If you want to write, write! And other infuriating advice

If you want to write: write!

We’ve all heard some form of this advice, and its more crass counterpart, “put your ass in the chair.”

What I hate most about this advice is its simplicity. I know that the only way to write is to sit down and do it.

Easier said than done.

When I sit down to write, I often sit down surrounded by my ambition, my hopes, and a running to-do list of other tasks I should be doing. I developed my Spell Against Self Doubt – the actions I take to prepare for writing – to build my confidence as a writer. I needed something other than a page number to measure success, and so it was surprising that one of the most useful tools is completing three pages of automatic writing before opening my computer. It made me wonder:

Is the secret to unlocking better writing as simple as writing more?

Time @ Desk (Time + Wordcount) / Hours Procrastinating = Quality

Is there an equation to better writing?

According to Julie Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Understanding, writing more is the way not only to get better at writing, but also better any creative pursuit. The task is simple: write for three pages without a plan. Just keep writing.

For the first few weeks, I remained dubious. My morning pages were painfully mundane. I scribbled to-do lists, petty anxieties, and physical descriptions of my surroundings. While I had succeeded in getting my ass in the chair, it seemed to only confirm the fear that I had nothing interesting to write.

And then something shifted. One morning some of the smog lifted. I started writing about a dream I’d had. The daily practice of unplanned writing led me to unplanned ideas. Unexpected details crawled through my still-foggy brain. I accessed the joy I’ve observed in a marker-wielding three year old: fierce commitment to coloring page after page, followed by total abandonment when snack time rolls around.

So is the secret to writing better, writing more?

My morning pages have not manifested into a manuscript. They have become a beloved junk drawer of detail, observation, and memory. Though I write my morning pages when I am still half asleep, they have woken up my delight in writing. I no longer sit at my desk wondering if I have a story to tell, but which story I will share with this audience.

Writing more has improved my writing, because I now approach my writing like a three year old — content to be completely absorbed in the act of creating! I write from a place of trust and delight. Of course, I’m not saying that quantity equals quantity. Word count is not a panacea for a poorly formed argument, but it may be a cure for doubt.

Art by my favorite three year old - one of 13 pieces made that day!

Art by my favorite three year old – one of 13 pieces made that day!

If you want to write – write! Write when you are half asleep, write when you are annoyed that your friend is late to meet you (again), write when you see something that delights you.

So what do you think? Is writing more a path towards better writing?


Small_headshotNaomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

Spell Against Self Doubt

This summer, I almost turned down a writing residency.

Before fully considering the offer, doubt crept in. A friend pointed out that I was more focused on my self-doubt than the opportunity in front of me. And so, I cast a spell against self-doubt.

The spell was quite simple; it was to complete four actions before starting work.

Those actions were:

  • An act of kindness
  • An act of strength
  • An act of creation
  • An act of bravery
FLATspellagainstselfdoubt

My Spell Against Self-Doubt

In the weeks leading up to the residency, and during the residency itself, my spell against self-doubt became a daily practice. Each action was an antidote to my most frequent doubts.

The manifestation of my casual witchcraft was to:

  • Make coffee for my partner  (Act of Kindness)
  • Bust out 30-50 Pushups (Act of Strength)
  • Sketch a quick cartoon (Act of Creation)
  • Scribble three pages of automatic writing (Act of Bravery)

The culmination of this practical magic was that when I started work on my play I was energized, centered, and eager to tap into the fictional world I was creating. Whenever doubt started to murmur, I refuted it, with my proof of kindness, strength, creation, and bravery

Centering my writing practice on acts of kindness towards others (and myself) let me shed my fear that writing is a selfish pursuit. The adrenaline rush from my act of strength let me draw with energy and abandon. I started sketching because it was a form that had no repercussions on my sense of self as a creative.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction: holding a grudge / letting it go

I gave up on “learning to draw” in seventh grade when I was unable to render a realistic bouquet of flowers. Last July, when I decided to start drawing, I was unencumbered from any pressure to be good. Unlike writing, it’s not something I’ve practiced.Surprisingly, I fell in love.

Armed with paints, I was full of stories. Freed from any understanding of technique, I was able to let go of my bias that realistic is good. Drawing in my own perspective, freed me to write in my own voice.

After the joy of splashing my thoughts into colorful cartoons, I was able to face myself on the page and write.

By the time the residency started, the spell had taken hold. Instead of bringing my toolbox of doubt, I brought my watercolors and a play I was excited to share.

ToolsFlat

Ready, Set, Draw!

Over the past six months, the spell has stuck. I continue to count acts of kindness, feats of strength, and drawing as an essential to my writing. What started as an act of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

Do you have your own version of the spell against self-doubt?

Have you ever tried drawing/dancing/singing as a way to warm-up before writing?


Small_headshot

Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

 

Know your audience (Who are you?)

I’m new here.

My first post was supposed to be at the end of December. It was titled, “What did you write in 2017.” But then my snarky inner voice chimed in, “did you even write anything in 2017?”

Of course I wrote.

whatiwrote_1

What I wrote in 2017

I wrote shopping lists and to-do lists.

I wrote cover letters, thank you letters, and condolence letters.

I wrote job announcements and bid announcements.

I wrote newsletters and love letters.

 

I wrote finance reports, grant reports, and project reports. I wrote e-mails (so many e-mails).

Most of my writing is anonymous or functional. The majority is both. It is technical writing, which means it is a step in a process, but not the final product. The benefit s of this type of writing is that it is published, it is read, and it is paid. The downside is that my writing is functional. It is more likely to alter someone’s to-do list than their sense of wonder.

My favorite part of being a pen-for-hire is knowing my purpose. My audience varies from officers at the Environmental Protection Agency, to parents at an after-school program, to clowns. When I sit down to write, the first question I ask myself is “who will read this”? Followed closely by “why am I writing this.” How I write, and what details I include, vary based on the reader.

This clarity can be a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to creative writing. One of the biggest challenges I face when I sit down to my creative projects is a sense of purpose. There is no deadline. There is no guaranteed paycheck. And, most troubling, there is no audience. 2017 wasn’t exclusively a year of functional writing. I also I wrote two plays, two performances pieces, and six (and a half) short stories. Some of these pieces have been performed or shared in a workshop, but most have only had an audience of one (me).

One of my goals for 2018, is to get more work in front of an audience.

That’s where you come in.

whoareyou?

Who are you?

The trouble is, I don’t know you.

Who are you? What do you want to read? What brings you to Live To Write, Write To Live?

I’m excited to write about: making time for a writing practice, combatting self-doubt, sharing unfinished work, and blogging ethics. What do you want to read?

I look forward to reading your responses in the comments and getting to know you!

Small_headshotNaomi Shafer is a writer, performer, and project manager. She works for Clowns Without Borders. Her written work has been performed at an array of theaters, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Middlebury College, the New England Youth Theatre, and Peppercorn Theatre. She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

Baby Brother & Writing Buddy, Holding Each Other Accountable

Writing Buddy

Baby Brother & Writing Buddy

When my baby brother was born not quite sixty years ago this week, I never would have pegged him as my future writing buddy. He wasn’t the sister I’d hoped for, and at first, all he did was sleep. I was three-and-a-half at the time, and I thought he was dumb.

I’ve long since revised my opinion of my younger brother who, it’s turned out, is a kind, creative, smart man who also happens to be a writer and a good friend.

This brother is a playwright. Like me, he’s working on several writing projects at the moment, some with external deadlines and some dependent entirely on self-motivation.

During a recent visit, we both confessed that we were better at meeting externally imposed deadlines. We regularly keep our word when we commit to writing for others, and postpone the projects that mean the most to ourselves. As a result, the projects that are nearest and dearest often languish as we perpetually put them off.

During a recent visit, we came up with a plan to help each other out – simply by holding one another accountable.

We’ve done this before.

The last time, money changed hands. I sent him a considerable sum to hold in escrow, with a deadline attached. If I met my deadline, I got my money back. If I didn’t, he’d spend it on swag advertising organizations or politicians promoting antediluvian policies I loathe, and which as part of the deal, I’d have to wear.

This was a powerful disincentive, and it worked. I met my deadline and he returned the cash.

I returned the favor – and was relieved when he met his deadline. I wasn’t entirely sure I could actually follow through buying him a membership to an organization I despised.

This time, we’ve changed up the plan.

No money.

No threats.

Just accountability.

We talk each Friday afternoon: 5pm my time, 2pm his. We each report on how we did meeting the goals we set the previous week, then set goals for the next.

We’re both pretty good at setting measurable and achievable goals. And when our aspirations get the better of us, we’re quick to question one another: Really? You’re going to finish an entire draft by Friday while working your day job and hosting how many out-of-town guests?

Knowing that I have to report on my progress at the end of the week helps keep me on task.

Writing Buddy

Brother & Father, celebrating summer birthdays and beards.

Knowing that my brother will question unreasonable goals helps me set achievable ones.

And knowing that I’m helping him do the same levels out the hierarchy of birth order. Jonathan’s not just my baby brother; he’s a valued writing colleague – and a really good friend.

 

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living In Place.

How to Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book

Activism and Writing both take persistence and self-care.

Like at least half the American population, I’ve been distressed by current national politics. I went into a deep funk of disbelief back in November; then I became hyper-active, making phone calls and writing letters. After that, I needed a vacation from both work and politics. Now, I’m trying to find a sustainable way to continue to support issues I care about, like civil liberties, social justice, and ethical government.

Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist

Lucky for me, a friend forwarded a link to Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist. It’s been a big help.

As I read it, I realized immediately that the ways to sustain political activism are almost identical to the methods necessary for tackling a long writing project.

The Weekly Checklist

Hofman’s Action Checklist for this week starts with current congressional bills and issues that need immediate attention.

My writing checklist for this week includes a meeting, a phone call and a writing assignment for my long narrative about learning to hunt. This checklist helps maintain forward momentum on a project that will take at least another year to complete while I continue to write, broadcast, teach and talk.

These days, I also create a checklist of the political phone calls I will make:

  • Senator Leahy about the Supreme Court nomination;
  • Senator Sanders about the Budget and Healthcare;
  • Representative Peter Welch about the unresolved conflicts of interest between this president’s private businesses and public office.
The Rule of Three

I’ve written about the Rule of Three before: Choose three manageable and achievable goals each week.

Every week, I limit myself to three projects, and every day I limit myself to three tasks related to those projects. More than that and I’ll just stare out the window and not lay down the words. Same thing with phone calls to politicians. I can make three every week.

Three phone calls won’t change the world quickly, but if I make three phone calls every week, they add up, just as writing three sentences, paragraphs or pages adds up.

Worse, not making phone calls equals silence, as in “everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay. So I make three phone calls each week, minimum; more than that’s gravy.

Take Good Care of Yourself

You can’t write from your heart any more than you can change the world if you don’t take care of yourself. Self care includes measures to maintain your general health, sustain your emotional health and nourish your spiritual health. So do whatever it is that keeps you whole, whether it’s reading a book, sleeping, eating well, fishing, sky-diving, going to church, or some combination thereof.

Persistence and Self-care: They make a difference when it comes to writing book or changing the world.

In addition to making phone calls, Deborah Lee Luskin frequently comments about current affairs on her blog and on Vermont Public Radio.

Friday Fun: Goals Met? Goals Missed? How did you do in 2016?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  If you set writing goals at the beginning of 2016, have you met them and/or missed them? And now what?

wendy-shotWendy E.N. Thomas 

In 2016 I had wanted to get a manuscript done – completed from top to bottom. Not a NaNoWriMo one but one that was planned, thoughtful, and that followed a storyline, an arc. One that I could then shop around to agents and publishers.

Then my mother got sick and I spent two months shuttling between her in Connecticut and my family in New Hampshire.

Then my mother died.

Then I went on a New Hampshire border-to-border walk with my son.

Then I ran into some health problems.

Then the election happened.

Then it seemed that with everything going on, the world has finally fallen apart.

But guess what? In the spare hours (and sometimes minutes) that I could carve out of my daily schedule, I ended up writing a manuscript. It wasn’t the one I thought I was going to write, but it turned out to be the one that was important for me to write.

I have a full manuscript of my 220 mile 16-day walk with my son and the lessons we learned along the way.

Am I Super Woman for getting this done?  Not at all, normal-as-they-come-Wendy – glad to meet you.

But I did state my intent and even in the midst of chaos I set the time aside to work on it because it was so very important to me. Writing also grounded me and kept me on balance – it has kept me sane this past year. Add to that a burning desire to succeed and I ended up making my 2016 goal.

Yeah I know – it surprised the heck out of me as well.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I purposely focus on my writing business and got a lot of new writing through that this year – so in that regard I met the goal of new clients and a certain income level even before December arrived. Several happy dances during the year to celebrate various milestones for those goals!

I’ve gotten back to my fiction writing, which was a goal, but I haven’t (yet) republished 2 novellas. I started NaNoWriMo this year and got a few words on the page — but didn’t hit the 50,000-word goal. However, I do have a fabulous story idea that has legs and so it’s a new goal to finish the first run-through in December (sort of doing NaNo a month later than planned).

I never seem to hit the exact goals I set out to do, but I end up with many things I hadn’t imagined and they are just as, or more, sweet than the goals I imagined.

 

Planning Your Writing Life

So, to beat a dead horse, I’m a planner. I maintain both digital and paper planners. Digital is great on the go, but there is just something about pen to paper that makes things connect in my head. I’ve also discovered the value of specific planners for specific aspects of my life. For example, I have one notebook dedicated to weekends. I have found this helps me eliminate the noise from work tasks and focus on home and family life.

Three planners: Plot Your Work 2017 AuthorLife, WriteMind Planner

Recently I found 3 different planners designed specifically for writers and our writing projects. I like sitting down and capturing all the tasks related to a particular project, but I also find I’m easily overwhelmed. Pulling tasks from a planner dedicated to writing is much cleaner that keeping them all in one place. This way, I look at the writing planner, grab the tasks I need for that week and, gently close the cover and keep my focus on what really needs to be done.

2017 Author Life Planner

The Cover of the 2017 AuthorLife PlannerBria Quinlan

http://briaquinlan.com/2017-authorlife-planner/

Available in 2 formats

Download $9.99

Via Amazon Direct print $15.99

Bria Quinlan knows writers and the writing process. She should, she is a USA Today Best-Selling author who writes romantic comedies. It wasn’t always that way at one time, she toiled in corporate America as an HR director. She’s combined her skills to create The AuthorLife Planner. A two part program designed to help writers identify their goals and devise a plan to achieve them. Part one is a 40 page workbook based on Quinlan’s Zero to Planned workshops. I printed this part, because you know, the whole brain connections via pen to paper thing.

Through a series of detailed exercises, Quinlan walks you through identifying what you want to do, what you are currently doing, who you are doing it for (in other words who are your core readers) and whether you are on the right path. Once you’ve figured out these key aspects, she helps you identify where you should spend your time to get the results you desire. Once you’ve figured out where to spend your time, the AuthorLife Planner helps you map the tasks out weekly in the 160 page calendar and regularly evaluate your progress.

Not gonna lie, the process is a smidge daunting, but in the exciting “oh the potential” kind of way. As someone who wears many hats, I’m hoping it will help me focus and hone in on what I need to do to accomplish the goals I’ve set.

Plot Your Work

img_4992The Writer’s Project Planner

C.J. Ellison

http://www.plotyourwork.com/

Cost $29.99

Available Mid-December 2016

New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author C.J. Ellison combined her background in sales and marketing with her writing experience to develop Plot Your Work – The Writer’s Project Planner. You already have a plan hell, you have SEVERAL plans, but you need a way to stay on track with multiple projects, then Plot Your Work is for you.

Plot Your Work helps you manage up to five writing projects with

  • yearly project spreads,
  • quarterly task planning,
  • monthly and weekly task breakdowns and,
  • weekly reviews to keep you organized.

I bought a the beta version that quickly sold out. The full version is scheduled to be available this month with shipment in January. Customizations are in the works to track marketing efforts, launches, sales etc.

While there are similarities between this at the Author Life Planner, this one is particularly useful to the writer who is juggling multiple projects and doesn’t want anything to slip through the cracks.

WriteMind planner

img_4994An all-in-one, customizable idea management and project organizing system for authors.

http://perryelisabethdesign.com/writemind/

Digital Download Edition $19.99*

Disk bound system $26.99* plus shipping.

*The system is customizable so additional modules available for extra cost.

Are you a pantser who needs to capture ideas as they present themselves?

Or, are you a planner who needs to work out all the details before you sit down at the keyboard? Either way, the WriteMind Planner is for you.

The WriteMind Planner touts itself as “An all-in-one, customizable idea management and project organizing system for authors.” You can either download the modules or buy a printed disc-bound version. I went for the disc-bound version. The disc system lets you organize things the way you like. It’s also expandable and or collapsible if you want to keep things simple.

The basic WriteMind planner contains:

  • 8 black binding discs
  • An artistic, cheerful cover page 
  • “Please Return To:” page
  • 30 To-Do list slips
  • 30 Idea Worksheets
  • Wordcount Tracking Calendars
  • The Ultimate Self-Publishing Checklist
  • Contacts
  • 50 sheets of lined paper
  • 5 Tabs

There is a place for comments or special requests on the order form. For example, I don’t like college ruled paper, so I asked that my note pages be wide ruled or plain white. They were very responsive. You can customize your planner by adding different modules. I added 2 folder pockets. I’ve been using this to capture OOOH SHINY, the random ideas that intrude when I should be focusing on my WIP.

Any of these planners would make great gifts for the writers in your life. Maybe even a gift to yourself to help you get on track and stay on task in 2017!

Have you tried any of these systems? Do you have a different way of managing your writing projects? Share in the comments.


The opinions expresses are my own and may not represent those of my fellow NHWN bloggers. I was not given any compensation nor are the links an affiliate links.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently typing her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.