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.

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.

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.

Make Time for Writing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As writers, we all struggle with finding enough time to write. There are a number of ways we can “make time” to write. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Redefine Writing Time

I used to think I needed a whole day to get some good writing done, but over the years, my time window has shrunk. For example, I started the first draft of this post while waiting for my son in the car pool line at school. I had 10 minutes and I used them!

  1. Make Routines for Everything You Can

I’m the cook in my family and, last fall, I started creating weekly meal plans, usually on Sunday. It takes me half an hour to plan my meals for the week, and it turns out to be a huge time-saver. The hard part about cooking, for me, is figuring out what we’re going to eat. Once that’s done, its just math—and one trip to the grocery store.

Today, for example, is Taco Tuesday, so I have to start cooking at 4:30 PM. If my son and I get home from school at 3:30 PM and he happens to get involved in playing with his LEGO minifigs, that’s an hour of writing time I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been staring in the fridge at 3:30, wondering what the heck we’re going to have for dinner. Not to mention the last-minute trip to the grocery store once I decided and realized we didn’t have any of the ingredients I needed.

  1. Keep Internet/Facebook/Email/Apps/Games/Etc OFF

If you plan to write on your computer tomorrow, make sure you shut it down completely tonight. Then, when you sit down to write tomorrow morning, only open Windows, or Scrivener, or whatever program you write with. Do not check email or Facebook first.

If you work from your computer and feel this isn’t possible, try this: schedule a block of writing time—after lunch, at 5 PM when you are done with your day job, or after you go to the gym. Before lunch, at 5 PM, or before you go to the gym, shut your computer down. When you come back to write, only open your writing program. Once your writing time is up, you can open up your email or Facebook or Slack, whatever you need to do.

  1. Move Your Body

Exercise is the magic pill. It makes everything better. Our bodies are meant to move and if we walk, even for 10 minutes, we will have more energy than if we sit in a chair all day.

So stretch every hour, take a walk at lunchtime, and/or go to the gym before or after work. Even if you hate exercise, figure out something you can do to get more movement into your day. You will have increased focus and energy as a result, allowing you to be more productive as a writer.

How do you make time in your life to write?

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.

Accomplishments as Motivation

For years now, I have been creating a list of accomplishments for the past year. I used to do it around my birthday, but in the last few years I’ve done it at the end of one calendar year before I set my goals for the next year.

I’ve already written about my goals for 2017, but I wanted to write a little more about my list of accomplishments because it’s been an incredibly useful tool.

I’m also facilitating a Goals Group for 2017, and the first assignment I gave the group was to make a list of 50 accomplishments from 2016. Yes, 50! It sounds daunting, but they did it. (You can, too.)

When you decide to write a list of 50 accomplishments, you start out with the obvious ones: “Posted x blog posts,” for example, or “won NaNo.”

But when you get down to #20 or #30, you have to dig a little deeper. At this point, even if I start out focused on writing accomplishments, I’ve started branching out into every other area of my life to find accomplishments. Stuff like, “hosted Christmas dinner for the whole extended family,” and “ran a half-marathon,” make the list.

Then it gets even harder—but, I believe, even more worthwhile.

The first time I made a list of #50 accomplishments, somewhere right around #49 or #50 was the accomplishment: “I became less defensive over this past year.”

Until I wrote that statement, I hadn’t been consciously aware that I was working on trying to become less defensive. Of all the accomplishments from that year, becoming less defensive was the one I was most proud of. And it was something I’ve continued to work on, consciously, in the years since.

I happen to believe, as Byron Katie does, that “defensiveness is the first act of war.” I’m still defensive at times, but much less so than I used to be. (I suppose I should check in with the people around me, to see if they agree!)

My defensiveness is just an example, but knowing that about myself—and that I had improved on it, motivated me to continue to work on it.

So try writing down 50 of your accomplishments from 2016. You may not believe you have 50, but I know you do.

 You may be surprised how much what you learn about yourself will motivate you in 2017!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I became a master life coach by way of being a family physician. These days, I coach, speak, write, and blog on life coaching topics. You can find my life coaching blog here and my website at www.dianemackinnon.com.