16 Good habits for writers to model

16 Good habits for writers to model

Sent by Angie Noll

My partner has this annoying habit of saying, “What the fuck!” when he doesn’t understand things, like people driving at 40km/h or having to pay a lot more for something than he thinks it’s worth.

One day, when my youngest daughter, Gabbi, was around three years old, we were at the playground when another mom politely turned to her and asked if she wanted a turn on the swing. My sweet little Gabbi, with her innocent dark eyes and long, black hair, flowing down her back, looked up at this nice lady and said, “What the fuck?”

Clearly, Gabbi misunderstood the use of the term WTF.

During my Psychology studies, we learnt a lot about how people learn, and one of the most primitive learning strategies that all humans share, is simply modelling the behaviour of others. That’s how babies and young children learn, after all, and it’s how Gabbi learnt that phrase – by modelling my partner. (She has since unlearnt it, and my partner is being re-trained to say, “What on earth?” instead of WTF.)

I came across this concept of modelling again while I was doing a Neuro-Linguistic Programming course, but this time it was discussed in the context of what highly successful people do all the time. People at the top of their game in any given field regularly model the behaviour of those who are even higher up the ladder than they are in order to improve their skills.

The reason why modelling is such an effective learning strategy is simple – why re-invent the wheel? If someone else already knows how to do what it is that you are learning to do, then modelling his or her strategy makes good sense. (Note, modelling is not the same as copying. Copying is cheating and it implies taking short cuts to avoid having to do the work. Modelling is observing what works, and then adapting that strategy into your own life by doing the work that is required of you.)

As writers, we can model other writers who are good at any aspect of the writing life that we’re struggling with, be it writing or publishing strategy, coping with stress and anxiety, overcoming limiting beliefs …. Whatever it is you need, there’s a writer out there to learn from. All you have to do is find him or her.

(And remember to be discerning with which behaviours you choose to model – a lesson my little Gabbi is still learning!)

I’ve compiled a list of habits that some famous authors developed in their own writing lives to help them along. See which ones you can model to improve your writing or the areas of your life affected by it. (If an author is well known for his/her strategy, then I’ve placed his or her name next to it. If many authors use this technique, then I didn’t attribute it to anyone in particular.)

  1. Always stop writing when you know what’s going to happen next. (Ernest Hemmingway.)
  1. Creating a daily routine so that the repetition of the routine becomes your way of settling in to write. The routine itself becomes mesmerizing. (Haruki Murakami.)
  1. Learn to work amongst distractions and noise. (E.B. White.)
  1. Henry Miller has a lot of good ideas to model in his book, “Henry Miller On Writing.”
  • Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  • Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  • Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  • Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.  Narrow down. Exclude.
  • Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are
  • Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
  1. Be willing to write badly. (Julia Cameron)
  1. Similar to number 5 above – You can’t edit a blank page. (Jody Picoult.)
  1. Find a way to procrastinate and fidget that works for you but doesn’t interfere with your writing. Maya Angelo talks about having playing cards and crossword puzzles to keep her Little Mind occupied while her Big Mind thinks about the things she wants to think about. In fact, many writers talk about the ritualistic things they do before writing, just to get settled, whether it’s having a cup of tea or checking emails and social media.
  1. Become comfortable with throwing lots of writing away. “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.” (Barbara Kingsolver.)
  1. “Turn off your cell phone.” (Nathan Englander.) I would add to close the email and social media tabs on your laptop as well.
  1. Learn to write in a variety of settings, such as coffee shops, in the car, on the train, amongst their children and in the silence of an empty house. A.J. Jacobs, for instance, wrote while walking on the treadmill. He says it took him 1,200 miles to write his book!
  1. Learn to write whether you feel like it or not.
  1. Good writers get into a writing habit, and they actively create inspiration and good ideas when their creativity seems to have dried up.
  1. Cultivate a good physical exercise routine. Writing is a sedentary activity that is not only unhealthy for your body but also for your creative spirit. Writers are famous for being good walkers, for instance, but any physical activity will do. (Julia Cameron, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling…)
  1. Discipline yourself. Writing might seem like something that writers do when the inspiration strikes, but most good writers are disciplined about it. It doesn’t matter whether you write for twenty minutes every day or five hours. Be disciplined about it.
  1. Be prepared to practice – even after you’ve been published. Just like fine artists practice the basics of brush strokes and shading techniques every day, pianists practice their scales, singers do voice exercises before every singing session and even soccer players practice ball skills and sprinting, so must writers be prepared to practice writing. Do a paragraph of descriptive writing, write some dialogue, enroll in a writing course, listen to an interview with an established writer, copy out pages from a novel by your favorite writer or Google writing prompts and do one every now and again.
  1. Read good books. I always thought this was an obvious pre-requisite for a writer, but apparently it isn’t. If I had a dollar for every person that I meet that “wants to be a writer” but who doesn’t read anything, I’d be rich. And yet, this is one of the most fundamental tools in your writing kit. Read, read and read — but make sure what you’re reading is good writing!

I’m an Intuitive Life coach originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. I combine life coaching with guidance that I receive from the Angels and my Guides. I work with people from all over the world via Skype, and am passionate about helping people move forward with their creative dreams. Other than my work, I’m passionate about writing and teaching people how to use their intuition. I’m also a regular Ashtanga yoga practitioner and meditator. I live with my two daughters and my partner, our dog, cat and guinea pigs in a happy but noisy (and rickety) little house at the edge of a cliff in Auckland, New Zealand.

 

 

Find Angie, her inspirational writing and her courses for creatives in these places:

AngieNoll.com — SkillsharePost Haste on Medium.com — Facebook — TUT.com

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Training your ‘Procrastination Puppy’

Training your ‘Procrastination Puppy’

Sent by Angie Noll

Before we immigrated to New Zealand, we had two little lapdogs of no distinguishable breed – “mutts” would be the best way to describe them. They were super cute, but completely untrainable. We even took them to puppy training classes and the instructor kindly advised us that we were wasting our money (“Just enjoy them, but don’t expect too much from them.”) That’s how untrainable they were. What followed was nearly two decades of trouble with these two fluff balls.

Upon arriving in New Zealand, we had to buy a new puppy to soothe our daughter’s broken heart about leaving the two little mutts, who were ancient by this time, back in South Africa (in the pet cemetery.) We’re still partial to pavement specials, but couldn’t find any over here, so we settled for an adorable black and white Lhasa Apso crossed with a Spoodle – who turned out to be super quick on the uptake and easy to train. What a pleasure!

Being an intuitive, I often receive pictures or hear words in my head from my divine writing coaches when I know I have to write on a particular topic, and when I sat down to think about this article on procrastination, these dogs of mine came to mind.

I shook my head a few times to clear the view and try again (because clearly dogs have nothing to do with writer’s procrastination) but the vision of the dogs was still there.

After giving it some thought, though, I got it. Obviously, dogs have everything to do with procrastination, because when you think about procrastinating as a useful tool, then it’s a lot like puppy training. Hence the idea of a Procrastination Puppy was born.

Keep in mind that puppies themselves aren’t bad – as long as you teach them and stay in control. Otherwise you’re in for a hard time (trust me on this.) But if you spend some time training them, you get to enjoy the benefits of the puppy and you can make it work for you, such as guarding your house, chasing the cat away, and taking you for a lovely walk every day.

A procrastination puppy is no different – train it and reap the benefits.

So, now that you understand that procrastination just needs to be placed on a short leash with you firmly in control of the process, here’s how you go about creating an obedient procrastination puppy instead of a noisy, annoying ankle-biter that chews the furniture and barks at (or bonks) anything that moves.

The Procrastination Ritual (a.k.a Your Procrastination Puppy)

If you suffer from untrained procrastination, you will have noticed that there is a pattern to the process. You can use this pattern to identify your breed of procrastination puppy.

  • Perhaps you feel an uncontrollable urge to wash the dishes or mop the floor when it’s time to sit down and write. But before you do that you realise that the carpets need to be vacuumed and the trash taken out. On your way there, you pass the bathroom and get side-tracked by the toilet that just has to be cleaned right now. If this sounds like you, then your puppy is the one that gets distracted by every squirrel and leaf blowing in the wind at puppy school. In the distance you can hear someone commanding you to “Write!” but you barely registered the word before you’re off again on some other desperately important task. Good luck.
  • Maybe your specific breed is one of those friendly types that likes to socialise and jump on everyone, in which case we can find you chatting in coffee shops, drinking tea at friends’ houses and meeting up with your scrapbooking group instead of putting pen to paper.
  • Some less sociable breeds prefer to escape the confines of the writing room and go on a solitary walkabout the neighbourhood. If this is you, then your writing time is taken up gallivanting around on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and probably Pinterest and email, too.
  • Let’s not forget those sleepy puppies that barely flick a tail when you call them. If this is you, we’ll see you curled up on your couch, watching the telly or, more likely, your limbs twitching as you dream about chasing a story and pinning it down on paper, only to wake up and find yourself with a still empty page in front of you.

Now that you’ve identified your procrastination puppy breed, you know what you like to do when you’re trying to avoid writing. Select a few of those things that won’t take longer than 5-10 minutes. These activities will form your procrastination ritual from now on. Every time you get ready to write, plan to purposefully procrastinate for 5-10 minutes, doing the same few activities every single time.

For example, my procrastination ritual consists of making a cup of tea first, then checking emails and Facebook. This takes about 10 minutes, and after that I’m ready to write.

The procrastination ritual is unbelievably effective – as long as you remain in charge! No chasing squirrels or jumping up and barking at every social opportunity that comes your way. Your selected activities, done in 5-10 minutes, is the only freedom you give your Procrastination Puppy. After that, the puppy is tired and will go to sleep, and you will sit down and write.

The Benefits of a well-trained Procrastination Puppy

  • Rituals are very soothing to the anxiety that creeps up when writing time approaches. Knowing that you can sit down and procrastinate before you are expected to write that killer first paragraph is immensely comforting.
  • If you know beforehand what you want to write about, you’ll find ideas sneaking into the backdoor of your consciousness – words that sound just right, a first sentence to get you going, an analogy or a thought that takes you deeper into your writing topic. That’s the real beauty of the procrastination ritual – it soothes your conscious mind and your inner critic, tricking it into submission, giving your subconscious and creative mind a chance to get a few words in edgeways before you hit the page.
  • You get more out of your writing time, which is often precious little, so while it might seem like you’re wasting time, you’re actually doing the opposite.
  • You will be more grounded as you write, since the ritual gives you a chance to get centred and focused before you face your page.

Unlike my two little untrainable mutts, your Procrastination Puppy is highly intelligent and very trainable. Keep it under your firm control, and enjoy many happy writing days with your new friend.

I’m an Intuitive Life coach originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. I combine life coaching with guidance that I receive from the Angels and my Guides. I work with people from all over the world via Skype, and am passionate about helping people move forward with their creative dreams. Other than my work, I’m passionate about writing and teaching people how to use their intuition. I’m also a regular Ashtanga yoga practitioner and meditator. I live with my two daughters and my partner, our dog, cat and guinea pigs in a happy but noisy (and rickety) little house at the edge of a cliff in Auckland, New Zealand.

 

Find Angie and her writing in these places:

AngieNoll.com — TUT.com — Facebook

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The Writer as Dreamer and Realist

The Writer as Dreamer and Realist

Sent by Susan Fox

Do you dream of being a writer? Well, put your fingers to the keyboard and type a few words. Presto, you’re a writer!

But that’s not really what you dream of, is it? What would “being a writer” look like for you? When could you say that your dream had become a reality?

Dreams are a wonderful thing. They provide happiness, hope, and motivation. Yes, send all those positive thoughts and energy out into the universe. But, in my humble opinion, you need to be more than just a dreamer. You need to be practical, realistic, maybe even business-oriented. You need goals.

Good goals are SMARTT-F

  • Specific: Who is involved, what do you want to accomplish, where (if relevant), when, and why? Example: In order to finish the first draft of my novel by December 31, I will write in my home office, with no internet or other interruptions, for at least an hour a day, six days a week, and produce at least 10 pages a week.
  • Measurable: “I’ll write more” isn’t measurable. The goal above is.
  • Attainable: Is this a goal you can attain on your own? The goal above is. Being published by a traditional publisher isn’t; you need an editor’s cooperation.
  • Realistic: What is realistically achievable for you to accomplish? Don’t set your goal too low or you won’t feel motivated, challenged, and gratified. Don’t set it too high or you may get discouraged and quit.
  • Timely: Set a time frame so you’ll stay focused.
  • Tangible: Can you experience your goal with one of your senses? Example: the word and page count at the bottom of the screen.
  • Flexible: You must be able to adapt to circumstances and take advantage of opportunities. Goals should be reviewed regularly and revised when appropriate.

The elephant and the bites

We’ve all heard the saying: How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time. The elephant is your long-term goal, be it to write your family history or to support yourself with your writing.

Break that elephant down into bites. What are your goals for this year (making sure they’re SMARTT-F, of course)? Now you have, what, maybe a haunch? Break that haunch down into quarterly goals, then monthly goals, then weekly goals, and finally daily goals (nibbles!). Maybe even set up a schedule for the work hours of each day.

For example, if your goal is to write the first draft of a 100,000 word novel in 10 months, and there are 5 days each week available for writing, you will need to write approximately 500 words on each of those days. That’s less than 2 pages in double-spaced Times New Roman 12.

If all you need to do today or perhaps this week is to spend half an hour doing research and to write 500 words, that’s not so hard to tackle, is it? (I bet you’d spend at least that amount of time surfing the Internet, and write that many words in chatty texts and emails.)

There will be obstacles

It’s a rule of life. You will face challenges and obstacles. As much as possible, try to identify actual and potential ones in advance and figure out how you will handle them.

Motivation

How, day after day, will you keep defeating the obstacles and working toward your goals? That’s where motivation comes in – and we’re back to dreams. Your dreams are the biggest motivating factor.

Your toolkit

As well as motivation, you need practical strategies. Some of the following will work for you; others may not.

  • Make your goal list and “to do” list visible so you can’t ignore them.
  • Review your goals regularly. If you’re behind, why and what are you going to do about it?
  • Set priorities and respect them by exercising self-discipline. Is a coffee break, a TV show, a game on your smartphone, or social media more important than your writing goals? When a new task comes along, evaluate where it fits on your priority list.
  • Respect yourself as a writer and respect your writing time, and ask others to do the same. Set boundaries and enforce them. Look for alternatives (e.g., car pool rather than drive your kids every time). Say “no” when you need to. Feel proud rather than guilty when you do these things.
  • Use all your time effectively – e.g., in the dentist’s waiting room or picking up kids at school.
  • Make writing a habit. If possible, write at a regular time each day, when you’re at your creative peak. Each day, write a specified number of words or for a specified amount of time.
  • When you end one writing session, note down what you’re going to do next time so you’ll be ready to go.
  • Turn off the internet.
  • Make yourself accountable. Have a goals partner and report your progress. Keep a record of your writing achievements and a log of your writing time
  • Have a writing space of your own and organize it effectively.
  • Look for courses that may help you.
  • Research how to avoid writer’s block and apply those techniques as needed.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist and don’t submit to the internal critic, or you may be crippled. Learn to live with self-doubt.
  • Learn how to cope with fear, whether it’s of success or of failure.
  • Try visualization. Use affirmations and positive self-talk.
  • When you get frustrated about the things you can’t control, focus on something positive that you can control.
  • Reward yourself when you accomplish your goals.
  • Have a support group. Avoid people who aren’t supportive about your writing.

Successful writers develop both the dreamer side and the practical side of their personalities. I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals and realizing your dreams!

Award-winning, international bestselling author Susan Fox (who also writes as Susan Lyons and Savanna Fox) writes “emotionally compelling, sexy contemporary romance” (Publishers Weekly). She is just winding up the Caribou Crossing Romance series for Kensington Zebra, and will launch the Blue Moon Harbor series in 2017 – and both series are set in her home province, British Columbia. Though Susan has degrees in law and psychology, she’s much happier in her chosen career as a romance writer.

Find Susan and her writing in these places:

SusanLyons.com — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook

 

 

How a simple connection can spark a movement

How a simple connection can spark a movement

Sent by Shari Stauch

When I first decided to narrow my marketing focus to work with clients with whom I shared a passion – authors – I had no idea what that would look like as a business model. It turned out to be the best decision I could have ever made. I enjoyed the work; and clients enjoyed learning how to promote their words via author websites and social media, reaching out to reviewers and book clubs.

Business grew and as it did, the majority of my clientele happened to be women. As it grew more, this clientele further defined itself as a dynamic group of savvy women who, unbeknownst to each other, were exposing deeper issues in their writing, issues that would resonate with the masses…

One author began blogging about animal rights, another about parents dealing with the loss of a child. Another completed a novel that shines a light on the darkness of male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace. One published a memoir about coming into her own freedom of expression through dance, something that had been denied her in childhood. Yet another is aiding in the charge to end sex trafficking. And the list goes on…

Not only was I loving my job, I was learning about so many important issues, and the influence these women were having, each in their own way striving to make our world better, just by speaking and writing and putting themselves out there.

Another of my long-standing clients, an amazing female author, Rosemary James, is co-founder of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society in New Orleans. Attending her conference one year (the fabulous Words & Music: A Literary Feast in New Orleans), I was hooked. I’ve been to every conference since, soaking up the infused energy of the world’s greatest authors, editors and agents. Words & Music had become my shared passion, and so naturally I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and encourage everyone who had an interest in words to attend.

And so I did. I suggested to several clients, including writers in Florida, California, Tennessee, New York and South Carolina, that they make the trip to New Orleans, both to support the great work Rosemary was doing for authors and to avail themselves of the opportunity to meet agents, editors, and some of the best writers producing work in this century. It would be a chance for them to network, but also to be inspired, so important for writers when writing is such a solitary art form.

When seven of them readily agreed to give it a go, I was excited for them. But that excitement quickly turned to anxiety. Would they have a good time? Would I be held accountable to make sure they had a good time? I had a lot to do there; would they feel less than cared for if I weren’t paying each enough attention? In short, what was I thinking?

Well, despite all my great experiences working with women, I greatly underestimated the power of women supporting women.

By the end of the first day, I’d introduced each to the others. By the end of the second day they were sharing schedules and drinks and comparing critiques. On the third day we had dinner together and the women dubbed themselves “Seven Strong” with a hearty toast… each vowing to connect through their writing in the days and weeks to come.

Since that conference, those proud members of the “Seven Strong” have forged bonds of steel. We enjoyed a retreat at one’s vacation home in Folly Beach, and another at one’s cabin in Tahoe. Many of us have attended conferences and festivals together from deep in Florida to way up in the Pacific Northwest. In between they spend time on the phone and by email, through lunches and road trips, to connect with each other, critique each other’s work, brainstorm their marketing efforts, and encourage and nurture each other as writers, as influencers, and as women.

I’m as proud as any mother hen could be, but I can’t take the credit… It’s really all about that power that surges through women when we’re helping each other. Women supporting women isn’t just a concept; we are a FORCE… and one to be reckoned with!

Creator of Where Writers Win, Shari Stauch has been involved in publishing, marketing, and PR for thirty years. She is the principal author of the WWW blog, and works with authors and publishers around the country, helping them market themselves and their work to find more readers and sell more books. Where Writers Win’s innovative Winner Circle offers access to vetted book reviewers, live and virtual book clubs, and other curated resources developed specifically for authors, publishers and book publicists.

 

Find Shari and her writing in these places:

Where Writers Win — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter — Pinterest

A crash course in fearless writing

A crash course in fearless writing

Sent by William Kenower

If you’ve ever written and actually enjoyed the experience, if you’ve ever allowed yourself to become lost in the dream of the story you are telling so much that you temporarily forget what time it is, then you have written fearlessly. In fact, writing doesn’t really begin until we forget to be afraid. So the question isn’t whether you can write fearlessly, but whether you can do it on purpose. Here are the three best tools I know for writing fearlessly every day.

The only questions you should ever ask are: “What do I most want to say?” and “Have I said it?”

I ask these questions because I can actually answer them. I will never know anything better than I know what I am most interested in. I will never be able to pay attention to something for longer than that about which I am most curious. My curiosity is the engine that drives my creative vehicle. It is the source of all my excitement, my intelligence, and my surprise. It is also entirely unique to me. There is no one on earth who knows what I most want to say other than me.

And once I know what I want to say, once I know which story I want to tell, or which scene I want to write, only I can know if I have translated it accurately into words on the page. Whatever I most want to say exists in a realm knowable only to me. There isn’t one editor or teacher or critique group member who can tell me if I have accurately translated what I wanted to share because only I know what that is; these other people, however well-intentioned, can only tell me if they like or understand what I’ve written. That is all they actually know.

If I am ever asking some question other than these two, I am not really writing. I am trying to read other people’s minds.

  • If I am asking, “Is it any good?” I am really asking, “Will anyone else like it?”
  • Or if I’m asking, “Is there market for it?” I am really asking, “Will anyone else like it?”
  • And if I am asking, “Is it too literary? Is it not literary enough?” I am really just asking, “Will anyone else like it?”

What anyone else thinks of what I’m writing is none of my business – at least not while I’m writing. While I’m writing, what I think of what I’m writing is my business. I am always afraid when I believe I must answer questions that are unanswerable. And I am always fearless the moment I return to my curiosity to see where it is headed next.

Have Faith

I am defining “faith” as believing in something for which there is no evidence. This shouldn’t be so hard for a writer, really. Every day we sit at our desks and believe in something no one but us can see. In fact, while we’re writing, we believe more in the story we are telling than the chair in which we are sitting. We have to.

We have to believe that our hero wants to save the world even though our hero doesn’t exist anywhere but our imagination. We must believe a daughter yearns for her father’s attention even though neither the father nor the daughter is any more real than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

That’s our job – to believe in what only we can see.

The problem is that we would also like to share these stories with other people, and we have absolutely no evidence that this story – which only we can see – will be of interest to anyone. No one knows how many copies of a book will be sold or if it will win any awards. No one knows which reviewers will like it and which will not. It is a mystery to be answered within the sovereign imaginations of our readers.

The only evidence a writer has that his story is worth telling is that he’s interested in telling it. That’s it. That’s all Shakespeare got and that’s all Hemingway got and that’s all Amy Tan and Stephen King get. Your evidence that your story is worth your attention and worth sharing with others is that you think it’s cool, or funny, or scary, or profound. If that’s reason enough for you to write, if that’s reason enough to commit an hour or two a day to the same story for six months or a year or six years, then you have found the simple secret to all faith – that feeling good is evidence enough that something is worth doing and that life is worth living.

Contrast Is Your Friend

From a pure craft standpoint, contrast is invaluable. Just as a flashlight’s beam is distinct in a dark room and nearly invisible in a brightly lit room, so too is whatever we are trying to share with our readers most perceptible against its opposite. So if you want to write about peace, you must show war; if you want to show forgiveness, you must show judgment; if you want show acceptance, you must show rejection.

Likewise, often the best way to know what we like is when we encounter something we don’t like. If you read a novel and you hate the ending, instead of griping to your husband or writing group about what poor choices the author made, think about how you would have ended it. Your frustration is pointing you toward something you wish to explore, but which has remained unexplored. That discomfort will only grow until it is released on the page.

Finally, the guidance system upon which you so depend to write from day to day speaks entirely in the contrast between the effortlessness of the right word, and the effort of the almost-right word. It speaks in the contrast between the fearlessness of asking yourself what you are most interested in, and the discomfort we have named fear that always comes when we wonder what other people will think of what we write. We must have both experiences for our guidance system to work. Without what we call fear, we would have nothing to guide us back to what we love.

William Kenower is the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, a Featured Blogger for the Huffington Post Books section, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. He writes a popular daily blog for the magazine about the intersection of writing and our daily lives, and has interviewed hundreds of writers of every genre. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.

 

Find Bill and his writing in these other places, too:

WilliamKenower.com — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter

Breathe in your word count, breathe out excuses not to write

Breathe in your word count, breathe out excuses not to write

Sent by Susan Colleen Browne

We writers are always looking for the magic pill to raise our game, aren’t we? If you’re like me, you often feel that you’ve got to pile it on—do more. Write more, market more, join the next new social media platform.

But what if you could enhance your writing life by doing less? Letting go? A little mindfulness can help you do exactly that.

So…what exactly is being mindful? And what can it do for you? Mindfulness is basically using the breath to focus on the present moment and to cultivate your self-awareness—tuning in on what’s going on in both your mind and body. I recently learned the average human has 40,000-70,000 thoughts per day—think of all that inner chatter about your job, your family, your to-do list and the perennial ups and downs of modern life. If you’re a fiction writer, you might also be thinking about your characters and their thoughts! But you can start managing this veritable tsunami of mental activity by something as simple as the breath.

There are lots of mindful breathing/meditation techniques out there, but the simplest is…well, simple:

Close your eyes, relax and release the tension in your body. Breathe slowly, and try to let go of whatever you’re thinking.

Focusing on your breathing instead of your thoughts is probably the most challenging part of the process, but with practice, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to allow your thoughts to simply pass through your mind.

Here’s an easy technique that works for me. Slowly inhale, and imagine your breath starting from your feet, and flowing up to the top of your head. As your exhale, visualize your breath flowing from your head back down to your feet, and so on—your breath flowing upward, then down again. You can do this sitting up or lying down—and it’s a great way to help you go to sleep.

You might be thinking, I don’t have time to meditate! I don’t even have the time to write! I hear you, sister! That’s where we bring in that oxymoron known as time management. This term apparently shows up in 100,000 Google searches each month—which tells me no one has really figured out how to manage time.

We writers can try: there’s loads of advice out there on ways to prioritize your writing. Or how to develop the discipline to pump out those 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 words each day like successful authors do. Sometimes, though, you need a more organic approach…a way to fit writing into the flow of your days and your life.

Don’t get me wrong—on the days I get my 1,000 words on the page I feel like Wonder Woman. But the other days…I try to focus on simply being more intentional about my writing.

For instance, you can find a little mental space to focus on your story by taking one breath, relaxing your shoulders and asking yourself, “What can I let go of right now?” (Thanks to Margaret Chester, author of Chocolate Yoga.)

Going for short and sweet can be helpful too. If you’ve got only 5-15 minutes, please don’t tell yourself, I can’t get any writing done in so little time! How about:

  • Opening up your document and plunking around with your story for a few minutes. This can create a pathway for new ideas.
  • Setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and writing as fast as you can. Speedwriting can be hugely energizing, even if you create material unrelated to your work-in-progress.
  • Writing just 100 words—it’s only a paragraph!
  • Telling yourself you’ll write for only 5 minutes—the “5 Minute Trick.” You’ll often get to the end of your time and discover you don’t want to stop!

But we all have times when life gets especially crazy. What if you don’t have the energy to be at your computer, much less to create new material? Here’s where simply hanging out with your Work In Progress can keep your mind and heart on writing. Or as author Jim Lynch says, “Think about your story every day…spend time with your project every day.” You can:

  • Daydream about your story
  • Cluster your story, or scribble a few story ideas
  • Review some research materials
  • Re-read any ms pages or story notes

For the essence of organic, non-time management for writers, consider this from poet Naomi Shihab Nye:

“Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.”

Start with a little mindful breathing, and you might find yourself stepping into the creative flow of the story, poem or book you’ve been longing to write…and then finishing it!

Susan Colleen Browne weaves her love of Ireland and her passion for country living into her Village of Ballydara series, novels and stories set in the Irish countryside. She’s also the author of an award-winning memoir, Little Farm in the Foothills, and the Morgan Carey Adventure series for tweens. A community college creative writing instructor, Susan uses mindfulness practices to help balance novel writing and running an organic mini-farm in the foothills of the Pacific Northwest.

Find Susan and her writing in these places:

SusanColeenBrowne.com Little Farm in the Foothills blog — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Google+

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