Ask for What You Need

This past weekend I was with a friend of mine who’s also a writer. I told her I wanted to start working with a writing partner. We’ve been in the same critique groups before and we’ve always worked well together, so I asked her if she wanted to start working together again. 

She told me she couldn’t commit to that right now. 

The very next day this same friend texted me to say that a past writing partner had contacted her and was looking for a writing partner and wanted to know if she was available. She wasn’t but wanted to know if I was. 

I was!

She told him about me and vice versa. I don’t know yet what will come of this, but the moral of the story is: ask for what you need. 

Tell people what you want. 

Put it out there. 

You never know what will happen. 

Barbara Sher’s famous book, Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, offers this same advice. 

Just the act of telling another person what you want—or 7 people, as Ms. Sher recommends—has magic in it. 

My friend wasn’t ready to become my writing partner, but the act of expressing my wish—out loud, in the world, to another person—changed the energy of my wish. It stopped being an internal circle, going around and around in my mind (where I’d been thinking about it for months) and created a forward momentum.

My friend said “no,” (for now) but the Universe didn’t. It started looking around on my behalf. 

You don’t have to believe me. (This is how I explain such things to myself.)

But try it. 

If you are looking for a beta-reader, ask the people you know who read and talk about
books if they will read your work. Tell the others, too—the people in your life who like movies over books, for example—because they may know someone who’s always looking for a good read. 

If you’d like to work with a critique group, tell people you’d like to work with a critique group. Create a flyer starting a critique group and post it at your local library.

If you want more dedicated writing time, say that—out loud—to the people in your life. Your partner may respond with, “Why don’t I take the kids to karate on Saturday mornings so you can write?” (We can dream, right?)

Or something much more indirect may happen: Your co-worker will ask you to carpool and at the same time asks for silence so when it’s not your turn to drive, you get 45 minutes of uninterrupted writing time twice that day. 

It takes courage to ask for what you need, what you want. Someone may say “no.” 

But if you don’t ask, the answer is already “no.” 

Ask. Put it out there. 

Take advantage of the magic.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

After We Stop Procrastinating…

Last month I wrote a blog post about procrastination. Today I want to tell you how I actually get myself to sit down and write.

Sometimes an idea comes and I just sit down and start writing. Or I jot down the idea and sit down and write as soon as I have a free minute. 

Often I look ahead and see that I have a blog post due soon and I start thinking about what I could write. I think about it as I walk, run, and drive through my days and, once I get an idea, I sit down to write. 

Other times, I notice I’m procrastinating, so I do the only thing that works for me. I schedule my writing time. I write down in my calendar “Write book,” because that’s the scariest thing I’m doing right now and I’ve procrastinated a lot over this book and enough’s enough.

Then, at the appointed time, I sit down at my desk. I don’t want to. I never want to sit down to write at the time I’ve scheduled it. I know this ahead of time so when I show up at the appointed time and “don’t feel like” sitting down to write, I accept this feeling and sit down anyway. When I do, I’m honoring my commitment to myself and to this project I’m working on that I care so much about. 

The first thing I write is my journal entry about how scared I am to do this writing. (I wrote about this last month.)

Then I begin. I write. It doesn’t have to be good. It only has to be done. 

If you haven’t done this kind of scheduled writing before, keep the time short. Fifteen minutes is plenty to begin with.

Your lizard brain may tell you 15 minutes is nothing, but try it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much you can write in 15 minutes, especially when you don’t give yourself permission to edit along the way.

Schedule your 15 minutes of writing time and write. When the timer goes off or you notice 15 minutes has gone by, stop. You are done. You did what you said you would do. You kept a promise to yourself. 

It doesn’t have to be good. This is not about quality. That’s for later, when you are editing. 

When I resist writing writing down my writing time, or resist getting specific about what I want to write, that’s when I know I definitely need to schedule my writing time.

Here’s my process:

  1. Notice resistance to writing or even scheduling writing time.
  2. Schedule writing time anyway.
  3. Sit down and write at the appointed time, no matter how you feel about writing.
  4. Stop when your time is up.
  5. Close document or notebook. 
  6. Repeat.

What happens when you schedule your writing time?

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

How Writing Is Like Running

Writing is like running (or just about any activity); but since I do 2-miles a day running, and enter an occasional 5k (a 3.1-mile walk/run), I’m using the running analogy.

For writing (and running), first you make the decision to do it. The best goals are written, so hopefully you put it into your calendar as a date for yourself.

Then you decide on the length and outline (or determine the route).

Next, you start writing (or running). One word at a time (one foot in front of the other).

When you hit a wall, you push through – write more words, keep putting one foot in front of the other – hopefully you hit a flow and get into a groove where the words flow (the steps just happen).

Maybe you make revisions (adjustments) along the way to smooth out the article/story (or your pace).

Then you reach the end of the article/story (or destination/finish line) and submit the written piece (or celebrate the achievement).

Lastly, you polish the piece (cool down from the run).

For running, it’s that middle portion of my route where I hit my stride, and in writing, it’s the middle of the piece where the words flow easiest.

Determination (to reach a goal) gets you started, passion keeps you going.

Lisa crossing finish line of a 5K foot race

Finish line of a ‘Stache Dash

And just like with accomplishing any goal, please celebrate the accomplishment — whether it’s hitting ‘send’ to a publisher/editor, seeing your name in print, or receiving a check — celebrate each milestone for your writing — and for finishing the run (I love crossing finish lines!)

What do you equate writing with?

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter. Subscribe to her Write Your Way newsletter for bite-sized business, networking, and writing tips – and fun stuff.

One Way to Manage Procrastination

I’ve come to believe we don’t put things off because we’re lazy or disorganized, we put things off because we don’t think we can deal with the feelings that come up for us when we even think about doing whatever it is that we want to/have to/need to do. 

For writers, I think we have to deal with a lot of fear just to sit our butts down in the chair and start typing. Especially if it’s something creative or something you feel passionate about. 

Our primitive brain starts yammering as soon as we walk toward the writing desk: What if it’s no good, what if I have nothing to say, what if nobody likes it, what if I make everyone angry?

Have you noticed how often that primitive brain, that critical voice, talks about “everyone” and “no one?” It’s scarier that way—and more vague, so harder to refute. If our primitive brain said something like, “what if my brother doesn’t like it?” my evolved brain would just answer, “That’s nonsense. He likes everything I write.” 

So it sticks to “everyone” and “no one” to keep us from writing. To keep us out of our chairs. To keep us in fear. 

Because the primitive brain doesn’t care about your book, your blog post, or your email. It only cares that you survive until tomorrow, and it’s fine with you living a very small life. It thinks turning on Netflix is a great idea. 

And because fear is such a difficult emotion for us to manage, we often do just turn on Netflix. The brain does not distinguish between fear of physical danger and fear of what others will think of us. We have the same physiologic reaction to the thought of others not liking what we’ve (not yet) written as we do to being cut off in traffic while driving. Our hearts start to pound, our hands get clammy, we find it hard to breathe. 

But we can manage the fear that’s not related to physical danger. There are ways. Here’s one that works for me:

As you approach your writing desk and you start to hear all those negative questions, write them down. Start a journal entry or grab a pad of paper and write it all down, all those thoughts. 

Acknowledge your fear and notice the physical symptoms that come up. Also notice you are not in any actual physical danger. All is well. 

Then tell that part of yourself that is so scared that you’re just going to write. You’re not going to show it to anyone, not going to publish it right now. You’re just going to write. 

Then, after all those reassurances to that primitive (scared) part of yourself, stay in your chair and write. 

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Morning Pages – Clearing the Head Clutter

Morning pages — if you already do them, you know their benefits.

If you don’t do morning pages or haven’t heard of them, read on.

I learned about morning pages through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s one way to work through the clutter that can fill your mind and stump your writing (or any creative) progress.

In the image included here, I have a copy of The Artist’s Way as well as The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal. There is no real reason to purchase the journal, I simply like that it follows along with the book (if you’re interested in a 12-week program to increase your creativity), and it allows 3-pages-per-day to fill in for those 12 weeks.

Morning pages are simply journal pages you do first thing in the morning (for best results).

The best benefit of morning pages – no thinking! The morning pages are meant to clear your head space before you fully wake up and start any creative activity.

The morning pages are stream of consciousness and never for anyone else to see.

Decluttering your mind of whatever filled it while you were sleeping allows you to focus quicker when you move into your day.

How to do morning pages:

  • wake up
  • roll over
  • grab the journal and pen
  • open to the next blank page
  • write — whatever flows out of your fingertips

Of course you can vary the process depending on your life – bathroom rituals might take priority. You may prefer to grab a cup of coffee. Maybe you want to sit at a desk to write. The earlier you can start writing, the better, though. Get the clutter out and move on!

Writing three pages before I’m fully awake is easier than writing them any other time of the day, because once the day begins, it’s so easy to drift off and think about things on the to do list.

I truly feel that morning pages ‘clear the clutter’ out of my head so I can get to the words I need. Like shoveling a path to the car on a snow day — if the snow isn’t cleared I can still get to the car, but it’s a struggle. So it’s best to clear a path to be most productive!

What writing habit do you find useful to clear your head clutter?

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, AlignableInstagram, and Twitter.

Reflect and Recharge

Not all writers are introverts who cherish alone time. Many are, but even writers who are extroverts and get all their energy from being with other people, need time alone.

We need time to fill the well. The well is replenished with reflection, relaxation, observation, meditation, and movement. 

I should say, my well is filled with all these things. Your well may be filled by additional practices, but even the most extroverted among us has to take some time for reflection and observation. We can’t spend all our time creating content and we can’t spend all our time taking in more—more conversation, more story, more learning.

We need to pause and just be every once in a while. Regularly, if we are going to keep filling that well. 

Silence is one of the best tools I’ve found for filling my well. I regularly take Wordless Walks with other people. We may chat before and after the walk, but during the walk, we are silent. We are walking, we are breathing, we are noticing the crunch of the ice underneath our cleats and the flash of the cardinal’s wing as it takes off from a nearby branch. 

And we are filled up when we are finished. Full of images, ideas, questions, and insights. 

Honestly, I think one of the reasons we all get our best ideas in the shower is it’s one of the few places we are alone without the radio/podcast/TV/other people feeding us words.

  • You don’t have to go on a Wordless Walk to embrace quiet or to allow yourself time to reflect. You could go for a walk outside by yourself without wearing earbuds or listening to anything on your phone. 
  • You could go to a place that’s unusual for you, even a store you don’t usually shop at, and just browse around without an agenda or a shopping list. This is the classic Artist’s Date Julia Cameron recommends in her book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. 
  • Or, you could decide not to listen to your car radio while driving somewhere and see where your thoughts lead you. Keep a notebook handy for your insights (once you are in park, of course!)
  • You could sip a cup of tea or coffee in a public place and notice all the hubbub around you while you remain in an oasis of calm.

Silence, time to reflect, artist’s dates—these are all writer’s tools, just as journaling is a tool. In order to know what we are really thinking, what we are really feeling, we need to take some time to allow our thoughts and feelings to surface. Time is a valuable and ever-more-rare commodity in this busy world, but it is essential for our well-being, whether we are writers or not. 

Without that time, that silence, that reflection, our words will eventually dry up. Don’t let that happen. 

Fill the well. 

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Your Brain on Words

When you tell yourself you don’t have time to write, your brain believes you. When you tell yourself over and over you don’t have time to write, you never find time to write. Even when you have four hours set aside to write, something always comes up. Because you don’t have time to write!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

But if you tell yourself you have time to write, time appears. I wanted to write “time magically appears,” but in my experience, that’s not true. 

The brain is an organ that produces thoughts. It also believes thoughts—without question. Thoughts appear. We believe them.

Unless we make the effort to question them. 

“I don’t have time to write.”

Is that true?

“Well, no. I wrote for two hours yesterday morning and I’m writing right now.” 

What’s actually true is: I have time to write. 

Because our brains have evolved to expend minimal energy, our brains prefer not to have to make decisions. That’s why it’s easier to go to work the same way every day, even if you could have avoided that traffic by taking the back roads. Your brain, all our human brains, would rather be on auto-pilot, conserving energy for when we have to run from that saber toothed tiger. 

But there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger anymore. All that physical danger we’ve evolved to save our energy for doesn’t exist, at least not here in North America. We are very fortunate.

But our brains still operate the way they evolved to millions of years ago. So if we think a thought, it’s easier to just believe it and keep going because it takes less energy, which our brains equate to a better chance of survival. 

But some of the thoughts we “just believe” are harmful to us. “I don’t have time to write,” for example, is a poisonous thought to a writer, or to someone who wants to be a writer. 

So what can we do about these thoughts that appear and stop us in our tracks?

Take the time to question that thought every single time you think it and you will soon break yourself of the habit of thinking it. 

Questioning a thought takes energy. So your brain (and mine!) will resist. It will give you evidence (excuses!) showing why you don’t have time to write.

Keep presenting the evidence showing when you had time to write. Give concrete, specific examples:

  • I wrote for an hour right after I dropped the kids off at school yesterday.
  • I wrote every day for at least 30 minutes last summer when I did that journal challenge.
  • I wrote for 2 hours last Sunday morning.

Catch yourself thinking “I don’t have time to write,” and challenge it. If you do, you will soon be thinking “I have time to write,” just as often. You will also, I believe, be writing!

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.