prolific and prosperous writer

Revisiting Writing Abundance: 7 Practices of the Prolific and Prosperous Writer

Fruit-market-barcelona-64943-lIt's Mercury Retrograde until November 10th–that wonderful time when computers and phones go wacky, travel plans go awry, and the technology gods sit back and laugh at us. 

And yet, it is also a time for re-orienting yourself, when any and everything that starts with the prefix "re" is good to focus on.  So, reconnecting (seen a few old friends you've lost touch with again recently?  Me, too.), reorganizing, reviewing.  You get the picture.

In this vein, I've been revisiting an old system of mine in advance of possibly turning it into a signature program, wherein each of the seven steps would be studied in depth as a way to catapult your writing to new heights of productivity.  Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Okay, so here goes:

Writing Abundance

7 Practices of the Prolific and Prosperous Writer

This system grew out of my own writing career. People constantly ask me how I can be so prolific as a writer. Further, they often marvel that I’ve created a truly satisfying writing life for myself. I write for clients and I write for myself, and one way or another, you’ll find me writing something every day. After being constantly beseeched to give up my secret, I finally sat down and took a good, hard look at what I do. I realized there’s no one secret—there’s seven of them! The seven practices are each process-oriented, things that I do regularly to enable my writing. While the practices work well when done step by step, it is not required. I prefer to think of them as a spiral or a series of ongoing activities. For instance, you may get stalled during the practice of creating and realize you need some inspiration, so you return to the practice of connection. Or perhaps the block is serious enough that you need some help in clearing it. Writing Abundance is a fluid, flexible system that will enhance your ability to put words on the page. Here’s a brief introduction to the seven practices. 

Connect—Writing is communicating, and to do that we need to connect. It is vital to connect with other writers and talk craft. It’s also imperative to connect with family and friends for support. It is also important to connect with clients and readers, of course! But most important is to establish an ongoing connection with a higher power. Call it God, the goddess, Allah, Buddha, creator, or the source of all that is—but please call upon it. Establishing a regular meditation and or prayer session will do wonders for your writing.

Cultivate—Successful writers have cultivated the mindset of a writer. This means we (continue reading the rest of this article on my blog) are constantly on the alert, and constantly taking in information and inspiration for our work. Writers observe details large and small, view our world intently in order to be able to describe it, listen carefully to write believable dialogue, and read voraciously to see how other writers do it. Then they write all of these things down in a journal so as not to forget. All of these are part of the practice of cultivation.

Conceive—A constant flow of ideas is vital to the writer. Who are we without ideas for our work? How are we to write stories, essays, articles, novels, and books without first coming up with ideas? Ideas breed like rabbits, and the more you have, the more will come to you. I’ve developed some amazingly simple ways to keep the ideas coming!

Clear—As writers, we need to get very clear about who we are, what we want to write, and how we want to write it. Limiting subconscious beliefs can keep us from reaching our full potential as writers. Say, for instance, you keep wanting to write but never quite manage to get to it—you may have a block which prevents it. We’re lucky to live in a time when there are many effective energy modalities we can use to easily do this.

Create—Finally, the time to put words on paper has arrived. You put your fingers on the keyboard or pick up the pen….and nothing happens. For this practice, I’ve gathered sure-fire techniques to get the words flowing across the page. Some of them include easy and fun ways to prep and outline your work before you get started, which is one of the secrets to block-free writing.

Correct—Ah, now there’s a C word some of us have learned to fear. But correction—critiquing, editing, rewriting and revising—is the real meat of writing, where you dive deeper into the true meaning of your work. You, too, can learn to love the practice of correction.

Ceasing and releasing—All good things must come to an end, even your beloved writing project. Yes there comes a time when you must release your baby out into the world, without ego or control, and let it be what it is to be.

So what do you think?  Did I miss anything?  Are they in the right order?  What are your best practices for prolific writing?

Image by einahpets.

The Writer’s Paradox

Scenario #One:  Life is going well.  Really well.  Your relationships are all in great shape, you're healthy, you eat right and exercise regularly.  Your like your job, you have a great place to live, you love your pets, the sun is shining.  However, your writing sucks.  Nothing that you write works.  You can't get your latest project off the ground to save your life. You wake feeling that something is wrong and you go to bed distracted and irritated.  And so, plain and simple, you are miserable. 

Scenario #Two:  Life is hell.  Your marriage is on life support, your kids are screw-ups, you're overweight and you consider taking the elevator up four floors to your tiny apartment exercise.  You've just endured the worst winter on record and your job is about to become the latest victim of the recession.  However, your writing is going great!  You wake up energized, ready to get to work, and the words flow easily.  And because of this, you are happy as can be.

If I'm writing, all is right with the world.  And it doesn't matter what else is happening in my life, I'm still happy.  Writing well gives me energy and clarity and makes me feel I can deal with anything.  But if I'm not writing well, everything feels sludgy and gray.

Isn't this an odd paradox?

The only other thing I can liken it to is kids and their mothers.  Years ago, I read an article in which Nora Ephron discussed child rearing.  She said that if you gave kids a choice of having their mother, blissfully happy, but far away, or mom, desperately unhappy, but available in the other room, they'll take the latter option any day. Which, in my experience, is true.  Kids don't want their moms happy, they just want their moms, period.

I'm not even sure exactly how that relates to the writer's paradox but I feel it deep in my bones that it does.  I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that writing is so ingrained in me that it dictates the sheer essence of my being, moreso than anything else in my life.  Like a child depending on his mother, I rely on my writing to get me through.

Is this true for you? Or am I just a total whack job?  Please tell me it is true for you, too.

**Photo by clspeace, found via Flickr on Everystockphoto and used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

My Old Friend Paralysis

Yesterday, all writing and other activities came to a screeching halt.  This happened suddenly.  One Everystockphoto_155435_m minute I was in the middle of a writing session.  The next minute I was paralyzed.  I realized that everything I had written was complete and total crap.  And that there was no use writing anymore, ever, for the rest of my life, because any new words that I put on the page would be even worse. 

Because of this epiphany that I could no longer write, I turned my attention to my to-do list, as long as always.  But nothing on it interested me. 

"Buck up", I told myself.  "It isn't supposed to interest you, it's your to-do list."

But I couldn't connect with a single item on it. Instead, I sat at my desk, paralyzed everywhere except for my over-active brain, which told me I was an impostor, a failure and stupid and unattractive to boot. This went on for a few minutes until I finally got up and cleaned the kitty litter.  Did some dishes and straightened the house.  These are all chores that generally go undone until I run and do it all in a panic at the last minute before someone gets home.  By the time I'd exhausted all the mind-numbing chores, I had only a few minutes left to write.  I forced myself back to it, and got some words on the page.  They weren't words that I was happy with, but they were words on the page.  By then, it was time to go to my acupuncture appointment, thank you God.

My acupuncturist, Hana, listened to my whining, told me I was probably having a healing crisis (I've been doing lots of acupuncture and hypnotherapy lately) and stuck extra needles in my crown and third eye chakras.  During the rest time, I dozed and snored for awhile, and then I woke up and started thinking about the novel.  Thoughts and ideas flooded in.  Oh wonderful movement, which feels so much better than being stuck!

I came home and made notes, not only on the novel but the entire process of being stuck.  And here are some of the antidotes I came up with, just in case this ever happens to you:

1.  Choose something, anything to do or work on, it doesn't matter what.  This is the Tough Love antidote.  May not be pleasant, but it will probably work.

2. Get in touch.  Maybe you've lost your connection.  Meditate.  Go deep.  What do you really want to write?  What do you really want to do at this moment?

3. Get away.  Go for a walk, clean the kitty litter, do the grocery shopping, whatever.  Sometimes just getting up from my desk allows the ideas to flow again.

4.  Move your body.  Take a walk, do yoga or Qi Gong, dance, march in place.  It is amazing how moving the body can sometimes loosen a logjam in the brain.

5. Take a nap.  If all else fails, sleep.

6.  Do something that gives you confidence.  Go back to something you're really good at and work on that for awhile.  It'll give you a boost.

7.  Listen to a motivational CD.  Never underestimate the power of some rah-rah attitude!  I put a CD in on my drive to acupuncture and it was already helping to lift my mood by the time I got there.

Okay, so those are my suggestions.  Anyone have an antidote to add?

No Longer Allowed

Attention, please.Note_desk_paper_237717_l

The following are no longer allowed during a writing session:

1. Whining

2. Worrying about the quality of your work

3. Obsessing over the odds for getting your work published

4. Wondering what others will think of your writing

5. Deciding that writing is a colossal waste of your time, because, really, what do you have to show for it?

6. Having impossibly high expectations

7. Getting distracted (no, you do NOT need to check your email)

8.  Worrying about what a failure you are and how this is not going to be the project to change that

9.  Thinking about whether or not you are following "the rules"

10.  Giving up, then going to do something else

Any guesses how my early-morning writing session went this morning?  Um, right.  Wasn't pretty.  How about you?  What is on your list of Things No Longer Allowed in Writing Sessions?

They Call it Fear

First there was the story I read online about how the Northwest, including Portland, could expect a Violator3_black_white_686057_l major earthquake of the sort that just decimated Chile sometime in the next 50 years.   I hate earthquakes.  I expect the earth beneath my feet to stay steady, thank you very much.

Then I watched a little bit of the local Fox News.  I never watch television news, but it was on after American Idol, and the TV didn't get turned off fast enough for me not to see the story about the guy who got slashed up by a trio of men who invaded his backyard in the early morning hours.  (The victim was outside having a smoke.)  This wouldn't have been so bad, except it happened fairly close to my house.

Before I knew it, I was getting re-acquainted with my old friend, fear. 

Now this kind of fear is a little different than being scared of stuff.

This is the kind of fear that most often is underlying, sometimes vague, beneath-the-surface misery.  It is not specific enough to battle.  There's no real way for me to put myself face to face with earthquakes, for instance.  And realistically, I'm not going to put myself face to face with a slasher.

No, this kind of fear is insidious.  It is the kind that terrorism is designed to instill.  It is the kind that seeps throughout every cell in our body, a nameless, creeping dread that if left unchecked, starts to subtlety control thoughts and actions.  And eventually it will manifest itself in my writing.

It won't be obvious how it's manifesting, either.  Instead, it'll take the form of procrastination or suddenly deciding not to move forward on a project or convincing myself its okay if I never write another novel. Because this kind of fear is leech-like, attaching itself to your bad habits and insecurities and magnifying them.  This kind of fear feeds on uncertainty and indecision. And before you know it, you're telling yourself you never wanted to be a writer, really, anyway.

So, how to battle such a sneaky enemy?  Here are some tips:

Acknowledge it.  The more you do this, the easier it will be to see.  Took me awhile, but last night after I'd soaked myself in a bath of fear, I realized what was going on.  Sometimes acknowledging is half the battle.

Dance with it.  Or wrestle it, or punch it in the face.  Argue with it, yell at it, tell it to go away.  Because this fear is stealthy and cunning, it doesn't like being overtly dealt with and chances are doing just that will keep it at bay.

Protect yourself from it.  Stay away from the things that cause it in the first place.  I usually don't watch television news, for instance.  I won't read books or see movies that have animals in them because I worry about the animals the entire time, even if there's a happy ending.  And because I take on things far too easily, I don't see war movies and I refuse to read anything written by Cormac McCarthy.

De-stress.  Meditate, do yoga or Qi Gong, find yourself a good relaxation CD (my current favorite, since I'm in the middle of a wonderful hypnotism program) or do whatever it is that rids you of stress.  Fear feeds on nerves, anxiety and stress, so it is important to deal with it regularly.

Write.  It always comes back to this for me.  Writing regularly is the best revenge against everything, including fear.  So write often, every day if you can, whether you are writing on a project you're passionate about or in your journal.  

And let me know what your fear-busters are, would you?  We can all use some help in banishing fear.

Photo by Violator3, used under a Creative Commons 2.5 license. 

The Romantic Ideal of Writing

The traditional writing life: you write a novel, submit it to an agent, it gets sold to a good publishing house and they do a lot of work to market you.  Ads in print publications, a book tour, readings and signings galore.  If you are a literary type, you might take a job teaching writing and/or English at a university.  If you're a genre type, then you go home and write your next book.  Life is good.Library_books_122977_m

The contemporary writing life: you write a novel, submit it to an agent, wait until your as-yet-unborn grandchild grows up and has children of her own, and then you finally get a no from the agent.  So you find a small publisher for your novel, or publish it yourself.  Nobody does the slightest thing to market you, so you tend a blog, you have a social media presence, and when your book is ready to be released you make a book trailer to put up on You Tube. You realize that the income from your beloved novel is going to amount to a mere pittance and so you write an Ebook covering everything you know about writing and you begin a coaching program, too.  You even consider teaching a teleclass or webinar, because nobody's been hired for a university position teaching writing since the Clinton administration.  Life is good, but far, far different than you expected.

The traditional writing life is on life-support, if it exists at all anymore.  But for me, it has existed in my mind as the romantic ideal of writing for years.  And even though I've embraced blogging and social media with gusto, still part of me yearned to achieve a traditional writing life.  Because, wouldn't it be nice to do nothing but write novels all day?  I'd be happy if I could split my time between writing novels and blogging, popping the occasional chocolate in my mouth from time to time.

But I can't.  And up until last week, when my coach called me out on this little thought that was stuck in my head, I didn't even realize it.  (This is why coaches are so great and why the whole coaching industry sprang up overnight.) I had earnestly been explaining to her why I had yet again put off writing the Ebook that I started last December.  And after some digging and poking about, she managed to get me to uncover where I was stuck.  And let me just say, I wasn't only stuck, I was absolutely mired in this romantic ideal of writing, certain it would happen for me any day now and I wouldn't have to write the Ebook or ponder teleclasses (for a person who doesn't much like talking on the phone, the idea of conducting teleclasses is terrifying), or do anything differently from what I'm doing today.

But it is a different world, as we all know by now.  And different worlds call for different strategies.  All this is by way of saying that I am going to start working on my Ebook this week, I am, I am, I am.  Just as soon as I get my office that I started six months ago finished…No, in truth, my session with my coach transformed my thinking and cleared enough crap out of the way that I've started taking notes and getting excited about the Ebook again.  And let me just say it again, that is why coaching is so great.

What about you?  Is there something you are ignoring that you should be doing?  Are you holding onto an outdated romantic ideal of writing?

***Do you need help clearing out romantic ideals of writing or other issues?  Email me and let's discuss coaching.  Your wonderful contemporary writing career is waiting.   Or check out my page about coaching packages and then email me.

Warming Up, or The Art of Recycling Manuscripts

In writing, nothing is ever wasted.  I'm forever saying this to clients, and, well, just about everybody I meet, and it is true.  Your words are never wasted because if they need to be cut from one project, they might become useful in another.  Doesn't matter if you have a bad experience, because, at least you can write about it.  (As a matter of fact, I've coaxed myself into many an event I don't want to attend with that thought–at least I can write about it.)

But I've recently rediscovered a way to literally and physically not waste words by recycling manuscripts.  And I don't mean throwing them in the recycling bin.  Here's the deal:  I've been organizing my office for the last, oh, six months, and at the rate I'm going I'll be working on it for the next six months. Part of why this is taking so long is that I'm going through everything--old stories, old notes, everything. 

In my most recent pile, I found a sheaf of slender pieces of paper, rubberbanded together.  Curious (of course I have to look at everything), I pulled the rubber band off and found that what I had were sentences.  Some were hand-written, and some were cut from a printed manuscript page. 

I realized immediately what I had found–story starters.  Oh, okay, call them prompts, though for some reason I don't like that word.  Clearly, at some point in the past, I had meticulously written down sentences that captured my attention, and spent time cutting apart manuscripts.

So I decided to experiment with these sentences.  Earlier this week, I used one as a starter for a writing session, though I kept it specifically focused on the new novel.  And it was great.  To me, that is one of the best use of prompts–write from them with a specific focus, hopefully whatever it is you are working on. 

Digging further through this file, I found three pages of an old manuscript.  I mean, this was old–it had been printed on a dot-matrix printed.  Remember those?  I used to love the ritual of tearing the edges off the paper.  Anyway, the writing on the page was as old as the printer and, how shall I say this so as not to hurt my own feelings–it needed some work.  It is not a project I'm going to return to as I have no interest in it. 

But then I thought–aha!  I have a use for this old manuscript!  I shall cut it up, sentence by sentence, and use it for a story starter.  I put all the thin pieces of paper containing the sentences into a box with my old hand-written ones,and draw one when I'm ready to write.  Here's several to get you started, and note that some of these may be copied from books.  But it doesn't matter, take them and make them into your own wonderful work:

  • Grandma sat in the armchair in the dim light, knitting.
  • They tell me I should never let anyone know what happened.
  • "It's not much further now," he called, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead.
  • I know it's dangerous to pick up hitch-hikers, but I stopped anyway.
  • Although there was nothing wrong with his leg, he walked with a cane anyway.

To me, writing to prompts story starters is an excellent way to warm up.  Musicians practice scales, athletes stretch, and we writers need to warm up, too if only to get the blood in our fingers going.  Writing freely  for 10 to 15 minutes can be an excellent way to get the brain moving in the correct direction as well.

Now the problem is that I have an excuse to keep all those old manuscripts.  Good thing I've thrown most of them out already.

How about you?  What's your favorite way to warm for writing?

It is Always the Story

Copyspace_space_copy_246205_l Yesterday, I wrote about watching the Winter Olympics and how Bode Miller winning gold inspired thoughts about stepping up to the plate.  

Today the subject is story.

My daughter and I were watching the men's ski cross races on Sunday night.  This is a relatively new sport, and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it is the first time in the Olympics.  It doesn't have a lot of stars that we're yet familiar with and so NBC chose to focus on one of the Canadian men.  (I know, shocking–NBC actually featured an athlete who wasn't from the US!  It was because he grew up in Colorado but had a Canadian father.)

So, here's this new sport, which is mildly interesting, and a bunch of guys participating that nobody's ever heard of. I'm  watching with half an eye, catching up on emails and blog comments at the same time.  But then there's a slow moment in the action and NBC decides to run the pre-taped story about said Canadian, whose name is Chris Del Bosco.

And suddenly I'm paying attention.  Because this guy has a story.  From the time he was a wee boy, he showed a talent for skiing and racing.  But then, as a teen, he started drinking and doing drugs.  And suddenly he wasn't winning races anymore.  Pretty soon he wasn't even racing anymore.  This dark period ended with him so wasted one night that he fell into an ice-cold stream and if a passer-by hadn't found him he would have frozen to death.

He's bombed out of any ability to compete here in the states, but through a synchronicity, he heard that the Canadians were looking for guys to ski on the ski cross team.  And suddenly a new career opens up.  He's getting a second chance to do what he loves. 

And I'm rooting for him.  Suddenly, I'm completely and totally paying attention.  The computer is closed and set aside.  My eyes are glued to the TV.  Del Bosco easily qualifies for the finals.  I so desperately want him to win!  Alas, it is not to be.  Though it looks like he is coming from behind to win a medal, on one of the last bumps (jumps? not sure what they are called in this sport) he overestimates and ends up crashing.  

The point is this: I cared about Chris Del Bosco because NBC told me a story about him. Not only that, but the story they told had all the elements of a classic–amazing talent that, lots of conflict, the opportunity for a second chance.  I was right there with him because of it.

The thing I probably suggest the most when reading a client's manuscript is to take out narrative and put in more scene.  Scenes dramatize your writing and make it come alive.  A scene shows us something, instead of telling.  It presents a story. 

We respond to story because it is hard-wired into us.  From the beginning of human time, we've told stories to each other.  And still we do, whether on TV, a movie, or through reading a book.  The power of story is so powerful that it has become a cliche.

But sometimes cliches are good.  Because, ultimately, it always comes down to story.

What about you?  How do you use the power of story?  What have you gleaned from watching the Olympics? Or have you been ignoring them completely?

Stepping Up

Stop the presses for this news flash.Turin_torino_antmoose_968007_l

I've been watching TV.

Specifically, the Olympics.  I often write about what a time waster watching TV is and I truly don't watch much of it myself, except, for reasons inexplicable to me, American Idol.  But one thing I love is the Olympics, specifically, the winter Olympics.  So I've been finishing my work in time to sit in front of the TV every night.  (Okay, sometimes I take my computer with me to sit in front of the TV, but still.)

Last night, I was struck by two different athletes and what their efforts represented to me on a larger scale.  And, of course, as with all things, I saw an immediate relationship to writing.  Because, well, when you are a writer, everything relates to writing.  So, today, I'm going to write about my first observation.  The second will be covered in a post tomorrow. So here goes:

Stepping Up to the Plate

At the 2006 Torino Olympics, Bode Miller was an ass.  He stayed up all night partying, talked trash, didn't really seem to take the whole thing seriously.  He had a sense of entitlement, as if he were the anointed one.  Bode fell victim to hubris, otherwise known as, pride goeth before a fall.  Because he bombed out and didn't do nearly as well and predicted. Going in, they said he might win up to five golds.  He won none.

Flash forward four years and Bode is a changed man.  He's been training hard, speaks humbly in interviews.  He seems to get how amazing and cool it is that he's at the Olympics this time.  This is a man who, for whatever reasons, has been given a second chance and he knows it.   And this Olympics, he's a winner.  First he won bronze, then silver, and last night, a gold medal for the men's combined skiing.

I think he's an example of what happens when we put all our crap aside and step it up.  Instead of letting fear rule us, we meditate for a few minutes before our writing session, so that we can bring our full selves to the page.  We take the chance on a speaking engagement, even though we're afraid of talking in public, or we go back and edit our novel one more time because we know in our hearts that we really need to.

Stepping up to the plate is doing whatever it takes.  When I was at my first residency while studying for my MFA, we had an assignment to write a poem based on one of the pieces of art we'd seen on a visit to the museum.  I'd written a rough draft of a poem that was okay, but not quite there yet.  I mentioned my struggles to the program head, Sena Jeter Naslund, and she said to me, in her charming southern way, "Why, Charlotte, why don't you just go work on it some more, then?"


So, while everyone else went off to lunch, I went to the computer lab and worked on it some more.  And it turned out to be one of the poems which was read in public as a successful example.  I'll never forget that the poetry mentor wrote on it, "This is a poem!"

Stepping up to the plate is that simple and that hard.

**Photo courtesy of antmoose, via Flickr and Everystockphoto.

True Confessions, or Coaching Myself

I'm struggling.Book_work_teacher_238276_l

I'm having a hard time writing my next novel.

There, I've admitted it. 

I, the one who constantly harangues you to write every day, to keep the momentum going by checking into your project on a daily basis, I, that very same person, am having a hell of a time working on my novel every day.

Don't get me wrong–I am writing every day.  I get up every morning and write in my journal, I work on contracted projects, and I write a blog post every day.  Oh, and I write stuff on social media, though I'm not sure we can say that really counts. 

So I'm writing every day, and writing tons.  It is just that I'm not doing what I love to do, what I feel I've been set on this earth to do (well, partially, because coaching writers and blogging about writing is definitely part of my mission).  I'm ignoring my true love.  And we all know what that means.

My true love is dying.

And that makes it even harder, because if a project feels like it is dying, than who wants to spend time with it?  And so the vicious cycle gets established.

It is not that I don't have time for it.  At great effort, I have carved out a bit.  But during that time I am not writing.  Instead, I am re-reading the first chapter repeatedly, telling myself how very brilliant it is.  I make lists of things I should do for the novel (like, um, write it).  I jot notes about potential scenes.  Fill out character dossiers.  Convince myself I need to go sit on my office chair and take a nap meditate about the overall arc of the plot.

All this is great, but it is not writing.

Yesterday, after reading–yet again–the first chapter, I realized it is because I'm second-guessing myself.  I'm worrying about whether the work is good, whether than trusting the process.  Of course it isn't good, it is a first draft!  All it needs to be is enough to hang a story on.  And it is.

So I've decided what is in order are some words from the wise, ie., me.  It is time to coach myself with some tough love.  Here's what I've come up with for my marching orders:

1.  Remind Myself.  Of what?  That the last novel was once a first draft, too.  Yesterday I scrounged around and found the original scene list I had written for Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  Shocking how different it was.  Oh, the seeds of the finished novel were all there, but the original scenes I had laid out were very, very different.  I found this comforting, because it reminded me that the process does, indeed, work.

2.  Use the Time.  What's been happening is that I get to my allotted novel-writing time and when something doesn't happen immediately, I feel guilty for wasting my time and make myself go spend it more gainfully.  But creativity takes time, and when working with the large span of the novel, this is especially true.  So I'm using the time I've set aside every day, even if it means staring off into space while thinking deep thoughts about the novel.

3.  Turn off the Internet.  Yeah, right.  I hear this works well, but I wouldn't know, because it is not something I am constitutionally capable of achieving. 

4.  Short assignments.  The novelist Darnell Arnoult talks about this.  She advocates giving yourself short assignments about your characters or points in the plot.  Stuff you can write in 15 minutes, but which will help you gain understanding of the project.  I know this works because one of my short assignments made it into that brilliant first chapter which I have read and admired so many times.

So those are what I'm working with.  Anybody want to take a turn coaching the coach and tell me what works for you?