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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: discipline, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Waking before dawn

Each morning before dawn I wake in fear. Today will be the day I discover I have nothing to say. Then I remember. Fear is an illusion. A shadow on the wall. And I step out of bed. And my feet feel the firmness of the earth. And I remember that words, like the earth, are always there. Invisible, like gravity, until I reach for a pen and start writing. Only a pen and paper and the feel of

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2. ABC’s of Discipline


I picked up something somewhere about parenting that really works. I wish I could credit the concept to whomever created it. If I understand correctly, think of it as something like the ABC’s of Discipline. A-is the Antecedent or the precursor to B- a child’s Behavior (acting out) which leads to a parent doling out the C-Consequence.

Parents become reactionary and often jump straight to C, because they don’t identify the Antecedent, and only see the Behavior. I’m not sure that’s effective. What works for me and my son, Miles, is to nip things in the bud when he starts to misbehave in a consistent way, so he always knows what to expect.

What works for me and Miles is if he starts to misbehave, I recognize it and let him know he’s in “A-mode.” He can then choose if he wants to continue to act on his Behavior which always leads to Consequences, because he understands how the ABC’s works. Rarely does Miles ever get to C-mode since I’ve deployed the strategy. On the rare occasion that Miles gets himself in “B-mode” and continues to act on his behavior; I very clearly look him in the eyes and say, “Would like to go to C-now?” Which backs him right up to A-mode, and the behavior ends.
(He’s no dummy. Consequences are never fun!) I think the whole thing works because a child has real control over what he wants to do next. Miles always wants roll back to A-because don’t we all wish for a “do-over” sometimes?

Thanks for the ear,

Tonia Allen Gould

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3. Who Needs Discipline Anyway?

disciplineWriters don’t need discipline, do they? Not according to one well known author.

In one of my favorite writing books (Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg), there’s a chapter on writing myths that the author says you should ignore.

I was reading the list and nodding and “Amen!”-ing my agreement all the way up to Myth #8. It said to ignore the warning that “you have to be disciplined to be a writer.” Really!

No Discipline? Shocking!

I recoiled. Such blasphemy! How could she claim that writers didn’t need self-discipline? “Everyone” knew you needed to discipline yourself to write every day, to study markets, to read in your field. How could she say that? It went against my deeply ingrained beliefs.

And yet…as I read on, her words resonated with me much more than I would have believed possible. If you don’t need to be disciplined, what do you need? She wrote:

“What you have to be is in love. With writing. Not with ideas about what to write; not with daydreams about what you’re going to do when you’re sucessful. You have to be in love with writing itself, with the solitary and satisfying act of sitting down and watching something you hold in your head and your heart quietly transform itself into words on a page.”

Major Paradigm Shift

Hmm…You don’t have to be disciplined–but instead, you have to be in love with the act of writing. For some reason, that rings true for me.

Of my 42 published books, I can only think of three that I had to “make myself” sit down and write. (They were a work-for-hire assignment on a subject that I had no interest in.) But I loved writing the others.

Yes, I ran into occasional rough spots. Yes, sometimes I felt physically or emotionally shot, so writing wasn’t as much fun on those days. But I didn’t have to discipline myself to write.

In each case, I had a story I was burning to tell, and I couldn’t wait for private, uninterrupted time when I could immerse myself in my fictional world–where I could make life turn out like I wanted, like it should be.

Fueled from Within

In the early years, the inner passion for writing fueled me–not discipline imposed from the outside. If I recall correctly, the need for discipline didn’t occur until I was juggling a full-time day job along with raising a family PLUS writing.

I think Ms. Berg is onto something here. Maybe on the days we can’t make ourselves write, we should check our passion quota about our current project.

Passion for writing versus self-discipline–I think I need to investigate this further! Is it one or the other–or both? And if we’ve fallen out of love with our writing, how can we get that back?

How about You?

What does “being in love with your writing” look like for you? Can you describe one of its attributes? If so, please leave a comment!

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4. Weekend Reading

This week in the “Destressing the Writing Life” workshop, we talked about information overload–how much valuable information is available on the Internet–and the pressure we feel because there’s no time to read and absorb it all.

To that end, I hope my recommendations once a week help you sift through the wonderful (often free) material out there. To that end, here’s my Friday offering.


Take all weekend to read them, if you like. Do NOT stress over getting them all read right now!




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5. Drains in Disguise

messI was wrong–again.

For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.

Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.

“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.

You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.

Energy Drains in Disguise

Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.

What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.

It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)

NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate

Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.

Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)

Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.

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6. Can You Compartmentalize?

blindersfWhen re-reading Getting It Done by Andrew J. DuBrin, PH.D., I came to a section on dealing with procrastination. One suggestion is something I’d like your feedback on.

He said you can make progress with procrastination if you “compartmentalize spheres of life.” He says that if you have multiple demands on your time that seem overwhelming, “mentally wear the same blinders placed on horses so they can concentrate better on the race and not be distracted.”

Box It Up!

I would love to be able to do that on a regular basis! Are you able to compartmentalize? I agree with the author that procrastination is more tempting when multiple demands are swirling and competing in your mind.

I think that male writers have an advantage here. They seem able to put things in boxes, tape the lids shut, and then deal with one box at a time. (I know this for a fact because I can tell when I am being put in the “wife” box!)

Women, however, mix things up. Our concern for our child’s health or marriage problems or a sibling’s financial crisis “bleeds over” into our writing time. And we tend to feel guilty if we’re happily typing away while a member of our family is in trouble or needs us.

‘Fess Up

So…please share your wisdom with me. Men, if you can explain how to put things in boxes or make blinders work, please advise. Ladies, if you’ve figured out how to push aside your other concerns while you write, please share.

I bet we could all use some tips!

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7. Taking Effective Action

actionIn the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully  helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)

 Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.


Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)

In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.

In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.

If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.

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8. Knowing When to Quit

quitWe don’t like to talk about quitting or giving up on our dreams. But let’s be honest. Will every wannabe writer eventually land big contracts,  snag a well-known NY agent, and be sent on ten-city book tours? No.

Maybe your dreams are more modest, but you’ve worked at breaking into publishing for years. Should you continue the struggle? For how long? How do you know when to quit?

Asking the Wrong Question

I came across an excellent discussion from a blog post that is several years old, but the advice is timeless. Called “When to Quit,” it’s a lengthy article by Scott Young on this subject. I hope you’ll read it to the end.

One factor the article said to consider was how you feel on a day-to-day basis as you pursue your dream. How is the process affecting your life, your character, your growth? “So if you are pursuing your dream and you don’t think you are going to make it, the question of whether or not to quit doesn’t depend on your chance of success. The real question is whether pursuing this dream is causing you to grow. Does this path fill you with passion and enthusiasm? Do you feel alive?”

You may not agree with all his views, but I guarantee that the article will make you think–even if you have no intention of quitting. It might lead you to make a course correction however. And it will make you evaluate why you’re pursuing your particular dream–and that’s always a good thing!

If you have a minute, give me your reactions to the ideas in his article.

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9. What Are the Odds?

acornRecently at a conference we were comparing stories about how long it is taking lately for our publishers to respond to our submissions or queries.

Right now, each of us is experiencing a huge “non-response” in some way.  (In my own case, three people that didn’t get back to me had been “let go” in down-sizing moves.) No writer I know is exempt from the economic upheaval of our times.

The news is grim for writers, wherever you turn. Predictions make your heart sink, and you may wonder if you’re just beating your head against a brick wall if you keep writing. I read something this morning–from a weight loss newsletter, of all things–that put this question in perspective for me.

Are You Nuts?

The opening quote said: “The mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.” (unknown source) It was followed by:

On July 24, 2004, there was a 0% chance of rain in Cincinnati. No way was it going to rain, according to the people who should know best. You know what? Despite millions of dollars worth of sensors, computers, and forecasting systems, the weather experts were wrong. It rained, against all odds. This is not a criticism of weather people. It’s just a reminder of all the people who were given 0% chance of making it by the “experts,” but who succeeded anyway. Whenever accomplishments are on the line, there are always voices whispering, preaching–even shouting–that it can’t be done. Sometimes, that voice is coming from inside our own heads. If you’re having doubts about your abilities, just remember: How many times have the naysayers been proven wrong? No matteracorn2 what anyone says–no matter what you might believe–it can be done. The nut can become a tree. There’s always a chance of rain.

Stand Your Ground

Until the dust settles economically, I urge you to continue writing, to continue studying and improving your craft, and to maintain your good writing habits. The tide will turn again. When it does, and publishers begin to buy once more, you’ll be ready with your best submissions.

Whether you’re still an acorn writer with lots of potential, or a half-grown oak, continue to follow your dream. Don’t let others’ negative opinions and predictions determine the state of your goals and writing life.

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10. Weekend Gems

gemOver the weekend, I hope you’ll have time to check out some very helpful and thought-provoking blogs I read this week.

Kick back, relax, and enjoy these gems!

Gems of Wisdom

**Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a series called “Career Killers.” Full of wise advice! One post is on speed writing. Other “career killers” included impatienceplaying “around the edges,” sloppiness, and skipping the apprenticeship. If you avoid these mistakes in your career, you’ll be miles ahead of the average writer.

**Are you trying to combine babies with bylines? Try “Writing Between Diapers: Tips for Writer Moms” for some practical tips.

**Is your writing journey out of whack because you have unrealistic expections? See literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s post “Managing Expections.

**Critique groups are great, but you–the writer–must be your own best–and toughest–editor. See Victoria Strauss on “The Importance of Self-Editing.

**We’re told to set goals and be specific about what success means to us. Do you have trouble with that? You might find clarity with motivational speaker Craig Harper’s “Goals and Anti-Goals.

**And finish with Joe Konrath’s pithy statements in “A Writer’s Serenity Prayer.” You may want to print them out and tape them to your computer!

Share a Gem!

What have you read lately–online or off–that you felt was particularly insightful or helpful or thought-provoking? I’d love to have you share a link of your own!

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11. I carry art supplies the way a writer brings books

When I hung out with Kevin this weekend, I was reminded of one of his habits. When we got back from Long Beach, he unloaded five books from his backpack, which he never pulled out once while we were hanging out. To the average person, packing away five books in your backpack just in case you find yourself idle as you run errands or hang out with friends seems irrational, but I totally get it. I carry a backpack filled with sewing, painting, drawing supplies-up to four different projects!-just in case. It's not that we want to work all the time. It's just that we love our work, & would love to do it all the time.

Our minds are constantly churning ideas for paintings, stories, plays. We see the world through the lens of our craft. Just like the time I went to Baltimore... I kept thinking, Oh! Just like The Wire! I saw the city through the lens of The Wire. Well, perhaps that was a poor comparison but maybe you get it. Anyway, that mode is always on because somewhere down the line, the craft becomes you. It takes a while to get to that point, but I think that once you get there you stop questioning and doubting yourself in the way a fearful, self-immobilizing beginner would.

I've been talking to a lot of people about discipline. I really do believe it's the deal breaker (yeah! Liz Lemon!) between hobby and professional. Time seems to be the most common excuse for why people don't pursue what they love and want. With discipline, you're intentionally setting aside the time. You're allocating the resources and putting your craft first. Discipline is a tricky skill to learn and it works differently for different people. I think it starts with intention, knowing what's important to you and rarely compromising it. It may be challenging and entering you into a whole new world of struggle, but you'll be happy in a way few, if any, can take away from you.

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12. The Thought-Feeling-Behavior Cycle

cir“Enthusiasm, motivation, and dedication are necessary for your success as a writer,” says Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life.

But…what if you don’t have all those emotional tools (the enthusiasm, motivation and dedication) at your disposal? “Don’t worry,” says Kelly. “They can be learned as part of the thought-feeling-behavior cycle.”

Same Old Thing? Not!

I’ve heard before that thoughts cause your feelings which cause your actions, and you probably have to. However, Ms. Stone gives a very helpful twist to the “you can change how you feel and act by changing how you think” mantra. And this “plus” makes the idea instantly useful to anyone trying to improve her writing life.

How? By seeing this as a cycle, not a linear set of events. I’d always heard that you had to go in order-1, 2, 3. You change your thoughts first, then your feelings would change, and then your behavior would change.book However, this author claims (and I agree after trying it out) that it’s not a straight line, but instead a cycle that runs like a loop.

What does this mean to writers? It means you change any one element of the cycle, and you will by necessity change the other two parts. You don’t have to start with changing your thoughts if you don’t want to. You can change your writing life by changing whatever is easiest for you.

Practical Terms

For example, maybe you’re a Nike-Just-Do-It! kind of writer. You can’t bring your thoughts or emotions into subjection, but you can grit your teeth and sit yourself down at the keyboard right on schedule. If that’s true-if controlling behavior is the easiest part of the cycle for you-then skip worrying about your thoughts and feelings and hit the behavior first.

Maybe it’s easier for you to deal with feelings. I know a perky, sanguine writer whose depressed anxious feelings rebound to optimism just by taking a nap! However, maybe for a variety of publishing and non-publishing reasons, your feelings about writing are sour, and fixing those ricocheting feelings is a losing battle. Then tackle another part of the cycle that is easier for you. (Personally, no matter what I’m going through, I find controlling or changing feelings the hardest part.)

Of the three aspects of the cycle, thoughts are easiest for me to change. It means I have to tell myself the truth, but in a kind way. (See Pitch It to Yourself and In Your Write Mind.) Over the years, for many problems that I faced, I learned the importance of positive affirmations based on truth. I saw that repeating these truths daily for weeks and months could totally reprogram my brain and change my attitude, my feelings, and the resultant actions.

No Right or Wro

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13. Habits of a Working Writer

writer-habits“In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration.” ~~John Steinbeck

For several years, I’ve had a list of “The Seven Essential Habits of a Working Writer” on my bulletin board. I neglected to note the author when I copied the list, so I was pleased this week when going through books on my shelves to find the source.

The terrific list is from Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job! As he says, “Habits are constant. Inspiration is variable–it comes and goes. That’s why habits are better than inspiration. It is habit, not inspiration, that builds writing careers.”

 A Writer Writes

You must begin to think like a writer–and that will lead you to acting like a writer. Then you’ll build the habits of a writer–and eventually you will get to enjoy the benefits of being a writer.quit

Here’s the whole list–and then for the next seven days we’re going to look at the why’s and how’s of each habit.

Seven Essential Habits of a Working Writer are:

  • Write Daily
  • Cultivate the Art of Solitude Amid Distractions
  • Write Quickly and With Intensity
  • Set Ambitious But Achievable Goals
  • Focus!
  • Finish What You Start and Submit What You Finish
  • Believe You Can

We’ll look at each habit individually in the next seven blog posts. With all of these writing habits firmly in place, you can’t help but succeed!

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14. Habit #1: Write Daily

writeWriters write. It doesn’t get more basic than that. I imagine that’s why it’s first on Denney’s list of “The Seven Essential Habits of a Working Writer.”

If your dream is to be a full-time writer someday, you’ll need to develop the habit of writing every day. Habits are powerful, and once writing becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth, your productivity will go through the roof. And more writing translates into better writing. It takes practice like any other skill, and cliche or not, practice makes perfect.

Grab the Time

If you’re still working at your day job (whether outside the home or at home with children), you’ll find it more difficult to carve out a daily writing time. “If that’s your situation,” says Denney in Quit Your Day Job!, “I have an idea that you can use right now, guaranteed to transform your life. It’s called ‘The Grab 15 Principle.’”

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a story or book to write, but you don’t have big chunks of free time. Instead you make a commitment to “grab fifteen minutes” every day to work on it. Everyone can carve fifteen minutes out of every day to make some progress.

“You simply make a commitment to yourself that your head won’t hit the pillow for the night until you’ve spent at least fifteen minutes on your project.” The author wrote entire books in those little blocks of time. (I believe him too. I wrote my first five published novels in 10-15 minute chunks of time when my four kids were babies and preschoolers.)

Those bits of time add up. Just fifteen minutes a day is 91.25 hours in a year–more than two full 40-hour work weeks.

It’s All in Your Head

The second reason the “Grab 15″ principle works is that it keeps your head in the game every day. You don’t just need time to write. You need head space that is free, even if it’s only one corner of your brain reserved for thinking about your writing. If you don’t do it every day, other things quickly intrude and finally crowd out that head space reserved for your writing. Then you have to start over every few weeks or months when you get back to your project.

With the “Grab 15″ idea, you never lose momentum or have to waste time trying to remember where you left off and who the heck this character is. Writing daily makes each 15-minute session its most productive and effective.

Like most of us, once you get rolling, the fifteen minutes often turns into much more if you’re not interrupted. It will build a great daily habit for you so that when you do have more time–eventually going full-time–your daily writing habit will already be cemented into your routine.

Don’t Throw Up Your Hands Yet

What if your schedule is just jam packed, but you really and truly want to write? If you truly don’t know how you could fit writing into your schedule, I’d recommend two of Kelly Stone’s books that I’ve quoted from before. They are Time to Write: More than 100 Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing into Your Busy Life and

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15. Habit #2: Solitude Amid Distractions

solitudeSolitude is the best preparation for writing, and being alone to prepare one’s mind to write is lovely. But it’s not always possible, and you don’t want to be dependent on being alone in order to write.

According to Denney’s list of essential habits for writers, you must (#2) Cultivate the Art of Solitude Amid Distractions. (See also “Habits of a Working Writer” and “Habit #1: Write Daily.”)

The Ideal Versus the Real

Some writers have solitude all day long. Someday, after the kids are grown, or you quit your day job, or you get an assistant to handle your PR and marketing, you might have solitude without distractions. Frankly, though, that is NOT the life of 90% of writers.

As Denney says in Quit Your Day Job!, “It is possible to cultivate the art of solitude even when I am surrounded by interruptions, conversations, and people….solitude is not a physical sanctum sanctorum where I can go to shut out all the distractions of this world. Instead, my chosen form of solitude is a place in the mind, a sanctuary within the soul.”

The Eye of the Hurricane

Like Denney, I wrote with small children in the room for many years. I stopped if they truly needed me for something, but often they were content to play in the same room or the play room by my office. Still, even when children are playing amicably, there’s lots of noise.

You have to find ways to enter the eye of the hurricane, so to speak, that spot in the middle of chaos where it’s still and you can hear yourself think. It isn’t second nature to us, but it can be done. As Isaac Asimov said, “We must find our solitude within. Regardless of the noise and distractions that swirl around us, we must be undistractable.”

Change the Things You Can First

To help yourself find that quiet place inside where you can concentrate on your writing amid distractions, be sure you’re doing all you can to minimize the interruptions. Some distractions you can simply eliminate. For example, if the Internet is a big lure, close down your email and get off line instead of mentally fighting it. For more ideas, see “Practical Ways to Deal with Distractions.”

Finding your calm center takes practice, but it can be done. I wrote my first eight novels with small children underfoot. I wouldn’t have had it any other way either. They were both my joy and my inspiration. I didn’t want to remove myself from them–but I needed to be able to work within the chaos.

Start to practice now, for even five minutes at a time. Your ability to concentrate and find solitude amid distractions will grow. And we’ll talk more about how to develop this concentration with Habit #5: Focus!

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16. Habit #7: Believe You Can

confidenceThis last of the Seven Essential Habits of a Working Writer might be the toughest one for you: Believe You Can.

Every writer doubts his ability at some point–and many writers deal with doubts about their abilities every single writing day. Those successful writers know a secret though.

They feel the doubt–and write anyway. That’s what they decide to do: sit down and write, whether they feel like it or not.

Act As If

Don’t wait until you have confidence in yourself to start writing. It simply doesn’t work like that. The confidence–the feelings of “Hey, I can do this!”–comes AFTER the writing.

As Jim Denney says in Quit Your Day Job!, “Feelings follow behavior, not the other way around. So act like a writer. Only when you act like a writer and produce like a writer, will you truly feel like a writer.”

I hope you’ll keep this list of seven writing habits posted someplace where you see them–and read them–often. “Without these habits, how could you do anything but fail?” Denney asks. “But with all of these habits firmly in place in your life, you can’t help but succeed.”

That’s the power of daily habits!

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17. Set-Up for Success

successWe all want to succeed with our writing, right? I can say a resounding YES! to that, but sometimes you’d never know it by my actions.

Case in point: the 100-Day Challenge that many of us started last week. I’m doing this with my writing friend, Sherryl Clark, and we check in daily with what we’ve accomplished. That’s an excellent system.

What Went Wrong?

However, within three days I was overwhelmed and wanted to quit. We Skyped about it, and the conversation went something like this:

  • Me: I was too busy already! I can’t find another hour in my days to do this challenge!
  • Sherryl: Hour? What hour? It’s supposed to be 20 minutes.
  • (Pause to think and frown) Me: Where did you get the idea of 20 minutes?
  • Sherryl: From Angela Booth’s instructions in the first email. You’re supposed to take your projects or goals and chunk them down into 20-minute segments. You set a timer, work for 20 minutes, and then quit. You pick up the next day where you left off. Just 20 minutes per day!

Instead of chunking it DOWN, I had piled it on and plumped it UP. My list became discouraging then. This behavior is known as setting yourself up to fail.

Small Bites

So I backed up and did what Angela Booth recommended, and I chunked down my list of (mostly) marketing tasks into things that could be accomplished in 20-30 minutes. Now it’s fun to look at that list and choose ONE thing to do each day. I start the timer, keep an eye on the countdown, and whiz through each small task.

I intend to use the 20-minute chunk principle for all my writing jobs for a few weeks, just to see how I like it. It’s amazing how much you can get done in 20 concentrated minutes, whether it’s writing or blogging or marketing or updating your website.

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, do whatever it takes to set yourself up for success!

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18. Waiting! Waiting! Waiting!

waitingBecause I have company this week (my daughter home from Iraq), I’m going to re-post a previous article. Because waiting is on my mind this week (my youngest daughter’s first baby is overdue), I chose this article on waiting.

Writers need to write daily–but we also wait daily. And we need to learn the art of waiting well.

Waiting! Waiting! Waiting!

For a writer, which activity lasts longest?
A. Submitting a manuscript, proposal, or query.
B. Waiting for a reply.
C. Opening your acceptance letter. Dumb question, right?

Anyone who’s been a writer for more than six months knows that the majority of a writer’s time–perhaps as much as 80-90%–is spent waiting on the fate of a manuscript or proposal or query. Submitting requires a trip to the post office or sending an e-mail attachment. Accepting requires a trip to your mailbox or e-mail Inbox.

It’s all that waiting in the middle that separates the men from the boys, the wannabes from the real writers. It stands to reason, then, that if you’re going to enjoy the writer’s life, you’d better learn how to enjoy waiting.

Enjoy Waiting?

Over and over, seasoned writers tell us that we must learn to enjoy the writing process, the day-to-day putting words on paper that is the essence of a real writer’s life. That makes sense, and once we make up our minds to it, learning to enjoy the writing process is a fairly simple matter.

But enjoy the waiting process? How? It takes more than just knowing the reasons. Understanding intellectually why we wait so long for a reply (down-sized publishing staff, floods of submissions, holiday vacations) doesn’t make waiting any easier.

Ways We Wait

There are at least three different ways we wait, and not all of them are productive.

(1) We wait in a state of high anxiety.
When we’re anxious about a manuscript or query that we’ve submitted, we wait on pins and needles. We know the market guide said “replies within two months,” so we give the editor an extra week beyond that. Then our waiting wears thin. Nothing is happening! We decide to help the editor along by taking things into our own hands.

We call the editor. We e-mail the editor. We send an urgent reminder note on neon-pink paper. We aggravate our ulcer and irritate our writing group with our agonizing. Then we have to live with the consequences of what (in haste) we decided to do.

In a calmer, dreadful moment, we realize our strident questions angered the editor when we phoned. In retrospect we realize our pink stationery looked amateurish. Our anticipated check is already being spent on antacids, and our writer friends are ignoring our ranting e-mails.

(2) We grit our teeth and hang on.
Others of us wait by clenching our jaws and furrowing our brows. While this is better than making an irate phone call to an editor, it still isn’t an enjoyable way to live. For one thing, it tarnishes the daily joy of working on our current writing project. It can also lead to depression, a “what’s the use?” feeling about writing. As time goes by, we write less and less. Our enthusiasm wanes.

This is the time when negative things start coming out of our mouths about insensitive editors and the stupid snail mail and malfunctioning email and what rotten writers we really are. Jealousy of others’ success can rear its ugly head now, too. Waiting in this fashion will bring out the worst in you.

(3) We wait with hope.
The w

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19. First Fifty Days

writerLife takes over sometimes, unless you live on a remote island somewhere. Even happy events–new babies, company, holidays–can sidetrack you temporarily.

Today I realized that I couldn’t even remember some of the “must do” daily tasks of the 100-Day Challenge. Reviewing the weekly challenge letters turned out to be a great way to pump me up again!

Fall Back and Re-Group!

Here, in a nutshell, are some of the tips, tricks, methods and pointers of the 100-Day Challenge that I’ve found to be most helpful. So instead of giving up the Challenge because I totally missed many of the days, I’m recommitting for the final 50 Days to do the following:

  • Set your goal and break that major goal down into small tasks. Do one small task daily. The only trap you can fall into is to make your daily tasks too complex. Please write this down: “A task is something which takes no longer than 10, 20 or 30 minutes.” When you chunk every task down into slivers of time, it stops you procrastinating. If you only have 20 minutes to do a task, you’ll do it. (Use a timer, either a kitchen one or a freeware timer for your computer-Google “Timer Utility” for some free choices.)
  • Talk to yourself on paper (or on screen) about your writing. Instead of thinking about writing or thinking about your goals, get that thinking down on paper or screen. Take baby steps, putting one word down after the other. Keep a notebook or file open where you frequently talk to yourself and make notes about anything concerning your writing life. You will stop being intimidated by the art of writing–it will just be something you do. (For more about this see “Write It All Down.”)
  • Document everything. Write down your goals and plans. Write down each day what you did toward meeting those goals. Every little bit.  Brainstorm about your strengths and weaknesses–and things you can do to overcome obstacles. Angela said, “If you get into the habit of journaling, and talking to yourself about your writing, you’ll be amazed at the breakthroughs in your writing that you’ll achieve.” Based on the days I used her idea, I have to agree!
  • Make a comprehensive Master Task List. (This took several days, but I now have a three-page single spaced list of small 20-30 minute tasks. The tasks are organized into six areas that encompass the writing and marketing things I hope to accomplish.) Now when I have a 20-30 minute “window of opportunity,” I don’t have to try to think of something I can finish in that amount of time. I just grab my list, choose one, set the timer and go.
  • Keep your goal, or goals, in focus. You may find it helpful to rewrite your primary goal each day. Rewrite it on a sticky note (real paper or on your computer screen) several times a day. This helps you to refocus and remember what’s important to you–and why it’s important.
  • Do confidence building activities. Re-read frequently the confidence-building thoughts you’ve worked on. See Add a Comment
20. What Type of Writer Are You?

1Do you ever wonder if you’re a REAL writer? If you have doubts, it might be because you have a bad case of the “shoulds.”

Symptoms of the “shoulds” include:

  • You should write first thing in the morning.
  • You should write daily.
  • You should keep a journal.
  • You should write down your dreams every morning.
  • You should have a room of your own and be organized!
  • You should write for publication.

What if some of the “shoulds” just go against your grain? Are you not a real writer then? What if you write best after 10 p.m. instead of first thing in the morning? What if you start journals repeatedly and never last more than three days? What if you can’t remember your dreams? What if an organized office makes you freeze and you secretly prefer writing in chaos?

Are you a REAL writer then? YES!

What Am I Exactly?

If you struggle with your identity as a writer–if you don’t seem to fit the mold no matter how you’ve tried–you would love the book I found over the weekend. It’s called The Write Type: Discover Your True Writer’s Identity and Create a Customized Writing Plan by Karen E. Peterson, who wrote the best book on writer’s block I ever read.

This book takes you through exercises to find the real writer who lives inside you. You’ll explore the ten components that make up a writer’s “type.” They include such things as tolerance for solitude, best time of day to write, amount of time, need for variety, level of energy, and level of commitment. Finding your own personal combination of traits helps you build a writer’s life where you can be your most productive and creative.

Free to Be Me

To be honest, the exercises with switching hands (right brain/left brain) didn’t help me as much as the discussions about each trait. I could usually identify my inner preferences quite easily through the discussion. It gave me freedom to be myself as a writer. It also helped me pinpoint a few areas where I believed some “shoulds” that didn’t work for me, where I was trying to force this square peg writer into a round hole and could stop!

We’re all different–no surprise!–but we published writers are sometimes too quick to pass along our own personal experience in the form of “shoulds.” You should write first thing in the morning should actually be stated, It works well for ME to write first thing in the morning, so you might try that.

What About You?

Have you come up against traits of “real writers” that just don’t seem to fit you? Do you like to flit from one unfinished project to another instead of sticking to one story until it’s finished and submitted? Do you need noise around you and get the heebie jeebies when it’s too quiet?

If you have time, leave a comment concerning one or two areas where you have struggled in the pas

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21. Writing in 20-Minute Slices

salamiThirty years ago I read an article that said writing was like eating a salami. You’d choke if you tried to swallow the whole thing at once. Slice by slice, though, it was easy.

These 20-minute Challenge tasks are “slices of salami.”

100-Day Challenge

I had several questions from writers doing the 100-Day Challenge about how to break writing tasks into those 20-30 minute slices. At the beginning of the challenge, I made a three-page single-spaced list of such tasks, covering several project areas (a novel revision, a possible nonfiction e-book, and marketing).

The beauty of the list to me is that I don’t have trouble getting started. I pick a task-not necessarily in the order listed-set my time, and get going! Since getting started has always been my biggest hurdle, the list goes a long way toward getting me over that hump.

Examples of Short Tasks

If your main project is fiction, and you only have 20-30 minutes to write, pre-thinking is critical before you sit down at the keyboard. Otherwise you’ll waste your time getting started and focusing. I became skilled at pre-thinking when I was first taking this ICL course because I had a preschooler, a toddler and a newborn. I wrote in 10-minute slices back then.

I made long lists of tasks for stories I wanted to write. The tasks covered such things as outlining steps, “creative steps” like thinking of character and setting names, mechanical steps (e.g. write opening scene), revision steps, and marketing steps.

The list of short fiction ”slices” would include things like:

  • Think of three titles
  • Revise titles to be more suspenseful
  • Decide on main character’s name
  • Decide on ending
  • Write physical character description of mother
  • Look up street names and weather in XXX town

Nonfiction “slices” might include:

  • Fact check xxxxx
  • Organize sources into alphabetical bibliography list
  • Revise (or tighten) opening

Examples for marketing might be:

  • Find three agent blogs to read
  • Find three publishers’ blogs to read
  • Read one blog post and leave a comment
  • Set up a Twitter account
  • Get domain name at GoDaddy.com

I was going to list some of my own 20-minute tasks for you, but I realized they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone but me. (e.g. check out Blogger Link Up, check epiphanies re: p. 194 MAC, make “sense” lists for each scene in last chapter) But I think the examples above give you a better idea of breaking things down into small slices.

Estimating Time Needed

Realize that it’s difficult to estimate times correctly. Sometimes I gave myself twenty minutes to do a certain task, and it only actually took me five minutes. Other times, the task took me three 20-minute periods to finish.

For example, one of my 20-minute tasks was to set up my author page on Amazon.com. (I have needed to do this for more than fifteen years!) My friend did hers in 20 minutes, but even though we were adding the same amount of info, I took three 20-minute times to finish mine. It took me the first twenty minutes just to read and understand the directions, another twenty to write the bio, and another twenty to add the book jackets and video trailer. (Actually there was another twenty minutes spent later because some of the dust jackets wouldn’t load, which I gave up on.)

I hope these examples have helped you and given you ideas for breaking down your own

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22. Who’s in Charge? (Part 3)

actionDid you read “Who’s in Charge?” (Part 1) and “Who’s in Charge?” (Part 2) first?

Life is one choice after another. We have to choose our writing thoughts, which help shape our writing attitudes, and that leads us to the next level: actions. This is where the writing rubber meets the road. 


A committed attitude will make choosing your actions easier. When you’re willing to do whatever it takes to revamp your personal life so you can write, the choices become clearer.

  • You will do things like choosing to write before doing the dishes, even though it bugs you to leave dirty dishes in the sink.
  • You will choose to write for an hour instead of watch TV or talk on the phone.
  • You will choose to have that lower carb/higher protein lunch so your writing energy is high all afternoon.
  • You will choose to retire at a decent hour so you’re alert to create the next morning.
  • You’ll consciously choose to make quality time with your family so you can write without feeling guilty–and without being neglectful.
  • Instead of a mental wish list, you’ll choose to set goals, write them down, and even make a poster for your wall so you’re staring at them daily.
  • You will choose to settle family quarrels and resolve conflicts partly because NOT doing so saps all your writing energy.

Just One Fork After Another!

You will make choices in all areas of your life that will support your writing instead of making it more difficult. Each time you come to a fork in the road, try to make a choice that will put you in charge of your writing. Each choice might look small, but these decisions add up to your writing life.

It might sound restrictive, but it’s really not. In 2011, I hope we all find that freedom that comes from being in charge of ourselves–and thus, our writing.

What is one action you would change today if you could?

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23. Words, Words, and More Words

I need to get a lot of writing done this month, despite the holidays. We’re advised to keep a record of words written each day, so as I was dividing up what needed to be done, I was thinking of ways to keep track of the revision words.

It’s much easier to track rough draft words. You can count 2,000 new words done today because you wrote eight new pages. With revision, it’s harder to measure.

Not an Exact Science

I might revise two chapters, but do I say I revised 5,000 words? Only 1,000 of those words might have needed fixing, since the pages had been revised many times already. Tomorrow I might hit a very rough chapter or one that needs extensive changes, and so I’d only be able to say I revised 1,000 words, even though I actually worked twice as long.

How do you track your writing? Daily words written? Daily words revised? Hours written, regardless of the word count? Do you use scraps of paper or a spreadsheet to tally your word count?

Keeping track is encouraging, showing that you’ve made progress, but I haven’t found a system yet that truly works for me. For one writer’s view on this subject, see Rob Parnell’s “How Many Words Do You Write?” posted on his Easy Way to Write blog.

 Non-Writing Writing Time

Another angle on this subject asks: Is learning about writing a good substitute for writing? On Mary DeMuth’s blog, someone said, “I’d be published but … I’m too busy learning how to write instead of just writing.” That takes time too, right?

On her “So You Want to be Published” blog, Mary’s answer was in part: “There is a balance between the two. You do need to study the craft by reading excellent writing books and magazines. Perusing classics or exceptionally-written modern book helps too. Listening to teachers, attending conferences, doing online courses, and putting your stuff out there for critique will help tremendously. But truly? The secret to my publishing success lies most in volume. I’ve simply written and written and written and written. Lots of writing. Gobs of it. For years and years. To become proficient and compelling, there’s no simple formula other than to exercise your fingers across the keyboard over and over and over again.”

I am a better writer when I write nearly every day. But I can also fool myself about how much I’m writing unless I keep track with some system. I need both accountability and encouragement.

Anybody got a great system for tracking word counts for rough drafts and also revisions? Let me hear from you!

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24. Press On to Finish Strong

finishTypically, my writing students are excited two times: at the very beginning of the writing course and again at the end (because they are graduating and/or being published.)

Book writers are also excited at the beginning of a project (when their idea and characters are new) and at the end (when the final draft is complete or it’s sold.)

But the middle? Middles can be miserable.

Part of the Package

Last year I had two writers in the same week, both talented and one already published, write to me to say that they were no longer excited about writing because it had become difficult. “This is harder than I thought it would be” is something I frequently hear. The new writer usually wants me to explain how to make it easy again, how to take the work out of the writing.

I think this comes from a real misconception about writing. Writing is like having a good relationship with someone. It’s exciting when you first meet, it’s satisfying after years of sharing experiences and working through the conflicts, but the middle is a mixture of joy and tests (or obstacles.) Frequently it’s not fun! It’s just part of the package–and it’s the same with writing.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

A quote from Never Give Up! says it well:

“Between the beginning and the end, every situation or pursuit has a ‘middle’–and the middle is where we often face our greatest challenges, hurdles, roadblocks, obstacles, detours, and tests. People who are easily led by their emotions rarely finish what they start. They give up when the project is no longer exciting and all they see in front of them is hard work.”

Just a While Longer

If you’re on the verge of quitting writing, I would encourage you to give it a bit longer. Face the challenges and be determined to overcome them. Find ways to make the middles fun! They can be every bit as rewarding as beginnings and endings–it just takes more work. Don’t be satisfied with “just trying” something, but see it through to the end. At least 90% of the time, you’ll be so glad you did.

I know there are rare instances where the only wise thing to do is to give up (on a career choice, a relationship, or a story). That choice is the exception to the rule though. Don’t be quick to quit writing just because it stops being fun for a while.

Best Predictor of Success

Many new writers will ask me, “Do you think I have what it takes to succeed as a writer?” I used to believe that I could tell within a couple of lessons with students. I have found over the years that I was wrong. Too often the students I had earmarked for long and happy writing careers quit because it grew difficult, and they were used to instant and easy success.

On the other hand, students who were mediocre at the beginning have gone on to publish well! I have a shelf of student books to prove it. They studied, they learned, they took courses and got critiqued if necessary. They submitted and endured rejection slips–but they persevered. And I’m proud to say that their books are impacting the world of children in very positive ways.

ALL writers have trouble sticking it out during those “miserable middles.” Do you have any mental tricks or words of wisdom that work for you at such times? If so, please share!

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25. Acting AS IF

acting(First re-read the post The Thought-Feeling-Behavior Cycle.)

After a couple of busy weekends (writing conferences to speak at) and other events, I was finally able to sit down for a lengthy time yesterday and write. Or so I thought.

I sat down all right, but once I finally had an uninterrupted moment to think, a certain situation that has been bothering me for months came flooding back. I couldn’t concentrate on my novel, and I was up and down. I walked. I ate. I sorted laundry. I worried. I ate some more. Later in the day, I Skyped a friend. But I didn’t write until…

Ah, Yes, I Remember

I picked up a book by Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life. I flipped through it and landed on the chapter called “Acting As If.” I knew this was a phrase from my old recovery group days basically meaning “fake it till you make it.”

I reviewed the thoughts-feelings-action cycle. Since my thoughts were unruly, and my feelings were haywire, I figured that “acting like a writer anyway” was my best option. I read her chapter on “Acting As If.” Here are a couple snippets to think about:

  • People draw conclusions about themselves through observation of their own behavior just as they draw conclusions about other people based on observation of their behavior.
  • Simply act a certain way based on your ideal Writer Self-Image, and over time, you become what you are acting.

Attack that Cycle!

A licensed professional counselor, Stone had many practical suggestions about how to act “as if” you’re a confident writer, act “as if” you’re a self-motivated writer, act “as if” you’re a self-disciplined writer, act “as if” you’re a future-focused writer, and act “as if” you’re a task-oriented writer. [I definitely recommend her book.]

I used one suggestion in the “task-oriented” section, acted “as if,” and got to work. Even though it was later in the day, I had the evening free and ended up with one of the most productive writing days I’d had in a long time. (I’m re-reading that chapter first thing today though!)

Don’t give up. We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for writers like Kelly Stone who share what works!

[NOTE: Thanks for the inquiries about the release date for the paperback of More Writer's First Aid. I thought it would be yesterday, but it looks like this weekend. I will certainly let you know!]

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