Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Showing Up

If it’s true what they say, that 80 percent of success is showing up …

80percentMost often attributed to Woody Allen, the maxim “80 percent of success is showing up” has earned its place in the collective cultural consciousness.  But, how does one actually “show up,” and is it as easy to do as it sounds?

According to a Quote Investigator rundown on the origins of the Allen quip, the context of the writer/director’s observation was a 1989 conversation with language columnist William Safire about how writers and playwrights who had actually written their book or script were well on their way to publication. Unfortunately, Allen also observed that the vast majority of people never write the play or the book. They just talk about writing it.

So, it seems that “showing up” isn’t the whole story. You have to show up with the work done. Trouble is, “80 percent of success is showing up with your finished manuscript” sounds much less inspirational (not to mention way more daunting) than the original quote.  It sounds like something that might happen “someday.” Well, “might” and “someday” never do you any good. They are too uncertain and too far away in the future. What you need is to show up NOW. Today.

And, you can.

You can “show up” every day. You can sit down at your desk, put your fingers on the keyboard, and add a few more words to that “someday” manuscript. Showing up isn’t something you only do when your work is finally finished. It’s something you have to do consistently and persistently over a long period of time in order to arrive at the day when you show up with the work done. I mean, think about it. How else are you going to show up on that Big Day, manuscript in hand, if you haven’t shown up on all the other days?

I won’t lie – showing up every day is hard. BUT, it’s the only way to get where you’re going. One way to make it easier is to keep all your tools and your project close at hand. Even better, keep them right out in the open. Think of your writing project like a puzzle. If you leave a puzzle in the box and you put the box in a cupboard, it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to put the puzzle together. If, on the other hand, you take the puzzle out of the cupboard and spread the pieces out on your dining room table, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll start popping the pieces into place. Because everything is right there in front of you, it’ll be top of mind and also easily accessible.

The same goes for your writing. Don’t squirrel it away in a desk drawer or computer file. Keep it out in the open. Leave it on the kitchen counter or your nightstand. Put it on the table next to the couch, beside the TV remote. (Better yet, put it on top of the TV remote so you have to actually move it to get to those clickers!) If you write on your computer, set your project doc to open automatically each time you boot up. Do whatever you can to keep your project in plain sight and easy to get to. I promise, if you do this you’ll suddenly find odd moments when you can sit down and scratch out a few words or ideas.

And before you know it, you’ll be an expert at showing up – for the daily grind and the Big Day when you can stand there, finished manuscript in hand and a big grin on your face.


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/orintroduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Do Your Writing Exercises

vintage classroomSo, you think writing exercises are just for beginners, or writers who don’t have a “real” project to work on? Think again.

It’s back-to-school season for many of us, and time to give ourselves some homework. Writing from prompts is an excellent way to keep your creative and craft muscles strong and limber.  Whether writing exercises are the primary focus of your writing, or just a small part of a broader practice, they help you hone your skills while simultaneously stretching your imagination. It’s a win-win.

Each time I take a writing class, I am reminded just how effective writing exercises can be. Whether the assigned exercise is intended to spark the imagination through random association (e.g., write a story that involves a pelican, a key, and someone who has lost something or someone) or to challenge students with constraints (e.g. write a 100-word story in the second person), writing exercises work because they force us to focus on something. They are like a puzzle that needs solving. Even if it’s a tough puzzle, it’s easier to start with something than it is to start with nothing but a blank page.

You can find writing exercise prompts all over the place, but here are a couple of resources that I’ve found and can recommend:

Sarah Selecky’s Daily Writing Prompts: I have not yet treated myself to one of Sarah’s workshops, but I’ve heard great things. Meanwhile, I have subscribed to her daily writing prompts email and have been impressed by the variety of her exercises. Easy, free, and inspiring – doesn’t get much better than that.

The Write Practice Blog: This multi-author blog includes a “Practice” section at the end of each post. What’s helpful about this approach is that the post gives you some context, instruction, and examples that help you get the most out of the writing exercise assignment at the end. Great format!

So, there you go: writing exercises – do them.

(And, don’t forget to have fun!)

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit: roujo via Compfight cc

Writing Rituals

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott again. Her book, Bird by Bird, is my favorite writing book of all time. If you haven’t read it, go to your local library and check it out today.

But right now, I’m reading Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair. In it, Ms. Lamott talks a lot about rituals and routines:

“Daily rituals, especially walks, even forced marches around the neighborhood, and schedules, whether work or meals with non-awful people, can be the knots you hold on to when you’ve run out of rope.”

When I think of difficult times, such as after the loss of a loved one, I agree that daily rituals have been “knots” that have allowed me to hang on. I think of doing the work of caring for my son after the death of my beloved uncle. The daily rituals with my son—morning, noon, and night–helped me pull myself through those first days without my uncle.

And what about my writing life? I don’t have that many rituals around my writing. I’m an opportunistic writer at the moment—if I find myself with a few spare minutes, I whip out my computer, my iPad, or I grab a receipt and write on the back of it. While I believe this method has many advantages, I can see that a little ritual might be a good thing.

I looked up writing rituals online and read about Ernest Hemingway and his habit of writing at dawn, while standing at a typewriter. I read about Maya Angelou’s habit of checking into a hotel for the day to write, then going home in the evening. While these writers’ habits were familiar to me, I had never before read that Demosthenes routinely shaved half his head so he couldn’t go out in public. He’d stay home and write until his hair grew back. That seems a little drastic (plus I’d still have to go do the grocery shopping!)

I polled my fellow writers here at Live to Write-Write to Live about their writing rituals:

  • Wendy, like me, tends to write when she can, doesn’t currently have a lot of writing rituals (but she looks forward to the day when her ritual is heading out to her tiny writer’s cabin with her faithful dog, Pippin.)
  • Lee, too, isn’t much for writing rituals.
  • Deborah has written about her writing rituals before for this blog (click here to read.) Her ritual starts with NAMS, which I think I might try after reading her piece on it.

For me, right now, just showing up is enough of a ritual. Opening my computer , creating a new, blank document, and writing Sh***y First Draft across the top is enough. Opening my iPad and going back to a blog post idea I jotted down the week before while sitting in a waiting room is enough. Grabbing a notebook by my bed and writing down a story idea in the middle of the night is enough.

One of these days, I’ll have a more robust writing ritual and I’ll be a better writer for it. In the meantime, I’ll keep checking out other writers’ rituals and see what might work for me when the time is right.

What is your writing ritual these days?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, stepmother, and (brand-new) grandmother. I’m enjoying the moments when I write and I look forward to having a little more time for writing in the fall when my son starts school. Then I might need a ritual to get me keep my butt in the chair!


You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.

practice art vonnegutMy life would be a whole lot easier if I wasn’t a writer.

I would have a lot more time on my hands.
My To Do list would be a lot shorter.
Time management wouldn’t be such a bear.

But, I am a writer.

My dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.” This particular bit of wisdom annoys me, partly because it feels limiting, but mostly because it’s so damn true.

You can’t say “yes” to one thing without saying “no” to something else. All choices involve sacrifice.

Artists are known for sacrifice. Writers, painters, performers – all of them choose their art over other things – security, comfort, leisure, even relationships.

We make ourselves vulnerable by opening our hearts up to the world. We sacrifice the safe anonymity of the non-artistic life, choosing instead to willingly subject ourselves to judgment. We are willing to do without material goods, social acceptance, and the false security that comes with a more traditional lifestyle.

We commit more of our time to work than play. We are painfully aware that the hour spent vegging out in front of the TV could be much more wisely invested in our latest project. We get up earlier and stay up later in order to carve out time for our art. We sleep less, and even when we do sleep our dreams are filled with thoughts about our art.

We will even sacrifice relationships, walking away from people who don’t understand or aren’t willing to accommodate our need to create.

You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.

You are a writer, an artist. You make choices each day in favor of your art. You weigh the rest of your life against your work and make the hard decisions that keep your creative endeavors alive no matter how busy or distracted or bogged down your life gets. You fight for your writing life and your weapon is sacrifice.

Be proud. Your path is not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Be a writer – an artist – and your life will be richer for the journey.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

It’s Okay to Be Afraid – Accept the Challenge Anyway!

I’m amazed at how many times I hear people not only say they are afraid to try new things, but they actually avoid trying new things. I knew someone who wouldn’t eat any food he’d never eaten before.

We’re all born with a blank slate. Every thing has a first time (including what we like to eat). Why weren’t we afraid from the very start? Because we didn’t know any better.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Each writer has different strengths and interests and we come about them in various ways. We had to learn how to:

  • write
  • spell
  • read
  • craft sentences/paragraphs/stories
  • come up with ideas
  • outline
  • research
  • use a card catalog (dewey decimal) at the library
  • do online Internet searches
  • understand grammar
  • learn writing rules
  • and so on

We didn’t one day wake up as writers or have a writing business. Everything is always brand new to us — at first.

Deciding to be a writer is scary in itself, isn’t it? Pursuing writing as a career has it’s own anxiety, too. As time goes on, we develop a skill set and some of us find a niche (or two) that we enjoy. One constant in whatever type of writing we’re pursuing, is that we always need to be looking for new work.

And doesn’t that thought just scare some of us until we break out in a sweat?

Where does the fear come from? Why do we get afraid of a writing project that’s a bit over our heads?

I’ve been there many times, and expect to be there many more. Being a little afraid is how I know I’m continuing to learn, improve, and build upon my current writing skills.

If you have the basic writing skills for a project, you shouldn’t be afraid to use them as a foundation for new work. And if there’s a certain type of writing you are passionate about pursuing, look into formal training through a class or workshop to help you get started.

We all start with a clean/blank slate. It’s up to us, individually, to fill the slate with the skills and experiences we want. Being nervous is a good thing – it means we’re aware and open to possibilities. It means we desire to push ourselves further.

If you don’t feel a little scared, you aren’t stretching yourself.

It’s okay to be afraid of a new writing project or opportunity.

I encourage you to embrace the fear and try the project anyway! I bet more often than not you’ll be happy that you did.

Have you had projects you were you initially nervous about, accepted them anyway, and were positively blown away by the results? 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

I Want to Write

Back a few weeks ago, I responded to a writing prompt I found in a Writer’s Digest magazine. The prompt asked me to “acknowledge that writing is hard.” I think that all the time, but I’ve never written those words down. So I did—plus a few more. Then I went on to the rest of the prompt, which included: “Write about how you are going to make writing happen.”

Writing down how hard writing is, acknowledging it, brought up the question, “So why do I do it?”

My answer is simply because I really, really want to. I have no idea why I have such a longing to write, and I have come to see that I don’t have to know. I believe that if I have the longing, I must also have the skills (or the ability to learn the skills) to be a great writer. I’m learning the craft, practicing finding the right words. Everything I write feels like progress on my journey. My voice is starting to emerge on the page and I’m starting to get glimmers of where I might go with my writing. That’s enough for me for now.

Responding to one writing prompt, writing about how difficult writing is and why I want to do it helped me to be able to make a commitment (again!) to making my writing happen. I realize I need to spend time in the chair, trying to find the right words, not just thinking about doing it or reading about how others have done it.

So, I signed up for NaNo. And I put my life coaching blog on hold for the month of November (here’s the blog post I wrote about it.) I’ve also committed to writing for 15 minutes a day—minimum. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s way better than nothing and it’s progress, which is what I’m really after. (In school, my nieces and nephews now say, “Practice makes progress,” instead of “Practice makes perfect.” Isn’t that great?)

I’ve used the built-in accountability and fellowship of NaNo successfully in the past (I won last year and in 2008,) and I’m hoping to do it again this year. When I picture my future self, she’s always a writer. If I’m a writer, I need to write every day (or most days.) That’s a very hard thing to do. But I’m clear on how important writing is to me and my intuition tells me that’s one thing that’s never going to change.

Where are you on your journey as a writer? How are you making your writing happen?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, mother, runner, and family physician. I’m gearing up for NaNo and excited to make writing a priority as much as possible in the month of November (see how I’m qualifying making writing a priority already? Yikes!)

We’re All Creative

I’ve been thinking about creativity lately, especially creative writing.

I just finished reading Brene Brown’s books. Dr. Brown describes herself as a qualitative researcher and a storyteller. She interviews people and listens to their stories and analyzes what they tell her about specific topics and then comes up with different theories based on that analysis.

I love reading the results of her studies and I love reading about the studies themselves.

Recently I heard Dr. Brown speak and she backed up every claim she made with evidence from her research. I so admire that.

But, it’s hard to be creative when you’re trying to back up everything you write with evidence.

Maybe that’s why I’m so much more comfortable with writing nonfiction.

Yet I have a longing to write fiction. It’s been with me since I was a child and I want to honor that longing—I know it’s not going away.

And Brene Brown’s research shows that creativity is a necessary part of a “Wholehearted” life.

One of the things Brene found in her research (from The Gifts of Imperfection) was that there’s no such thing as “creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.”

I found this very encouraging. My creativity is there, I’m just not used to using it all the time—and I can practice!

The other statement that came out of Brene’s research on creativity that I found compelling was this one: “If we want to make meaning, we need to make art.”

I want to make meaning, we all do. So it’s okay to create art (not just nonfiction.)

After reading all this research, I’m now giving myself permission to take my time finding a new creative writing project. Since I finished and submitted my short story at the end of April, I’ve been floundering, feeling like I’m wasting time because I didn’t immediately dive into a new project.

“Wasting time” is only one way of looking at it. “Feeding the muse” is another way to look at it. Or, “preparing the ground,” as it’s gardening season.

Some ways I’m trying to develop my creativity:

  • By using writing prompts daily,
  • By writing “Shi***y First Draft” at the top of every new document (on the advice of Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird),
  • By writing with an audience in mind made up only of people who love me and love whatever I write. (It really takes the pressure off.)
  • By doing other creative projects that have nothing to do with writing (like calligraphy, which is technically writing, but you know what I mean!)

In just a couple of weeks, I feel more creative than I have in a long time. I’m waking up in the middle of the night to write down ideas and phrases that seem to come out of nowhere.

What do you do to develop your creativity?