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.

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. 

*******

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. 

*******

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.

Freelance Doesn’t Mean You Write for Free

fake moneyBeing a ‘freelance’ writer doesn’t mean that you write for no pay, although it’s amazing how many people think you should!

The definition of ‘freelance” from Merriam-Webster, includes:

  • a person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization
  • a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer

If you are making a living as a writer — or you’d like to — you absolutely must get paid for your work.

How else will you pay for:

  • Daily living expenses (groceries, utilities, and so on)
  • Health care
  • Laptop / printer / phone / other office expenses
  • Your car
  • Seminars, training, and conferences and associated travel/hotel etc.
  • Vacations (if you’d still like to take them)

If just getting started, you can fall back on any ‘free’ writing experience you had in high school, college, or on-a-job to help you build your portfolio, but once you step out and hang a shingle to make a living as a writer, please don’t work for free, for exposure, or for promises of future-anything.

If you need places to start looking for paying work, do google searches on the type of writing you are focused on, the companies you’d like to write for, the locations you have expertise in or want to live, and the industries you like. You can also check out such sites as:

So whether you call yourself a freelance writer, an independent writer, or some mix of the two, you should always get paid for your writing. Exceptions can include: family newsletter, church bulletin, a non-profit organization you support, among others, of course.

Where do you look to find writing-for-pay projects or clients?

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

Start with One Step Forward…How Else Will You Get There?

sign post with arrows pointing in various directionsWhether you call them resolutions or goals or plans or dreams, in order to succeed at achieving them you need to move toward them. They won’t come to you on their own.

While I was out on a brisk icy morning to complete my 1-mile-per-day-outside-for-the-month-of-January challenge, I thought of this one-step-forward concept (I know it is not original, it struck me in the moment though). I took deliberate steps that morning because it was slippery, and with each step, I was one step closer to the 1-mile goal.

It was slow progress, but it was forward progress.

And as with any goal, resolution, etc. you set for yourself, as long as you’re moving toward it — full speed, half-speed, slowly — you have a much better chance of reaching that finish line than if you sit still and don’t do anything.

Am I right?

This isn’t anything new. We all know we have to take steps to reach a goal, yet, time and time again, it’s easy to slip back into the not doing it or thinking we’ll do it later. However, the truth is that tomorrow’s success is based on today’s actions.

Keep saying you want to write a book but haven’t started it yet? Write 1 word today (sounds silly, but it’s 1 word more than you had yesterday), then write another tomorrow… before you know it you’ll be writing a paragraph a day, then a page a day, then a chapter a day — or simply a sentence a day. Whatever it turns out to be, you’re writing that book! Finally!

Want to walk a mile a day? Start with a walk to the end of the hallway and back, to the end of the driveway and back, to the start of the neighbor’s driveway and back. Figure out ways to get some steps in and the do at least the same amount of steps or more the next day and the next, and the next and eventually you will hit a mile-a-day (or whatever your goal is).

Want to build your business network? Connect to someone new on social media. Give a sincere reply or comment to a post you liked reading. Make a phone call to a past client. Reply to a request for assistance. Join an online group. RSVP ‘yes’ to an upcoming event. Do one thing today that can start you forward on building your business network. Then do another tomorrow.

Doing one thing may not sound like enough – but if you’ve had the same dream, goal, resolution, etc. for a while now, doing nothing hasn’t worked, has it?

Maybe it seemed too overwhelming.

So, stop and take a serious look at the goal/resolution/etc. Is it something you truly want to accomplish?

If no. Toss it. Get it off your list once and for all. If yes, if you still want to see that end result, then I challenge you to take one step toward it today.

And then another step tomorrow.

And so on.

Promise yourself you’ll to do at least one thing and I bet you’ll end up doing more.

By taking at least one step forward, you’ll feel good about making positive strides. I know, because it’s what I’m doing now in a couple of areas.

What will be your one thing to get you moving forward?

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.

Just Read!

Just Read!

  • Carry a magazine with you at all times.
  • Keep a book in your car.
  • Tuck a paperback into your messenger bag.
  • Load a library onto your Kindle – and fire it up instead of checking your phone!

Too much screen time!

Just Read!

I’m not the only one checking my cell phone like a nervous tic.

I’m trying this technique myself, because I find myself checking my phone like a nervous tic, and if I see a new email or a new headline, I fall into the black hole of cyberspace. Poof! My time to read evaporates, and it’s time for bed.

Instead of reading print on a page in a chair by the fire before retiring, I pollute myself with screen time. Even if there’s no new message from a friend or no new headline to upset me, the light itself is known to disrupt sleep. In my case, I’m also cranky for having squandered the time I’d planned to read, and for not reading.

Advice to writers: “Just read!”

As writers, we’re told, “Just read!” as a way to learn craft, study style, examine structure, and gather facts. Reading other people’s stories helps us tell our own, whether our stories are invented, factual, remembered, retold, or some combination thereof.

Technology changes, but our human need for stories does not.

Humans are a narrative species. We used to tell stories around a fire; then we heard them in the marketplace and in the cathedrals. Eventually, we learned to write and read. Drama, film and TV tell stories through acting. These days, stories are lost in email and stunted in social media. Our time to read at length grows short.

I love to read; I have to plan time to do it.

As a writer, I’m a glutton for words, most of which I get from print on a page. So I’m starting a new campaign to increase my reading time. I’m going to keep prose on hand wherever I go, so when I have a moment of “downtime,” I can “Just Read!” instead of reflexively checking my phone.

How do you make time to read?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin reads and writes in southern Vermont, where Into the Wilderness, her critically acclaimed story of love in middle age, is set.