can write. Or that they have to have a laptop, the right space to work in, more money, a better job, quieter kids, or a more understanding spouse. Or that they have to be in the right mood to write. None of those things are true. In fact, they are just stories we tell ourselves because we are afraid to write and afraid to fail. The work is learning to show up and write, every day, no matter what.

Along those same lines, our writers also have to persuade themselves to give up binge-writing in mad, rushed, deadline-meeting frenzies and instead set themselves up for the long haul, like a running a marathon — we have to learn to pace ourselves for the long term. The Writer’s Circle provides evidence that helps them make these mindset shifts.

What types of problems can this approach help writers overcome?

Writer’s block, procrastination, resistance, isolation, poor planning, self-doubt, and self-sabotage are the first problems that come to mind. I’m sure there are more. The beauty of this system is that it has far-reaching positive impacts in other areas of life as well. We see our writers also making positive changes in around exercise, organization, and time management, for instance.

How has this approach changed the way you write?

I have shifted my thinking about writing. I no longer believe I have to get it right on the first try. I no longer believe I have to “warm up” before I can start writing. I am fiercely committed to writing at least 6 days a week, no matter what. I’ve been through some difficult personal experiences lately, and I have never been more proud of myself for continuing to write, day in and day out, regardless of my mood or the state of my personal life. The Writer’s Circle has shifted my approach to writing from that of an amateur to that of a pro.

What advice would you give someone who’s trying to establish a writing habit?

The best way to establish a regular writing habit is to start small and to start now. Make it SO easy that you can’t not do it. For instance, on day 1, simply open your document and type in one word or one sentence, then close it again. Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate your action immediately, even if it’s just with the smallest internal shout of, “I did it!” Then on day 2, type 2 sentences, and so on. Keep working up to a point where you know you can comfortably continue the pattern (even if it’s only a few minutes a day). Make sure you design it to be something a regular-you can accomplish, not the super-human version of you. That way you’ll set yourself up for long term sustainability.

Then, keep doing it. Don’t fall for your inner critic’s nagging about how you’ll never get anywhere. I’ve written half a screenplay in 15 minute increments and I’m on track to complete it. You can do it too.

What’s unique or distinct about this group from other writing groups?

One significant — and important — distinction from other writing groups is that we do not do critiques of each other’s work in the Writer’s Circle. We focus on helping writers work out the kinks in their writing habits, and very often those kinks are the result of difficult past critiques that have become creative wounds, which in turn have become blocks. It’s so important to us to keep a safe space where we can break down those blocks, heal those wounds, and get back to the task of regular writing, that we’ve made the decision not to exchange critiques of our work.

That said, we strongly support writers to get useful and constructive feedback from outside sources when their work reaches the appropriate stage. Critiquing is a highly useful and separate tool we all need to make our writing the best it can possibly be.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share the Writer’s Circle with you. If you’ve got a long term writing project you’d love to see finished, we’d love to have you join us in the Writer’s Circle. I’ll be lurking around the site here today, so if you have questions, thoughts, or comments, be sure to post them and I’ll respond ASAP.


Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter who redesigned her life to support her passion for writing. Her most recently completed project is a sci-fi action script called Progeny. She is also a life coach and the founder of the Writer’s Circle — an online “Just Do The Writing” accountability system — designed to help writers get the support, accountability, and inspiration they need to finish all their writing projects and get their work into the world. Jenna blogs about writing, creativity, and life purpose at JennaAvery.com. Follow her on Twitter @JennaAvery.

You can find the Writer’s Circle at JustDoTheWriting.com.

“Start The New Year Off Write” special: save $30 when you sign up for the 12/31 session using the code NEWYEARWRITE at http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

Write Faster, Write Better with Acupressure

You’ve probably heard of people using acupressure to numb themselves for surgery instead of anesthetic, or heal sprained muscles faster, or relieve hay fever symptoms.

And yes, being healthy does make it easier to write in general.

But can acupressure really help you write faster and better?

There’s a subset of acupressure which uses the mind-body connection to change a person’s psychological state. It’s called meridian therapy, and it’s been used to successfully treat depression, addiction, childhood traumas like physical or sexual abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But you don’t have to have a big psychological trauma in your past to benefit from meridian therapy. It’s also possible to manage your mental state with acupressure for greater creativity and productivity.

Of all the systems of meridian therapy out there, one of my favorites is Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), invented by Tapas Fleming (www.tatlife.com).

TAT is extremely simple to use, it’s highly effective, and you can do it to yourself, no equipment needed.

There are many protocols for applying TAT, but the most basic version is to hold four acupressure points on your head while thinking about the issue that’s throwing you mentally out-of-whack.

To assume the TAT pose:

  1. Place one hand on the back of your head, so that the center of your palm is resting on the bump at the back of your skull.
  2. Take your other hand and gently pinch the corners of your eyebrows (at the top of the bridge of your nose) with your thumb and your ring finger.
  3. Place your middle finger over your third eye point.

You can close your eyes if you like, or look at something that’s symbolic of the issue at hand.

After a minute or two, you may find your muscles starting to relax (TAT is great for reducing stress levels). If you need to sit in a more comfortable position or even lie down to hold the pose without straining, feel free. If you’re lying down, you can put a pillow under the elbow of the arm that’s touching the face points for support.

You can find a diagram of the points (great for printing out) here:

https://healingheartscentre.com/Using_TAT.html

If you prefer a video, here’s the inventor of TAT, demonstrating how to do the pose:

http://store.tatlife.com/myTAT-do-this-first

So how can you use TAT to be more creative and more prolific?

Clear your mind before you start writing. Just let your mind wander for a few minutes while you hold the pose. When I do this, I find myself thinking about things on my to-do list and life’s little annoyances, whatever is bugging me at the moment. I know I’ve held the pose long enough when I find that the stuff that was bugging me suddenly seems boring, and my writing project seems more interesting. Clearing my mind like this before writing usually makes me harder to distract while working.

This is especially good to do if you’ve got some negative mental associations around your work-in-progress: a cutting critique from a writing partner who wasn’t as gentle as they could have been, doubts about the marketability of the story, frustration that revisions are taking longer than expected. To clear away these negative associations before your writing session, hold the TAT pose and stare at the manuscript (or the open file on your computer screen). If you feel moved to voice some of your negative thoughts about the project, go ahead.

Dissolve writer’s block. Think about the part of the story you’re stuck on while you hold the pose. You might ask yourself a question out loud, to help yourself focus on the real problem:

“Why does this scene feel wrong to me?”

“What’s holding me back from writing the next part of the story?”

“What would I rather be doing?”

“What do I need to figure out before I can continue writing?”

“What am I trying to say here? What’s my point?”

“Is there something else in my life I need to deal with in order to get unblocked?”

After you ask the relevant question, continue to hold the pose and listen for an answer.

Turn off your internal editor while brainstorming new ideas. The fastest way to stifle your creative flow is to be critical of new ideas as your subconscious throws them up to you. Brainstorming while holding the TAT pose can help quiet that inner editor so that the ideas flow more freely.

Start your brainstorming session by asking a specific question:

“How can Kedry get out of the meat locker before she freezes to death?”

“What are the deeper reasons Jill refuses to let herself fall in love with Jack?”

“What am I trying to say with this story?”

“What are the worst things that could happen to Alex in this scene?”

Then listen for the answer. When I do this, I usually go through several iterations, writing down half a dozen answers and then reassuming the pose and asking the same question again, until I’ve generated a long list of options. I’m often amazed at how many different solutions come to me after only a few minutes of brainstorming.

Release emotions that are keeping you from focusing on writing, like jealousy of others’ success or frustration about a rejection. Sometimes it seems easier to bury these unpleasant emotions and pretend they’re not a problem. But suppressing your unhappiness is not only unhealthy; it can also strangle your creativity, leading to burnout or writer’s block in the long run.

TAT is a safe, gentle way to deal with those emotions directly and let them go. All you have to do is hold the pose and allow yourself to focus on your feelings. Don’t try to censor your thoughts—let them bubble up into your conscious mind, no matter how awful or depressing they seem. Feel free to say them out loud if you’re alone. If these voiced emotions turn into a rant, vent away! Follow the flow of emotions wherever it takes you.

“It’s not fair that all my critique partners are getting agents when I’ve been writing longer than they have.”

“I’m so mad that agents keep rejecting me and they aren’t telling me why.”

“I’m never going to get published. I feel like giving up.”

“Revising this draft is driving me crazy. I want to tear it up and start over again with a new story.”

“I hate that reviewer! It doesn’t seem like she even read my book!”

You may discover thoughts and feelings that you weren’t even aware of having. It’s not unusual to cycle through the same thoughts over and over.

As you continue to hold the TAT pose and let the emotions run their course, you’ll start to feel more relaxed and detached. The emotional charge on those negative thoughts will fade, and it will become easier to think about that rejection or the savage review without feeling furious or devastated. You may start to feel lighter or less burdened, or even experience an upswell of positive emotion.

If the emotions around a particular issue or event are particularly intense, you may need to do more than one session in order to completely let them go. You didn’t accumulate all those negative thoughts and feelings at once, and you don’t have to let go of them all at once. Do TAT for them at whatever pace is comfortable.

I’m not claiming that meridian therapy will guarantee you a spot on the bestseller list or turn you into the next Nora Roberts. But it can help you handle the psychological obstacles of the writer’s life more quickly and easily, so you’re free to focus on what you really want to do—write!

Connect with Lynn:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kaizen-Plan-Take-Control-of-Your-Life-10-Minutes-at-a-Time/128938320505399

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TheKaizenPlan

The Writer’s Guide to Getting Organized: Take Control of Your Writing Career 10 Minutes at a Time

Writers are different. We don’t always think in straight lines. We take leaps of logic, we think metaphorically, and we know that in order to make something beautiful, you might also have to make a mess.

You’ve probably tried to adopt at least one organizing system already. Maybe it was in a bestselling book written by someone in a suit. Or maybe it was the system that works for your brother the accountant or your naturally-neat co-worker. Whatever system you tried, it was probably very logical and made total sense, until you tried to force yourself to fit into it.

Did you come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with you? That you’re naturally disorganized? That creativity and organization can’t coexist?

First the good news: you’re not broken, and it is possible to be creative and organized at the same time.

Any functional system of organization for writers must be designed around the writing process. And every writer’s process is a little bit different.

This book shows you how to analyze your writing process and set up your tools and resources in a way that feels natural and supports you in being more successful in your writing career.

Available at: Smashwords (http://tinyurl.com/4xfq7de), Amazon (http://amzn.to/rFDJoJ), Apple/iTunes (http://tinyurl.com/6ohljwp), Barnes & Noble (http://tinyurl.com/42odyc7), Diesel (http://tinyurl.com/7etbyxz), Kobo (http://tinyurl.com/8xhd37x)