Tag Archives: writing life

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.


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.


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.


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.

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:


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


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:

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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.

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