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Missing Motivation

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Missing Motivation

When my tweens neared the end of their school year back in June, I was in the practiced habit of settling in at my desk once they were off to school. As someone who struggles to not lounge around in my pajamas all day, I recognized that to get them up and going required that I get myself up and going. 

And then, suddenly, they were always…here. Lounging in their pajamas. The momentum that getting up and going early in the morning gave me was gone.

I advocate hard for writers to schedule their work in advance, to know which of their writing tasks they are going to do when and where. This is a practice I started about a year ago, and it has made a world of difference in my productivity. 

But when the end of the school year was looming, I thought, “Let’s just see how the summer plays out. I’ll just write when I find the time.” 

In other words, I didn’t take my own advice. 

I stopped planning ahead. 

I stopped blocking out time in my schedule. 

I stopped breaking my writing into manageable pieces in advance so that – when I did have the time – I knew exactly what to work on. 

And what was the result? I didn’t write one single word all summer. 

Now had I planned for that to be the case, that would have been one thing. But instead, I expected to write and then let myself down by not doing it. 

Which feels terrible, by the way. 

Today, as we settle back into our school-year rhythms, I’m reflecting back on the summer and my lack of writing productivity.

It is so obvious to me now. 

Break apart writing tasks into manageable pieces. 

Block writing time on the calendar. 

Assign writing tasks to the writing times. 

My kids are 11 and 13. It’s not like we hadn’t had summer vacations before. If I had followed these three steps, I would have gotten a lot closer to where I wanted to be with my current writing projects. I wouldn’t be playing catch-up now. 

I’m not looking at this as a failure, but rather an epic learning opportunity. 

Motivation doesn’t just happen. Motivation is the result of momentum. 

I didn’t keep up my momentum, I lost my motivation, and I didn’t write for three months. 

That won’t be happening again. 

Lesson learned, Self. 

*   *   *   *   *

When you look back on times when you didn’t write despite having the time, what do you learn about your own habits and rhythms? What helps you maintain motivation when schedules and routines change? Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and tell us what works for you. We can all support and encourage one another.

Photo by Александар Цветановић from Pexels

 

Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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    Your Story Matters

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    How to Believe that Your Story Matters

    Why would anyone read this?

    There is someone out there who needs this exact story.

    It’s not very interesting.

    It’s interesting enough that you feel compelled to write it.

    But who am I to think I can write this? I’m nobody.

    You are somebody with a story to tell. That’s who you are.

    It is too hard to get started.

    All you need is a plan. Decide what you are going to work on and when, then get to work.

    I’m not sure what to work on first.

    There are no wrong decisions.

    I can’t make myself sit down to write.

    That sounds a little aggressive. Try inviting yourself to sit down to write instead.

    I’ll never get it published.

    The only reason it won’t get published is that it’s not written. Once it’s written, there are endless publishing opportunities.

    *   *   *

    There are so many things that we tell ourselves, each of which keeps us from moving in the direction of our writing goals.

    But what we have to remember is that these thoughts are NOT FACTS. They are thoughts that our brain is generating because we are scared.

    Scared of failing, of rejection, of vulnerability, of [fill in the blank].

    People who skydive sit in the plane terrified.

    And then they have a choice.

    They can jump, and experience the exhilaration they have signed up for

    OR

    They can return home in the plane, never knowing what might have been.

    Which one are you going to choose?

    *   *   *   *   *

    Fear is a perfectly normal part of the human experience, one to which we all relate! Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and tell us what your fear is telling you. We can all support and encourage one another.

    Photo by Stokpic from Pexels

    Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

    Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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      Your first draft will suck

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      Your First Draft Will Suck

      Write it anyway.

      Anne Lamott dedicated an entire chapter to Sh*tty First Drafts in her quintessential book for writers, Bird by Bird .

      Go read that, then come back to me.

      Great, you’re back.

      I am an expert perfectionist.

      Seriously. I could do it for a living, if someone would pay me. Except then I would probably fret about being a perfect perfectionist and then . . .

      You’re a perfectionist, too?

      We should be friends. We can text each other about the ins and outs of perfectionism.

      Except we will probably spend too muchtime editing our texts to each other before sending, trying to find the right balance of snark and self-derision, until we decide it’s not worth the effort and then . . . 

      Listen, we all know that perfectionism leads to indecision and inaction.

      In other words, if we worry about our first draft being good enough, we won’t write.

      Ever.

      Because the first draft is not going to be good enough.

      That’s why it’s called a first draft.

      Just write it.

      Then text me to tell me how bad it is.

      * * * * * 

      How have you overcome the challenge of perfectionism and gotten through your first draft(s)? Or is it still a constant battle? Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and let us know! We can all support and encourage one another.

      Photo by MIXU from Pexels

      Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

      Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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        5 Steps to First Draft: Essays

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        5 Steps to First Draft: Essays

        In a previous post I shared a brand-new FREE resource I’ve created, 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally! It’s a quick-start guide to stop procrastinating and start writing in a way that is manageable, fun, and helps you get that first draft written before you know it. Grab it here!

        Today’s post is how to use the five-step process specifically to craft a personal (creative nonfiction) essay.

        Our local independent bookstore sells Yay! Life! magnets. Have you seen these? They are just plain fun. On our refrigerator, we currently have

        Yay! Cats! (my daughter)

        Yay! Ninjas! (my son)

        Yay! Books! (ahem)

        I’d like to offer another suggestion:  Yay! Stories!

        I love creative nonfiction. Whether it’s research-based or a straightforward true story, I immediately latch on to the writer’s vulnerability and willingness to explore the universal truths behind his or her unique experience. I think this is why I love writing it, too. I like to believe that even though my experiences are my own, something within them connects to the rest of humanity.

        All this to say, I feel less alone when I read and write personal narrative.

        But setting out to write an essay can feel a little daunting. I experienced this thing, we might think, but how do I make it interesting for anyone else? Especially if it wasn’t a set of life-and-death circumstances?

        The 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally!  method can come in handy here, getting us out of our own heads and into the chair with focus and a clear path. 

        (If you haven’t read through the free guide yet, I recommend it! What I talk about here will make more sense if you do. You can grab it here.)

        Pre-Step: List every idea you have.

        I don’t know about you, but my stories all blend together. Thinking about a high school football game triggers another memory of a college party triggers another memory of an early date with my now-husband. Thinking about my 10-year-old’s upcoming birthday triggers a memory of his birth, which inevitably triggers a memory of an early miscarriage.

        This is how our brain works. There is nothing going wrong here.

        But it is distracting and can sometimes cause doubt in the topic we’ve chosen to write. So listing every memory that comes to mind – and often – is a really useful exercise. Your brain can relax, knowing that its job of reminding you of things is done, and your creativity can rise to the top.

        Choose a topic and structure.

        In the free guide I encourage this mantra:  There is no “right” decision when it comes to your stories. They are all worthy of being shared.

        Just choose.

        However, when it comes to structure, there are a lot of options and one may be a better fit than others. If creative nonfiction is your jam, I highly recommend making sure that you are reading it. A lot.

        A resource I can’t recommend enough is Priscilla Long’s book Village Books and Paper Dreams” data-wplink-url-error=”true”>The Writer’s Portable Mentor.  It contains an entire section devoted to narrative structures. She also makes a great suggestion:  choose an essay you admire, break it down to where you understand the structure, and then write into that structure.

        Set your intention.

        Do. Not. Skip. This. Step.

        In my mind, intention is what makes the difference between a water-cooler anecdote and a quality personal narrative.

        What are you trying to say?

        There are several things to consider here. Who is your audience? How did the events change you as a person? What do you want to say to your audience about that change?  Answer these questions and it will dictate every choice you make, from the broadest theme to the smallest word.

        Set your completion date.

        My writing group meets every month, but we don’t all share each month. So when my turn rolls around, I think I have the entire month to write something for them to read. And I procrastinate, and I dawdle, and I end up writing it a day or two before I’m supposed to give them my draft.

        When I was using my group as my only accountability, I got one first draft done every 2-3 months.

        When I started setting my own completion deadlines, I upped my output dramatically.

        Since we’re talking here about an essay, not a full-length memoir, I want to push you on this one. You do not need a month to do a first draft. You could probably do it in a couple of hours. There will be other considerations (see the next step) but remember that this completion date is for the first draft, and first drafts are not supposed to be perfect.

        Let it be imperfect, and let it get written.

        List all tasks.

        Free writing is a big one for me. I free write about my intention, but I also write the story – events only – beginning to end. I write about who I was before, during, and after. If someone else was in the story, I write it from their point of view.

        Each essay and each topic will require its own set of tasks. Research may be involved, or interviews with family members, or an hour spent with your photo albums.

        Keep asking yourself What else? until nothing remains.

        Put all tasks on the calendar.

        And there you go. Your story is ready to be written. All you have to do is show up and remember that your story matters.


        Are you a writer of creative nonfiction?  Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group! We’d love to learn about what you write. Also, be sure to tell us what your strategies and challenges are with regards to planning and writing your true, personal stories!

        Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

        Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

        Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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          Screaming into the storm

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          Screaming into the Storm

          why you SHOULD add to the noise

          The Internet is a wide, wide ocean, full of amazing creatures, brilliant colors, tides that pull and flow in different directions, and violent torrents one should avoid for self-preservation.

          (There is also a lot of garbage.)

          When faced with this maelstrom, we writers often ask ourselves…

          … is there room for my voice?

          … will anyone hear me?

          … should I add to the noise?

          My answer:  YES.

          Sure, there is so much available to a reader today. More than she will ever be able to consume.

          But what if exactly what she needed was what you had to say, in your unique way of saying it?

          Sure, media is 24-hour rapid-style, headline-screaming, sensationalistic noise. There is a possibility that your story might get overlooked by many.

          But what if one person sees it, and it impacts him in a profound way?

          I don’t write my blog or essays or stories with hopes that they will go viral or land me a 6-figure book deal.

          I write them with the hope that the people who need them most will find them.

          Could you try the same?

          * * * * * 

          How do you brave the storm and continue to put your words out into the world? Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group and share your challenges and strategies with us! We are all in this together, and all of our stories matter…yours too.

          Photo by Valdemaras D. from Pexels

          Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

          Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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            5 Steps to First Draft…Finally!

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            5 Steps to First Draft...Finally!

            Writing is hard.

            Sometimes we love it, and sometimes we hate it. (Or as several famous writers have been quoted as saying, we love having written.)

            A lot of us believe that we need to wait for inspiration to strike.

            The problem is, this belief goes against what we know is true, that consistent practice makes us better writers.

            I have personally grappled with this for years. I would sit down to write, feel uninspired, and get up to do something else. Or worse, I would never sit down in the first place. Over my years of experience as a teacher and writing coach, I’ve heard many would-be writers say the same thing, so I know I’m not alone here. 

            What is your greatest challenge? Is it that…

            •  you haven’t been able to find the time to write?
            • you start first drafts but don’t finish them?
            • you are doubting yourself, wondering What if no one likes it? What if it turns out I’m a terrible writer?
            • you have trouble just making yourself sit down and write already?

            Tired of talking about writing, thinking about writing, and wishing about writing while not actually writing, I became determined to make a change, After much trial and error and many cups of coffee, I realized that one small shift made a great deal of difference.

            I could make my decisions about what and when to write ahead of time.

            If I made my decisions ahead of time, then all I had to do each day was show up and do my best on the one small step I had planned for that day. And eventually – small step by small step – a first draft was written.

            Here is my process:

            1. choose an idea and assign it a structure
            2. explore and decide upon a clear intention for the piece of writing
            3. set a deadline for completion of the first draft
            4. list all of the small steps to be taken
            5. put each and every step on my calendar.

            This is the tool I’ve used to become a writer who completes projects consistently, efficiently, and intentionally, and now I’m sharing it with you because your story matters, and I want you to write it.

            Click here to grab your free copy of 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally! >>

            Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

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            Future You the Writer

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            Future You: The Writer

            3 questions you must ask yourself TODAY

            What does it look like to achieve success as a writer? 

            Goals are good, right?. They give us something to work toward. 

            But only if they are specific.

            I had a vague notion for a long time. Landing somewhere on some list of notable writers. My name recognizable by some number of readers. Generating some amount of income by producing some amount of published work. 

            My guess is that some aspiring writers are very clear on their goals, but I think more are like I was . . . very fuzzy on the details. 

            Whether you are clear on your goals today or not, I want to offer a way of using our future goals to feel successful – and motivated – today

            Three Questions to Ask Yourself Today

            1. What is your goal as a writer this year? Five years from now? 10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished? Be as specific as possible. 

            Of course this will change over time. But what are your goals right now?  If you don’t know, then play with it! What are your biggest dreams? Let the ideas fly! 

            Be sure to word these goals so that they are in your control. This is so, so important. If you are waiting to feel successful until one of the big publishing houses publishes your memoir, what will happen if they all pass on it? However, if you can feel successful by “ensuring that it is published” – perhaps by a publisher, perhaps independenly, perhaps in a hybrid model – that is in your control.

            2.  Imagine you have achieved the goals you listed above. How do you feel?

            Proud? Satisfied? Lucky? Visualize yourself standing in the spotlight, having achieved what you wanted. What emotions are bubbling up in the future you?

            3.  Look at those feelings you listed in the second question. What can you do in your writing practice – today, tomorrow, next week – to produce these same feelings today

            This too is in your control. Why wait to feel those feelings of success? What if just showing up to write on Thursday morning at 6 a.m. when you said you would, or just producing the 500 words that you committed to this week, gave you those same feelings? 

            Being future-focused in our writing is only beneficial if we can use it to our advantage today. Predicting how we will feel when something happens is only useful if we realize that the power to feel those feelings is in our control today. 

            Now what?

            Take your writing dreams and goals and turn them into realistic, actionable, productive, small steps. Remind yourself with each step how you want to feel, and choose to feel that way as you complete each step. This generates motivation that will keep you moving through your projects, even in the toughest moments. 

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            How do you WANT to feel?

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            How do you WANT to feel?

            Create Your Own Writer's Mindset

            In 2014, I went back to elementary teaching full-time after working part-time and parenting my littles.  I was already 15-20 pounds over my natural body weight, as I had been since college.  In that first year, I gained 30 pounds. The second year I gained 10 more.  

            I blame none of this on the job itself, only on my inability to manage intense emotions without eating Doritos and chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate.  And suffice it to say there was a lot of self-flagellation. 

            • I can’t lose this weight. 
            • It is too hard.
            • I don’t have time to plan meals. 
            • I haven’t ever lost this much weight before. 
            • I’ve let it go on for too long. It’s too late to change.

            Finally, about six months ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to hate myself thin. I was only going to reach a healthy weight – and maintain it for the rest of my life – if I decided to do it with ease. 

            Ease is not the same as easy. I committed to myself that I would go all in, plan ahead, make the best decisions I could, and – most importantly – when I mess up, I will pick myself up lovingly and start again. Ease is about the choice not to create drama around Doritos or whatever else is presenting itself to me.

            The change has been amazing. I actually have lost only a few pounds, because it takes time to undo decades of negative beliefs. But my mental weight is shedding faster than I can keep up with. Most importantly, I genuinely believe that I am going to accomplish this goal with ease.

            I share this story with you because I believe that this process can work with our writing lives as well. So many of us think these thoughts so often that we are assuming that they are facts. 

            • I’m not a good enough writer.
            • I don’t have time. 
            • It’s too late for me to get in the game. 
            • I can’t because _____

            These are not FACTS. They are THOUGHTS you are having, and your mind is finding evidence to support those thoughts. But what if, what if you could change the thought? What might happen? 

            Because this can feel abstract and unlikely at first (it’s not that simple! our brains argue)  I would like to offer you a series of questions to respond to. I recommend taking a couple of minutes per question and really sit with it before responding. Allow this to be possible. 

            Questions for Crafting Your New Writer’s Mindset

            1) How do you WANT to feel about your writing, your writing life, and yourself as a writer?

            This question is getting at emotions. What emotions do you want to feel? (excited, motivated, capable, etc.) 

            2) What thoughts would produce that feeling? 

            So often we attribute our feelings to what’s happening around us, but that isn’t really useful. We can’t control whether someone likes or wants to publish our writing, we can only control how we think about it. So, these might be thoughts that start with I am. I am a consistent writer, for example.

            3) What is your inner critic saying to you as you write and think about these new thoughts? 

            It’s important not to resist the inner critic. Let her speak. Hear her out. 

            4)  How do you feel when you hear what the inner critic is saying? 

            Again, emotions. Ashamed. Tired. Depressed. 

            5) Do the emotions in #1 and in #4 match? 

            Probably not. This is important to notice. If we put our feelings into the hands of the inner critic, we will never feel the way we want to feel about ourselves as a writer. We have to practice believing something new. 

            6) What can you commit to thinking and doing this week that will get you closer to believing the thoughts in #2? 

            Small actions and neutral thoughts are like taking baby steps away from the inner critic and toward the new mindset you want to create. 

            Like my weight loss journey, this is not easy work. But it can be done with ease. 

            With ease, you can create a writer’s mindset that will provide you everything you need to achieve your goals. 

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            Break It Down to Build It Up

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            Break It Down to Build It Up

            I am the Queen of the Land. 

            Not all of the land, though I wouldn’t turn it down! No, I am the Queen of the Land of Procrastinators. 

            Now, you might argue with me that the title belongs to you … yes, I know that there are many a procrastinator walking among us. 

            But no, my friend, I am the Queen. I have procrastination down to an art form. I’m so smooth a procrastinator that you would never even know I’m procrastinating.

            I am so good at looking busy that you will think I am actually … busy. But I’m not. I am procrastinating. 
             
            Just today, before I sat down to write this blog post, I agreed to my daughter’s request to play on this computer. And my son, who had already taken a turn on said computer, blurted out, “Yeah, because you’re procrastinating, right?”
             
            Oh, yes, I am the Queen. 
             
            However, I do manage to accomplish writing projects, and that’s because I have a very simple trick. 
             
            I break it down into really small steps, and I put every single step on my calendar. And I do it. I show up for my writing the way I show up for my mammograms (though admittedly I procrastinate on making those appointments.)
             
            The reason I do this is because I have decided that my writing is essential. It is not indulgent, and in the time I’ve alotted for it, it is the first priority. 
             
            So I break my project down into the smallest, most manageable of pieces. I set small, small goals. And I accomplish those goals one small step at a time. I assure that this will happen because I put them on my calendar. If they are on my calendar, they become appointments. 
             
            The perfectionist who thinks she’s the Queen of the Procrastinators is also highly Type-A and would never skip an appointment for fear of letting someone down. 
             
            So if you are like me, and you are arguing with me over who wears the crown, try this hack for a couple of weeks. Break your project into manageagable tasks and put those tasks on the calendar as appointments. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish. 
             
             
            Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels
             

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            Your mother called to say “Stop it”

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            Your mother called to say, "Stop it."

            I’ve been plagued by anxiety since adolescence. I worry endlessly about things over which I have no control, and also things over which I do. My mind becomes a tornado, everything in its path drawn as evidence to support the working theory of the day. 

            These theories are usually some version of: 

            I am doing a bad job at _____. 

            I’m not good enough at _____. 

            No one cares that I _____. 

            The two people who bear the brunt of my tornadoes are my husband and my mom. 

            My husband, as many husbands do, usually suggests fixes to the problem. 

            My mom, on the other hand, listens intently and then tells me to stop it. 

            When I first realized that this was her pattern of response to my drama, I was equal parts confused and annoyed. Didn’t she know that I would stop it if I could?  And, also this:  I want to just stop it, but I don’t know how.

            For the past few months, I’ve been intentionally studying and changing my thought patterns, and I’ve learned that she was right. 

            Yes, Mom, you were right. 

            Not only is it possible to just stop it, it is the only way to move forward and feel better.

            A tornado is a weather event that will trample over everything in its path. It is not stoppable. The only thing to do is allow it to wear itself out. 

            In the past I treated my thought tornados the same way. I let them run themselves out, leaving me hiding under the covers sobbing. But the thing is, thought tornados are stoppable. 

            Here’s an example: 

            Let’s say I’m spinning about not being a good enough parent. Perhaps my child is struggling with someting at school. I’ve collected heaps of evidence from past and present that show me how I’ve created this problem. I didn’t teach her how to handle this situation or I solved problems for her. 

            Now, let’s say that I catch myself thinking I am not a good parent. First of all, simply noticing the thought presses the pause button, and the tornado freezes in place. I change my thought to I am a good parent. OR, if that feels like a stretch, I am a parent.

            Sudddenly all of the evidence I’ve collected is no longer relevant. The wind in the tornado is no longer whipping. The whole thing disappears. 

            You might be asking what any of this has to do with writing. Well, let’s take a thought I’ve explored in previous posts.

            My stories aren’t interesting. 

            Evidence: other writers have interesting stories, my essays have been rejected, etc.

            Pause the tornado.

            Alternative thoughts: my stories are interesting. OR I have many stories. OR I have stories.

            The tornado dissolves, and you are ready to write. 

            If you are struggling to get started, or struggling to find the time, or struggling with the blank page, I guarantee there is a thought tornado ramping up. 

            All you have to do is stop it. 

            Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

            No Time? Write Anyway takes you through steps – today – to find time in your busy life for your creative dreams. 

            Grab your copy!

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