Writing Habits

How to Procrastinate

1.  Keep all your email inboxes and social media sites open all the time.
Pencil-tapping-distractor-213269-h

2.  Check your email often.  Like, every five minutes.  You might just have a Very Important Email to which you need to respond.  Or, equally urgent, you might have notification of a Very Important Blog Post that you must read immediately.  Or a message about a Very Important Sale that you need to check into.

3.  Surf the internet often.  At least every ten minutes.  Who knows what our pesky government is up to now?  Or what the star of your favorite TV show said last night?  Or where Miley Cyrus most recently appeared nude?  It is crucial that we know all these things ten seconds after they have happened.

4. Click onto the Huff Post site.  There's always something to distract yourself with there.

5.  Pretend to meditate.  Falling asleep at your computer nets you bonus points.

6.  Better yet, close your eyes, pretending you are going to think deep thoughts about your WIP (work in progress).  Falling asleep here also is good for more points. Lots of them.

7. Text a friend.  Choose one who you know will answer your texts instantly.  Carry on a lengthy conversation via text.  There's nothing like the ding of a text coming in to distract you from your writing.

8. Do some research.  Yes, it is imperative that you learn the date of the beginning of the Civil War right this very moment.  Even though you're not writing anything remotely historical.  You still need to know.

9. Never, ever, read over your work the night before you get up early to write.  Your characters and plot will be in your head, driving you to open that computer file.   Do not allow this to happen.

10.  Tweet about how distracted you are, then wait for the retweets and responses to come in so you can talk about how awful it is.

11.  Do the crossword puzzle.  Taking time to google for possible answers is good for, you guessed it, bonus points.

12.  Go out for lunch.  Perhaps that friend you were texting with is available?  An added benefit is that if you eat a lot, you'll be too sleepy to work when you return home.

So, those are my top twelve ways to procrastinate.  What are yours?  Please leave a comment!

Photo by Rennett Stowe.

Working With Your Subconscious

Estock_commonswiki_126921_lSo, we all know that it's important to be alert and focused while writing–present and conscious, so to speak.  But what about utilizing your subconscious, that part of your brain that is always running, no matter what you're doing? Have you thought about how to take advantage of that?

I have.  

Because, basically I'm lazy.  I like passive income, passive exercise, and passive writing. (Passive in the sense that its easy to do, not passive in the construction of sentences.) So, over the years I've perfected some techniques of using the subconscious to work for your writing.  And here, I share them with you:

1.  Seed the brain. (Sometimes known as writing while you sleep).  Read your WIP before going to sleep and see if any brilliant ideas pop into your head upon rising.  Scan your latest chapter before you head out the door to work and let your subconscious chew on it while you're doing other things.  Your subconscious is always at work–might as well give it a writing-related issue to ponder.

2.  Fill your brain up.  Years ago, I read a book called The Technique for Producing an Idea.  The process was simple: read every single thing on the topic at hand until your brain is filled to the brim. Then stop and go golf (the book was written by an ad guy in the sixties) or something.  Et voila, up will pop the idea you were looking for.

3.  Mix it up.  Write by hand!  Or, if you write by hand most of the time, write on the computer.  I'm not a brain expert, so I'm sure of this, but I think these different modes of expression trigger different areas of the brain–and when I write by hand, my subconscious feeds me material like crazy.

4.  Get up from the computer.  Time after time I've risen from my desk chair and immediately had a thought about my WIP, causing me to run back to my desk. The subconscious is no doubt a trickster, liking the idea of me running back and forth from computer to whatever else it is I want to do.  I think that sometimes the brain just needs a bit of space–and getting away from the computer allows this.

5.  Practice repetitive activities.  This one is magic and never fails to work for me.  Knit, weed, mow the lawn, sew, vacuum, whatever.  There's something about the repetitive motion that encourages ideas for your writing.  

6. Take a shower.  I got the idea for the novel that I'm currently fired up about in the shower. Something about the ions being released by the water?  Or maybe its' because you are removed from all other stimuli? I dunno, I just know it works.  

7.  Turn a negative into a positive. This one is far and away the hardest, because it takes constant practice.  When you have a negative thought about anything–your body, your life, your writing, your spouse–train yourself to think about WIP.  This is a two-fer, as it saves you from damaging negative thoughts, and it will help you write your novel.  And, let me repeat, it is freakin' hard. 

Do you work with your subconscious?  If so, what technique do you use?  Leave a comment!

Photo from Wikipedia.

10 Ways To Return to Writing Regularly

Note_creative_author_260972_lTrue confession: I haven't been writing.

Okay, that's not exactly true.  I've been writing blog posts, guest posts, interviews and comments on my client's work.  I've been writing in my journal every morning.  But I haven't been writing writing.  I haven't been working on my WIP.

Until this week.

In my case, I had a wonderful reason not to be writing: my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, was recently released and I got caught up in the hoopla surrounding that.  But in the past, I've gotten distracted for the most mundane of reasons: all the events of day-to-day life.  There's just no two ways about it, it's easy to get distracted from your writing. 

But this week, as I said, I've started back into working on my WIP.  It took me awhile, but I'm back.  Watch out world!  It didn't happen all at once, however.  I don't think it ever does.  Getting back to writing regularly is  a process.   I found ways to ease myself back into it, which I share with you here:

1. Download Scrivener.  This writing software for writers is intuitive and helpful–who knew such a thing was possible? I'm still playing around with it, going through the tutorial, but I think it's going to be wonderful.  And I feel like I just got a new toy at Christmas, which alone is worth it because it makes me want to go play with it.  You can get a free 30-day trial here.

2. Direct your thoughts.  Consciously tell yourself to think about your novel, as in when you are driving, when you are vacuuming, when you are walking the dog.  It's also especially good to do this when you're thinking negative thoughts about how you're not writing.  Direct those thoughts to pondering character or plot instead.

3.  Take notes.  I'm a huge fan of jotting things down, because it leads to more jotting and before you know it you're in the middle of writing a scene.  Put all the ideas you get from #3 onto paper.  The other thing that happens is that ideas breed with each other, like rabbits.   Soon you'll have so many of them you'll be at the page writing.

4.  Familiarize yourself.  On the most basic level, this is about getting accustomed to working on the novel again.  Remember where the files are stored on your computer, stare at your vision board, recall where you were in the manuscript when last you wrote.

5.  Take micro action.  Now that you've gotten oriented again, set yourself a very small task.  Like, opening one file.  I'm not kidding.  Set yourself up for one tiny action and call it good.  This is a way of tricking yourself back into interacting with the work regularly.

6. Research.  Reconnecting with the ideas and topics of your novel can get you excited about it again.  Make a Pinterest board for actresses who might play your character or locations in your novel. Do a Google search for that obscure subject that fascinated when you began. Look for images of your settings.

7.  Use bursts.  Feeling ready to write?  Okay!  Set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing else but write until the buzzer goes off.  This means no surfing the internet, no looking at email, no chatting on the phone, no getting up to get more coffee.  At the end of 30 minutes, you get to take a break.  Then start the process over again.

8.  Read!  Nothing makes me want to write more than reading.  I just got a Kindle (last person on the planet to do so, I know) and I'm amazed at how it enables me to devour books.  Which, in turn, makes me want to cover pages with words.  Most of us come to writing because we love reading so much, so use that impulse to propel your work.

9.  Reread.  While you're in a reading mode, go reread your WIP.  From the beginning.  Immerse yourself fully in the world you've created so that you can go forth and make it come even more alive.

10.  Create a vessel. Commit to a schedule of some sort.  Now, I am the first one to struggle with this–I end up rebelling against myself.  But when I wrote Emma Jean, I rose every day at 5 to work on it before the day began.  When I wrote my previous (unpublished) novel, I was earning my MFA and I had deadlines for 35-50 pages every week.  Each of these examples enabled me to complete a novel.

So there you have it–my rundown of how to get back to writing regularly.  Have you tried any of these, or something else?  What works best for you?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

Property_ranch_estate_243078_lI'm tired of people telling me what to do.

I'm tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I'm tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn't enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I'm tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  "They were the three things
in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate,
her sacred cows."

And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

1.  Meditate.  This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me.  However, meditating is like exercise–we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it.  At least, that's how my mind works.  You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself.  I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator–my mind is all over the place–but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts.  I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less.  So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.

2.  Writing every day.  Stop groaning.  You know it's good for you to write every day.  And you know you want to.  This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis.  And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it.  I get it, I do.  It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day.  But the rewards–oh, the rewards are so many!  Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum.   And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well.  So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.

3.  Use prompts.  Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.)  Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow.  When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes.  And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray.  Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant.  So I can see both sides of this sacred cow.  I give it half credit.

4. Let it rip.  Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish.  Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes.  This is how I write my novels.  And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also.  Because I've seen too many people–myself included–get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens?  You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating.  And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing.  Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.

5.  Don't multitask.  Do I even have to go into this sacred cow?  Multitasking is death to creativity.  How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal?  You can't.  Period.  This one stands.

Those are the sacred cows that occur to me.  What are yours?  Do they hold up under your scrutiny?

Does Your Habitual Thinking About Writing Serve You?

Sitting-outside-park-33150-lThe other night, in the middle of the night, I came to a realization (I guess being wakeful has its uses). The realization was this: every time I think of something I want, my next thought is, but I can't afford it.  It doesn't matter if I'm thinking about buying a luxury automobile or a five cent piece of candy, every thought about something I may buy is inexorably linked to I can't afford it.

Talk about habitual thinking.

Talk about negative habitual thinking.

This thought was so ingrained that it took a drowsy, unguarded moment to shake it loose, and I was actually amazed that I remembered it in the morning.  As I thought about it, I pondered buried habitual thoughts and wondered how many I might harbor about writing.  Quite a few, I'd wager.  Thoughts like:

I'm a writer. But I'm unpublished.

Not too harmful, right?  Except that what we focus on grows.  So how about changing that thought to:

I'm a soon-to-be published writer.

Great, you say, except…..it's not so easy.

Yeah, I hear you.  And I've also been working diligently on changing my habitual thoughts for years.  The morning I woke up with the realization I think I can't afford anything, I wrote down the process I use for changing thoughts and herewith share it with you. 

1.  Be Aware.  This is probably the hardest part–figuring out what those habitual thoughts are. Once you start to pay attention, it gets easier.  The old stalwart brain training rituals like meditation or exercise will help here also.

2.  Feel.  It's not enough to become aware, you've also got to feel it in your body.  You've brought it up from the murky depths, don't let it sink back in.  What part of your body does it lodge in?  How does it make you feel? Concentrate on it and allow it to intensify.

3.  Cut Cords. Imagine fine silky cords running between your original thought (I'm a writer) and your negative thought (But I'm still unpublished). Now lop those cords off.  That's right, go ahead and snip 'em.  If you believe in guides and spirits you can ask one of them to do the cutting. Doesn't matter.  Just get rid of the cords.

4. Think a New Thought.  One unencumbered by negativity.  Like, oh, say, I'm a writer.  Plain and simple.  Because you are!

5.  Rinse and Repeat.  Whenever you're feeling down, look at your thoughts.  And repeat this process as needed.  It really does help. 

In general, changing your thoughts makes a huge difference.  At the very least, it is way more pleasant to think positive thoughts than negative thoughts.  At the very most, it could make an enormous difference in your writing career. (Because, what we focus on is what grows.)

So, tell me–how do you deal with habitual negative writing thoughts?

***And don't forget my Get Your Novel Written Now class, gearing up for a new session in October.  Sign up here.

Image of woman sitting on the bench by Zizzy0104.

Writing Habits

Wine_glass_alcohol_240313_lSo, I'm doing things totally backwards.  (Many will say that's not unexpected from me.)

I've got a big post on habitual writing thoughts coming up on Thursday that I just scheduled.  But I  had thoughts on writing habits that I want to talk about today.  So here goes.  And I'll keep it brief.

Often we think of habits as dull and boring.  Except when it comes to writing.  We actually want to create a writing habit, as in, perhaps, writing every day.  That would be good, wouldn't it?

Recently, I formed a habit.  Two habits, as a matter of fact.  When I was in LA at the beginning of August, I stayed with my friend Suzanne.  Every morning, we'd drink coffee and write morning pages outside in her wonderful back yard (okay, we chatted a bit, too).  And every evening, we'd re-convene in the yard for Happy Hour (red wine and delicious treats that she whipped up).

After a week of this, guess what I did when I got back to Portland?  Went outside to my wonderful back yard every morning to write and every evening for Happy Hour. 

And thus beginneth a habit.

I don't think it took that long to form the habit–probably a couple of days.  I love this habit–I look forward to getting up in the morning to write and ending the day in  the same place with a glass of wine.  (And by the way, the days are getting shorter and cooler fast.  This habit will soon be a thing of the past, which is why I'm enjoying it as much as I can for the moment.)

You probably have figured out why I'm mentioning this. 

Because if it is this easy and quick to form a daily habit of morning pages and wine at opposite ends of the day, it is easy to form a habit such as working on your novel every day.

Just saying.

How do you form habits?  Do you have a good writing habit?

***I'm teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class again come October.  I've updated the page with testimonials from those who took it in August.  Check it out!

Photo by EmZed.