Tag Archives: writing habit

Training Yourself to Be A Prolific Author (In 5 Minutes A Day)

 

 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could program your brain to go into writing mode on command?

You can, actually, If you’re willing to spend five minutes a day for the next three months doing a simple exercise.

You’ve probably heard other writers talk about the importance of a writing habit.

You’ve might have also heard that many successful writers have a writing ritual that helps them maintain their habit.

But if you don’t already have one, you might feel overwhelmed at the idea of starting one.

Write every day?

What if I don’t feel inspired?

What if I’m having an awful day?

What if I don’t have time to write every day?

Won’t staring at a blank page (or screen) every day just train me to have more writer’s block?

I understand why you’d be worried. I used to be afraid of the same things.

Here’s how I got past those fears and developed a writing habit that feels so good, I don’t want to skip a day unless I absolutely have to.

I started with a very simple pre-writing ritual:  Take a few deep breaths, then say out loud, I am writing.

Then, I would set a timer for five minutes and do one of two things:

1. Type a scene from a book by an author I admired.

This caused me to associate my ritual with the act of typing fiction.

It had a secondary benefit of allowing me to look at the author’s work with fresh eyes as I typed.

I started to understand why the author made the storytelling choices they did.

I started to get a better grasp of how the techniques I was studying could actually be applied to my own stories.

2.  Write about something that had happened to me recently, without trying to make it entertaining.

This caused me to associate my ritual with the act of telling stories without the pressure to “get it right.”

I wouldn’t try to embellish what happened or explain anything. I’d just try to put down every detail about the mundane encounter that I could remember.

It had a secondary benefit of making me much more aware of things like body language, the way people really talk, the subtle conflicts that shape a conversation, and all the things that I normally ignored as I went through my day on autopilot.

In other words, it helped me to be more observant and to focus on those telling details that ground a story in reality.

After years of thinking that I…

  • didn’t have time to establish a writing habit
  • wouldn’t be inspired enough to write every day
  • would find the structure of a writing ritual too constrictive

…I discovered that I could train myself to write on command with this simple, 5-minute daily exercise.

My monthly word count tripled. But that wasn’t the best part.

The best part that as writing became a habit for me, I no longer had to talk myself into getting started.

And I suddenly had a ton of mental energy free for actually writing.

What untold stories would you finally write if you gave yourself the gift of a writing habit?

 

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.

Do You Have a System for Getting Unstuck?

Last week, we talked about how systems make it more likely that you’ll achieve your goal.  Today I’d like to talk about creating systems for overcoming the obstacles that we all hit at one point or another.

In other words, systems for getting unstuck.

Because we all work a little bit differently, one size doesn’t fit all here.  What helps me might not help you.  The first step in creating your “unblocking” system is to take a few minutes to think about how you’ve written in the past. Continue reading

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (and What Does)

The idea that next year could be different–that we could be different–it’s almost irresistible, isn’t it? Next year could be the year we lose that weight, get organized, and write the novel that’ll make us famous.

So many of us set ambitious goals for ourselves in December, only to drop them before the end of January. The goals we dub “New Year’s resolutions” aren’t enough.

Sure, you start with the goal. Write a novel. Or a non-fiction book. Or a collection of short stories. Or a memoir.

That’s the “what.”

But you also need to create a system to help you achieve that goal. Continue reading

How a Tracking Journal Can Make You a More Prolific Author

More than a year ago, I joined a different kind of writing group than I usually participate in: instead of emphasizing craft and critiques, this group focuses on building a writing habit.

I joined because I was hoping that peer pressure would motivate me to write more.

It worked even better than I expected.  I had to check in daily to report my progress, and I didn’t want to show up empty-handed.

As I got into the rhythm of daily writing sessions, I started to experience an odd sense of relief when I sat down to write each day.  In the past I’d always felt conflicted about writing–as soon as my butt hit the chair, I’d be slammed with a wave of guilt about all the other things I should be doing.

But knowing that other people expected me to write made the writing feel less like a guilty pleasure and more like a priority.

Not too surprising, right?

That isn’t the best part.

In addition to reporting my progress, I was also required to answer a series of questions about each day’s writing session, including:

How creative did I feel that day?

What negative thoughts did I experience as I was writing?

What obstacles did I have to overcome to write?

At first, I thought these questions were a waste of time.  But it was part of the group’s process, so I answered them anyway.

When I started seeing the patterns in my answers, I was shocked.

I thought I knew what factors were influencing how much I wrote:  what mood I was in, how healthy I was, and whether or not I was feeling inspired.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mood

It turns out that my mood didn’t correlate with how much I wrote on a given day.  I didn’t write more on days where I was happy, and I didn’t write less on days when I was annoyed or had the blahs.

Health

I discovered that if I wrote at my scheduled time, I wrote about the same amount whether I felt great or had a cold.  Hayfever and other everyday physical complaints didn’t decrease my output at all.

Inspiration

While I’m not the type to wait for inspiration–I know that it often strikes when you’re already working–I did assume that I need inspiration to have a really productive day.

Not so, it turns out.  In fact, I often wrote more on the days that I felt less inspired.  It’s possible that I was pushing myself in the hopes that inspiration would come.  Or maybe the feeling of satisfaction I felt on the days when my muse was generous made it easier to quit early.

In other words, how I feel–physically, emotionally, creatively–is not an accurate predictor of how much I’ll be able to write.

Seeing the cold, hard data made it impossible to ignore the patterns.  For years, I’ve been allowing myself to skip writing sessions when my mood was bad or when hayfever had my sinuses in an uproar.  And I’d been blaming my uninspired days for my slow progress.

My faulty assumptions about how my creative process works were keeping me from reaching my full potential as a writer.

So what factors did affect how much I wrote each day?

Only two:  sleep and how active my inner critic was.

Days where I got eight hours of sleep or more were days where I exceeded my word count goal.

Days where I got less than eight hours of sleep were days with lower word/page counts.

Days where I got less than seven hours of sleep were days where I struggled to write anything.

And as for my inner critic–recording the negative thoughts I experienced as I sat down to write was enlightening.  There was an almost perfect correlation between how many negative thoughts I experienced and how little I wrote.

And the thing that really stinks:  my inner critic doesn’t know what it’s talking about!

When I went back to look at the things I wrote on days when my inner critic was throwing a tantrum, I discovered that they weren’t any worse than the things I wrote on days when my inner critic was silent. They both required about the same amount of editing.

That’s right.  My inner critic wasn’t helping me improve the quality of my writing.  At all.

Lessons Learned

Now that I’ve seen the real factors that affect my productivity as a writer, I’m doing things a little differently.

1.  I don’t let how I feel on a given day determine whether or not I write.

2.  I go to bed at a reasonable time, knowing that I’m increasing my capacity to write tomorrow.

3.  I’m exploring ways of taming my inner critic.

Just knowing that my inner critic isn’t giving good advice makes it easier for me let those negative comments go.  When the voice in my head tells me I’m writing crap, I now shrug and reply, “That’s your opinion.”

The group has also taught me that positively reframing my inner critic’s negative comments helps take the sting out of them.

When I find myself thinking that I’ll never finish this novel, for example, I remind myself that I don’t have to finish it today.  I just have to write the next scene.

Challenging my assumptions about what factors affect my creative process has allowed me to more than double my writing productivity in a mere two months.  I encourage you to do same.

Make a list of the things you think are affecting your productivity.  Time of day you’re writing, noise levels, diet, sleep, inspiration, mood, exercise. If you’re not sure what to track, start with your usual excuses.  What are the things you usually blame on the days you decide not to write?

For the next month, commit to writing for at least five minutes each day, and track each productivity factor at the end of your writing session.  You might track hours of sleep, or rate your energy levels on a scale of 1-10, or simply note your mood at the time you started your writing session.  You might start a list of negative thoughts and put a checklist by the ones that show up as you write each day.  Whatever you think is important, track it.

At the end of the month, look for patterns.  Did you write more on days when you felt blah and less on days when you felt angry?  Did your output go down on the days when all you ate was pizza and milk duds?  Did you discover that you write best after a brief nap or a snuggle session with your cat?

Once you see the patterns, you’ll know exactly what you need to change to become a more prolific author.

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.