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1. How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise

Focus is at the heart of success. Unfortunately, we do not live in a world that nurtures concentration and single-minded devotion to one’s art. So, how can you minimize those pesky interruptions that keep you from writing?

Digital Distractions
Let’s start with all things online – they are just beckoning for your time and attention. Luckily, there are some tricks to reduce your susceptibility to those online Sirens.
  1. Only check email, social networking and news sites once or twice a day. If absolutely necessary, check every hour but only for five minutes
  2. Turn off email and smart phone notifications of any sort while you are writing
  3. Close your Internet Browser while you’re working – do your research beforehand
  4. If feasible have a dedicated computer or lap top that is strictly for writing – nothing else, not even checking the weather
Activity Distractions
Of course, not all activity distractions are digital. You may be pulled in by your favorite TV show or sidetracked by the need to clean the house from top to bottom. It’s also not unusual that cravings for ice cream or potato chips supersede the writing process (I’m in the potato chips category). Here are some tips to minimize the temptation to self-interrupt:
  1. Create a very calm and nurturing writing environment
  2. Remove TVs from your writing area
  3. If at all, only keep very small amounts of snack food in your writing area
  4. Leave all reading material that is not immediately related to your novel outside your writing space – read for fun in other areas of the house that you can’t see from your desk
People Distractions
While you have quite a bit of control regarding the Internet and activities that pull you away from your novel, people distractions are a little bit more complex. Setting boundaries can be challenging.

First of all, decide on the people who are allowed unlimited access to you – such as small children. Then list the people who are very dear to you but would be fine with you being unavailable at times. In these cases, telling people in advance when you are busy is most helpful – especially when you live in the same house.

People on your periphery are much easier to deal with. A simple, “Sorry but I am really busy right now. Can we do this later?” usually does the trick. In addition,
  1. Turn off your cell phone while you are working – or at least your message notifications
  2. Assign a gate keeper if you are living with somebody - that person can screen phone calls and visitors for you
  3. Protect your writing time with velvet fists
  4. Practice saying no to anything you don’t really want to do
No more distractions – let the words take over!

Renate Reimann, PhD (bottom photo) is a co-instructor in the upcoming class, WRITING YOUR NOVEL FROM THE GROUND UP: How to Build Your Story While Building Yourself as a Writer for Long-Term Success–In Two Parts. Part I starts on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. For more information, visit our classroom page.

8 Comments on How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise, last added: 9/12/2013
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2. Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success



Remember that our “31 Minutes for 31 Days” challenge starts today! Get the new year off to a great start.


And now, Stage 4 for making dynamic changes in your writing life! (First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, Stage 2: Committing to Change, and Stage 3: Taking Action)


You’re well on your way to achieving your major 2013 goals at this point, and you’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!

You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.

Until now.

Change and Maintain

In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:

  • Learn to recover from setbacks
  • Get mentally tough for the long haul

First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.

However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.

Pre-emptive Strike

Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)

Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.

Maintaining: A Better Way

I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day, I would begin again on Day #6.

I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.

Coping Plans

In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)

Coping plans have this basic structure (according to Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self):

“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”

When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.

When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.

Retrain Your Brain

Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.

Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:

  • I am equal to any writing challenge.
  • I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
  • I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
  • I take breaks every 90 minutes or so, using the break to refresh.
  • I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
  • I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
  • My writing gift is unique and the expression of that gift is unique.
  • I don’t need to be like any other writer.
  • I never give up on my dreams.

I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. (And yes, I use them myself, broken down into several categories: spiritual life, health, writing, children/grandchildren, and my marriage.) I guess I have a lot of areas where I want to rewire brain patterns!

Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place. It’s time we stopped yo-yoing up and down and created stable, permanent writing habits.

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3. Stage 3: Taking Action



Ready for Stage 3? It’s about taking action.

(First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, and Stage 2: Committing to Change.)

If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.

Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.

You’re primed for success.

Action Steps

As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:

  • You must decide when, where and how to start.
  • You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
  • You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.

This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.

Create Action Plans

An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.

Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.

To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:

  • When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
  • Where will you start? (time and place)
  • What specific action step will you take at this time?
  • How will you keep this commitment?

Time to Show Up

Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause.

There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed dealing with fears.

  1. What’s Holding You Back?
  2. Pitch It To Yourself!
  3. Voices of Self-Sabotage

I also keep several books on my shelf such Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.

Focus on the Present Step

Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!

The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”

Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.

One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.

Small Steps

Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.

NOTE: Don’t stop here. On New Year’s Day we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.

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4. Finding–and Maintaining–Passion for Your Writing

enthusiasm“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality…Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

~~Ralph Waldo Emersonson


Where do you get this enthusiasm? It comes from having passion for your writing.

How does a writer act who is passionate about his writing? He can’t wait to get up in the morning and get started. He is eager and energetic. This comes from loving what you do, and doing what you were born to do or feel called to do. Feeling this passion for your writing keeps you going. Quitting is no longer an option. When you’re passionate about your writing, perseverance is a given.


This brings us to two main questions:

  • How do you develop passion for the most important areas of your life?
  • How do you maintain that passion during the inevitable tough times?

First: Find It

Are you doing what you really want to do in your writing career? Are you doing it at least part of the time? (I know that for most of my writing life, it was half and half. Half the time I was writing what I really wanted to write–fiction usually–whether it sold or not. The other half of my writing time went to work-for-hire projects, teaching, speaking or whatever brought guaranteed income.) Ask yourself: Am I truly doing what I want to do?

If you’re not skilled enough to do the work you’d love to do, make time to educate yourself so you are. While maintaining your current job (either outside the home and/or raising children), do whatever it takes to prepare for your dream writing jobs. It’s very difficult to create passion for doing something you don’t want to do or a job you are “settling for” because you don’t feel skilled enough to do what you’d really love to do.

Do whatever you need to do to overcome those lying voices in your head that say you’ll never be good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not whatever enough. Read inspirational books, read author biographies about how they got started and grew as writers, and say “no” to whatever is eating the time you need to study and read and write.

Second: Maintain It

Passion for your writing makes your days fly by (in a good way!). It helps you get more done in less time. That being true, it deserves whatever time you need to keep your writing passion alive. If your passion for writing dies, then writing just becomes another drudge job.

So how can you maintain passion and enthusiasm every day? First–and maybe most obvious–is to spend more time actually doing what you love to do. What is your pet writing project, the one that may never sell but you love it? Spend more time each day working on it. Even if it’s only an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, it will remind you why you love to write.

Another key to maintaining passion for all your work is to reconnect with the purpose underlying everything you do. For example, I don’t enjoy running until it’s over and I’m in the shower. But I run my miles in the morning because the weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying “recovered” from my osteoporosis, which means my bones stay strong, which means I can still upright at the computer (hopefully) for decades to come and still have energy at the end of the day for my grandkids.

The same goes for giving up sugar finally four months ago. For a gal whose blood type is Hershey’s, that was a big deal for me. But more and more, sugar was making me si

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5. Organized Books and Lives

organizedA couple weeks ago I encouraged you to get ready for NaNoWriMo–the writing group that produces a book in November. I hope you have an idea for it now.

I also encouraged you to spend October getting organized so that you have the best chance of succeeding. To me, success includes having a really good rough draft done at the end of November (as opposed to 50,000 words which you throw out later.)

I Hate to Outline!

If you hate outlines, maybe you don’t understand the various kinds–and their purposes. If so, read these two articles and you may well change your mind:

“The #1 Reason You Haven’t Written the Book You Want to Write” talks about misconceptions around outlining a book–plus all the benefits. (I never sold the two books I wrote without an outline. I’ve sold 95% of the books I wrote where I used an outline, even if it wasn’t very detailed.)

“Outlining a Novel Step-by-Step” is a practical guide to this process. It can feel overwhelming when you start.

I Have No Time!

If you need help organizing your hectic life so that you can write, here’s another good article with practical advice for very busy people: “Organizing Schedules So You Can Find More Time to Write.” Although my kids are grown and married, I coordinate around babysitting grandbabies, going to a grandson’s soccer games, overnights, and my husband’s changing work schedule. Every season brings different changes, and we writers need to go with this flow as well if we expect to write through all the seasons of our lives.

I hope you have time this weekend to read those articles. Whether you are getting ready for NaNoWriMo or not, they’re full of valuable information. Make it a terrific weekend, everyone!

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6. Focus: Avoid Split-Brain Writing

Over the weekend I spoke with a writer dealing with some worries that are daily robbing her of her hours of creative time. It reminded me of an earlier post on Fighting to Focus.

Where’s Your Focus?

From studies I’ve read, when you’re going through a crisis (yours or someone else’s), there is a single-minded focus that will help you regain your peace. And there’s a (more common) split focus that won’t help you at all. In all likelihood, it will make it worse. If your goal is to keep hold of your creative hours when problems hit, then staying calm is paramount.

Studies were done on people facing severe problems ranging from the terminal illness of a child to divorce (yours or someone else’s). The people under strain who re-gained and maintained their peace and continued to be productive did one thing very differently from those who fought desperately to be peaceful, but failed. This is a truth that can also apply to even the simplest worrisome problems you’re facing–worries that are stealing your writing time.

A Healthy Single Focus

The people who regained their peace and rode out the storm were those who had one focus: regaining their peace of mind. Once they did that, they were able to offer comfort and aid, but without worrying about the outcome of their help. And they could then focus on their own work.

A Split Focus

The people who continued to worry and obsess and eventually get sick had a split focus: they tried to regain their calm mind too, but they also tried to control some aspect of the outcome. They were trying to control another person or an event that was beyond their control. There is nothing quite so crazy-making as trying to control something outside your control.

Regaining Your Focus

The quickest way to stop worrying is to give up trying to control something you have no control over. Instead, pour all that wasted energy into regaining a calm mind. I use a variety of things: prayer, surrender, running, a bike ride, meditation, talking to a trusted friend, and watching uplifting movies. Find what combination works for you, and make that your single focus.

Get calm. Give your aid, if it’s healthy to do so. Then get on with your life.

If you’re consistent with this, you’ll find your emotions coming down out of the rafters and settling in nicely. And then you heave a sigh of relief, rest a moment or two, and head to your writing room.

Creativity awaits!

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7. The Dynamics of Change

changeAre you thinking about your 2013 writing goals yet?

Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? There’s a reason for that.

I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help as we head into a new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.

How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of those 25% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?

Change in Stages

One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed, you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.

Most writers won’t be able to do it.

Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.

Making Change Doable

All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.

However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.

Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.

Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.

Stages of Change

  • Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
  • Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps, building up your motivation, and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
  • Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
  • Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.

(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)

The Blueprint

So…that’s the plan for the next few Tuesday blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way.

The “Stage 4″ article will be posted on New Year’s Day–just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions!

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8. Stage 1 of Change: Making Up Your Mind

mind(If you haven’t already, read the overview, The Dynamics of Change.)

You want to make changes in your writing life that will last?

Let’s start at the beginning, with Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind. As I said last time, this stage involves several things, including the following:

  • feeling the pain that prompts you to change
  • evaluating the risks and benefits of the goals you have in mind
  • evaluating your current ability

Not Yet!

In this stage, you do not make any changes. Not yet. As tempting as it is, do not jump in and “just do it!” Remember how far your willpower has taken you in the past–and wait.

Resist the temptation to cycle through another try–>fail–>try harder–>fail–>discouragement episode. Instead, lay the necessary groundwork to make permanent changes.

The Pain of Not Changing

Wanting to make a change–but never making it–is exhausting. It hangs over our heads, constantly reminding us of some incompleted task. When you really feel the pain of not changing, you’re on your way to making up your mind. (And if you’re willing to live with the pain of not realizing your writing dreams, that’s your choice as well.)

Actively and colorfully imagine staying the same the next five years. Imagine that it’s 2018. You’re still trying to implement the “write daily” habit, you’re still trying to finish that novel, you’re still too afraid to talk to agents or editors at writer’s conferences, and you’re still unpublished. When writers’ block hits–or simply a normal writer’s frustration–you still reach for doughnuts or a cigarette or settle in for an hour of mindless TV.

It’s 2018, and nothing has changed–except you have gained fifteen pounds, you’re still stuck in a day job you hate, your baby is in kindergarten, (and you never did get to work from home), or your military spouse has moved the family again (and you still don’t have a career that can move with you.)

Write out the “future” scenario in vivid color based on nothing changing. A clear image of future pain strengthens our determination to face our current fears about changing.

Risks and Benefits of the Change

Explore (either on your own or with a friend/counselor) the benefits of making the short- and long-term writing changes you are considering. Follow the changes five years into your future and see the benefits of having written steadily for five years, submitting steadily for five years, getting five years’ worth of critiques, etc.

The risks? Most of them have to do with facing your writing fears. For a week (two is better) observe yourself and your thoughts when you sit down to write (or when you avoid it.) You’re not trying to change here–just observe your reactions when trying to write.

Do you feel anxiety? What do you think? (“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this!”) What do you do? (Write half a paragraph, then reach for chocolate?) The risk is being honest with yourself, which is necessary if you’re going to honestly evaluate your current ability…

Current State of Affairs

After spending a couple of weeks observing your writing habits, you may have uncovered a few issues to address (procrastination, feeling isolated, self-doubt, self-sabotage, fears of failure or success, etc.) Maybe you just lack motivation; whatever the issue(s), this is the time to work on them.

How you deal with them (and a combination of solutions usually works best) will vary from writer to writer. Some ways to motivate yourself and work on various writing fears include:

Remember, all this thinking and journaling and dreaming is still Stage One. You haven’t committed to making any changes yet. You’re still making up your mind. You’re thinking things through thoroughly.

And you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed–permanently.

I’m curious. Do you find this thinking stage comforting? Threatening? Discouraging? Encouraging? Share your thoughts!

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9. Stage 2: Committing to Change

decision(First read The Dynamics of Change and Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind)

Okay, we’re ready for Stage 2: Committing to Change. This is not taking action yet. Instead, this stage involves:

1) Planning the necessary steps
2) Building up your motivation
3) Considering possible distractions and/or discouraging things that might cause a setback

The change you make at this point is to shift from “passively wishing to achieve your goal to actively committing to make it happen.” (Neil Fiore in Awaken Your Strongest Self.) If you did the work in Stage 1 (thinking through the risks and benefits, plus evaluating your personal abilities), you should have fairly realistic expectations of what does–and doesn’t–work for you at your particular stage of life.

Time to Experiment

Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.

  • Try writing for 15 minutes upon awakening or right after your morning coffee.
  • Stay offline until 10:00 a.m. for three days.
  • Try writing at the library during two lunch hours this week.
  • Read a writing blog before you get on Facebook or Twitter.

Record your thoughts and feelings when you introduce these writing changes. How do you feel? What works and what doesn’t? You can’t fail at this stage. You are only gathering information.

Some of these changes you’ll love and find so easy! Others you won’t find helpful at all. But as you succeed with certain writing changes (writing 15 minutes each evening while supper cooks, reading 5 pages per day of a writing book), your motivation will rise. You’ll feel more like a writer automatically.

Mental Rehearsals

During this stage you also need to think through strategies for dealing with obstacles, distractions and setbacks. One of the most effective (and fun!) ways to do this is using what athletes call “mental rehearsals.” They imagine how they’ll handle challenges at each step along the way. [NOTE: This is not just wishful thinking. Current books on brain chemistry show incredible studies and brain x-rays, revealing changes made in the brain after "mental rehearsals."]

Envisioning how you will handle writing distractions (toddlers wanting to be entertained, friends calling to chat, school vacations) and setbacks (an editor rejects your novel after two revisions, computer crashes) helps you build stamina or mental toughness.

Use mental movies to confront each setback or distraction. Instead of your usual reaction (chocolate, TV, surfing the ‘Net), clearly envision yourself sitting tight, working methodically through your writing problem, piling up a stack of new pages, and keeping to your deadline with ease.

Not all interruptions and distractions happen to us. Be aware that you often seek out distractions as well. In order to escape writing blocks or manuscripts that just aren’t working well, we often attempt to escape the anxiety or boredom or agitation by looking for distractions.

Are You Ready?

The final part of Stage 2 is actually committing to the change. Take time to think and journal about the strength of your commitment. If you want to succeed–and make the success permanent–it needs to be more than a wish. It needs to be a strong intention.

So, what do you intend to do? What change(s) in your writing life do you intend to make? Now is the time to commit.

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10. What Am I Called to Write?

wfa-book2-900x1200-borderAnnouncement first, then today’s blog post… For those who wrote and asked when More Writer’s First Aid would be a print book, you can now buy a trade paperback at Amazon.com. Many of you are just like me–and still prefer a non-electronic book to hold. Comments from reviewers and bloggers can be found on my website.


What Am I Called to Write?

callingDo you have a writing gift? Do you have a knack with words? Do you feel an  inner desire to write? Most of you who read this blog said a resounding “yes!” to those questions a long time ago.

And yet, one of the most common email or conference questions I hear is, “How do I know what I’m supposed to write?”

So Many Possibilities!

Sometimes the confusion is about subject matter. Should you write homeschool educational materials? Tips on raising children?Picture books that help preschoolers overcome fears? Humorous books to make teens laugh?

Sometimes the question involves age groups. Should you focus on preschoolers,early childhood, lower or upper elementary, YA, adults? Should you zero in on one age group or be flexible, writing for all ages?

Sometimes we wonder about form. Should we try a verse novel? Rhyming picture books? Series fiction? Nonfiction with photographs? Hardcover stand-alone novels?

Clues to the Answers

The following set of questions from The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright are some ways you can explore those questions and perhaps find some answers. Take time with each question–each one serves a particular purpose.

  • The activity that gives me greatest joy is…
  • The good qualities that best describe my life are…
  • The help that people often solicit from me is…
  • The part of my personality that I would most hate to lose is…
  • The work that is most satisfying to me is…
  • The activity that I feel drawn to, even when it’s scary, is…

Finding Your Writing Niche

When I began writing thirty years ago, I only knew two things: I loved to read, and I loved my small children. I read the ICL ad and something went off inside of me, like a little burst of fireworks.  Me? A writer? Neat!

But what kind of writing?

I assumed

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11. Principles of a Creative Life

candle“The healthy creative life is an intentional life, in which the person examines options and opportunities, necessities and desires, and makes his or her choices accordingly.”

 ~~(Vinita Hampton Wright) in The Soul Tells a Story


If you took time to ponder and write down answers to the questions posed in Monday’s blog, you gained a lot of information about your dreams and gifts. That knowledge is important. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. You must be intentional in using this knowledge to develop your creative life.

A Writing Life on Purpose

The healthy creative life involves practices that help further develop your gifts. If you want to write, you have the responsibility to develop practices that help you grow. (You also need to get rid of habits that hurt your writing–but that’s another post!) You can (and should) set goals, design rituals to help you get started (light candles, make tea, put on music) and form habits that help you both start and continue writing.

Here are some questions for you to answer to examine this part of your life. Even if you’ve been writing for a long time, I’d suggest answering the questions based on where you are now. I found them very helpful myself. Without meaning to, we can get off-track, our life circumstances can get us off course, or we might never have given this sufficient thought to begin with.

Now’s the Time!

Here are some more questions from The Soul Tells a Story. Brainstorm answers in your journal.

  • How intentional (using planning or goals) have I been about developing my creativity?
  • What opportunities am I looking for–and are these options open to me?
  • What qualities do I want to nurture in my personality and lifestyle that will allow me to use my gifts in my writing?
  • What rituals or practices always seem to work to help me do my writing?
  • What other rituals and practices that I’ve heard about would I like to try?

It’s time to make some intentional choices! We won’t grow as writers unless we intend to grow and choose to grow. What’s a “growth choice” that you might like to make–and implement–very soon?

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12. 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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13. 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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14. Surrendering to the Call

surrenderDo you believe you are called to write? Or do you suspect you are?

If that’s true, why aren’t you pursuing your calling?

Food for Thought

This weekend I started reading Callings by Gregg Levoy, the author of a very practical book for writers called This Business of Writing. In Callings, he said some thought-provoking things that gave me pause.

I started writing thirty years ago, and until six months ago, there were many reasons why I couldn’t give my all-out devotion to writing: a full-time day job of teaching, raising four childrlen, multiple jobs in the church and community, serious health problems and surgeries, etc. But last fall I retired from teaching, my children are grown, and I can decide how much I babysit grandchildren and how much volunteer work I do. It’s a time I’ve been anticipating for three decades.

So…am I pursuing my writer’s calling with full devotion? I want to. I dream about it. I can almost taste it sometimes. But do I do it? No.


I’m not sure, but these quotes from Callings are helping me ask the right questions. Maybe these ideas will help you too.

  • “Although we have the choice not to follow  a call, if we do not do so,..we’ll feel alienated from ourselves, listless and frustrated, and fitful with boredom, the common  cold of the soul. Life will feel so penetratingly dull and pointless that we may become angry, and turn the anger inward against ourselves (one definition of depression).”
  • “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so.”
  • “Perhaps the main reason that we ignore calls is that we instinctively know the price they’ll exact.”
  • “All calls lead to some sacrifice because even just one choice closes the door on another, and some calls lead to much sacrifice, which may feel anything but blissful.”
  • “At some level we need to devote everything, our whole selves. A part-time effort, a sorta-kinda commitment, an untested promise, won’t  suffice. You must know that you mean business, that you’re going to jump into it up to your eye sockets and not turn back at the last minute.”

Will the Rubber Meet the Road Now?

I’ve had thirty years of (by necessity) a “part-time effort” and “an untested promise.” Now that I have the time and could choose to do so, will I “jump into it up to [my] eye sockets”?

Is the pain of not doing so finally more than the fear of trying? Yes, I think so.

How about you?

[If you've decided to surrender to the c

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15. How NOT To Be Taken Seriously

respectIf you take yourself seriously, you will be taken seriously.

A common complaint among new writers is that friends and family members don’t take them–or their writing–seriously.

I tell them–truthfully–that the main thing they need to do is convince themselves that they are serious about their writing. Others will pick up on that attitude and start giving them the respect they crave.

Do You Need An Attitude Fix?

If you’re a self-employed, freelance writer, you’re in business. You’re creative–true. But you’re still in business if you want to make income from your writing. And often it is poor business attitudes that keep others from taking you seriously. Do an attitude check with the list below.

Are you harboring these unhelpful attitudes?

1) The “I’ll work when I please” attitude–Most of us are drawn to self-employed writing because we like the idea of being our own bosses. We can work when (and if) we so choose. But if you take this attitude to mean you can meet deadlines if nothing else comes up, you’ll never be taken seriously. It’s one thing to let an editor know you won’t be able to meet a deadline because you’re in the hospital and both arms are in traction. It’s quite another to miss a deadline because you’re hand crafting mini pinatas for your daughter’s birthday party.

2) The “I don’t have the money to be professional” attitude–You have to invest money to make money, say the experts. For example, if you’re advertising your resume-writing business with a brochure, get a good printer or have them professionally done. During the early years, I never had a publisher willing to foot the bill for flyers or bookmarks or other advertising. It came out of my pocket. [This is where I differ from the experts though. I didn't put anything on a credit card. I have a horrible fear of debt.] Since the family needed my book advances to live on, I would do “extras” to get whatever money I needed to run my office: an extra speech, an extra workshop, an extra critique. And when the “extra” money ran out, I stopped. Perhaps if I had been willing to put things on credit or had more expendable income, I could have increased book sales faster. I don’t know. But I do think you have to spend some  money to get established, even if it’s just for paper and ink. [That was me--I already had my husband's old college typewriter.]

3) The “I can’t charge more” attitude–Sad, but true. People tend to value what they pay for. Dogs that people pay big bucks for are treated so much better than free dogs from the pound. While you may choose to write or speak for free very early in your career, don’t let that period last long. [The only free stuff I used to do were talks at my children's schools as my parental/community contribution. I never wrote for free that I can remember. Even now, if I critique for free, it's because I'm trading with a writer friend who is giving me a free critique also.]

Early in my career I complained to another (more experienced) writer that I didn’t appreciate some of the disrespectful treatment I got at certain schools. Her reply? “Triple your speaking fee. You work too cheap. They’ll value you more.” With much fear and trembling, I did it. She

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16. It’s All in the Numbers

numbersHere you go! Seven ways to help you get the writing done–and sold!

6 Things You Should Know About the Publishing World

7 Deadly Sins of Writing

5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying ‘No’

10 Essential Rules of Poetry

7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

7 Steps to Getting Unstuck and Becoming More Productive

3 Benefits of Building Your Own Platform

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17. 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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18. Anchors for the Writer’s Life

anchor“Habits are the little anchors that keep us from straying very far from the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, whether that lifestyle makes us happy or miserable,” says Karen Scalf Linamen in her book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight.

Habits: Help or Hindrance?

We all have habits that either support or hinder our writing lives. Habits are simply the ways we repeatedly do some things. Positive habits include daily writing practice, telling ourselves positive things about our abilities, and keeping current with publishers’ requirements.

Negative writing habits run the gamut from playing computer games and surfing the Internet during our writing time, to not keeping track of submissions and not studying to improve our craft.

Do you see any consistent patterns in your writing life? Which positive habits help you? Which habits detract from your ability to pursue your writing dreams consistently?

Habits from Scratch

If you could redesign your writing life from scratch, which patterns would you reestablish? Which habits would you drop, if you could break them? Can you even identify the habits that are getting in your way? Do you wonder where your time is going, why you can’t seem to get around to working on the project that is so dear to your heart? Try journaling about it.

“Keeping a journal can help you identify hidden habits that are nunsinterfering with your life,” says Linamen. “You can embrace the changes you want to embrace–and getting a handle on what’s really going on is a great way to begin!”

The Art of Change

A good writing life–a productive writing life–is built on good writing habits.  They keep you anchored to the writing life you want to have, both now and in the future. Building good writing habits may not sound very exciting, but discipline now will give you a lot of freedom later on–and a writing life worth having!

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19. 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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20. Inner Critics and Time Wasters

criticWriters are opinionated people.

Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be. This “critical editor component” of our personality is absolutely invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.

However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.

Think About It

Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critic or editor in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress!

Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” run his life.

Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things. Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe.

Change Your Perspective

Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly “revising” the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative. Sometimes the simplest solutions evade us because we’re all riled up inside.

It reminds me of a story (you may also be familiar with) about “The River and the Lion: After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost liondrowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”

Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”

“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”

Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.

Control What You Can: Yourself

We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spen

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21. 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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22. Why Write Daily?

writeThere is a famous quote: “If you take one day off writing, your muse will take off the next three.”

In other words, it will take you three days (after skipping writing) for you to get back into the flow of your writing project. Even taking one full day off will cost you in focus.

I don’t know why this is, but when you finally get back to writing, you can expect some uncomfortable, not-fun writing days, producing stuff that stinks. Several writers I’ve read lately say that if you’ve been away from your writing for a week or more, you can expect about ten days of writing that is no more fun than getting teeth pulled when you start again.

When I say “away from your writing,” that’s what I mean too. Sometimes–and I am sooo guilty of this–we fool ourselves that we’re writing when we’re:

  • Reading a writing magazine or blog
  • Marketing a story (looking for publishers, printing copies, going to the post office)
  • Blogging
  • Journaling
  • Answering email to writers, editors and family members
  • Speaking at writer’s conferences
  • Going to book signings or book store readings
  • Posting to Facebook or Twitter

That’s not the kind of writing I mean. Those are writing-related tasks, and writers today have more and more of them, it seems. They have to be done. But they don’t take the place of writing.

In the Flow

To stay in the groove, so to speak, you don’t have to write for hours and hours every day (although hours are lovely and the more, the better.) I have found that if I work on my novel for even twenty minutes a day, I can avoid that horrible getting started angst the next day. And I don’t have to waste time trying to remember where I was, what the characters were feeling, what the plot problem was, or that new insight I realized about the theme. Our brains seem to be able to hold onto those things for about 24 hours.

As Heather Sellers said in Page by Page, “I try to avoid missing days. The not-writing days aren’t worth it! It’s too hard to get back into it. This is why athletes cross-train off season. This is why people who are successful with weight management stay below a certain weight. It just isn’t worth it. Getting back into shape is just too hard. It is easier to keep doing it, tiny little writing periods, day after day. Without missing a day.”

Too Late?

What if you’ve already missed a few days, or weeks, or months of writing? Then start again. But you can also take this to the bank: your writing will stink, you will hate it or question your story or your talent or your motives, you will feel self-indulgent, and writing for twenty minutes will feel like hours. But this really uncomfortable period is usually necessary. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that-if you stick it out for about ten days straight-it will pass. The muse will return, the writing will be fun again, you’ll realize how much you missed it, you’ll love your writing rituals and routine, and you’ll wake up eager to write as you did in the past.

Once you regain that wonderful writing state, do everything you can to maintain it. If you know you have a super busy day tomorrow, set your alarm twenty minutes earlier and write before the day takes over. It doesn’t take much writing to stay in the flow-not nearly as much as it takes

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23. Why Entering Contests Boosts Writing

When I took my first fiction writing course in college, the professor compared our weekly writing assignments to a contest. On Mondays, we received a word count and a theme. During class time, each of us roadmapped a perfect plot, played with character development, created a distinct mood.

On Friday, we handed our (usually) handwritten stories to the person on our left for their consumption (or condemnation, depending on the student). Occasionally, we'd read aloud to the rest of the class. By the following Monday, professor would select a winning story of the week and share it with us.

I never won. But, this method of instruction - hours filled with nothing but writing and honing the craft - provided one of the greatest lessons about the writing contests: competition develops writing skills.

Why should YOU enter a writing contest? I'll share four lessons I learned:

  1. Guidelines offer focus. Writing within parameters forces you to focus on your message. Word baggage is eliminated and the piece forms a tightly-written story. A theme provides focus, but it does not limit your imagination. Creativity in plot and word choice are limitless! Even genre-specific contests let you stretch your writing prowess by crafting a new world or twisting history.

  2. Attitude is everything. Did I stop writing when I didn't win in class? Heck, no. I never gave up. Instead, the competition and my lack of "prized success" pushed me to develop my craft by tuning in to what wasn't working in my stories. I never viewed those works as failures. They just weren't what the instructor was looking for. A positive attitude makes a difference, and I was positive to continue trying!

  3. Contests give writers permission to write. If you're set on entering a contest, you've given yourself permission to schedule time to write. Sometimes outside forces control the amount of time we dedicate to our craft, but knowing you have a deadline and plan to enter your best work gives you the say-so to make time to write.

  4. Writing increases confidence. I've entered several poetry contests and I've experienced some success. It's a confidence boost! Even when I didn't win the grand prize, I made fantastic discoveries: what judges are looking for, what writing styles do or don't work, how other writers approach the challenge. These lessons also boost belief in my work.

Entering a writing contest may be a big step for a writer, but it's an action that will enhance your writing.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website. Graphic design by LuAnn Schindler

24. The “Not To Do” List

listI once had an apartment with one large hall closet. At first it was roomy and organized. Over the two years I lived there, it grew more and more crowded and chaotic as I stuffed more and more junk into it. One day, I realized I couldn’t jam one more thing in there and still close the door.

Something was going to have to come OUT before more would go IN.

Time is Like a Closet

One year I took some online classes plus set up a self-study program to grow in my writing craft. It would require around four hours per day to do everything I wanted to do. Given the fact that I NEVER had four free hours in a day, where was that time going to come from?

One thing I love to do on January 1 is change calendars: wall calendars in kitchen and office, desk calendars (daily and monthly) in my office, and pocket calendars for my purse. The squares of the New Year calendar pages are virtually pristine and pure. An occasional appointment already made dots a square or two, but that’s all.

The calendars I pitch have perhaps one or two clean white squares per month with nothing scheduled. Just looking at them makes me feel tired. I know from experience, though, that the clean calendars will soon look just as jam-packed as the old calendars if I didn’t take steps NOW to prevent it.

But how?

Create a “NOT To-Do” List

To make time for some new things I wanted to do, I had to look at the calendar and find the time wasters. Some events are important to me and will stay on my new schedule: our weekly potluck supper with my grown kids and grandkids, teaching Sunday school at the Air Force base to basic trainees, my every-other-week critique group, leading DivorceCare at church, and blogging 3X/week. These activities feed my goals of a strong extended family, volunteer service, and growth as a writer.

However, I noticed a LOT of stuff on my calendar that could easily go. (Well, easily in the sense that I wouldn’t miss it. Difficult in the sense that it would mean saying “no” more often-and people pleasers like me hate that.)

My Personal “Not To-Do” List

I know the Internet eats up a lot of time for me. This year I’ve decided to stay offline until noon by adding the blog the night before so it posts automatically in the morning without me being online. Before I go to bed at night, I remove the laptop (which has the Internet connection) from my office altogether. It’s easier to deal with the temptation this way. Out of sight, out of mind! Reading other people’s blogs, posting on Twitter and Facebook, and answering e-mail can wait till later in the day.

No more “come and buy something” parties. I don’t like parties selling jewelry, home interior decorations, clothing, pots and pans, etc. I am also going to limit how many invitations I accept to showers. At my age, every woman is having grandkids and giving baby showers for friends having new grandkids. I rarely know their children or grandchildren. The shower only appears to take two hours, but by the time you’ve bought and wrapped a gift, gotten yourself ready, and driven to and from in heavy city traffic, it kills about eight hours. A gift card in the mail would be fine most of the time. (Not sure I’ll ever get up the guts to RSVP with, “Hey, I’ve never even met your kid, and I barely even know you, so I won’t be coming or sending a gift.”) Sounds very Scroogey, I know. But ooooh, so tempting.

I will no longer clean the house before the every-other-month visit by the Ork

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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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