Is It Time To Hit The Reset Button On Your Writing Life?

[Image credit: Photo by Carmine Savarese on Unsplash]
I don’t know about you, but I need a writer reset.

In Stop Worrying; Start Writing, I spoke about having to re-learn the same techniques, of having to remind myself of truths I had forgotten, and – once again – this has proved to be the case!

I’m sharing my struggles in the hope that it might be helpful. The summer is a classic time to fall off the writerly wagon, and I want you to know that you are not alone; good habits are hard to establish and easy to lose. A regular refresh is not only normal, but necessary.

For myself, however, I’m talking about rather more than a ‘refresh’: I need a total reset.

I would like to blame this on a recent life event which knocked me out of routine, but that wouldn’t be true. I was already in trouble.

While taking control of my own career and seeing writing as a business saved my sanity and gave me back a sense of optimism and energy, it’s also true that it led me into some less-than-helpful thought patterns. Despite knowing better, I fell into the habit of calling my writing ‘work’. I lumped it in with my working-day – a task on my to-do list alongside ‘updating accounts’ and ‘sending out newsletter’.

Now, this approach actually worked very well for a while. There is something to be said for making writing another mundane ‘to do’, no more difficult (or avoidable!) than any other appointment on my schedule. It’s also good, I think, to apply that old-fashioned notion of a ‘work ethic’ to writing or any other creative endeavour.

Where it stopped working for me was when it stopped working for me… I know that seems obvious, but it wasn’t to me!

Things change. Mind-games that work for months or years can suddenly stop being effective.

Where I went wrong was in ignoring that this had happened and soldiering on with my old habits of thought and routine, even as I got ever-diminishing results.

And, over time, with countless thoughts like ‘I must get on with some work this morning’ and ‘I need 3000 words a day to hit my goal, I must work harder’ and ‘I worked really hard yesterday, I can take time off today’, I equated writing fiction – my love and escape – with work. Hard work. Something difficult and draining which required treats and time off to recover from.

Now, as I’ve already said, this approach can work really well. I’ve long been a fan of mini-rewards and treats to keep my writing life on track. The key different lies, however, in semantics. When I reward myself for 1000 words written with a cup of tea and an episode of Jessica Jones, it can either be framed as a mental ‘high five’, a way of introducing positivity and small ‘wins’ throughout the long slog of a novel.

Or it can be a signal to your brain that you deserve a treat because you just did something awful and boring.

I’ve discovered that the second interpretation can sneak up and sandbag your motivation.

So. What am I doing to hit the reset button?

Taking my own advice (I also mention this as a tip in SWSW – I’d just forgotten to use it!) and stopping referring to writing fiction as ‘work’.

Everything else – this post, replying to emails, sending out my newsletter, running ads, doing my accounts, making the podcast – all of that is ‘work’. Work I enjoy, luckily enough, but work nonetheless. Writing fiction, however, is to be rebranded ‘play’.

More accurately, writing is going back to its original branding… From back before I was published.

Writing was my passion and my joy, my escape and my dream.

Yes, it was something I worried about (and avoided from fear), but it burned brightly in my secret heart. I need to remind myself of that.

I am re-reading favourite books from childhood and my teenage years and spending time every day writing long-hand in my journal – connecting with my younger self.

I’m referring to fiction writing as ‘play’ and correcting myself when I slip up and call it ‘work’.

I’m (trying!) to remove all guilt associated with not getting ‘enough’ writing done and focusing instead on spending time on it. Instead of thinking ‘I must get 1000 words written’ I’m thinking ‘I get to play for two hours this morning’.

How about you? How are your writing habits? Are they serving you well or do you need a writer reset? 

 

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The Worried Writer Episode #32: Monica Leonelle ‘I’m a burst of energy writer’

My guest today is Monica Leonelle. Monica is a USA Today bestselling author writing YA urban fantasy and paranormal romance, as well as practical books for writers such as Write Better, Faster and The 8-Minute Writing Habit. Before becoming an author, Monica had a successful career in digital marketing.

For more on Monica’s latest website for authors, head to The World Needs Your Book

And there is still a wealth of information on

Prose On Fire

For all of Monica’s books head to Amazon UK or Amazon US

Or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

In the intro:

I give a small writing update (10,000 words on my shiny new first draft!) and share tips learned from the process of recording the audio book of Stop Worrying; Start Writing.

I answer a listener question:

Matthew asked:

The late great Terry Pratchett insisted in his will that the novels he was working on at the time of his death be crushed in their hard drive. By a steamroller.

This action was carried out today.

Morbid Q for the podcast – what would you want happening to your unfinished works in the event of your demise? Tolkienesque approach – the family get to cash in through publication of a bunch of things of varying quality that were never meant for public consumption, or Pratchett’s cleaner approach with death as a full stop rather than an ellipsis?

I talk about my own preference (for early drafts to be deleted!) and discuss how thinking about this kind of thing can help us to place proper value on our work and to consider the long-term strategy for our career/finances.

Mentioned:

Neil Gaiman’s post on will-making for creatives (with sample template).

Helen Sedwick (writes about legal/financial stuff for authors).

In the interview:

On publishing:

‘I’m all for traditional, I think there is a lot of opportunity there.’

On self-doubt:

‘Everytime I publish a book I still feel self-doubt… You don’t know how a large group of people is going to respond to your book.’

 

‘The way I think about fear is really that you’re going to feel fear and it’s going to be there with you, but can you take action anyway.’

 

‘I will say that years and years ago I was a procrastinator… I remember when I was trying to establish a daily writing habit, that first day I sat at my computer with my ms open and I stared at it for an hour without writing anything…. It was like my mind couldn’t process or something.’

 

‘A lot of this is a muscle that you have to work, but I also think ‘yes you are afraid’.’

 

On the ‘eight-minute writing habit’:

‘It feels like a long enough period to get something done, but short enough that really have no excuse not to do it.’

‘A twenty-five minute timed session where you’re focused and then a five minute break… So with the eight minute thing, I was like you can do eight minutes, two minute break.’

‘Eight minutes is very easy to add to your morning routine, so do eight minutes in the morning, eight minutes at lunch and eight minutes in the evening.’

 

On her own process:

‘Some people do really well with 1000 words a day, kind of paced approach… For me I might write 5000 words a day for two weeks and then not write for a month…. I have embraced that I’m a burst of energy writer.’

‘About thirty percent of my time goes to fiction but, that being said, I have kind of mastered my own writing productivity. So, this year, for example, I’ve published three YA novels, two novellas for that series and a short story and that’s as of June 2017.’

‘It’s not my dream to just do fiction… I do have varied interests and I do love both sides of it.’

 

Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or the podcast app of your choice) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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How To Build A Writing Habit The Easy Way

typing

So you want to start writing regularly? Or you want to increase your current productivity and write more every week/month/year… I’m going to reveal the secret in this post. Or, more accurately, I’ve already revealed the secret by using the word ‘habit’.

Yep, that’s right – you’ve got to make writing a habit so that it happens almost automatically.

Then you can sit back and watch your word counts rise. Okay, maybe not just ‘sit back’, but you will be amazed at how much you get done with what feels like very little effort.

Think about the stuff that you do every single day; watching television while you eat your breakfast, brushing your teeth, clearing the dishes after dinner, putting on your shoes before leaving the house… You don’t have to think about these tasks and you never (or hardly ever) miss them out. However ingrained and natural these behaviours feel, you weren’t born doing them. Somewhere along the way, you developed the habit and now they are a part of your life.

You might be thinking that brushing your teeth doesn’t take very long and writing a novel does, but you are going to build your writing habit by starting small.

Even tiny actions, repeated regularly over time, can make a big impact.

Plus, once you establish a habit it’s easier to tweak it (to, say, increase the amount of time you spend writing).

ID-100323590It’s this last principle we’re going to use to get started. Think of an existing habit you have and adjust it. For example, when you brush your teeth, use that time to think about your writing. If you don’t have a story in mind, use the time to brainstorm ideas. If you’re completely stuck, just use the time to reflect on your new creative habit. The focus should be on positivity; you are giving yourself permission to day dream, not trying to accomplish anything concrete or scary.

After a week or so, you are going to add a new habit and this one will actually involve writing. Pick a clearly-defined task that is easy to complete, and pick a time that is both easy to remember and suits your current schedule. The aim is to minimise every possible block to achieving the task and, once you’ve done it, to reward yourself. I like to use stickers for this, but it’s your choice!

For example, you might decide to write for ten minutes every day (or every week day). That’s a small, clearly-defined task.

You might choose to add it to your evening routine, say after dinner (before you get up to wash the dishes) or first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.

Next, you prepare for success. If your writing session is scheduled for first thing in the morning, put your notebook and pen (or laptop) next to your bed the night before.

Repeat the habit for a few weeks until it feels very natural and easy. If you miss a session, don’t beat yourself up about it, just do the next one.

One final note: Even if you’re finding your goal very easy to manage, don’t be tempted to increase or change it too quickly. If you raise the bar too fast, you’re more likely to miss sessions and get discouraged. Allow yourself to ‘win’ at the task easily and regularly and you’ll soon have an instinctual writing habit in place.

What do you think? Do you already have a regular writing habit and, if not, will you try this approach? I really hope it helps!

 

[Toothpaste image credit: by aitbodyphoto courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net]

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