Getting Back To Writing

I was out of town last week and I didn't do any writing.  (Yes, you read blog posts while I was gone. I had them scheduled ahead of time.)  I didn't even have my computer with me, which was shocking even to me.  I never go anywhere without my computer (except to France, but I wrote on my Ipad while there).

I knew ahead of time that I would be in meetings and working on reports unrelated to writing while gone and so I didn't  attempt to write.  I was so busy (and then brain dead at the end of the day) that I didn't even think about my writing.

Which was fine.  Then I returned home.  And my brain refused to connect with any of my creative writing projects.  It was as if they were just gone.  The current novel I love?  Couldn't remember what it was about.  That short story I've been working on?  Hmmm, remind me who the characters are again?

But, in the words of none other than the Dude himself, this aggression will not stand, man.

And so I set out to get back to my writing.  Here's what I did:

I re-read my work.  Fortunately for me, my critique group meets this week and I needed to send a chapter to them.  So that became my entry point–re-reading the chapter I'd written before I left and doing some light editing on it.  Oh, that's right.  I remember what's going on here.  From there, I got interested in how I'd envisioned the plot and I re-read my scene list.  And made some small changes.  And from there, I remembered a new character I'd thought up and wanted to create a dossier for–and whadda you know, I was writing.

As I re-read, I took notes.  I love notes.  Notes are my best friend.  I think they should be yours, too.  Notes prime the pump.  They get story ideas going.  They reconnect you to your work. Notes are amazing.  Take lots of notes.  They will lead you back to your writing.  (It is worth pointing out that I take notes by hand and I think you should, too.  This is part of why they work–because you're utilizing a different part of the brain than when you are on the computer.  Or at least that's what it feels like.)

Finally, I did research. What writer doesn't love research?  It can be the best procrastination device ever.  But in this case it helped me get back to my writing by delivering some interesting litle tidbits that sparked ideas.

So that's how I got back to my writing this week.  These are simple techniques you can use any time you've been away from your writing for awhile, or if you are experiencing the dreaded writer's block.

So, tell me–what do you do to get back to your writing after being away from it for awhile?

 

 

One Technique for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Gray_brick_block_220245_lAh, our old friend writer's block.  It can take so many shapes and sizes, just like fear, which it is, of course, based on.  And just as writer's block can take a gazillion different forms, so, too, can its cure.  Which is why you should try a variety of strategies if you are hit with writer's block, whether you're procrastinating writing the next scene in your novel or haven't been able to work on your memoir in years.  Here's one possible approach.

A friend told me this tip in regards to getting over procrastination and getting things done (clearing out clutter, anyone?) in non-writing arenas of life.  But it will work just as well for you (yes, you) with your writing block.

Here's the crux of it: micro action.

All you have to do is commit to one small (tiny, even) action each day.  Do that and call it good.  Really.  Consider it done.  You've accomplished your goal.

Here's a non-writing example.  I've got an upstairs that has somehow accumulated quite a bit of clutter that I'd like to clean up.  But I'm busy.  I've got a book launch coming up and I'm doing publicity for that while maintaining this blog and continuing to do client work and teach.  And plus, I hate clearing clutter.  I get confused and overwhelmed really fast.  Like five minutes fast.  So here's my micro action: deal with one piece of paper or item per day.  That's it.  That's all I have to do.  The other day I picked up a piece of paper and put it in the recycling bag.  And I had met my goal.

 I'm not sure what the experts say about why this works, but here's why I think it does: because it gets you used to doing whatever it is you're avoiding.  And then you realize it's not the big scary monster you think it is.  When you don't do something, it tends to loom large and take on proportions way bigger than reality.  The other thing that happens is that you trick yourself into it.  That one piece of paper uncovers another that I deal with in the moment and then another and another and before you know it, the shelf is cleaned off.

So let's apply this to writing.

If you're seriously blocked (and really, any block is a serious block because we writers are born to write and when we're not writing life is not good) set yourself a micro action goal of writing one sentence.  If you're seriously seriously blocked, maybe your goal will be one word.  That's your accomplishment.  Write your word or sentence and you are done for the day.  Or maybe you'll set the goal to write for one minute.  Or five minutes.   I'd be willing to bet serious money that eventually–way sooner than you think at this moment–that one sentence will turn into a paragraph, which will then turn into a scene. And you'll be writing again.  Because here's the deal: you've established yourself a habit.  And once something is habitual, it's not scary anymore.  (Unless you're smoking.  Or drinking too much.  Then it gets frightening.)

Here's a tip–don't become an overachiever, at least when you first start this process.  For instance, I'm using this process to re-commit to a regular walking routine after injuring my knee. If I so much as walk out the door I've accomplished my goal.  But for me, getting outside (step away from the computer…) is the hardest thing to do, so usually, once I'm walking, I'm quite happy.  I noticed last week on a walk that my knee was starting to get a bit tired.  And my reaction was to start coercing myself to do more.  Telling myself I hadn't gone far enough.  Berating myself for being lazy.  But then I remembered–I'd already accomplished my goal.  And I headed for home.   Because of this attitude and my micro goal,  I now look forward to walking.

So if you're struggling to make forward motion on a big project, try this micro action technique.  And then report back after your novel is on the best-seller list.

Have you ever tried something like this to get yourself going again?  What were the results?

 **By the way, speaking of book launches, wouldn't you like to celebrate mine with me?  Click here for the details.

Photo by Rotorhead.

Whatever Works

So, we teaching and coaching types love to give advice (except that the true essence of coaching is not so much giving advice as pulling what you yourself already know to be so out of yourself).

I, for instance, love to tell people to do Morning Pages.  (If you don't know what Morning Pages are, they are three pages of glumping on the page all your crap and good stuff as well, first thing in the morning.)

And I love to tell people to use prompts.

I also tell people to do what is most important to you first thing in the morning.  I presume that writing is most important to you.  So I further presume that it is what you will aim to do first thing.

I could go on with my list of helpful things I tell people.  Like, working with your inner critic, not checking email first thing in the morning, knowing your market, the power of prayer and meditation, and on and on.  And, some might say, on.

But here's the deal:

If what I say works, then use it.

If it doesn't, then don't.

But find something that does.  The point is, not everything works for everyone.  But my offerings are based on working with dozens of clients and students over the years.  And how will you know if they work for you until you try them?

Truly, I don't care if your favorite technique to get the words flowing is to stand on your head and rub your belly button.  If it works, do it.  I'm all about getting the words onto the page and I know full well that even though we like to haughtily say that writer's block doesn't exist, it really does.  Because I've experienced it, and so have you. 

But just because it exists doesn't mean it can't be dealt with.  It can.  Keep trying things until you get over it.

Okay, that's my rant for the summer.  I promise.  Now tell me what kinds of techniques work for you to get the writing flowing?  Alcohol?  A nap?  A brisk run?  Chaining yourself to the computer?  I'm all ears.

***Guess what?  I'm offering the book proposal teleclass again this September.  And right now, there are crazy fast action bonuses: an early-bird price AND a free coaching call.  But hurry, because the fast action bonus is time sensitive.  Check it out here.

The Mental Cleanse For Writers (And Others!)

Seems like every other person I meet these days is doing a cleanse. Everystockphoto-78603-m

I get it.  Stuff gets stuck in your digestive passages and other organs and affects you in negative ways.  You don't have as much pep, or as they used to call it, get up and go.  You feel a bit blah and depressed and you're not sure why.  And so on.

So, I'm all for the cleanse.  But I believe that probably even more important than a physical cleanse is a mental cleanse.

Think about it.

Just as food particles get stuck in your digestive system, so too do old ideas and energy get lodged in your brain.  Scientists say that neuropathways get carved in our brain, and in order to create new habits, we have to create new neuropathways.  So it stands to reason that a mental cleanse is an important first step in this endeavor, no?  And that by cleansing mentally, we create crazy room in the old noggin for new ideas and yes, new writing projects.

So here are my recommendations for your mental cleanse:

1.  Let go.  Easier said than done, but letting go of worries and fears is incredibly cleansing.  And it frees up tons of space in the old noggin.  So, instead of focusing on how you're going to pay your car insurance, or even something as simple as what to cook for dinner, let go and let God (or whomever or whatever it is you pray to).  Not only will you actually have room in the brain to ponder the next chapter of your book, amazing things will happen.  Because, that's what happens when you let it all go.

2. Forgive.   This is, of course, closely linked to #1.  Because forgiving is all about letting go–of resentments, of anger, of grudges.  And when you forgive you clear your brain.  And when you clear your brain, you've got more room for new stuff.

3.  Operate from your heart.  Just give the old brain a rest.  Center yourself in your heart and work from that consciousness for a change.  Life-changing.

4.  Trust your gut.  Another way to give your hard-working brain a rest is to listen to your intuition, which is traditionally centered in your stomach.  A few years ago, information came out that we actually have another brain there.  So use it.  Let the brain in your head take a break.

5.  Locate the place where you ego talks to you.  Mine speaks clearly to me from a location in the upper part of the right side of my brain.  I know, weird.  Anyway, observation is the first step to change, and by knowing this I can easily identify when it's my ego speaking to me.  The ego is a sneaky beast, and loves to hide itself.  So knowing when it is talking is vital.

6.  Befriend your inner critic.  First, you must meet him or her.  Give her a name and describe her.  And then see what kind of deal you can broker.  Can you get him to entertain himself while you are writing, for instance?  Or to be quiet while you're meditating?  Offer her a job–revising is a great one–and that will go a long way towards mollifying her.  For a wonderful example of someone who did this and wrote a charming post about it, go here.

7.  Deal with negative thoughts.  Nip them in the bud, release them to God, scour them out one way or another.  I believe they are as bad for your brain as alcohol is reputed to be.

So there are my thoughts on giving yourself a mental cleanse.  In truth, these are all practices I strive to follow every day, not just when I think the gunk has piled up a bit too much.  How about you?  How do you give your brain a break?

**PS–Don't forget my free coaching sessions.  You will be amazed at how much we can clear out in 15 minutes.  Click here to find a time.

Photo by ardelfin.

Conjuring Clarity

 I work with writers and other creative types in a variety of ways, including one-hour sessions that help them to gain clarity about their work.  I do this through this very website and at events like Room to Write in Nashville, where I am the resident "book doctor" on call to guide writers.

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What I find over and over again is that confusion is common amongst us and it causes angst.   The two of these together make up that state often known as writer's block.

We're confused about:

Which project to write

How to write it.

When to write it.

Who to write it to.

How to get it out in the world once its written.

And this causes angst:

Because confusion creates paralysis.

Over and over again, I see this paralysis in writers.  But once we wade through the vast confusions our brains sometimes present us with, clarity rules.  And suddenly writing happens.

How can you gain clarity, short of hiring me or attending a retreat?  Here are some tips:

1.  Corral Multiple Projects.  We right-brained types have a lot of ideas, and every new idea is always the best one yet.  This riot of ideas is wonderful, and the envy of many left-brainers.  But it can also cause us not to finish projects.  Learn how many projects you can handle at once (its three for most people) and stick with that number.  Make notes of new ideas that occur and trust that you'll get to them in due time.

2.  Trust the Internal.  The world is an external-led machine.  We respond to telephone calls, tweets and emails that interrupt our flow.  We worry about what others think of us.  We decide we shouldn't do a project because its too controversial, too sweet, too whatever.  Instead of being externally-focused, learn to be internally-focused.  What's right for you?  Whats the project that makes your heart leap with joy? When can you turn off the internet and the phone and focus solely on your writing?

3.  Be Okay With Choice.  In order to get your creative ideas into the world of form, you're going to have to learn to exercise choice.  I'm the master of unfinished projects, but I'm training myself to finish them, no matter how much I fear criticism, or "failure."  Learn to choose your most important project and focus on it until it's done, with a couple of other secondary projects along for the ride.

4.  Chunk It Down.  Rome wasn't built in a day, it was built one brick at a time.  Or whatever building material they used.  Looking at a huge project such as a novel can be so overwhelming you'll never get to it.  But start to think of it in terms of chapters, or better yet scenes that form parts of chapters, and it looks doable.

5.  Work With Time.  Work on your most important project first if you can.  If writing a novel is your main goal, get up early and get your work session done first thing.  This reinforces the internal point-of-view mentioned above–that your work and your ideas are the most important thing.

Give these tips a try and let me know how they work out for you.  And if you have some tips of your own, feel free to share them.

Photo by pll, from Everystockphoto.

About Those Get Your Writing in Gear Sessions

A couple weeks ago I did something that all the experts tell you not to do.

I "launched" a product without much fanfare.  Well, let's be honest, there was no fanfare.  I got the idea for the service, wrote the page and put it up.  Just like that.  No hype and not even much promotion, besides some tweets on Twitter.

But this morning the thought occurred that it might be nice to do, um, a little promotion on it.  But more than that I thought it would be cool to explain where the idea came from.  So here goes.

Every April and October (used to be December, but it is being moved next year) I'm the "book doctor" at Room to Write.  This is a writing retreat held in the heart of Nashville, where a dozen writers meet for four days to write.  We also walk the labyrinth, meditate, talk publishing, and meet for meals, but all those activities are optional.   If you'd rather stay in your room and write, that's fine, too.  Writers hire me for an hour session if they get blocked or need help with their writing.

And here's the deal: these hour-long sessions are rockin'.   They are so totally amazing, not only for my clients, but for me.  Because we sit and discuss where the writer is at in his or her writing, where he or she wants to be, and how to get there.  We read a bit of their work, and talk about it some.  And over the course of the hour something really amazing emerges: clarity.  Writers come to the session with a myriad of projects cavorting in their heads and clamoring for attention, and leave with clear direction on which to start first.  Or they are confused about a character.  Or a plot point.  Or they have an idea for a novel or memoir and don't know how to get started.

They walk out of the session with clear direction, and what I like to call "marching orders" for how to proceed.  They've generally got a list of books to read, perhaps some websites to visit, a few supplies to purchase.  They are energized and motivated.  And so am I.  I love, love, love doing these sessions.

So at the start of this month, when I was at the most recent Room to Write, I thought about all this and then struck myself on the forehead in the proverbial duh moment.   My epiphany was this: why not offer this service to people who cannot make it to Nashville for the retreat?  Why not offer these sessions on my site?

And so I have.  And, I have to say, the sessions are pretty damn rockin' on the phone as well.  When you sign up for a session, you automatically get sent a questionnaire that helps me learn where you are.  From there we schedule your time to talk.  And you get clarity.  And motivation.  And inspiration.  And energy.  And marching orders.  And resources galore.

For more information, to sign up or buy a session as a gift for someone, click the tab above or this link.  And by the way, the sessions are great for non-writers as well.   Creative types, entrepreneurs, small business owners, or anyone with a dream will benefit.

Giving Up, Or Why I Should Once In Awhile

Friday I hit the wall.  
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As is my usual wont, I woke early (6ish), grabbed my coffee, and went to work on my writing.  Lately I've been thinking deep thoughts about my novel rewrite and writing them down, which leads to more deep thoughts and more writing.  I'm writing about characters, trying to get to know them better, and pondering plot points.  All of this is intense work.

On Friday morning, I wrote a couple paragraphs and stopped, because I knew I was done.  Just…done.  My pen wouldn't move.  I couldn't form any more thoughts connected to the novel.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch.

My brain, however, seemed to have plenty of room for thoughts about, oh, the missing child in my city, Kyron Horman.  Or the oil spill in the Gulf.  Or the World Cup.  (No, I'm not really a soccer fan.  I'm trying to be.  I have this idea that it would be really fun to buy season tickets for the new pro soccer franchise that is coming to Portland.  But first I have to learn to enjoy the game.  And that seems to be slow going.) 

In other words, my brain wanted to focus on anything other than writing.

My brain, poor thing, needed a break.

What I should have done was recognize this right away and take some time off from thinking and writing about my novel.  Lord knows I've got tons of other things to work on.  Or, if I didn't feel like writing, I could read.  Or take a walk.  Or go look at art at a gallery. 

But did I do any of those things?

Of course not.

Instead, I soldiered on.  I was determined, absolutely determined, to get more done on the novel rewrite.  So what if my brain didn't want to work on it anymore?  "Pathetic, lazy brain," I told it, "buck up and let's get going here."

And you can imagine how well that worked.

Yeah, right.  About as well as….well, I can't think of a metaphor so provide your own.  And so, instead of intentionally deciding to take some time off and give my brain a rest, I kept at it.  And ended up reading endless updates of the Kyron Horman case and pondering all sorts of interesting websites I'd never seen before.

This kept up all day Friday and Saturday.  Finally, by Sunday, my brain had had enough rest, the dam broke, and off we went again.  However, I suspect if I had just taken the time off on Friday morning, I'd have probably been back at it by the afternoon.

Lesson learned: it is not always a good thing to soldier on.  Though the prevailing point of view in this society would have us believe otherwise, which is one reason I think it is so hard.  In the future, I'm going to do my best to pay attention when my brain rebels and give the poor hard-working thing some time off.

What about you?  How do you know when you've hit the wall?  What do you do when you splat against it?